10 tips for parents of picky eaters

Picky eating is so common, particularly for toddlers and preschoolers, perhaps, even with adolescents.

Healthy Eating

Audrey Sckoropad
Audrey Sckoropad

09 September 2022

Picky eating is very common during toddlerhood. After the rapid growth of infancy where babies often triple their weight, once they become toddlers, that growth rate tends to slow down, as well as their appetite. 

Toddlers start developing food preferences, which can be tricky to navigate. One day they might refuse their usual favorite food and instead reach for that normally snubbed food. For weeks and even months, they might just want to eat the same 2 foods. 

The best we can do is to try to not get too frustrated by this typical toddler behavior. Trust that by making healthy choices available to them they will eventually come around and their eating behaviors will level out. 

Here are 10 tips to help you get through the "picky eating" phase

  1. Family mealtime. Take the time to model habits by sitting and eating together as a family. This means no distractions like tv or screens. Everybody eats the same meal; hold back the urge to prepare something else for your child. This will only encourage picky eating. It might not be their favorite meal, but you can make sure to include one safe food or a food you know they like.
  2. Include children in food prep. At the grocery store, let them pick out fresh produce and at home encourage them to wash and cut fruits and veggies. Have an inviting kitchen for them, keep it simple and use things such as a stepping stool, their own cutting board and kid safe tools. They will feel included, will want to participate in the kitchen and may be more inclined to trying out new things.
  3. Make it fun. Switch it up occasionally and take some pressure off. It doesn't need to be perfect! For their lunches or every now and then, cut foods into various shapes and sizes. Serve colourful foods. Make breakfast for diner.
  4. Lead by example. If you eat a variety of foods and make healthy choices every day, most likely your child will mimic what you do.
  5. Be patient with new foods. Even as adults sometimes we need some time getting used to new things and new flavours. Young children often touch or smell new foods and might even put tiny bits in their mouths and then take them back out again. Your child might need repeated exposure to a new food before he or she takes the first bite. Encourage your child by talking about a food's color, shape, aroma, and texture. Not whether it tastes good. Keep serving your child healthy choices until they become familiar and preferred.
  6. Don't offer dessert as a reward. Withholding dessert sends the message that dessert is the best food, which may possibly increase your child's desire for sweets. You might want to redefine dessert as fruit, yogurt, or other healthy choices.
  7. Take the pressure off. If you're tired of all the effort it takes for your child to simply take a bite, try taking the pressure off. Let them decide how much and whether they want to eat. Surprisingly enough, giving them the choice may help them like more foods in the long run. Some things we have a tendency of saying that can increase pressure: "Just one more bite". "You have to eat it or else you can't go play outside". "You will make me very happy if you try a bite". Is it easy to take a step back and let them choose if and what they eat? For sure it is not. It may feel uncomfortable in the beginning, but it gets easier. The goal is to create an inviting and pleasant eating environment for your child to want to try new foods.
  8. Teach them about what foods do in their bodies. You will hear a lot of parents trying to get their kids to eat certain foods by telling them it's good or bad for them. But this doesn't make them any more willing to try the new food. Often, it can even make them pickier, not less. Instead, it can be more positive to teach kids what food does in their bodies. "Carrots have vitamin A which helps us see in the dark." It's facts like these that help children learn and want to take care of their bodies. Potentially building a good relationship with food and feeding their desire to learn.
  9. Repeated exposure. It is important to know that new foods often need to be introduced a minimum of 10 to 20 times before deciding that a child is not ready to try that food. If you want your child to eventually eat a certain food, he has to see it being served often.
  10. Nutritional supplement. Especially in children, a well-balanced and varied diet is important for the proper functioning and maintenance of the body's systems. If you are worried your child isn't getting enough through food alone as he is experiencing some picky eating, you may want to add some nutritional supplement to his smoothie, yogurt, or drink. 

With all that, I know picky eating can take a toll on us and is hard to handle as we care for our children's wellbeing. Hopefully some of these tips can bring some help and make mealtime an easier and more pleasant experience for the whole family.



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