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Top Tips for Picky Eaters

Did you know that it can take an average of 12 or more times offering a new food for your child to eat it?  Having your child try new foods can be hard. Here are our favorite tips on how to help children try new foods: 

  • Get Children Involved - When at the grocery store, ask them to pick out a new fruit or vegetable they want to try. Have them help with washing and cutting the new food. This will make them excited to try it!


  • Pair New Foods with Favorite Foods - Offer something new next to a food they already enjoy. Try serving a new food when they are hungry. Ask your child to try at least two bites. Sometimes it can take many times of trying a food for a child to like it. Don’t feel bad if it ends up on the floor instead of in their mouth. Keep serving the new food and ask for “just two bites” each time. Patience is key.


  • Make Foods More Attractive - For example, a colorful plate of tomatoes, green peas, white chicken, and orange slices is a lot more colorful looking than a plate of chicken, applesauce, mashed potatoes, and cauliflower. The key is color and texture. You want to make their meal involve many senses. Sight is an important one for children. Another way to make food more fun is to use a cookie cutter to make foods in fun shapes.


  • Be a Food Role Model - If you are introducing a food, make sure it is also on your plate and everyone else’s plate at the table. Make sure to watch your body language and make your child see that you are liking it. Tell them you like the food and smile while you are eating!


  • All Foods Should be Good Foods - Avoid assigning labels like “good” or “bad” to food. Some foods can be for celebration, like cake for a birthday party. Avoid using food as a reward, such as telling them they will not get to eat dessert unless they eat their vegetables. This can make eating vegetables seem like a chore or something bad, which can make it harder to eat them when they are older. 


  • Let Children Decide How Much to Eat - Sometimes it looks like children are not eating enough.  However, children have a stomach that is much smaller than ours. Sometimes a couple of bites is all it takes to make them full. Let children decided when they are done eating. If children are told to clean their plates, it can cause children to ignore when they are feeling hungry and full. This can lead to overeating at meals as they get older, too.


Remember that picky eating is normal and most kids go through it! If you have concerns about your child's growth or nutrition intake, please consult with your child's pediatrician.

Joanna Manero, former University of Illinois Dietetic Intern
February 13, 2018
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