How Do I Feed a Picky Eater?

picky eater, child refusing food

This question hovers at the forefront of many parents’ minds. Children are very happy eating their limited diet that may include noodles (including macaroni and cheese), chicken (preferably in nugget form), potatoes (in any way, shape, or form), and other foods that are definitely not green. The statement, “It’s good for you,” often resigns a food to the never-will-I-ever-eat-that list. So, how do you decrease mealtime disagreements and still provide a nutritious meal for your child? Read on for tips from Sugar Mill Montessori School.

First, a Few Don’ts

Don’t offer food as a reward. Providing your child with one of their favorite foods as a reward for eating a healthy one can set them up for an unhealthy relationship with food later on.

Don’t force anything. Your child may become stubborn and push back harder if you insist they eat something.

Don’t restrict foods from your child’s diet. Refusing to give them any particular food can result in cravings for banned foods.

Don’t become a short-order cook! If your child rejects the meal you’ve prepared, encourage them to sit at the table during mealtime anyway. Do not make them a separate meal.

Don’t push them to eat if they aren’t hungry. Appetites wax and wane as children grow. Stick with your snack schedule to discourage them from filling up before meals.

Don’t lose your cool. It is frustrating when your child is a picky eater. Be patient. The process will be slow but rewarding.

If you tell them they cannot have dessert, don’t give in. This sets a precedent and will likely cause problems later.

Tips & Tricks

Be patient with new foods. You may have to serve a food several times before they try them.

Use dips. Kids love to dip, whether in ketchup, ranch dressing, yogurt, or peanut butter. Offer them a dip with a new food!

Mix up the menu. Offer breakfast foods for dinner. If mealtime is fun, the foods you serve may look more appealing to a picky eater.

Make sure your child is hungry at mealtimes by sticking to a schedule for meals and snacks — including drinks.

Try These Ideas

Pomegranate seeds taste — and look like — sweet and sour candy.

Tomatoes may be unappealing in texture, but tomato soup can be tasty and fun to eat.

Roasted chickpeas with a little salt and pepper or herbs and spices make crunchy, fun snacks that are full of protein and fiber!

Lightly steam edamame, sprinkle a little salt and let your kids pop them out of the pods.

Have fun with a toppings bar for yogurt. Use cereal, fruit, and other delights for a healthy parfait.

Bake up a batch of sweet potato “fries” with ketchup for dipping. It will look familiar and pack a healthy punch.

Wash some grapes, cut them in half, and freeze them. This changes the texture and makes a delicious frozen treat.

A No-Thank-You Bite

The picky eater phase will eventually pass. Until then, you can always ask that your child take a no-thank-you bite. This entails them actually tasting the food before refusal. Good luck!


Just for fun: Try Food Bingo! Make bingo cards (you don’t need to be an artist — just do your best) with the foods that you’re serving on them. Kids can cross off a food once they’ve eaten it! Keep some small prizes on hand for your winner.