A Little Encouragement for the Parents of Picky Eaters

posted by Andrea | 11/8/2019

Encouragement for Parents of Picky Eaters

Are your kids “picky eaters”?

Do you feel anxious about the assumption that they don’t eat as much or as well as their peers?

Have you been shamed by other parents, relatives, friends, doctors, or “experts” because of what your children don’t eat?

Do you worry about how to “fix” the picky eaters in your home? 

If you’re stressed about picky eaters, you’re in the right place!

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Now, before we get started, I should probably clarify a few things…

  • I don’t have a 3-, 5-, or 7-step plan for getting your children to willingly eat massive amounts of veggies. 
  • My intentions are not to drill you with all sorts of “must-dos” in order to raise “healthy” children. 
  • I certainly won’t subtly hint that your child’s “selective eating” is your own fault.
  • And I won’t even tell you to force your child to eat “just one bite”.

Are we off to a good start yet? 

children eating at the table

I’ve wanted to write this post for years now, but I felt I didn’t have enough parenting experience, and I obviously don’t have a medical background either (please take that into consideration as you read).

However, after dealing with our oldest daughter’s highly sensitive personality, years of sleep struggles, and so many food aversions, I’ve learned significantly more than I ever wanted to know about feeding young children.

I certainly don’t know everything there is to know, but I have a plethora of random information floating around in my brain just itching to get out! 

children eating at the table

My goal for this post is that after reading it, you will be able to breathe a sigh of relief, enjoy mealtimes a little bit more, and acknowledge how totally amazing your kiddos really are! 

OK… let’s get started! 

A Few Things to Consider:

Taste Buds: 

Babies are born with roughly 10,000 taste buds. Over time, the number of taste buds diminishes. Some sources I’ve read suggest our tastebuds change constantly, others speculate they decrease every 5-7 years, still, others say the taste buds change during puberty or even later in life. 

Whatever the case, most “experts” seem to agree on the fact that our tastebuds DO change over time — which is one reason why we might not like certain foods as children but then eventually learn to like them. 

Keep this in mind when trying to get your child to eat something new — if it’s spicy for you, it will taste even spicier for them. If it’s sour for you, it will taste more sour to them. etc. etc.

Food Sensitivities: 

These are VERY REAL and could cause major issues for your picky eaters (and for you!) 

Obviously, every situation is different, but my across-the-board advice for any parents who suspect food sensitivities is to find a therapist who specializes in oral therapy (not necessarily a speech therapist).

We went through 3 different rounds of food therapy with Nora until we found one that worked for us!

Allergies: 

Again, I don’t want to scare you or over-generalize, but if children are allergic (or have an aversion) to a certain food, they won’t feel good after eating it — which could be one reason for their defiant behavior at the table.

More than likely, your child is just a little (or a lot)”picky” — however, it doesn’t hurt to search out a little more information if you’re concerned about sensitivities or allergies. 

Once you’ve ruled those out, it’s time to move forward… I’m hoping my tips below will help you do just that! 

Encouragement for Parents of Picky Eaters

Encouragement for Parents of Picky Eaters

1. Focus on what they WILL eat instead of what they won’t.

In my experience, nothing causes a child to “shut down” faster than an adult trying to FORCE them to do something they don’t want to do! 

And in case you didn’t already know this… you can’t literally force a child to put a piece of food in their mouth, chew it, and swallow it. They must voluntarily do it in order for the food to make it down their throat! 

If you are in the thick of food battles with your children, my first pieces of advice are simply to take a step back, stop forcing foods they don’t care for, and stop focusing your attention on what they WON’T eat. 

Instead, serve (or pack) the foods they DO like on regular rotation. It might not be a balanced diet in any way, but I wouldn’t get too uptight as this is just a temporary situation. 

Your main concern, at least in the beginning, should be getting them excited to eat ANYTHING they are willing to eat.

NOTE: Here’s a good website (My Fussy Eater) that offers tons of helpful tips, ideas, and recipes for picky eaters. 

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2. Focus on quality time together at the table instead of the food. 

As I mentioned above, the main concern at the beginning of this journey is simply to get the kids happy and excited to come to the table and enjoy quality family time. 

NOTE: If you aren’t already sitting down to eat a meal together at the table I’d highly encourage you to make this routine a part of your day. It’s much more enjoyable to eat in a group than by yourself… and when everyone is participating in the conversation, the focus naturally moves away from the food… which can be a good distraction for picky eaters. 

Feel free to make (or buy) whatever you want for your meals together, but plan ahead so you know there will be something the picky eaters will get excited to eat. 

Draw out the meal by serving 2nd helpings, serving an occasional dessert, or even reading a book together as a family after the meal. Just make it fun for them to hang out at the table. 

NOTE: If your kiddos are the type who simply don’t eat, claiming they aren’t hungry, I’d be OK with letting them sit there and participate in conversation even if they “aren’t hungry.” Just make it very clear that they will not have another opportunity to eat for the remainder of the evenings (and then stick to this rule). One night of being slightly hungry won’t do too much damage! 

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3. Focus on what YOU eat. 

I’ve mentioned this before, but it pretty much goes without saying that your children will NOT eat fruits and veggies or try new foods unless they see you doing the same thing. 

You can’t serve your kids a plate of produce while you’re chowing down on MickeyD’s and expect to get away with it! 

Obviously, that’s a bit of an extreme example, but you get the point. 

Make sure your kids see you trying foods you don’t necessarily care for (Dave and I regularly humor our kids by trying my homemade pickles even though we both detest them!) 

Talk about how you didn’t like certain foods as a child but now you do. Let them hear you talk about your own food struggles and how you overcame them. Let them see you eating healthy food choices without making a big deal about it.

PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH! 

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4. Focus on SLOW positive changes. 

They tried one bite of melon, broccoli, or potatoes — WOW, that’s amazing! Be excited with them… but don’t make it into a big show or production. Also, don’t automatically ask them to try another bite of something else, and don’t necessarily assume they will try this same food at your next meal either. 

Just acknowledge that you’re proud of them, and then move on with your own meal.

While I’m a HUGE advocate for encouraging (or gently “forcing”) my own kids to try one bite of every new food, I also realize that if your family has a history of food battles, it’s probably better to focus on VERY SLOW POSITIVE CHANGES instead of forcing them to eat one bite of everything on their plate. 

My main concern is that the children continue to enjoy their eating experience and look forward to mealtimes. 

Eventually, you will start to see some progress — maybe next week or maybe not until next year (be patient, you can do this!) 

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5. Focus on “total health” instead of just their diet.

It’s so easy to get hung up on what our kids are eating (or not eating) — partially because it’s such a “hot topic” in today’s culture, but also because they seem to eat 873 times every day! 

Believe me, I get it! 

However, I’d encourage you to consider your children’s physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual health and well-being in addition to what they are eating. 

    • Are they moving throughout the day, playing outside with friends, running on the playground, and riding bikes with neighbor kids?
    • Do they enjoy going to school, do they seem to do well in class, and are they continuing to learn and develop intellectually?
    • Are they respectful of their teachers, classmates, and family members?
    • Do they exhibit a strong sense of morality?
    • Are they kind and considerate of the others around them? 
    • Do they appear happy, joyful, and content most of the time?
    • Do they sleep well at night?

If you can answer “yes” to the majority of the questions above, give yourself a nice pat on the back because you and your picky eaters are doing just fine, my friend! 

Your children won’t eat broccoli (or any other fruit or vegetable)?

Big deal! 

This cannot, and should not, be the most important issue you concern yourself with — especially not if you consider the overall big-picture of their lives! 

I know SO MANY adults who claimed to be “the pickiest eaters ever” as children… and rest assured, they are all now fully-functional members of society with jobs, homes, marriages, children, (and yes, veggies in their fridge!) 

raw vegetables

already prepared fruit

I know there are extreme cases of children who only eat McDonald’s chicken nuggets for every meal (I watched the Netflix documentary a few years back) but those are just that… EXTREME! 

For the vast majority of typical children and family situations, the pickiness is outgrown within a few years. 

Just keep encouraging them, modeling good behavior, and providing many opportunities for them to see, touch, experience, and try (if they’re willing) a variety of foods.

Do you consider your children to be “picky eaters”? 

If so, what are your best tips, tricks, and words of wisdom for other parents battling with picky eaters right now?

Encouragement for Parents of Picky Eaters

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Filed under: FamilyParentingChildrenHealth

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24 comments

  1. Blondie

    11/13/2019

    The struggle is real on this one when it comes to my preschoolers! They do come by it honestly: their father ate nothing but hot dogs and applesauce for YEARS. The only thing that brought him out of it was his aunt teaching him to cook. His older cousins daring him to eat foods helped. My husband is a very healthy 6’3″ attorney, but he still doesn’t eat mixed foods/casseroles, eggs, or cooked vegetables!

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — sounds like you are doing well with getting your kiddos to eat! At least they will eat more than hotdogs and applesauce! 🙂

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  2. Alicia

    11/11/2019

    This is an area I definitely feel like I’m failing as a parent. I grew up ALWAYS eating dinner as a family with my mom making everything from scratch and veggies always included. However my husbands family rarely ate together and most often fended for themselves. We also got married very young and with food issues myself most of my life, I never really learned to like cooking (in fact for a long time I hated it ). All this to say, my children now are extremely picky eaters and I think a large reason for it is because of this! I never really cooked until the last several years so my older two (my oldest especially ) tend to be extremely picky and every meal is a battle. I blame myself and worry daily because he is my junk food kid , and his dad eats this way – he rarely eats dinner with us mostly because he’s working late. I never enforced the eating together and for many years didn’t cook regularly either , so now I have a battle on my hands. Anyway, your comment that if we’re not eating this way than we can’t expect our kids to really hit home. It’s something I’m working on for our family, including learning to enjoy cooking for them because I have a household of 6 boys! I need them to like my food so they keep coming home! 🙂 thank you for the encouragement

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    Andrea Reply:

    don’t let yourself feel like a failure for this — it’s honestly not worth it!
    I think it’s great that you’re cooking more and having dinner at the table more, but if it’s not the most important thing for your family, that’s OK!
    Progress… you’re doing awesome with your 6 men! LOL

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  3. Gramma CC

    11/09/2019

    Just had someone post on their page for suggestions with a picky eater. The child likes PB&J, but school is peanut free zone. I suggested bread & butter or dry cereal & focusing on getting nutrition from meals at home. Of course the best suggestion was I added a link to this post!!!

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    Anita Reply:

    they do sell wow butter. it tastes similar to peanut butter but is made with soy. It used to include a sticker that you can attach to their lunchbox.

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    Andrea Reply:

    thanks for the tip!

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    Andrea Reply:

    good idea — thanks for sharing!

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  4. Christine Meurer

    11/08/2019

    This is great! Here’s what I do. My kids aren’t that picky, but each one has 1 or 2 things they simply hate. If there is a valid substitute nutrition-wise, I’ll let them switch and once in awhile just let them skip it. One kid hates broccoli with a passion – I’ll often serve him salad instead since I always have lettuce cut up. One kid hates guacamole, so I make him have some hummus or cheese instead.
    They go through so many stages and, like you said, as long as they’re being offered it and seeing everyone else eat it, they’ll probably go back to it eventually.
    Although I have to say, as an adult, I NEVER choose to feed myself peas or lima beans 😉 (but could force them down happily at a guest’s house!)

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  5. Brandette W.

    11/08/2019

    Wow, this post could not have come at a better time. I was just talking to our ped about this this week. Our son is 9 and has been an extremely picky eater his whole life. He didn’t even start eating baby foods until 11 mo because he was not having it.

    Anyways, our ped suggested having him try 1 bite of each food I make for dinner during the month of Nov. Then in Dec, up it to 2 bites. Over time, he will find things he truly does like. At this age, she said it is a mental hangup where they have hyper focused on the fact that it’s NEW and they WILL NOT like it. By this age, they would have outgrown texture issues if that was the case. She did say that food therapy is available. I am doing a version of what the doctor said, but my way. So, we started trying the whole 1 bite thing. So far, so good. He knows he is at least trying the things I make. If he doesn’t like it, that’s ok, but he tried it. But, I also do make sure there is something on the plate that I know he likes and will eat. Because I know my strong willed child, and if I give him an entire plate of strange things that he might not like, he will go without eating.

    Anyways, this week alone he tried roasted butternut squash, homemade potato soup (he hasn’t eaten soup, ever!), roasted potato cubes. I call this a win!

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    Andrea Reply:

    that’s an interesting idea — 1 bite for the first month, 2 bites for the 2nd month, etc. etc.
    glad you are putting your own spin on it — that’s usually what has worked best for me too!

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  6. Carol

    11/08/2019

    We had our great-granddaughter stay with us for a few months a couple of years ago. She was very picky and wouldn’t try anything new.
    I asked her if she would like to try something and didn’t like it, she could put it in her napkin. I was amazed how many foods she tried and liked. Sometimes I think they like to have their own control over choices.

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    Andrea Reply:

    that’s awesome!

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  7. Amy

    11/08/2019

    I am just starting to go through this with my daughter, who is almost 8 She was always a GREAT eater, but every year of school it’s getting worse. The other kids lunches are terrrribbbllly unhealthy and they pass out cupcakes and/or candy at school daily. It’s really frustrating me. So now it is translating into she just wants junk at home. We eat healthy (very similar to your family) but eat unhealthy things too (balance). Anyhow, I appreciate your post. I am trying not to flip out yet. Lol!

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    Andrea Reply:

    we sort of have “fun lunches” so the kids get excited about eating at school — and so they actually eat enough to not be hungry the rest of the day. I guess I figure if they are eating quite healthy for breakfast and dinner (and on the weekends) then a few less-healthy school lunches aren’t as big of a deal!

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  8. Debby

    11/08/2019

    I had one picky eater and she is still kinda picky at 22. I had to give her the veggies first on her plate and then the main dinner. However, I tried to serve her the veggies she liked most and the serving was never bigger than her hand. Eventually as she got older she could either eat what we were eating or get herself a piece of turkey and baby carrots out of the fridge. She was the baby so it never really disrupted any other kids wanting this or that.( My older child loved veggies but hated most meats so go figure). The key was I didn’t really care what she was eating. We only had good healthy food and if she wanted to get the turkey and carrots out herself and eat that then so be it. Her strong personality challenged me in so many other ways, so dinner was not a battle that I had to win. Now she is a nursing student and loves healthy foods and many more veggies. It had to be on her terms not mine. Good luck to all you mommas with the struggle.

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    Debby Reply:

    Also as a side note, I never ever cooked something else to please her. I cooked one meal and if she chose cold turkey and baby carrots then that was her choice and she had to serve herself and clean it up. Just wanted to verify that.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for sharing what worked for you and your family — super helpful!

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  9. Katherine

    11/08/2019

    This is great information and perspective! I know one adult who still chooses chicken nuggets and fast food at meals and skips veggies. One. The rest of us learned to eat and enjoy our veggies at some point. So the odds are in our kids’ favor that they will eat balanced meals at some point, on their own volition! There are also gummy vitamins that can hit those areas that our kids’ might be low in.

    Love your insight!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I also know one adult who is still VERY picky — but that’s one out of how many thousands of adults I know!
    And yes, we take gummy vitamins every night!

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  10. JJ

    11/08/2019

    So well written and helpful! As a mom of kids with food allergies, I’m SO glad I wasn’t a food nazi with my toddlers. Your other posts were so encouraging to me, too! My oldest was the last to test positive with a milk allergy after symptoms worsened and we sought an allergist’s help. Milk allergies left untreated cause a lifetime of long-term effects. I most likely had a dairy allergy(same symptoms as a kid). I had cystic acne and infertility issues. After researching because of my kids’ allergies, I saw research point to milk allergies causing both cystic acne and infertility. A friend told me of a test that was done with toddlers. There were bowls of food randomly placed around a room. Each bowl had one type of food. They let the toddlers roam and eat what they chose. One kid just ate salt from the salt bowl. After studying them, they concluded that when presented with many foods, young children most often eat what they crave based on what their bodies need. I love your focus on family time at the table. I LOVE eating with my kids, because the table and their bed are places they most often share their hearts and important to them events of the day.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks 🙂
    Glad to be encouraging during those difficult seasons!
    Also, very interesting about the milk allergy — was it just milk or all dairy?
    I sometimes wonder if Simon has some sort of food intolerance because he often mentions that his “tummy hurts” after eating. I might have to look into this a bit more.

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    Christine Meurer Reply:

    Andrea, my son who has been allergic to dairy and peanuts since birth does the same thing and I’ve tried to hard to figure out the cause (it’s not his allergic foods). Two things I’ve discovered for him are 1) he doesn’t digest whole grains or dried fruit well, and 2) he chews and swallows WAY too fast (leaving whole chunks of food) and doesn’t get enough digestive juices mixed in with his food. One thing that has really helped is a kids’ digestive enzymes supplement. No tummy ache when he takes them with his meal! He’s 8 now.

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    Andrea Reply:

    awesome — this is very helpful! Thanks Christine!

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