Ask the readers: how to deal with a picky eater

Ask the readers: how to deal with a picky eater
About a month ago, I wrote about my toddler’s propensity for eating. No matter how much food we placed in front of him, the boy would keep asking for more, more, more until I eventually figured out a system that seemed to work. Hooray for me… and the four other parents in the entire world who have this issue. Because based on your comments, I gathered that most of you would gladly trade in my problem for yours: what to do with picky eaters.

For instance, SSBE reader Lyle, from Ramblings of a Lyle wrote:

He’s getting into that picky stage where getting him to eat anything new is like pulling teeth. It’s frustrating because he used to be such a good eater when it came to trying new things. Now it’s “I don’t like it” before he even takes a bite.

Believe it or not, my toddler went through a semi-picky eater phase. He started denying certain foods (pretty much anything that wasn’t a sweet potato or a fruit). And just like Lyle experienced with her toddler, mine also pushed the spoon away before even taking one bite. Thankfully after a few weeks, he resumed eating a variety of food, and below are some tips I would offer Lyle:

  • Serve the “yucky” food along with the “yummy” food, even mixing them together if you have to. Why pasta and strawberries on the same spoon seemed appealing to my toddler, I’ll never know, but he somehow convinced himself that this was delicious. By putting something he liked on the same spoon as the food that I wanted him to eat, I was able to make sure that he ate something else besides fruit. Eventually after about five spoonfuls of mixed food, I started alternating between the two, so that one spoonful was the pasta, and the second spoonful was the strawberry, and he seemed fine with this.
  • Sneak vegetables into his mail meals. I borrowed Jessica Seinfeld’s book Deceptively Delicious book from the library. When I first heard about this method, I smugly thought, “No way am I going to trick my kid into eating vegetables! They’re going to see it on their plates and know they’re eating vegetables… and they’re going to like it.” Um, yeah… sorry Mrs. Seinfeld for dissing your method, but I resorted to the cookbook to see if there were any recipes that my toddler would actually eat. And it seemed to work! Somehow these recipes were okay in toddler’s book, and we got to sneak in some pureed veggies as well.
  • Don’t be a shirt-order cook. When my toddler rejected a food, I’d quickly run to the kitchen and whip up something else. I realize now that while he has the choice to eat the food in front of him or not, he can’t demand other food than the one I already prepared. Doing this exacerbated the problem and contributed to his picky eating.

Nowadays, my toddler is a champion eater. A bit too much for my taste, but I won’t rub it in. So while those techniques seemed to work for LO, I’m not sure if they would stand against a pure and true picky eater.

So readers, I turn to you for advice: how do you deal with a picky eater? What tips can you offer Lyle to get her toddler to try new food? How do you deal with kids who will only eat certain foods, or kids who won’t eat a lot? Chime in on the comments below.

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10 thoughts on “Ask the readers: how to deal with a picky eater

  1. We also do/did numbers 1 and 3. When my 2-year old says “I’m all done” after eating one bite he follows-up with “no snacks.” because he knows that he’s getting nothing else. And that’s the choice he makes. When he decides he’s hungry we either reheat the meal we offered or give him another healthy option to tide him over to the next meal. It’s worked so far, but he’s not too terribly picky so I don’t know if it would work well with other kiddos or not.

  2. Thank you for this post! My baby is getting close to a year and up until recently has eaten everything we’ve ever given him with relish. All of a sudden though in the past weeks he seems to be having issues with things that have odd textures. His father also has this same issue and I’m getting worried he is getting it too. Any advice? – Tori Johnson from

    • My son went from being a champion eater to having difficulty with textures to. There’s a lot of other things going on as well, but in the end it turns out that he has sensory processing disorder. You might want to read about it to see it it seems to describe your son (and maybe your husband). There are some therapies that have helped us a lot and my son is making quite a bit of progress in the textures he can tolerate eating.

      • Hi Karen – Thank you for the response. I’ll have to check it out. The baby is really inconsistent. For example, one day he loves avocadoes – the next day he doesn’t. I can see him moving them around in his mouth and making these awful faces like it’s the texture bothering him. He’s also getting some new teeth in so maybe that has something to do with it?

  3. We had a picky incident last night that resulted in food throwing. Once everything calmed down, I offered a healthy alternative (spinach) and she took that instead. I will not go to the trouble to cook something else but if there is an easy healthy alternative than I am ok with providing that.

  4. As a parent who had many food issues as a child through adulthood, I don’t believe in driving my daughter nuts about what she eats. Because she does eat many healthy foods (fruits, vegetables, etc., but not necessarily cooked into what we, as adults, would view as a plated meal) I’ve decided not to fight. She gets a run at what I’ve cooked and if it’s an absolute no-go, I keep some plain pasta or chicken in the wings, along with her usual fruit and veg favorites. She’s only two years old and while many people believe that eating habits are formed during this time, I completely disagree. I was a picky child but now eat almost everything!

    I think one of the most important things to remember about toddlers is that they go through phases. If my kid wants plain pasta with cheese ad naseum, so be it. That’s why we keep “Bread and Jam for Frances” ready for the reading 🙂

  5. One thing I have learned is to just keep putting it in fron of them. Sometimes the newness of it is why they don’t like the taste. It usually takes up to 12 times of tasting something before developing a taste for it. So if you just put it there and encourage one or two bites, then let it go. Eventually, their taste buds grow as they get older.

    • Johanna, I had heard similar statistics, where it takes several tries and exposures before they finally take to the new food. I’ve actually had success doing this; if I didn’t practice this method, my toddler may now not be eating eggs, rice and pasta among other foods he initially didn’t take to.

  6. I have just a couple food rules in my house:
    1. I don’t cook sperate meals. I hate cooking, so that one meal I made is all you get.
    2. Kids don’t starve themselves. It’s against nature/biology/something scientific.
    3. Don’t put your own food issues on you kids. I hate carrots but they will never know. I choke down a handful when eyes are on me.

    One mom I meet told me how shocked she was when her 4 y.o. loved avocados. She never gave her any because she assumed her daughter wouldn’t like them.
    Now, these are not fool proof, especially if my hubby is near (“you don’t like dinner? Well, here’s a yogurt, and strawberries, and let me hug you the whole way through….). But I think having some rules at the table is key.

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