Picky, picky

How to support a picky eater at mealtime…

Hello! Lindsay here, fresh off another weekend of quietly putting frozen spinach in my daughters’ smoothies and praying no one cries when I present lasagna for dinner. I honestly thought that if I had one picky eater, my second child couldn’t possibly also be a picky eater. Well, here we are. 🤦🏻‍♀️ Parents of picky kids, I see you. 

So? Let’s whip up some delicious solutions for the sweet and salty picky eaters at your table.


Eat Your Veggies…or Don’t

I can picture it now: You’re sitting at the dinner table after laboring over a new healthy recipe all afternoon. You chopped, simmered, seared, and served. Then your child looks over at you, and you already know what they’re about to say: I don’t like this (either that or can I have dino nuggets).

You might be wondering How did I get here? Let’s explore just that—plus load up our toolboxes with some tips to get the picky eaters at your table to branch out.

Picky eaters: born or created?

The answer is…both.

They’re born: Some picky eaters may have a genetic predisposition to avoid certain types of food based on sensitivities and unique palates. And kids are generally less tolerant of bitter or sour foods than adults due to the human biological reaction to avoid foods that could be dangerous to consume (🤯). 

They’re also created: Kids who are exposed to a wider range of foods and flavors at a young age have a better chance of emerging from the picky eaters club as full-fledged foodies.

We checked in with registered dietician, nutrition expert, and new mom Mary Glenn Lipman, who agreed that picky eaters can develop in a multitude of ways. How to handle them, though? It can feel overwhelming and stressful—but it doesn’t have to be.

Lipman explained that the most important thing to remember is patience. 

We want to help our children build a healthy relationship with food and listen to their bodies,” Lipman said. “If they are hungry they will eat something.

Here are a few fun, supportive ways to encourage them in the process.

Chill out

Back in the day, kids were encouraged to clean their plates. I came from a house that required “just one bite” of the thing we dreaded tasting. I would sit for more than an hour, staring down my enemy (broccoli), wondering how to get it down. Want to guess which food I still can’t stand? Broccoli.

Rethinking those clean plate club values can work wonders. Kids are more likely to respond to trying new foods in low-pressure environments. Let them take the lead, and you may find them requesting BLTs (bites, licks, and tastes) of new foods on their own. And P.S. food on mom or dad’s plate always tastes better, as you’ve likely discovered.

Expand slowly but surely

One experiment found that infants who were exposed to a different vegetable for eight days in a row were more likely to eat yet another veggie. But it’s all in the approach. 

Some ideas:

  • Try including one new item on your child’s plate each day along with other healthy foods they already like.

  • Describe what you enjoy about a new food for your child (i.e. “Mangoes are so sweet and silky”).

  • Let them know that 1) they have a choice about whether to try the new food and 2) there will be chances to try it again later. 

Get hands-on

Empower your kids to try new things by getting them involved—allow them to participate in meal planning and preparing. Invest in kid-sized measuring cups, baking tools, or a fun new apron. Celebrate trying new things yourself. When we model how fulfilling it can be to fuel our bodies with delicious, healthy foods, kids tend to adopt similar habits.

When all else fails…

Remember that things change. Just like “no” or “hold me,” picky eating is often just a phase of childhood as your kid figures out what they like and don’t like.

Who knows? Maybe your picky eater will become the next New York Times food critic or maybe they’ll hate broccoli forever. Both are okay. If your pediatrician is happy with your child’s growth, development, and overall health, there is no reason to stress about food preferences.

Got a trick for picky eaters that changed the dinner game for your family? Hit respond and let us know!

  • Two to tango? My daughter has a set of twins in her class, and interesting questions have already come up, including “How do I tell them apart when they dress the same?” This column from Slate discusses twin friendship etiquette, according to an identical twin.

  • Communication is key. We know this, but it isn’t just about how we speak to each other. Compassion, empathy, and understanding are the components of successful communication. Relationship coach Sabrina Flores shares her take on TikTok. 

  • Trust your child. Nicole Cruz, RD, is a great resource for encouraging intuitive eating in your family. As this quote reminds us, everything gets a lot easier once we trust that it will all work out.

Anyone else hungry now? I’m off to grab a sneaky-veggie smoothie. I’ll see you back here on Friday where we’ll cover some of your food + family-related questions.