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

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

  • I serve “real food” to my daycare kids, which is often very different from what they eat at home. I make sure to include something each child finds edible at each meal. However, I simply will not buy foods that I find unhealthy.

    I think the key is to offer only healthy foods and not to give in and break out the pizza or the chips just to get kids to eat. Also – keep it low pressure as you mentioned. I let kids know its up to them whether or not they choose to eat, but I am firm on the meal plan. Generally, kids get hungry, try new things and end up enjoying them after a few tries!

    Some one told me once: It’s the adults job to offer healthy food to kids. It’s the kids job to eat.

    Some great tips here – thanks!

  • Michelle Begue

    I had a super picky 6 year old foster son come to live with us 2 1/2 years ago. He ate exactly 4 foods, none of which were things I would normally offer. At first, I made these foods available, and simply stated that it is a house rule that you must TASTE one bite of anything that is served. Every time it is served. Over time, he started taking more bites. Today, he eats nearly everything I put in front of him, and no longer asks for the processed foods he started life on. Keep offering good choices, reduce the less desirable options, and they will adapt.

  • Jennifer

    I’m new to eating real food. I’m trying to eat healthier to help my husband lower his triglycerides. We have three boys and it’s our youngest that resists eating anything that is remotely healthy. This kid would live of off Mac-n-cheese, chicken nuggets , hamburgers and pizza if he could. There are times I can get him to eat apples but no other veggies or fruits. I know I can make my own chicken nuggets and home made mac and cheese…but if I make anything with veggies in it he picks it out. Help!!!

  • [...] in their lunch (love this idea!). For even more tips be sure to check out my blog post all about winning over your picky eater. And most importantly…be sure to use gentle persistence and don’t give up on [...]

  • [...] gonna say it) some fresh crunchy raw vegetables like carrots, bell peppers or celery. If your kids aren’t into raw veggies try offering them with a dip like homemade ranch or hummus. You could [...]

  • Kim

    I have an 8 1/2 year old daughter who absolutely REFUSES to taste new foods. We have tried everything: games, bribery, taking things away, hiding veggies in foods she likes, begging but as a holistic health counselor who helps clients eat healthier daily it really upsets me that my own kids (also have a 3 1/2 year old son) will not eat healthy whole foods. How would you recommend that I get my daughter to taste new foods? She is so stubborn when it comes to this and sometimes refuses to eat veggies that she’s eaten in the past just because she doesn’t want to. Her diet is bland and plain (pasta with butter, chicken, eggs, cucumbers and is even picky about fruit) and she spots the smallest speck of “green” in foods, she will never eat sauce or soups because there are too many ingredients in a soup (pasta in broth=yes but pasta, carrots in broth=NO WAY!) Any advice you can give will be so appreciated. I know kids need to try new foods and textures several times before liking them but I can’t even win the battle to get her to put a new food in her mouth. Thanks! Kim

  • 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!

  • 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: http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2012/06/28/food-allergies/. If you are looking to avoid wheat/gluten, Lisa has many recipes that work for that. Another resource would be http://deliciouslyorganic.net/. 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: http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/09/30/real-food-tips-12-ways-to-keep-it-cheap/. ~Amy

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