A Guide for Picky Eaters

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So, you have a picky eater on your hands. WHAT DO YOU DO? Don’t worry, with these helpful tips, you can take charge of dinner time again.

After joining the ranks as a mom nearly 11 years ago and having 4 children now, I know how important time around the dinner table can be. Every night, we gather to spend time together and want to enjoy each others’ company, not argue about what we’re actually eating. Since this is not our first rodeo and my husband and I have been around the block a few times with the different personalities of each of our children, we have come up with rules that have come to work really well for our family. No tears, just well laid out expectations that we live by.

Brooke looking at Blake at the table with food

Have something familiar your picky eater will eat

Since I am a recipe developer and am always coming up with new recipes or foods they’ve never seen or tried before, they have a tendency to immediately say “I don’t like this” or “I don’t want to eat this” from the get-go. But, if I have something they are familiar with or know they’ll eat, they are more likely to sit down and start eating with less complaining. These are simple foods I’m talking about, folks.

  • A roll with butter.
  • A taquito.
  • A piece of garlic bread.
  • Cucumbers or celery with ranch on the side.
  • Apples and peanut butter.

Not rocket science, but something small to get your picky eater, eating first and complaining less.

Have set rules that are the same for everyone

The golden rule at our house is you have to eat the number of bites according to your age. My son is 6, so he has to eat *at least* 6 bites of the food he doesn’t like before he can leave the table. The same rule applies to my 10-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. (Our time outs work the same way. If sister is going to be sassy, she gets a 10-minute time out in the corner.)

I will say things can get tricky because my daughter hates rice, my son hates potatoes and my youngest is hesitant to eat any kind of pasta (besides macaroni and cheese), so if I’m serving those items I serve them separately from the main dish so its easy for my kids to eat what they like and then quickly take the bites of the things they don’t like. Example: if I’m serving stew with mashed potatoes, I’ll leave the mashed potatoes on one side of the plate and the stew on the other so the stew is easy to eat and my little one can easily eat his stew potato-free and take his small bites of potatoes and be done with dinner quicker. Less arguing when the food isn’t touching.

Lauren sitting at a table eating food

Don’t cave. Rules are rules.

If children know they can talk their way out of eating dinner, believe you me, they will do it every.single.time. So, it’s important to stick to your guns. But at the same time, don’t be a jerk about it either. Just kindly state the rule and say “I’m so sorry you’re having a hard time eating your mashed potatoes. Maybe after you get your bites in, we can come up with something you would want to eat for dinner tomorrow.” You want to keep it as positive an experience as possible. You getting angry or frustrated with your child is a reaction to their response, not an appropriate action to help them understand and get through it.

Include your picky eaters in meal planning and cooking

Having your kids look through food magazines, cookbooks at the library or even on Pinterest can be so beneficial and give you an insight into what your kid’s likes and dislikes are. Have them pick a few dinners they’d be willing to try and then make them! Get them excited about it and make a big deal if they actually give it a try. Have low expectations, but definitely give them praise when they tried something new.

When I’m doing my weekly meal planning, I ask my kids what they want to eat and always get the usual “tacos” and “pizza” responses. So, we have taco Tuesdays and pizza Fridays. I’m not against these at all, but I do try to balance the meal out with extra fruit or veggies. Like, with our pizza nights, after our kids eat one slice, they would be required to eat x amount of veggies (according to their age) before they get another slice.

If they don’t like it, try try again.

At my dinner table, there’s always one kid who refuses to eat because they “don’t like it”. That doesn’t mean I’m never making that meal again. That means in a few more weeks, I WILL be making it again, maybe with a few tweaks. Try to figure out what they didn’t like about the meal and see if you could change it. For example, my son hates mashed potatoes, but just recently he tried roasted potatoes and really liked them! So it turns out he doesn’t hate ALL potatoes, he just doesn’t like the texture of mashed potatoes. So that’s such an easy fix for me! I’ll still make mashed potatoes here and there, but if I can roast them to keep my son happy, then that’s what I’ll do.

Something to also keep in mind (and remind your children of frequently) is taste buds are changing constantly. Just because they didn’t like mashed potatoes last month doesn’t mean they still don’t like mashed potatoes.

Picky Eater

Be in it for the long haul

We have been following these rules for eons (since we only had one child) and they have worked really well for us! I am constantly trying new recipes and introducing new fruits or veggies to our family and only recently have we seen the fruits of our labors.

A few days ago, I roasted brussels sprouts and all my kids ate them without complaining. My husband and I were in shock and didn’t want to mention it to the kids at dinner, but after the fact, we told them how impressed we were! This has been at least 8 years in the making because both Gordon and I LOVE brussels sprouts and our kids hate them. I never stopped making them this whole time because brussels sprouts are delicious and I love love love them, but it took 8+ years of complaining for my kids to embrace them. Maybe embrace is the wrong word, but you get the idea.

Also just this past week, I brought my boy’s grocery shopping with me and let them choose different fruits and veggies they’d like to eat. A shopper commented at how knowledgeable my 3-year-old seemed, requesting green grapes, pineapple, kiwi, apples, celery, cucumber, strawberries, and eggplant! Bringing kids along really can make a difference, even if you’re not actively teaching them. I’m really not an eggplant lover, but my 6-year-old really wanted to try it because it looked “funny and purple” so we have eggplant on our counter that I’m still trying to figure out how to cook so he likes it.

Those are the basic, bare-bones rules that we follow at our house!

What is your biggest struggle feeding your picky eaters? Leave a comment or question below and I’ll do my best to answer it 🙂

Have a great day, friends!

Polaroid photo of granola bars

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17 Responses
  1. Emma

    These are some great ideas! I have 3 kids (5, 3, 15 months) and my biggest struggle is with my 3 yr old. She loves a lot of foods, but when she decides she doesn’t want to try something, there is NO convincing her to even take one bite. So I feel like we make no headway with new foods because they don’t even make it to her mouth. She would fall asleep at the dinner table, protesting whatever she didn’t want to eat, if we waited for her to try a bite. Any thoughts or experiences of this with your kids?

    1. Lisa

      Avocado / beets(cooked and purred ) in smoothies. My boys hate avocados but I add to our Greek yogurt /banana/ kale smoothies, with a s bit of maple syrup they drink them up.

  2. Shelli Bender

    WoW! Where were you 20 years ago when my littles were little? What an awesome rule! I can’t wait for my grandchildren to start eating around the table! I do plan to teach them this!!!
    Now, what do you do about a picky husband that has shied away from fruit since his teacher “made him” eat a peach?

    Congrats on the new baby! Thank you for including us along on your journey!! Love you and your family!!
    Blessings,
    Shelli

  3. Anne

    Excellent approach mom & dad! Loved reading this & why wasn’t I as smart when I had kids at home? ha! All the best with your delivery Lauren.

  4. Katie Alpizar

    I really appreciated this post because I have the pickiest eater at times. Despite introducing every fruit, veggie, and other healthy options at an early age my 2 year old has decided now he doesn’t like anything. Eating is a daily battle. It’s good to read your tactics and not feel so alone in the food feeding struggle. Thanks for always posting so candidly and giving no nonsense tips.

  5. Liz Hanson

    I have 3 kids, my problem is I have a son who will not eat any meat. He’s 7 and wants to be a vegetarian. Which is fine but makes it difficult when planning family dinners. I always feel like I need to make a separate protein for him. Then I hear from my daughter well if H doesn’t have to eat it , I don’t want to either.

  6. Amanda Lewis

    Love this post! My three year old decides what she doesn’t like daily and it is NEVER the same dislike. The idea of letting her pick the fruits and vegetables is really smart. Will have to try that this weekend.

  7. Erin

    Great tips! I have one recovering picky eater and one very picky eater. My husband and I are adventurous eaters so sometimes it’s hard for us the meal plan meals we want to eat that our youngest will also eat at least some of! Fingers crossed she eventually grows out of this phase…or else she’s going to get really bored of eating white rice and edamame when we go out for sushi 😂

  8. Carrie

    What a great post! So many great ideas and advice dealing with picky eaters and some discipline. Definitely going to incorporate some of these into our household!