Education Station Archive

Picky Eaters

Child care providers and families often struggle with children termed "picky eaters." Children are who "picky" are actually exhibiting normal behavior! The child care provider or family member's role is to encourage healthy eating and making good food choices. The following strategies can help you to work with "picky eaters".

Picky eating is normal! Most children go through a stage where they refuse to eat certain foods. Food preferences have a lot to do with genes (though not entirely). Children’s taste buds are much more sensitive than adults – their food dislikes may seem strange to us but may be very strong for them.

Don’t stress. If the child is growing normally and is not lacking in energy, he or she is most likely getting the nutrients he or she needs for healthy development, even if he or she is picky. Parents can always check with their pediatrician if they have concerns. Too much stress at meal time doesn’t help anyone out, least of all you!

Strategies for Picky Eaters:

Involve children in preparing meals or snacks. Even a simple step like helping to wash produce or set the table can help. Be a good role model! Children will be more likely to try something if they see you eating and enjoying it. Try setting a rule that they have to have a little bit of vegetable (or whatever food is a problem) on their plate at each meal. Tell them that they don’t necessarily have to try it, but it has to go on the plate.
Try using fun names for food, or having children make edible fruit and vegetable art.

If the child says they are hungry, but only wants dessert or other treats, have a conversation with them about whether they’re really hungry or not. Try serving vegetables or problem foods first, before other foods appear on the table. If it’s not competing with a more familiar food, a child will be more likely to try it.

Reducing Your Stress

If you’re tired, and you have to cook a meal…and the child is refusing to eat – it’s hard to not get upset or stressed when the child is digging in their heels about food. But, remember, getting stressed about mealtimes and picky eating isn’t going to help anyone out, least of all you! Here are couple things to keep in mind.

• Plan meals ahead of time as much as you can. Then you will not be strapped for time with shopping and
• The child is in a stage where they are figuring out limits, and knows how to push your buttons! If you find
yourself getting in a tug-of-war over food, remember to take a deep breath and stay calm. Remember
that you are the adult and you set the limits, not the child.
• Keep in mind that children may be resistant to eating when they’re not hungry. If the child is being really
picky at lunch or another meal, take a look at how often he or she is eating. Spacing out meals more or
serving less for snack can help make a child ready to eat main meals.

Some things to avoid

• Using sweets as a reward for eating a vegetable. While this may work in the short term, it ultimately
makes your child less likely to develop a liking for vegetables. It also makes the sweets even more
desirable – so brownies become more appealing than before!
• “Hiding” vegetables in comfort foods. It’s great to incorporate chopped or pureed veggies into pasta,
soup, or meatloaf, but it’s important children know what they’re eating. Otherwise, they are not going to
learn to choose to eat vegetables. And anyway, most recipes the “hide” vegetables purees in comfort
foods are not adding very much to the nutrient content of the food.
• Remember that you’re not a short-order cook! Make the same meal for adults and children – that way,
children will not get the message they can always eat whatever they want.

Information adapted from: Let’s Move! Child Care