Simple solutions for feeding picky eaters

Michele Borboa, MS

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If your family dinner table is more akin to a battle ground than a dining space because your picky eater refuses to eat anything outside of her five-food comfort zone, we’ve got a few simple tips to help you make peace with your picky eater.

Boy at farmer's market

1Include your child’s favorite foods

You may be thinking that if you omit your picky eater’s go-to foods from the dinner menu that she will have no choice other than eat the meal you serve. This may work for some kids, but other kids will simply refuse to eat. Instead of trying to win the battle of wills, mix your child’s favorite foods into your family meals. If she wants to live on peas and carrots, toss them in rice or include them in a stir-fry with other vegetables. She’ll probably dig them out but if you give her a chance, she may also start eating the surrounding ingredients. This honors her food choices while also introducing her to other foods she may refuse if punished or pushed.

2Involve your child in meal planning

Got a son who wants to eat nothing but pizza or spaghetti? Great! You have an open door to include him in the family meal planning. Instead of grudgingly making pizza and pasta, get excited about having him help you plan how to make the pizza and pasta. If you go into this with sincere interest in his ideas, you show him his opinions and preferences are valued and it gives him a sense of independence. Eventually, ask him what other types of meals he wants to plan for the week. Kids who are involved in the meal planning process are more likely to eat outside of their usual comfort zone.

3Take the picky eater grocery shopping

Young kids are trying to learn about their world and how to control it. Food is an easy aspect of their life that they can eat or refuse to eat. Helping them see that they do have a say in their diet will give them more confidence in trying new foods. Take your picky eater to the grocery store, or even more fun, the farmers market and ask her to choose three to four different foods to try. Start her at the produce aisle, since naturally sweet fruit and brightly colored veggies will catch her eye, while also being high on the healthy foods list. At the supermarket, show her the different shaped pastas, array of whole grain breads, selection of bulk items and variety of dairy products. Ask her to choose a few things she thinks the whole family would enjoy.

4Teach your kids to cook

Along with involving your picky eater in meal planning and grocery shopping, get your kids in the kitchen to help you cook. Instead of just serving your finicky kiddo his favorite mac and cheese meal, let him help you make it. As he gets more comfortable in the kitchen, ask him what else you two should put in the mac and cheese (e.g. chopped veggies, bacon, different cheeses, etc.). Have a few kid-friendly cookbooks handy, preferably ones with captivating photos and encourage your picky eater to find a recipe he’d like to try. Give him the tools and instruction to make his chosen meals. Teaching your kids to cook will not only help them break out of their five-food rut, it also helps them develop kitchen skills that they can take into adulthood.

5Be creative in the kitchen

Make your family’s meals fun to eat. Even if your child wants to live on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, swap out jam for sliced fresh fruit and cut the sandwich into a heart or circle with large cookie cutters. Then start fixing other types of sandwiches the same way. Use smaller cookie cutters to turn fruit, pancakes or baked goods into numbers, letters and shapes. Don’t just scatter ingredients on a pizza -- arrange them so the pizza has personality by adding a happy face, stick figures or a map. When presenting food to your picky eater, give it a story: For instance, broccoli florets can become the trees in an enchanted forest, your bell peppers can be stick soldiers and your chicken can be a chariot or something that catches your kiddo’s attention. You can also ask your kiddo how you two should arrange the food for a story.

More tips for picky eaters

5 Healthy recipes for picky eaters
Should you give in to your child’s picky eating?
Could picky eating be an eating disorder?

Michele Borboa, MS
Michele Borboa, MS is a contributing editor for specializing in health, fitness, and all things food. She is a veteran health and fitness professional, personal chef, and mom in Bozeman, Montana. She is also the author of the time-saving cookbook Make-Ahead Meals Made Healthy (Fair Winds Press, July 2011). You can contact Michele at or give her a tweet at