Healthy Minds Start with Healthy Guts, How to Combat Picky Eaters

“No! Yuck! Gross! Ew!” If this sounds all too familiar to your family – you probably have a picky eater on your hands. Being a parent of a picky eater can come with a lot more rejection than they may be prepared for, but it is vital not to give up. Although it is difficult to know how to navigate the behaviors involved with eating challenges, there is hope. Research shows that about 20% of parents say their two to five year olds are picky eaters. While most will eventually outgrow their adolescent eating behaviors, there are steps parents can take in the meantime. Remember that your child’s eating habits won’t likely change overnight, but the following are some small steps you take each day can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating.

1. Respect your child’s appetite — or lack of one.

If your child isn’t hungry, don’t force a meal or snack. Additionally, don’t reward or force your child to eat certain foods or clean his or her plate. It is also helpful to serve small portions to avoid overwhelming your child and give him or her opportunity to independently ask for more.

2. Don’t make dinner time a power struggle.

Often times, the food a child eats is the only thing they have control over, but parents want control too. This creates a power struggle between parents and children. Power struggles can teach kids the wrong messages about food. When a child rejects a certain food and we put pressure on the child to eat that food, it becomes a negative experience. Try to make meal times a positive experience by removing the pressure and your own anxiety around mealtimes.

3. Change up the menu, but stick to the routine.

Variety is key. Have your kids try new foods as often as possible. A key component to healthy eating for both children and adults is to ensure that they eat a healthy and balanced diet. By consuming a variety of food, we can ensure than all the basis are covered. It is also important to serve meals and snacks at about the same times every day to create a routine.

4. Be patient with new foods.

Research shows it often takes up to 21 tries to develop a taste for a new food – so don’t give up! Encourage your child by talking about a food’s color, shape, texture, and aroma. Serve new foods along with your child’s favorite foods until the new food become familiar and preferred.

5. Don’t be a short-order cook.

Preparing a separate meal for your child after he or she rejects the original meal might promote picky eating. Encourage your child to stay at the table for the designated mealtime — even if he or she doesn’t eat.

6. Make it fun by recruiting your child’s help.

The more involved a child is in mealtimes, the more likely they will be to eat the food being served to them. At the grocery store, ask your child to help you select fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods. At home, encourage your child to help you rinse vegetables, stir batter or set the table.

7. Set a good example and minimize distractions.

Lead by example. If you eat a variety of healthy foods, your child is more likely to follow suit. Have a designated meal time as a family without screen time. This will help your child focus on eating.

8. Don’t offer dessert as a reward.

Withholding dessert sends the message that dessert is the best food, which might only increase your child’s desire for sweets. Instead, redefine desert by offering healthy options such as melon, berries, Greek yogurt, and fruit.

If you’re concerned that picky eating is compromising your child’s growth and development, consult your child’s doctor. You can also take steps at home and with the help of a nutritionist to help combat the issue. Contact Nutrition by Charlotte at 310-989-0743 if you are interested in consulting a nutritionist about your child’s eating habits.

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Naomi Ester Rahmani MS CCC-SLP


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