How to Get a Picky Eater to Eat Everything

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How do you get a picky eater to eat everything…well, almost everything? I bet you’re thinking, “Ha! Ha! She has never met my child. This will never happen.”

Yep. I get that.

But we all start out the same way when we are born. We neither like nor dislike anything when we come out of the womb. Something changes at one point or another. From my observation, the change happens when a child becomes a toddler.

Somewhere between the age of 1-3 years old a child starts developing an opinion and says “no” to about everything. This is a normal phase, but it can be difficult when your child says “no” to food. Eating is the ultimate power trip for kids. They say “no” and you can’t do a darn thing about it. Or can you?

In this post, I am going to share with you the secret my pediatrician gave me on how to get a picky eater to eat everything. You will be amazed at how well it works.

Mealtime at Your House

Before I tell you the secret to getting a picky eater to eat everything,  I would like to come to your world. Perhaps there are a few things you do with your kids when it comes to mealtime.

My first guess…you might be making separate meals? You have one meal for you (and your spouse), and then you make another meal for your kids. Am I right?

And, I bet I can guess what your kids’ meals look like. Perhaps something with pasta, corn, potatoes, rice, pizza, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, carrots with ranch, maybe green beans (canned-most have added sugar), applesauce ( with corn syrup), flavored yogurt (sugar), cheese, and peanut butter/ jelly (most have sugar) with no crust?

Oh, and ketchup.

Some of you only wish your child ate that many foods. I know many of you have kids who only eat four or five things on a good day. Perhaps you have taken your child to the doctor recently because he is not eating enough. And that’s when the doctor intervened and suggested Pediasure to supplement his diet.

How did this happen? What went wrong?

Related: Parenting: 3 Biggest Secrets I Wish I Knew When My Kids Were Young

Estranged: Finding Hope When Your Family Falls Apart book.

 Purchase your ebook or paperback on Amazon or at your favorite digital store. 

The Truth About Your Child’s Diet

The truth about your child’s diet is that he’s eating mostly sugar. If you go back and take a good look at your menu, you will notice that corn, rice, potatoes, pasta, nugget coating, pizza, commercial fruit/yogurt, and bread turn to sugar once in the body.

Look at your ketchup too. Yep, lots of sugar.

Now read your Pediasure can…more sugar. After water, sugar is the second ingredient, and then corn maltodextrin. Corn maltodextrin is refined sugar and a preservative. Read the rest of the ingredients in Pediasure. It includes a whole bunch of other stuff produced in a laboratory.

Did you realize this is what your child is ingesting daily if he is on Pediasure? Here is the ingredient label to Pediasure so you can see for yourself.

Nutrition facts for Pediasure.

So what do you do? You may feel trapped and scared to try anything else. Don’t worry, I was close to this point with my firstborn too.

I was kinda feeling like a failure.

When I was about to buy the Pediasure, I looked at the ingredients and decided to do things differently. It was in the store I had an epiphany.

I realized I wanted to be the fun mom who made yummy food all the time. It turned out that wasn’t the best thing for my son.

Related: Tired of Not the Fun Parent?

I had no one to blame but myself. I created this picky eater by feeding all the carbs (sugar) to him. He had developed a taste for only this type of food.

Somehow my choices evolved into a toddler in charge of mealtimes. Ugh!

Wait, what?

Yes, he was in charge, not me.

I realized I had to shift the power back to me and retrain his taste buds to eat things other than high carb foods.

Maybe this is what has happened to your child, too.

Related: Is Your Pre-Schooler In Charge: 9 Ways to Regain Control

Little girl in a green, sleeveless tops eating an ice cream cone.

How to Get a Picky Eater to Eat Everything

So how do you get a picky eater to eat everything?  My pediatrician suggested I feed my son what the rest of the family was eating. That sounded simple.

The only problem was I knew my child wouldn’t eat it. He said, “Don’t worry, he’ll get hungry…eventually.” He reminded me that when kids get the flu or some other sickness they will go two or three days without eating much.

What, starve my child? No way! I didn’t want to do that.

But I listened further. He said, “If your son refuses his dinner, don’t make a big deal about it. Just say okay. But tell him there is nothing else to eat. He has the choice to eat it or not.

If he doesn’t eat it, then wrap it up and put it in the refrigerator. The next morning, serve it for breakfast. If he refuses, then serve it for lunch, and so on. He WILL eventually eat it.”

So I tried it. And it worked.

He ate it for lunch the next day. He never even went a full 24 hours without food. My son didn’t wither away, go into cardiac arrest, or need counseling afterward.

I had to do this only a few times before he learned he wasn’t in charge anymore. We never had problems after that.

Over the years, my kids have developed preferences. And that is okay. I wanted to make meals fun, just not carb-loaded and only on their terms. They didn’t particularly like eggplant and mushrooms. I tried not to make those things since they ate everything else.

Let me give you a list of things we ate at my house (still do): collard and turnip greens, summer and winter squash, broccoli, spinach, beets, turnips, celery, carrots, avocado, kiwi, tomatoes, star fruit, papaya, cantaloupe, honeydew, coconut, asparagus, spiraled zucchini, spaghetti squash, etc.

You get the idea.

Yes, my kids actually liked them all.  

I did this with both of my kids when they were young. Because I addressed the problem early, they had a very diversified palate all the way through their childhood and teen years.

Pin me for later!

How to Get a Picky Eater to Eat Everything pin with a child in a highchair eating food.

What About Teens?

If you have older kids the plan I gave may be difficult to do. Try this instead: Only make one meal at mealtime for the family.

You are not a short-order cook.

If your teen decides not to eat it, no big deal. But nothing else to eat for the evening other than fruits and vegetables.

Snacks: Have a basket for each child. Put one week’s worth of snacks in it. Your teen can eat the snacks all in one day or spread them out over the seven days. This way your teen will not be able to fill up on snacks before dinner.

Fruits and veggies are always available throughout the day. The point is to guide your teen to better choices without power struggles.

Related: Do You Hate Teen Tantrums: 5 Ways to Cope

A side benefit of getting your child to eat or taste everything is that they are very good guests in people’s homes. Many mothers said how grateful they were that they did not have to cater to my kids.

They couldn’t believe they would eat anything that was put before them, and they said “thank you” when they were done.

I hope this suggestion will help you with your picky eaters. I read once that picky eaters are not born, they are made. After the transition I saw with my own child, I have to agree. You can retrain taste buds to like healthier things if you work at it.

Of course, if you don’t eat healthy food, you probably won’t have a lot of success getting your kids to eat healthily. You are the best example for them to eat right!

Related: 25 Things You Must Do to be a Good Parent

*Before you try this, ask your pediatrician if it is okay. I do not want to be the cause of any harm that could come from skipping a few meals.

Your pediatrician will hopefully see the real health benefits of short-term pain for long-term benefits. 

Book on Family Estrangement from a Biblical Point of View

Are you experiencing family problems? Perhaps you and a loved one are no longer speaking. Don’t go another day without reading this book.

It addresses family problems and estrangement from a biblical point of view. Estranged: Finding Hope When Your Family Falls Apart is on Amazon or in your favorite digital store.

Estranged: Finding Hope When Your Family Falls Apart book

Get Creating Family Memories for FREE in exchange for your email. If you get this book, it will help you build a good relationship with your kids so that when the hard times come (teen years), you will be able to weather the storm.

Scroll down or look to the side to sign up. You can also get it at your favorite bookstore.

Facebook Group

Continue the conversation on Facebook and join the group Christian Parenting and Family. This is a place for moms with preschool-age kids or older to talk about their struggles with parenting, family life, education, or marriage.

You will find biblically-based advice from other moms who want to raise godly kids.

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Julie Plagens

50 Comments

  1. Sophie @mycuprunsover.ca on April 22, 2019 at 6:22 pm

    We use this method at our house and it works well too. I have come to appreciate that even though my kids seem like picky eaters to me, they actually have incredibly broad palettes and just have a few things they don’t like (why do those always have to be the things that I crave the most!) We don’t make separate meals, but because everyone in our big family has different tastes, most of our meals are “deconstructed” and each person assembles the mix of food that they like – healthy options only though. We just don’t keep products with added sugar for the most part, and they know not to expect it. Thanks for the detailed post; I’m sure it will help a lot of parents with picky eaters.

    • Julie Plagens on June 13, 2019 at 10:35 pm

      It’s so nice when I have people validate this strategy. I. One across so many picky eaters that I wonder if I am the only who did this! Keep up the good work, Sophie.

  2. Sheri Traxler on January 24, 2019 at 4:58 pm

    This is great!

    • Julie Plagens on March 23, 2019 at 1:20 pm

      How to get a picky eater to eat everything isn’t easy. I am glad you liked it.

  3. Chioma on January 24, 2019 at 8:19 am

    Thank you for sharing these helpful tips. Particularly liked the idea of giving them their snacks for the week once, this will help them learn how to manage their resources.

    • Julie Plagens on March 23, 2019 at 1:22 pm

      Chioma, I hope this will help you. I think managing resources can translate into managing money some day. Getting a picky eater to eat everything is not easy. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Kristin B Cook on January 24, 2019 at 4:57 am

    I love these ideas so much! My dad and brother treat my mom like a side-order cook and I hate seeing that because she is not their personal chef. She is a wonderful lady who needs to stand up for herself and use these sorts of tips. And as a nanny, I think that toddler tips are wonderful too.

    • Julie Plagens on March 23, 2019 at 1:24 pm

      Kristin, I think we can get trapped into feeling loved when we cater to others. Unfortunately, it can get out of hand. We end up running out of energy and raising entitled kids. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Jessica on October 19, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    How old was your son when you tried this on him? My son is about to turn two and I’m wondering if he is too young to understand.

    • Julie Plagens on March 23, 2019 at 1:25 pm

      Jessica, I am not sure. Somewhere between 2 and 3. Check with your pediatrician and see if he/she thinks it is ok. Good luck.

  6. Amy @ Orison Orchards on October 16, 2018 at 9:49 pm

    I love your pediatrician’s suggestion! My kids are not picky at all, but I’m going to have my niece and nephew for the summer, and they are the world’s pickiest kids! It seems like they eat nothing! So I’m a little worried… This is great advice, though!

    • Julie Plagens on October 19, 2018 at 12:47 am

      Good luck. That’s going to be hard to have tough love with kids that aren’t your own. I’m sure you will figure something out. Thanks for reading.

  7. Wendy Lemeric on October 16, 2018 at 9:09 pm

    I had friends ask me the same question too. I don’t have a picky eater. We’re proud to have a boy who eats whatever’s on the table ever since he learned how to eat by himself. Here’s the thing though, when we sleep over at his grandma’s house, it’s when the things start to change a bit. Because you know how they are – they want their grandkids to eat, so they make sure they cook separate meals for him. But over and over, I tell them, “you don’t really have to make separate meals for my child. Whatever’s on the table, he’ll eat it.” And guess what, he does – every time. And they get surprised EVERY SINGLE TIME. lol

    • Julie Plagens on October 19, 2018 at 12:49 am

      I had that happen too. They were so surprised my kids would eat whatever because the other set of grandkids had to have everything laced with ketchup or cheese! Thanks for your comment.

  8. Hannah Marie on October 16, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    I should try this. It is so hard to feed my son and it’s like a battle every meal.

    • Julie Plagens on October 19, 2018 at 12:50 am

      It’s better to have a few big battles and it is over than battle every meal for years. Good luck! Thanks for reading.

  9. Ayanna on October 16, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    Great tips! My doctor shared many of these tips with me when I had my oldest. Even now that she is 9, we still have defined meal times and I only make one meal for everyone.

    • Julie Plagens on October 19, 2018 at 12:51 am

      Good for you for sticking to it. It paid off, huh? I am glad other pediatricians have suggested this as I wondered if mine was the only one. Thanks for reading.

  10. Michelle on October 16, 2018 at 8:10 am

    We have a few “kitchen” rules and one is “eat what mama cooked or go hungry” LOL! I used to feel bad about it but not anymore!

    • Julie Plagens on October 19, 2018 at 12:53 am

      Yeah, after you are bone tired from making multiple meals, you realize that it ain’t happening anymore. You are over it! Thanks for reading.

  11. Lavanda Michelle on October 16, 2018 at 7:56 am

    my girls were the very picky eater and this would have helped sooooooo me much. Passing it on to my Goddaughter to help with her picky eater.

    • Julie Plagens on October 19, 2018 at 12:54 am

      Bummer. Oh, well. I hope someone in your family can benefit from my pain. Thanks for your comment.

  12. Sheena Moncatar on October 16, 2018 at 3:03 am

    I don’t have kids yet but I took care of my little brother and my little sister. No problem with my little sis because she was a good eater, no problem with giving her a balanced diet. However, the case was different with my little brother, he was very picky and sometimes he would want to have the same diet over and over again. I had to find ways to make him love whatever our mom has prepared.

    • Julie Plagens on October 19, 2018 at 12:54 am

      Glad you tried to get him to eat a more balanced meal. It is a big power struggle. Thanks for reading.

  13. Jennifer L on October 16, 2018 at 2:01 am

    Oh wow that tip actually makes sense. I can’t even imagine how much work parents have to do to make some food especially the healthier food, more exciting when kids are young.

    • Julie Plagens on October 19, 2018 at 12:55 am

      Yes, it is a lot of work to make multiple meals, every meal! It wore me out. Thanks for your comment.

  14. Heather on October 15, 2018 at 10:39 pm

    My two daughters are complete opposites on food. Our youngest is three and will try anything once and generally likes everything new. Our oldest has never enjoyed food and it’s almost painful to sit for a full meal because she is so picky. These are excellent tips!

    • Julie Plagens on October 19, 2018 at 12:57 am

      Thanks. I hope these suggestions will help you with the picky eater. I am sorry it is so painful. Family meals are supposed to be a time to get together and talk and laugh. it is hard when the picky eater is so difficult. Thanks for reading.

  15. Erin Haugerud on October 15, 2018 at 7:13 pm

    I finally realized this with my second kiddo! I waited way too liking to do this with my first! Until I was tired of acting like a restaurant! My second eats so many more foods!

    • Julie Plagens on October 19, 2018 at 12:58 am

      So true. It is no fun being a short order cook! Hope all is well now. Thanks for reading.

  16. Tizzy Says on October 15, 2018 at 1:20 pm

    I remember, as a kid, when my mother made me plain instant oatmeal. I used to eat all of the flavors in the box but would not touch the plain. She once sat it in front of me for each meal for two days before throwing it out and giving up. If she would have added a bit of syrup or brown sugar, I would have eaten it. I was stubborn. And, plain oatmeal is still nasty.

    • Julie Plagens on October 19, 2018 at 1:00 am

      Yeah, I get it. It is hard to know how to best break a habit of stubbornness. I found that if there was a power struggle in other areas, it came out at the dinner table as well. Sorry that didn’t work so well for you. Thanks for reading.

  17. Marette on October 15, 2018 at 11:22 am

    We feed our toddler what we eat and she is such a good eater! She likes trying new things, too. I plan to do the same when my baby gets older.

    • Julie Plagens on October 24, 2018 at 1:40 pm

      Good for you. Way to go! Thanks for reading.

  18. theintrovertmomblogger on October 15, 2018 at 9:09 am

    I struggle to make my daughter eat what we eat because my parents would always be there to rescue her.. Hopefully, I can do your tips.. Very informative post.. Thanks!

    • Julie Plagens on October 19, 2018 at 1:04 am

      That’s a hard one. I hope they will respect you when you decide to pull the plug on separate meals. Nothing like being cut at the knees. Thanks for reading.

  19. POOVANESH PATHER on October 15, 2018 at 3:09 am

    I love this post. Such great information on taking proper charge of meal times. I love the structure of the post – how you linked picky eating to manners and a healthy lifestyle. You also addressed the teen habit of binging with your snack basket idea. Thank you for sharing. I think more informative posts of this type would help to make parenting easier.

    • Julie Plagens on October 19, 2018 at 1:03 am

      Thanks for your comment. I did have a hard time with my kids binging before dinner and then spoiling it when they were teens. I found the tip with the snack basket when I was researching this post. I think it would have helped me a lot. It seemed to work for the person who suggested it.

  20. Lauren on October 14, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    Great advice! I try my best to do this with my kids. Some days, i cave and make separate meals and some days they eat what we eat. I wish I had done this from the get go.

    • Julie Plagens on October 15, 2018 at 2:00 am

      It is hard to stop a habit. I hope by reading this you will be more aware of what you are doing. It is a choice every day on what you want to do with your kids. Thanks for reading.

  21. Kathryn on October 14, 2018 at 9:16 pm

    I wish I had read this before my first! This is such great advice. We cleaned up my son’s diet when he started having health problems before his second birthday. He’s almost four now and our youngest is almost two. Our youngest has only ever had a whole food diet. When healthy food is the only option, they learn to love it because it tastes good and they understand it helps them feel well.

    • Julie Plagens on October 15, 2018 at 2:02 am

      Kathryn, I am so glad you brought up this point. I didn’t even go into the issues of health problems from eating all the sugar. I think this is why so many kids have ear infections and other sicknesses. And you are right, whole foods are yummy. You just have to develop a taste for them. Thanks for reading.

  22. Tren on October 14, 2018 at 8:36 pm

    This is great information. Sometimes kids being force to eat something they didn’t like can set them back (mentally). And as adults, they are afraid to go to the grocery store, eating disorders, or doesn’t keep much food in their home (only enough to live,, light fruit, bread, water). One of my twins was also a picky eater, and after seeing what I have in the therapy field I changed my entire thought process about forcing her to eat. Thankfully, she outgrew it. Every person is different though.

    • Julie Plagens on October 15, 2018 at 2:10 am

      Tren, I can see your point if there were an ongoing battle with forcing your kids to eat. What I suggested only took about 3-4 times to do. There were never any other food struggles after that. And he was 2 when we did it.
      I think there are years and years of food struggles and conflict when a child is picky. It seems that is what would bring more eating disorders. I would be curious to know if your clients had more issues because of conflict over many years or if it stemmed from 3-4 times when they were young.
      Also, I suggested that if your child is older you have a snack basket and fruits and vegetables always be available. That way the child still has choices. If a child has no direction on food choices, he is always going to pick the unhealthy version. That doesn’t seem like good parenting. As parents, our job is to teach our kids to make good choices in all areas.
      Also, neither of my kids ever struggled with weight or eating disorders. That has to speak for itself.

  23. Maria on October 14, 2018 at 10:53 am

    Great information. We do the same thing with our 1 and 2-year-olds. They almost always eat what we are eating at the same time that we do. Not only is it healthy, but we get to spend family time together too.

    • Julie Plagens on October 15, 2018 at 2:15 am

      Yes, another really good point. I am all about family time at the dinner table. Eating a separate meal tends to make kids eat at separate times. When my kids were older sometimes they would not be hungry because they had already eaten at a friend’s house. We would still invite them to sit with us at the table and visit.
      Good for you for keeping your mealtime together as a family.

  24. nancy_ycnan on October 14, 2018 at 6:02 am

    Thank you very much for such useful information! now the day is not easy to make picky eater to eat something they really need!

    • Julie Plagens on October 15, 2018 at 2:17 am

      Nancy, thanks for your comment. I think parents cater too much to their kids. The kids seem to run the house more than the parents. I hope my suggestions will put kids back at the table and have a family eat together one meal so mom is not exhausted trying to cook for everyone.

  25. Casey on October 14, 2018 at 4:09 am

    Not easy to get picky eater to eat everything, just have to try and error and make the food as attractive or interesting as possible

    • Julie Plagens on October 15, 2018 at 2:19 am

      Yes, there is a certain amount of display tactics that you can do, but at the end of the day, broccoli cannot be cut into fancy shapes. It is just broccoli. Kids who develop a taste for healthy foods will have a better chance of being better eaters than those who just eat carbs.

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