Let’s address the elephant in the room—dealing with a picky eater. When my oldest turned into a picky toddler, our meal times spun into chaos. It felt like a control issue I couldn’t navigate out of, leaving me scared and anxious.
We all know how pivotal nutritious food is for our children’s growth, and the last thing we want is for meals to become a battleground. We should be creating heart-warming memories, discussing our days, and sharing laughter, not engaging in a tug-of-war over veggies.
Funny enough, in my journey to becoming a dietitian, we covered picky eating in just one week.
I thought I had it all figured out, but when faced with a picky eater under my own roof, I realized how little I actually knew. So, I returned to the books and began building evidence-based strategies.
Today, I’m sharing five things I’d start doing today if I found myself in the picky eating predicament again.
1. Invite the kids into the kitchen
Don’t get me wrong; this doesn’t mean having your little one prepare a three-course meal from scratch with you. But, it does mean involving them in the cooking process, even if it’s just observing.
Children are innately curious, and the kitchen is an extraordinary place for them to learn about food. Simple tasks like stirring ingredients, turning on the oven under supervision, or brushing the veggies with oil before roasting can do wonders.
Involving your kids in the kitchen doesn’t require them to be of a certain age. If your child is still in a highchair, move it into the kitchen. If they’re older, a step stool will do the trick.
What if they resist? Never force them, but gently entice them into joining you. Make tasks fun; instead of washing blueberries, ask if they’d like to give them a “bath”.
The goal isn’t perfection but making them more comfortable with food. The carrots might not be evenly chopped, but hey, they helped, didn’t they?
2. Make food fun
Many people find it rude to play with your food. And often, I hear from parents that their partner doesn’t allow food play at the table. I understand, but within reasonable boundaries, food play is an incredible way for kids to connect with their food.
Food play could be crafting a carrot castle or turning roasted potatoes into mashed potatoes on their plate–the idea is to let them interact with the food. Through play, they understand how food behaves, how it feels, and this can pave the way for accepting it into their diet.
3. Keep Foods They Don’t Eat ON the Menu
It’s all too easy to fall into the habit of not serving certain foods because your child won’t eat them.
Sure, we worry about food waste and the drain on our wallets, but if we give up on serving broccoli just because it sat untouched once, we deny our children the chance to learn to enjoy it.
Children depend on us to introduce them to a world of flavors. If they don’t see broccoli on their plate for months, they certainly won’t request it. Challenge your instincts to stop serving ‘rejected’ foods, and surprise your child with a varied plate.
After all, when was the last time your little one caught you off-guard, for better or worse? Maybe it’s time to give broccoli another shot!
4. Say ‘Yes’ to Sensory Experiences
As a new parent, I felt guilty for hating the idea of setting up elaborate sensory bins, as I saw on social media. It felt like a drain on my time, energy, and resources, not to mention the ensuing mess.
Thankfully, I soon realized that sensory experiences are all around us. It’s not about investing in fancy sensory bins but about allowing them to experience the world with all their senses.
Sensory experiences can be as simple as walking barefoot on the grass, feeding animals at the zoo, counting money, feeling the stickiness of peanut butter on their tongue, or snapping the asparagus before dinner.
These experiences help them get comfortable with various textures, tastes, and smells, proving beneficial in accepting different foods.
5. Enjoy Meal Times Together
Prioritize sharing meals with your children as often as possible.
I know, after a hectic day, it’s tempting to feed them first and then unwind with your meal. But if you’re dealing with a picky eater, try to demonstrate how you enjoy various foods, especially those they’re reluctant to try.
Seeing you relish that broccoli might not inspire them to try it immediately, but it sends a powerful message—”Mommy likes it. Maybe it’s not so bad!”
Combating picky eating can feel like an uphill battle, but with persistence, creativity, and an evidence-based approach, progress is within reach.
Remember, it’s not about winning every mealtime skirmish but about setting the stage for a lifelong positive relationship with food.
For additional support and guidance, check out my Table Talk Course. You’ll feel confident you’re on your way to reversing picky eating for good.