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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132 thoughts on “Real Food Tips: 12 Ways to Deal with a Picky Eater”

  1. I was a very picky eater and hated many food textures and tastes. I didn’t eat any vegetables at all until I was 15! I decided for myself that I needed to get better at eating and trained myself by trying new things more often. My favourite trick though, was to take a bite of something I did not like on the same forkful as something I really liked. This both disguised the flavour and texture a bit and also got me used to the new flavour and texture gradually. I wholeheartedly agree with not forcing people to eat foods until they are ready to do so as anxiety and fear make chewing and swallowing much harder and do not help at all when trying to eat an unfamiliar food

  2. Growing up I considered myself a good eater- my parents required us to eat a small portion of everything served to us and there were only a few foods I felt were ‘disgusting’- mostly because of the texture- canned tomatoes and canned peaches (I liked both of them fresh!) But when I attended college in Hawaii, I was introduced to several dishes that were new to me- lomi salmon, ahi poke, opihi, poi, papaya, breadfruit, and many more. I remember it took courage to eat them- raw fish was not something I’d previously been introduced to. Many of them I did not care for at first, but with time some of them became favorites of mine! I have seven children, now young adults. We raised them with the ‘two bite’ rule. From the time they
    turned 3 years old, each child was assigned a night as the dinner helper and each one planted and took care of their own vegetable in our garden. None of them were (or are) picky eaters and my three sons as well as their sisters are great cooks today!

  3. 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.

  4. 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…

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

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