Feed The Pickiest Of Picky Kids

I’ve posted this before, but it’s an appropriate intro to this post (not suitable for work…turn your volume down):

Yes. This was me most of 2007 and 2008. Frustrated, almost to the point of insanity whenever 5 p.m. rolled around.

But in case this is STILL you, I figured I would share some of what I’ve learned over the past three years. I’m not guaranteeing that these tips will work for your kid, but hey, give it a shot and report back.

Before we get started, however, let me introduce you to the three schools of the “Get your kids to eat – and like! – healthy food” bandwagon:

  1. They will eat healthy food because your word is LAW. Put that whole grain pasta with raw carrot sauce on their plate and you will not let them up from the table until every last drop is cleared from their plate. If they don’t like it, tough.
  2. Kids are gonna be kids, so I’m not going to sweat over it. What harm is it if they eat French fries a couple times a week? Potatoes are veggies, right?
  3. Sneak those veggies into their burgers and chicken fingers. Put some green bean puree in their meatloaf and some squash in their brownies and call it a night.

I fall somewhere between 2 and 3. I used to be the #1 mom. I’d try – in vain – to get my kids to eat whatever new health food was the craze at the time, pleading, begging, demanding that they eat whatever was on their plate. And they’d shut me down. Hard.

So I switched tactics. Food is important to me. I love to cook and I love to eat. (I mean, I loooooove it. If the doctor said I had six months to live, I’d spend almost all my time with my face in a bowl of spaghetti. Oh yes.) I want to pass on that love of food to my kids. Plus, by helping me in the kitchen, they’d be getting:

  1. Math lessons. Add two cups water. Cut an orange into quarters. Math is everywhere in the kitchen.
  2. Science lessons. What does baking soda do when baking? Even something as simple as making Jell-O has a lesson attached.
  3. Life lessons. When we’re out of a particular ingredient, I like to improvise. We were out of eggs on the day I wanted to make meatloaf. A few Google searches later, I simply added some mayo
    (which has eggs in it) and no one could tell the difference. Life throws you curveballs – learn to adapt.
  4. Quality time. Yes, many days they are glued to Nick Jr. while I am racing to make dinner. But when I can, I like to have them in the kitchen with me. I let my son shuck corn and yes, it takes him a while, but when dinner rolls around, it’s HIS corn.

So here’s a bunch of tips on dealing with picky eaters. Some of this you’ve heard before. Some of this might be new. Drum roll please….


1. Check out the nutritional facts for the so-called “healthy options.” My kids love pudding cups and applesauce. You’d think applesauce would be the better choice. Eh, not so much. I was stunned when I realized how much sugar was in one applesauce cup – 22 grams! The fat-free pudding had 11 grams, but it also had calcium. Pudding was actually the healthier choice!

2. Keep offering new things. This sounds so easy in theory, but in reality it’s a pain. My daughter’s doctor kept telling me to keep offering food, that it sometimes takes kids 10 times to realize they like a certain food. Well, they obviously don’t care about Mama’s grocery bill. But I’ve discovered it’s true. Not only that – offer things you don’t think they’ll like. One day, I made some curry chickpeas (try it!) and my son was sniffing around like he wanted some. I hesitated, but gave him a small forkful. Turns out – he loves ’em!

3.  Let them pick out a veggie or fruit at the grocery store. I linger a long time in the fresh produce section and let my kids pick out something new. Whether it’s a star fruit or a tangelo, they enjoy coming home and eating their new “treasure.” And half the time, I haven’t had it either, so it’s fun for all of us. My kids picked out zucchini once and as I was slicing it for dinner, my son snuck up and ate a raw piece. He didn’t spit it out! This was me:

4. Introduce salads. I used to make myself salads and then I would give my kids their dinner. But I was pleasantly surprised one day when my daughter wiped her plate clean after I tossed a quick salad on her plate with no thoughts that she’d actually eat it. Once she refused to eat it, and so to outsmart her, I let her sprinkle some cheese on it and then she tore it up! :)
5. Find something they like? Make it healthier. Chicken nuggets and french fries? Bake ’em instead of fry them. If they like spaghetti, get (or make) the healthiest sauce possible and use whole wheat noodles. (If your kids don’t like whole wheat pasta, then start by using half regular and half whole wheat at first.)

6. Relax. This was the hardest thing for me to do. Sit back and eat calmly while my daughter refused to even pick up her fork, or better yet, just asked for Cheerios and yogurt? I don’t think so. But the more I pushed, the less she ate and the more she clung to the foods she was familiar with.
7. Double check your serving sizes. If I don’t put as much on my kids’ plate, they tend to eat more. It’s like they get overwhelmed by the sight of too much food.

8. Sometimes it’s not the food – it’s what’s under it. I bought these ZooPals plates (yeah, it’s wasteful and gets expensive after a while), but my kids ate the food I put on it. I also took them to Target a while back and let them pick out their own plates and spoons. That helped a ton.

9. Try smoothies. This is a recent thing for me, but my kids actually like smoothies. I don’t add the spinach to theirs (they didn’t like that) but I do add some lowfat yogurt for some protein. It’s a healthy and easy way to get fruit into the little ones. You can also make it as thick or as thin as you want it so a little can go a bit further.

10. Don’t be afraid to “deconstruct” food. Now that I’m home all day with the kids, I want something quick and healthy for lunch. What’s quicker than a turkey sandwich, right? Well, a turkey sandwich is not so quick when the kids refuse to eat it. But for some reason, if I put a piece of turkey, a slice of cheese and a small piece of bread on their plates, they will eat it. It looks like a poverty meal (lol), but really it’s just a turkey sandwich on step 1 rather than step 4.

11. Ask them what they want for dinner. 9 times out of 10 my daughter tell me something like, “I want mashed potatoes and chicken nuggets and French fries and yogurt.” I’ll usually take one of her suggestions and go from there. So if she asks for chicken for dinner and I put down her plate and say, “Here, honey. Here’s your chicken,” she usually lights up, happy that I remembered her request.

So that’s it. That’s all I got. I’m sure I could think of more, but these are the tips that worked for me. The biggest thing, though, is to remember that they will not be picky eaters forever. Toddlers and little kids are notoriously fussy about what they eat and will not eat – it is part of their development. It’s our job as parents to simply guide them through this phase and make it the other side with our sanity intact.

Do you have any tips to add to my list? Share what worked for you in the comments!


  1. When my son doesn’t want to eat something (pretty rare now) I would just eat it myself in front of him and he’d get jealous and immediately want to eat that too. I also do the deconstructed meal thing just because he’s pulls apart and eats things in pieces anyway.
    And you should try motts natural. There is no sugar added and the ingredients are just water and apples. There is 10 grams of sugar and it actually taste really good.

    • @Kim – Yup, we do the Motts natural applesauce (or the store brand version with no added sugar). I was blown away by how much sugar was in one of those itty-bitty cups! It was ridiculous!

  2. LOL @ the Hammertime image! So funny!

    Thanks for the tips. I have a two year-old who is starting to get picky, so I’m sure I’ll be trying a few! :)

  3. My son just turned 16 months and he’s getting to that picky eater stage *sigh*. Once upon a time he’s eat anything I put near his mouth. Now? He picks it up, inspects it.. and if it doesn’t fit whatever his criteria is, he throws it on the floor! *enter sad face* lol
    .-= Sha Boogie´s last blog ..Holy Macaroni!! =-.

  4. Thanks for the great tips!

    I recently found this website http://childrenandbabiesnoteating.com/index.html that has a lot of information on picky eaters (why they are picky, what can be done about it). Definitely worth a look.