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Where to Start with "Picky Eaters"

29 October 2011

There are several challenges to overcome when teaching "picky" eaters to become more adventurous:

1.  Mealtimes are not enjoyable.  Mealtime has become a battle.
2.  Eating new foods has become a power struggle between the child and the adults in his/ her life.
3.  Being picky has become part of the child's identity.
4.  Pickiness has become a habit. The child habitually eats certain foods and turns down others.
5.  The child has developed a taste for certain foods and has failed to develop a taste for other foods.

Today's suggestions will specifically address challenges 1 and 2. In order to help picky eaters become more adventurous, we need to make mealtimes into fun, peaceful times, devoid of conflict and power struggles.

Before you can introduce new foods in a positive way, you need to change the tone of mealtimes.

Here's how to begin turning things around:

1.  Sit down and make a list of your child's favorite foods- all of the foods that he or she will eat without any struggle.
2. Plan meals for a whole week around those foods. If possible, make dinners that the whole family will be willing to eat.  If the adults are not thrilled about macaroni and cheese and hotdogs for dinner, try to at least sit down and have some as a family and then eat something else later. The idea is for the child to get used to everyone sitting down as a family and eating the same things- no one has a special or separate meal.
3. Do not clue your child in that anything different is happening. If they notice that things seem different, focus not on the food but on the fact that, as a family, you are working on enjoying meals together.
4.  Don't worry about how much your child is eating. Don't force them or bribe them to eat.
5.  Tell stories, talk and play meal appropriate games. (One of our favorites is "I'm thinking of an animal."  One person says, "I'm thinking of an animal that (is blue, lives in the ocean, etc.) and other family members try to guess the animal. More clues are given, if necessary, and the person who finally guesses the answer gets to think of the next animal.)
6.  Serve their favorite foods in different ways. Two fun things to try are Muffin Tin Meals, and Bento box lunches:

Click here to see an example of a Bento for a picky eater.
Click here to see an example of a Muffin Tin Meal for a picky eater.

If you familiarize your children with Muffin Tin Meals and Bentos using foods that they like, these will serve as great tools for slowly introducing new foods in a fun way.

Depending upon your family dynamics and your child's history with food, you may need to continue these steps for longer than a week. Do it for as long as it takes until family meals "feel" different and the power struggles around food have subsided. You will then be ready to slowly introduce new foods.

Next week, I will post suggestions for starting to introduce new foods.


  1. I've only ever thought of muffin tin meals as fun and not really a meal therefore have never tried them. From reading this post I can see the benefit of them with a picky eater and might have to try them. Thanks for sharing!

  2. They are both fun and a good tool! I've used them in lots of ways to help make meals more fun and more manageable!


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