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Would you like to know how to deal with a picky eater in your home? Are you tired of making multiple meals? Check out these awesome tips. They will help your child eat everything on his plate…well, almost everything.

I bet you’re thinking, “Ha! Ha! You have 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 everything.

Picky eating 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 tell you how to deal with a picky eater. These tips are from my pediatrician who is old school. If what you are doing isn’t working, try this instead. It really works!

RELATED: Parenting Preschoolers: 9 Best Positive Parenting Tips Ever!

What Causes Picky Eaters?

Before I tell you how to deal with a picky eater, I would like to come to your world and talk about what causes picky eaters.

There could be a few things you are doing to create a picky eater environment.

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 kid’s meals look like. Perhaps something with pasta, corn, potatoes, white 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 (more sugar).

Some of you only wish your child ate that many foods! You may only be getting your child to eat four or five things on this list. You are stuck in a rut.

Perhaps you have taken your child to the doctor recently because he is not eating enough and not gaining weight. And that’s when the doctor intervened and suggested Pediasure to supplement his diet.

How did this happen? What went wrong? 

I bet you’re wondering how to deal with a picky eater after all this.

RELATED: Bad Parenting Fails: 11 Hilarious Confessions From a Tired Mom

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How Can Parents Encourage Their Kids to Be Less Picky Eaters?

The truth about picky eating is that it usually isn’t very healthy. If you want to encourage your child to eat healthier, talk about what foods they are eating. Make it fun!

If you go back and take a good look at your kid’s menu, you will notice that corn, rice, potatoes, pasta, nugget coating, pizza, commercial fruit/yogurt, ketchup, and bread turn to sugar once in the body.

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Yep, lots of sugar. No wonder you have a picky eater. He is trained to eat sweet stuff. I like that too!

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 for Pediasure so you can see it for yourself.

how to deal with picky eaters

Instead of Pediasure, choose whole, unprocessed foods with lots of color. Introduce them slowly, and don’t buy junk food so it’s not available. Encourage other things like playing outside instead of staying on the couch with a bag of chips.

Is It the Parent’s Fault If a Child is a Picky Eater?

I was kinda feeling like a failure because I didn’t know how to deal with a picky eater.  Frankly, I was scared to do anything. But I had to do something because I knew it was my responsibility to feed my kids healthy food.

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

I had no one to blame but myself. I created a picky eater by feeding all the carbs (sugar) to him. He had developed a taste for sugary 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. And then shift the power back to him once he learned to make good choices.

RELATED: 9 Positive Character Traits For Kids to Succeed at School

How to Deal with a Picky Eater

Here are three easy tips on how to deal with a picky eater. My pediatrician suggested doing this instead of feeding him Pediasure. You may think it’s old school, but it really works!

1. Make one meal for the whole family

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. It sounded like a bad mom hack. 

But I listened further.

2.  Don’t force your child to eat.

If he doesn’t eat it, then wrap it up and put it in the refrigerator. No snacks. The kitchen is closed unless he decides to go back to eating dinner later on.

This is how you start shifting the power back to your child. That way there are no power struggles.

3. Serve the wrapped-up meal the next morning for breakfast. Or lunch, dinner…until it is eaten.

So I tried it. And it worked.

My son would not eat it for breakfast the next morning, but he ate it for lunch. He never went a full 24 hours without food. My son didn’t wither away, go into cardiac arrest, or anything else. The only thing he did was eat healthy food.

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I had to do this only a few times before he learned to make better choices. We never had problems after that. You won’t believe what he ate growing up. Find out below.

RELATED: Parenting Preschoolers: 9 Best Positive Parenting Tips Ever!

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Can You Grow Out of Picky Eating?

From personal experience, I would say that I made a conscious effort to “help” my kids grow out of picky eating. I continued to offer lots of good food and had them eat at least three bites of something new.

Most of the time they ate the whole thing once they tasted it. There were a few things they didn’t like, and that is okay.

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

You get the idea.

Yes, my kids actually liked them all. For real!

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, teen, and now adult years.

It was a bonus when they visited a friend’s house. Parents loved having them over because they were easy to feed. Often the moms would ask me how to deal with a picky eater because they had kids who wouldn’t eat anything but carbs.

RELATED: Intentional Parenting: 9 Meaningful Activities to Do With Your Kids 

What Should Parents Do If They Have a Picky Eater Who Is a Teen?

If you want to know how to deal with picky eaters that are older, keep reading. There is hope for you too.

You still need to 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. Always have fruits, veggies, and protein available if he gets hungry.

Snacks: Have a basket for each child. Put one week’s worth of snacks in it. Don’t buy more than that. (Blame it on the new budget you have put in place.)

Your teen can eat the snacks all in one day or spread them out over seven days. Not your problem if it is gone before the week is up.

The point is to guide your teen to better choices when it comes to processed food. You don’t want a huge power struggle, so you may have to do it slowly over time. It is more important to have a good family mealtime than have meltdowns over food.

Just don’t make separate meals! That’s not preparing your child for the real world.

*Don’t worry about what they eat outside your home. It’s not worth trying to manage it.

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How Do I Fix My Picky Eater?

The only way to fix your picky eater is to positively reinforce new habits. You can retrain taste buds to like healthier things if you work at it.

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.

Of course, if you don’t eat healthy food, you probably won’t be able to deal with a picky eater at your home. You are the best example for them to eat right!

I hope these tips for picky eaters helped you.

*Before you try this, ask your pediatrician if these tips on how to deal with a picky eater are okay for your child. I do not want to be the cause of any harm that could come from skipping a few meals.

Do you have tips on how to deal with a picky eater? Comment below. 

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Julie is a wife, mom, author, and blogger. She writes about Christian family living, marriage, and faith with a touch of humor.

50 Comments

  1. 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.

    • 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. 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.

    • 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.

  3. 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.

    • 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.

  4. 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.

    • 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.

  5. 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!

    • 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.

  6. 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

    • 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.

  7. Hannah Marie Reply

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

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

  8. 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.

    • 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.

  9. 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!

    • 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.

  10. 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.

  11. Sheena Moncatar Reply

    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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

    • 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.

  14. Erin Haugerud Reply

    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!

  15. 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.

    • 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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!

    • 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.

  18. 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.

    • 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.

  19. 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.

    • 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.

  20. 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.

    • 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.

  21. 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.

    • 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.

  22. 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.

    • 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.

  23. nancy_ycnan Reply

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

    • 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.

  24. 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

    • 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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