Real Food Tips: 12 Ways to Deal with a Picky Eater

Winning over your picky eater is no easy task, but (in most cases) it can be done! Following is a list of tactics to hopefully convince your child that “real food” is good stuff. Also, don’t forget that it can take time for one’s palette to adjust to new tastes so if you experience some failed attempts at first don’t be discouraged!

Whole-Wheat Banana Pancakes

1. Start by switching out the refined and processed ingredients in meals they love for healthier ones. Some recipes to consider: Whole-Wheat Macaroni and Cheese, Homemade Chicken Nuggets, Whole-Wheat Pizza and Whole-Wheat Banana Pancakes (pictured).

2. Give your child a good first impression of the real food you want them to try even if it means deep frying sweet potatoes to make French fries, making sweet zucchini bread, or coating fish in almonds and topping it with a butter sauce. Once your child thinks they like “fish” you’ll have a better chance of getting them to eat it next time (even if you cook it differently).

3. If you like to hide veggies in your kid’s food please tell them about it while they are eating it (if you’re brave enough) or at least tell them afterward. They need to know the hidden ingredient isn’t so horrifying after all. Plus if when they turn 18 they still think they’ve never eaten broccoli, because it’s always been hidden it in their food, where is that going to get you?

4. Bribe them to eat real food with other real food. Most parents already know how to bribe on occasion, but remember it does not always have to be about sweets and junk food. For example, my 4-year-old daughter absolutely loves cheese sticks and will do just about anything for one…including eating a bite of her veggies!

5. Let them pick out their own fruits and vegetables at the store or farmers’ market. Better yet, let them help you grow some produce in a few pots or in a small garden in your very own backyard. Now is the perfect time to start planting for fall, and it would be very little effort and a lot of reward to plant some carrot seeds together in a little pot on your deck.

6. Get them involved in picking out dinner or breakfast recipes and helping you cook the meal. Even kids as young as one or two are great at stirring. I’ve started letting my 6-year-old flip pancakes on the griddle (with close supervision) and she feels like she is the “queen of the castle” when she’s cooking for the whole family! Most kids will at least have a taste if they helped to make the meal.

7. Make a strict “one-bite rule” that they have to at least try a food and remind them that it won’t hurt them if it tastes bad. This goes for each meal.  Also allow them to wash it down with their drink as opposed to spitting it out. You may only win them over 1 out of 10 times, but that one time makes it so worth it!

8. Do not pressure or upset your kids too much over trying a new food. There is a sweet spot somewhere between not giving up easily and not pushing them too hard. This is why I like our “one bite rule” because it is no surprise when I ask my kids to try at least one bite of something new.  You don’t want them to have any negative feelings toward food or mealtime. You should know pretty quickly when you’ve started taking things too far.

9. If your child is especially resistant only put one new food on their plate at a time along with other real food that you already know they like.

10. For older children talk to them about why it is important to make these changes and consider inviting them to watch the documentary Food, Inc. with you. You can also sit down and discuss our list of 10 reasons to cut out processed food. Most kids want to do the right thing and be healthy, and I promise you the transition will be so much easier if they’re on board with making changes.

11. Make sure you have the right expectations. Converting your child or your entire family over to real food is not supposed to be an easy or quick task. Buying, prepping and cooking wholesome meals is obviously going to be more work than ordering a highly processed pizza, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Just remember that the changes you will see in the health of your family will be more than worth it in the long run!

12. It really does take a dozen or more times for a child to realize they might like a new food. It took a lot of patience, but I think I even offered my youngest daughter green bell peppers two or three dozen times before she one day decided she liked it (much to my surprise!). So remember…persistence is key so don’t give up!


If you have any additional suggestions you’d like to share please leave them in the comments below. Also, be sure to check out our family real food meal plans if you are looking for ideas on what to specifically feed your kids.


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  • Comments

    1. Krys |

      Try the 1 bite rule. We’ve been doing this with our 8 1/2 year old since she was about 3. She needs to take at least one bite of each food on her plate. If she doesn’t like it, she does not need to any eat more, but she does not get a special meal made for her. If she doesn’t like dinner, but is still hungry, she can have fruits or raw veggies, or yogurt to fill her up.
      If she doesn’t try the food, it’s straight to bed…no reading, no electronics. We only had to send her to bed early once, for her to get the message that we were serious. It hasn’t varied her diet all that much, but at least she is trying new things. The rule stays the same even if she has tried something in the past & didn’t like it. Kids need repeated exposure to new foods, because it may take them a few tries before they actually like something.
      Good luck!

    2. christi |

      When you live in apartments, growing your own food is not possible. When you live in places that don’t have stores like the one you recommend, it’s even more difficult. Also, a lot of wheat in one’s diet is not necessarily healthy either. Are their options? When you work long days and come home to a bunch of hungry children, how do you make it work? If you are a stay at home mom and have all the time in the world to cut, prepare and all of that…that’s one thing. But what if you are a primary income source and have to make it work when you are away from home?

      • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy) |

        Hi Christi. You can certainly find lots of whole grains that are not wheat, if you are trying to avoid it. You can see some of them here: If you are looking to avoid wheat/gluten, Lisa has many recipes that work for that. Another resource would be I know it can be very challenging to feed a family especially when all the burden falls on you. I think a good goal always is to just aim to do a little better one step at a time. Find recipes that you like, that work for your family, and make big batches and freeze. My freezer has made weeknights so much easier. You might have to give up part of a weekend to cooking, but it can really smooth out your week and soothe your worries. I’ve found that having a fridge and pantry full of healthy items helps assure that your kids make better choices when you can’t be there. :) Also, this post can help with budgeting: ~Amy

      • Judy |

        I was a single working mom for about 4 years, so I get where you’re coming from! (I was also extremely broke.) So I made meatballs & pasta sauce on my days off, freezing them in “dinner” sized portions. I made batches of muffins & pancakes and froze those as well. I also cooked chicken breast, and sliced it up, then froze it. (To have with salad, or on sandwiches.) I bought tons of bags of frozen veggies, cause you really can just rip them open, steam, sauté, or roast them. Lisa has some great crockpot recipes that freeze well, like her BBQ beans. Then you don’t have to stand over the stove.
        Cooking on your day off- not that much fun sometimes. But- when you get home, exhausted, and only have to heat sauce, boil water for pasta, and throw a veggie in a pot, it’s totally worth it! And depending on how frugal you need to be, making “mini” meatballs turns a pound of ground meat into 2 meals… Everyone feels as though they got a lot, but you can stretch it out! :)
        Good luck!

    3. |

      Great tips! Another one that has really helped me is not bringing highly processed food into the home. Be careful what you stock your pantry with. If there is not so healthy processed food in your pantry, then that’s what your kids are going to be asking for. We can’t line our pantries with sugary cereals and processed treats and expect our kids to prefer vegetables. When there is an abundance of easy to prepare processed favorites on your shelves, there is no motivation for the child to try something different or even the parent to make something healthier from scratch. Processed food scarcity will motivate kids to eat the healthy food on hand, and parents to make the meals.

    4. Kara |

      My Mother-in-law tells her grand kids that their taste buds change every day, so foods they don’t like today, they may like tomorrow. But, the foods you do like, you will always like. It has worked for her youngest, he is trying new foods every day.

      I lucked out with my kiddo, he will eat anything. The crazier the better. He was the first one at the fair to try fried mealworms dipped in sweet and sour sauce at the fair when he was 5. Now he boasts having eaten frog, octopus, grasshoppers, mealworms. He can’t wait to try snails next!

    5. Ashlee |

      At what age do you implement a one bite rule? I have a 3 1/2 year old that cannot be reasoned, cajoled or bribed to try something he doesn’t want in his mouth, and often ends up in tears if we try to force the issue. How do you enforce something like that? Are there consequences if they don’t try it? Thanks in advance!

    6. Amelia |

      I was (and still am) a pretty picky eater. When I looked at your tip for having older kids watch Food Inc. I cringed a little. I had to watch that movie for a school project and all it did was make me even PICKIER. If you want your child to start eating healthier, that is the absolute wrong way to do it.

    7. Kathy |

      Some tips for working moms: I spend Sunday afternoon cooking. It is family time and I get lots of helpers. I could be cooking 3-4 dishes at once; soup, a caserole, veggie dish. It usually gets us through a few evening meals. As I start dinner each evening, kids are at the table doing homework. I’m right there to stop and help and we can get it out of the way. I put out a veggie tray before even starting dinner. Hungry snackers can fill as much as they like on the healthy treat. You would be suprised how much they eat! There isn’t any bargaining; it is just the only chioce. As I’m clean up from dinner, I plan the next nights meal. (The week’s menu was created before the week’s grocery trip so no going back for needed ingredients) I prep as much as possible so the next night’s meal is on the table quickly.

    8. Stephanie |

      I love this article. I’ve read it before, but it’s always worth a re-read, and I had to do that today. For my son’s entire life (he’s 4) he’s only known me to eat relatively healthy food, but my husband is a completely different story. I have always used the one bite rule, and it used to be a success but lately it is WWIII in the house at dinner time. And it doesn’t help that my husband hates all food that might be considered remotely healthy. I had to read number 8 again and keep it in mind. Additionally I’m going to try to implement number 9. Instead of putting a portion of the food on his plate – I’ll try one bite. Hopefully instead of sitting at the table for 45 minutes while he keeps the food in his mouth, leading to frustration and anger on all sides (and it STILL doesn’t get swallowed) he will just see it as one small bite and move on. I wish I had more “real food” friends or family around here, but I am absolutely alone in my thinking, and junk food is constantly given to my son despite my requests otherwise. That is one negative in an otherwise positive experience of having both sets of parents within five minutes of the house!

    9. Brittany |

      My dad wouldn’t let us leave he table until we ate our food or tries the one bite. And if it got too late, then we’d have save it until the next meal. We wouldn’t eat until we complied. And I have to say it was so effective that he only had to really enforce it a couple of times! And there were four of us…

    10. Helen |

      hahahah. For us, any attempt to enforce rule 7 brings us into direct contravention of rule 8. “Picky eater” is only the start of it for us (in fact I’ve read that kids with food issues like our daughter’s are better described by the phrase “problem eaters”).

      Having said that, after 11 years of patient effort she now eats a balanced, if limited diet, including fruit, veggies, and whole grains. But well-meaning people suggesting that helping with cooking or growing your own veggies are paths to success make me laugh in despair.

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