How to "Fix" a Picky Eater

Updated on April 20, 2013
E.T. asks from Albuquerque, NM
22 answers

The responses to the previous question about how to handle a husband trying to force a child to try new foods got me thinking...

How do you really get a picky child to try new foods?

I have six year old twins. One is a fantastic eater. She'll try anything, and likes 75% of the foods we put in front of her, including less typical kid foods like lentils and beets. My other daughter, however, has a very limited list of foods she likes. If it was up to her, she'd exist on macaroni and cheese, chicken, melon, cow's milk, and Trader Joe's apple bars. She categorically refuses to eat anything green - and that means she refuses to eat chicken noodle soup if there are tiny pieces of herbs in it. There is not a single vegetable she will voluntarily eat (I hide some in smoothies and baked goods). I think she might be a super taster. I've done a little research and she has a lot of the "symptoms" - she is bothered by strong smells, food or otherwise, and dislikes bitter, strong, or sour foods.

I know hiding food isn't the right way to get her to eat it, but when I ask her to try new foods she gets upset. I don't want to keep creating a picky eater, but seriously... HOW do you make a change? I can put new foods in front of her every meal, but unless I force her to try, she won't.

Extra info since the first ones of you to respond have asked: I make dinner from scratch almost every night (cooking is my passion). I pack all of her lunches. I try to make food fun - silly faces made out of fruit on a pancake, dipping sauces, interesting shapes, etc. And she helps cook so she's involved in what goes into her food.

What can I do next?

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answers from Oklahoma City on

The more you focus on this the more she'll resist. I think it's silly to "make" kids try new foods if they eat a balanced diet, even if it's somewhat lopsided a bit.

It just makes them focus on food more and more. She'll just dig in more and will just be more stubborn about it.

So simple offer her foods and if she doesn't want to try them just let it go.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Raleigh on

It will get better as she gets older. I was a fussy eater too, and now I eat most things. I wouldn't touch a vegetable as a child, and now LOVE them. They say tastes change every 7 years and I believe it.
There are still a few things I fuss over- meats are one. All meats have to be cut thinly and lean- absolutely no fat whatsoever. And I don't eat the weird parts (like cartilage, gristle, or organs). Fat and thick cuts of meat just grosses me completely out. I call myself a "borderline vegetarian" since I could probably live without meat easily if I had to. So guess some things never change over time, but mostly it will.

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answers from Sacramento on

Picky eaters aren't created; they're born that way. I was very picky as a child and really wished I wasn't that way. It wasn't something I could change. Certain foods were revolting to me. Telling me how tasty something was or forcing me to stay at the table until I ate did not work. Making cute food didn't work. I felt completely misunderstood.

As an adult, I eat a lot more. I started to eat new things on my terms. There are still a lot of foods I don't eat, and for good reason -- I've since learned I have IBS. The foods I avoided most as a child are the very ones that make me sick (literally).

Don't try to fix your picky eater.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Lansing on

Some people call me a picky eater, but I just like to call myself a simple eater.

Growing up my mom made all homemade meals, pot roast, turkey, chicken, you name it. I hated mostly meat and vegetables as a kid. But there I was always forced with food in front of me. (My brother was very similar to this) My dad admits he was a picky eater as a kid too. Anyway, there I sat forced to sit until I ate my meal. Sometimes it would feel like hours...I'm sure it wasn't....but it felt that way. What did I learn from that? Very creative ways to hide my food so I didn't have to eat it. I remember putting it in napkins, spitting it in the bottom of my cup. Trading with my brother, he liked the meat not mashed potatoes. I liked the potatoes. :) My mom never caved to my fits either. I was just forced to sit all night without eating or like I said I got creative. When I found out (which kids will do when they get older) my mom hid things in my food, it made me not trust her when it came to things she cooked. And in turn I would be leery on eating anything she made.

Fast forward to my adult hood. I'm still not a fan of most vegetables. But actually do eat most meat. However, I am not an adventurous eater. I survive on simple things like chicken, grilled cheese, hamburgers, tacos, spaghetti etc. I am not one to crave a meal. (I do admittedly crave sweets.) I do not get excited to eat at restaurants and actually prefer to just eat at home. You won't hear me raving about a dinner I ate, because I find food just a way to fill a necessity.

So yes I have kids that are a lot like me. Although were great eaters as babies and toddlers. I don't force them to sit and eat and even don't force them to try new things but only encourage them to do so. I try to make meals with something they like and/or allow them to substitute a PB sandwich if they make it on their own. (And don't get me wrong they don't have to substitute every night) However, I don't cave and just let them fill their stomach with a bag of chips or crackers. They don't snack between meals unless a healthy snack. If they don't want the meal and/or they don't want a PB sandwich then they don't eat and wait for the next meal. Which hardly ever happens but is that simple.
My oldest used to be VERY picky, but she is actually coming around to trying new things and liking more and more things all on her own. So my point is...I find I personally don't feel the need to force my kids.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

My rule is you try it in earnest, no sticking in your mouth and spitting it out without actually tasting it, and if you still don't like it we are done.

I look at it, I know in one bite if I like something. Making me take another ten bites is only going to make me hate it more so why would kids be any different? Well the difference is the first bite. I am an adult and I am tasting not to hate it but see if I like it so the question becomes how do you get your kids to taste it to see if you like it and not to prove they hate it?

That would be what I do. If you give it a fair shot and don't like it I am not going to make you form a life long hatred of a food....

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answers from New York on

You can not "create" a picky eater just like you can't "create" a shy or outgoing child. You can encourage negative/positive eating patterns and work to guide your child over time but unless you are traumatizing your kid, you can't "create" anything in regard to personality. The best thing to do is to keep offering and model positive eating. Also, expose your child to other children eating since positive peer pressure can be a good thing. Your child's issues are very real. My guess is that her personality is very smart, thoughtful, and particular. Don't pay too much attention to it and stay positive. She will come around. Sometimes I do tell my son that if he tries a bite, he can get a small treat. He is a picky eater as well. I do respect the fact that certain foods are totally off limits at this time though. Baby steps.

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answers from Miami on

Both my kids were very picky. The 4 year old is still ridiculously picky and has an insane gag reflex. I have to cut his meat very small. He's a little crazy about temperature. But, my 7 year old has changed a lot in the last year. She has started trying new foods on her own, including vegetables. The only thing that seems to have worked is to tell her that she has to keep trying new foods to see if her taste buds have changed. I would tell her she doesn't have to swallow or like it, but she at least has to taste it. The taste bud idea is one I got on here. There does seem to be some truth to it. I've tried new things as an adult that I hated as a kid and liked and vice versa. Other than that, I try not to make too big a deal about food. My 4 year old eats like 4 things and none are vegetables. So I try to add fruit instead to his meals so he's getting something that grew in the ground.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

My youngest is very picky. My oldest will eat anything (and has since she was a tiny infant - at 3 months, she was smacking her lips when she smelled our takeout Indian food!). So I have both ends of the spectrum, like you do.

I just don't care. I make what I'm going to make, and like you, I'm making everything from scratch and not making anything too weird. I serve it (for the picky one, in a small quantity so it's not overwhelming). She can eat it, or not. I don't comment either way. But that's dinner, so she's not allowed to disparage the food or the chef, nor is she allowed to get something else to eat. She can try it (and surprise herself and all of us by liking it), or she can sit there and have conversation with the rest of us while we eat. I don't care. At all. If she decides not to eat dinner, then she has decided to wait for breakfast to eat. And sometimes that happens.

But as the years go by (she's almost 8 now), she is suddenly opening up to a lot of different foods. We've worn down her resistance. LOL Actually, I think some kids just have this leftover evolutionary thing. Think about it, back in caveman days, the diet was fairly limited, and kids especially would have to have a very developed sense of taste, the better to discern poisonous or rotten foods. As a child's body gets bigger (and better able to withstand food poisoning or toxins), the sense of taste/smell decreases. Some kids are born without that, and eat everything right from the start. Some kids have it in spades, and are more hesitant to try new foods. I think it's just repetition as they grow out of this stage, and really not overly catering to it.

Somehow my mom (a chef) got my youngest to try duck confit by putting it in homemade mac n cheese. And now the little one loves duck anything, including pate. Go figure. So perhaps pairing a new food with a beloved food can help, too.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

Just stop being a short-order cook.

Cook one meal. Everyone eats it. She's not going to starve.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

I have one very picky eater and one very good eater. I don't have any advice for you...I have raised them both the same and everything I've tried has worked well for getting my good eater to try new things. Not much worked with my picky eater. I've had him pick things out himself in the produce department. I have had him help me cook. We have grown many gardens together. None of this helped. My picky eater is now 9 and he still HATES trying foods. I cook all our meals from scratch and enjoy cooking too. I try to make sure he eats enough but I also try to make new foods and get him to try them. The general rule that a child must try a new food a minimum of 15 times does not work with him. Our rule at home is he has to take one bite. In 9 years nothing really has worked..he still hates all the foods he used to hate for the most part. He is very sensitive to texture and I think he might be what they call a super taster as well. I did get two tricks to work with him. I made our mashed potatoes with part mashed cauliflower for about 3 years...gradually increasing the amount of cauliflower. He will now eat steamed cauliflower. I spent about 2 years adding a drop of spaghetti sauce to his noodles and gradually increasing it with time and now he likes spag sauce...but only if it's smooth. This all is tedious and ridiculous and I'll admit I stopped doing stuff like this. I just came to the conclusion that it's up to him to change one day. I just make delicious foods and put them in front of him and positively encourage him to eat. He can decide if he'll eat it or not. I'm so tired of being frustrated by his pickiness! Lucky for me I have another child who loves almost everything...she's the preschooler who loves salad, brussel sprouts, asparagus and kale. She's that kid who happily tries new foods and even seems excited about it. If I did not have her I would think I was doing something wrong. But now I know it is just something about my son that makes him the way he is. I have 2 very good adult friends who tell me there were insanely picky as kids and they started growing out of it in high school. I have hope that my son will one day want to eat different foods and actually enjoy them.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

I was a picky eater growing up but trying new things wasn't optional in our home but mandatory. Also trying new things prepared a different way was also encouraged.

Yes I would get upset but my mom never caved into my drama, she was the mom and the rules she set in her home were to be followed. With that said you didn't mention how old your twins are but the more foods you can get them to try when they are younger even if they have a preference they will learn to be more exploratory when they get older.

Also some kids have a preference when it comes to tastes and textures. I really love the different tastes of foods and textures. I prefer moist foods over dry foods.

You may want to give different textures a try too.

She must be encouraged to try new things and some day she may grow into and adventurous adult when it comes to trying new foods.

Also note as an adult I have discovered even some of the things I have tried and liked I'm alergic to. Example. I love mangos but they don't like me. So I still sneak a little because they are so yummy but I watch for the warning signs of the itchy tongue or mouth to let me know I've eaten something I'm alergic to and to not eat more.

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answers from Washington DC on

How many dinners do you prepare each night?

My house is one - and two is the exception.

The kids eat what we eat, and they MUST try it before we move on to another food offering.

I'm happy to go from pot roast to PB&J, but they have to try the pot roast first. If they don't at least try it, then they can be excused from the table and their plate stays out until bedtime. If they get hungry, I'll reheat their plate and we try again.

But whether you like my method or not - I'm fairly certain the key is consistency. Whatever you choose, be consistent so that the kids know what their options are.

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answers from Austin on

I'm chiming in late here... but you might also want to look up Sensory Processing Disorder..... there are MANY subsets..... has to do with all the facets of sense.... touch, sound, taste, temperature...

It can manifest as oral aversions.... not liking certain textures, or tastes, or LIKING very spicy stuff....

Some kids are sensory seeking (wanting more sensory input... constantly moving, constantly noisy, liking loud noises)... some are sensory avoiders... not liking too much stimulus... and of course, most are a mix of the two....

The more I read about it, the more I see some of the things I do are sensory seeking... but it all comes down to how much does it interfere with your daily life?

My grandson has SPD.... but he is a very good eater, just doesn't like things that are hot... he would prefer it right out of the fridge if possible.... we usually cool his food down a bit by putting it in the freezer. He also doesn't like loud noises, but that is getting better..... tags in clothes bother him....

Many of these issues can be really helped by Occupational Therapy... but you usually need to go through a developmental pediatrician for that. Oral aversions can also be helped, too..... and they give you "assignments" to work on during the week to reinforce what is done at OT.

As far as mac and cheese... you can hide baby food purees in there... hide baby food carrots, squash, or sweet potatoes in the cheese sauce.... you'd be surprised how many veggies you can hide in those sauces.....

Good luck!

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answers from Washington DC on

I think sometimes it helps to be matter of fact, offer the food to look at/smell/taste multiple times, and try to get them to eat as much healthy food as they will. The amount of food a small child needs is really much less than most of us realize. My SS has long had texture issues (which we now think may be something correctable by surgery) and it was NOT WORTH IT to force him to try foods like peas. He could always have a salad.

My DD really doesn't like sauce, so we put it on the side. We found out that she doesn't like asparagus or broccoli cooked, but will eat them raw. Things like that I feel are not "short order cooking" but rather really simple ways to get her to eat more. You might include the kids in cooking and show her what's green, what's whatever. If she won't eat soup, will she eat parts of it if you strain it? Will she eat whole grain noodles in fun shapes? Etc. DD doesn't like potatoes, but she will eat fries, and sometimes we do baked fries for her with very little oil and salt.

I usually offer DD something she will eat, something she might eat and something I'm not sure of. If she won't eat mixed foods, I keep them apart (for a long time she would not eat a taco as a taco). DD enjoys picking out food in the store, weighing and scanning it. That might also be a way to get your DD to be more involved in her food, before it goes anywhere near the table. Maybe ask each girl to pick out a fruit and veg for that week. Not all veg is green, so maybe she will find she likes yellow bell pepper.

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answers from Austin on

Look, I studied child development in college. What we learned was that food should never be a battle with children. Children are people too. They have their own taste buds. Their sense of taste and smell is way more acute than an adult..

And so you allow them the "opportunity" to eat new things, but you do not force or insist.. You offer the opportunity..

You cook what you are going to to cook. You offer at least 1 item you know they will eat. the other items can be new or things they have not been willing to try in the past.. and then you let them be in charge.

With our own child we learned that a small salad plate or bread and butter sized plate with a small fork.. was more palatable than a luncheon or dinner plate. It did not look so over whelming.

An example. She liked all types of salad foods and "Plain" vegetables, grains and meats.

So if I made spaghetti. I would grate zucchini and or carrots into the sauce.. Wheat spaghetti.. no butter or oil.. and place a TBL spoon on the plate of each in different piles. Then a few carrots, some lettuce or spinach leaves and some celery, maybe a few fresh cooked peas or green beans..

IF she ate something. I would quietly replace it with another spoonful. .. No conversations etc..

She did learn to eat many things by being in day care. They would keep a record each day of what the children actually ate each day.. Lima beans, beets, Turkey meatloaf.. These were things she never tried at home.. But sitting there with her little classmates.. they just ate what was there because they were all eating it together. ..

I also did not keep anything in the house I did not allow her to eat. So we had baked goods, ice cream, holiday candy etc.. But it was not a lot of it and not all of the time.

No bribing, pleading, insisting or punishing about food.

Now some children for whatever reason really need control and since eating is something they can control.. Rewards can work..

I came up with "Brave Tasters" for some neighbor children. .. The parents were so upset that they "could not get their kids to eat dinner"..

I felt the mother was a terrible cook..(she even admitted, she hated to cook). So many casseroles made with cream soups.. Yuck..Even my husband and I would blanch at her food.. It all looked like blobs.. on the plate. Lots of canned vegetables. Our daughter never was served canned vegetables or fruits. But this is what she knew how to cook,,

"Brave Taster" is a chart with stickers. IF your child tries some new food. They get a sticker. Once they reach a goal.. (7 new foods or whatever the parent thinks is fair. ) the child gets to request what is for dinner.. Or gets to help make dinner or gets to pick a place to eat for a meal.. (Parent comes up with a reward.)

This gives the children that need an incentive to at least try..

FYI all of these children by the time they were in middle school, were willing to pretty much try any type of food. Our daughter is crazy about cooking,,, she now has to sometimes convince us to try new foods!
ha.. Pay back.

I think many parents just want to see their kids eat. They take it personally that their children do not like the food they are served each night.. Moms feel like they are not doing a good job..

Guess what?.. Even after planning, purchasing and cooking a meal, even I sometimes do not want to eat what is for dinner.. I will just have a bowl of unsweetened cereal instead..

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

Keep in mind kids also go through stages. So do we. don't you ever go through a time when you crave italian food or chinese food? eventually it wears out and you get in the mood for something else. (Although I could eat italian food all the time.)

My DD was a picky eater and went thru various food phases - in presechool it was hotdogs, mac & cheese or raw red bell pepper with ranch dressing. then she went through a roasted chicken time - plain chicken breat from a roasted chicken. No gravy, just some salt. Now she eats more normally. She's 16 and has her quirks but she'll try different things. The thing that did it was an adult at school who she admired who told her that the Chinese had a saying that you live an extra year for every new food you try. I have never heard of that and suspect that the aid may have dreamed that one up. Regardless - it helped a lot.

My kids still go through phases - my 13 yr old son who is 6'2" now detests steak - although he'll eat all other kinds of beef. I think it's the texture.

Some kids are just picky eaters - somehow they eat enough to get them to adulthood and it's not worth the battler. As parents we have to pick our battles and only engage on the big ones. this is not one of them.

Good luck mama.



answers from Washington DC on

I don't force food, and I don't fight with my daughter anymore. At dinner, I put the food in front of her, if she doesn't eat it, she doesn't eat for the rest of the day. About once a week, if we don't go out to eat, I let her pick dinner and we all eat it. For breakfast and lunch, I give her options, but no options at dinner. So at least I know she's eaten something for the day, skipping a dinner or two won't hurt. She now eats most everything I put in front of her at dinner. Also, I respect the fact if she truly doesn't like something. My daughter has never liked hamburgers, so when I make hamburgers she doesn't have to eat them, I do make her something else.



answers from Anchorage on

Out of respect for both mine and my husbands time in working for the food and prepping the food, our kids are required to try one bite of everything before simply dismissing it. We have always made this the rule, and we stick to it, so it works. There was one time with my youngest that I ended up sitting with him at the table for over half an hour waiting for him to try a bit of his pasta. When he knew I would not cave he tried it, and has never given us issues since. If she is gagging only when the bite is forced then she is more then likely doing this on purpose (my son did the first time we made him try broccoli) and he got in trouble. He does not do that anymore.

Because lets face it, you can not know if you like something until you try it!



answers from Lancaster on

I actually taught a class to a Moms' group about this subject many years ago. I suggested all the things you're already doing - cooking from scratch (foods vary in taste enough so kids develop their palette, involving kids in the shopping/preparing, making it interesting.

Honestly, I have the least picky eater on the planet so I can't really offer advice. My daughter started out picky as a toddler and then the light seemed to go off when I involved her in the shopping/preparing. She was also agreeable about trying things. I always told her she could spit it out if she didn't like it. I'd actually hold a napkin in front of her. Very few things got spit out. You might be onto something with the super taster thing. Depending on how young your LO is, you could try the reverse - tell her she's not allowed to have something you'd secretly like her to try. Tell her it's only for the adults, etc. Probably won't work but it might be worth a try. Best of luck.



answers from Phoenix on

I have picky eaters as well and I am a Dietitian so I felt myself giving up the healthy food I wanted them to eat just so they would eat. Ellyn Satter is a Dietitian and author on many child feeding books. I finally read "Child of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense". Best book I have ever read. It addresses everything and really made meal time pleasant and my now 5 year old daughter will eat so many more foods. I can't recommend this book enough. It starts at the breast feeding stage but you can just skip ahead to what applies to you. Good luck!


answers from San Francisco on

Just keep offering and don't push it.
My son was super picky as a young child but now as a 19 year old he eats almost everything. His latest favorite is spicy Indian curry with lentils (and this was a kid who at one point was living on PB&J and cheese pizza.)
My oldest daughter also HATED vegetables, still does, though she will eat almost any kind of salad.
I never worried about it. My kids were always healthy and growing and I had NO interest in battles at the dinner table. I made good, healthy food and they either ate it or they didn't, no biggie.



answers from New York on

I would just say keep trying, don't force her to eat them, but keep encouraging her to try things. My mother always says I was such a great eater up until I was around 5 or 6 and then all of a sudden I was the "I don't like it" child. After a while of that my parents just didn't bother to say "just try it". They joke that I lived on turkey sandwiches and chicken nuggets, any kind of vegetables were basically off the menu. Id say sometime around my later years of highschool I started to try foods that I always "did not like" and it turns out I did like these foods. I mean how can you say you don't like something you haven't even tried? its silly really. My guess is that its just a stage she is going through.

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