Getting picky eaters to eat

Over at, I asked a question about how to get picky eating toddlers to eat their foods. And I received several answers, both on the forums and on the Facebook page. One mom said that she wasn’t a waitress, and her kids were expected to eat what was in front of them. Another commiserated that her daughter was an “eat by sight” child who wouldn’t eat anything that looked yucky. And the most popular answer was to hide veggies in yummier foods like spaghetti sauce, pizza, or even brownies. There is even a book on this called “Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food” by Jessica Seinfeld. Recommended by several of the parents, I checked out the reviews on it. And there are plenty of people who rave about the book, claiming that it helped them to get their pickiest child to actually eat a nutritious meal that was placed before them, rather than turning away from it repeatedly as they had before.

Thing is, I have a hard time with the “deceptive” way of feeding toddlers veggies. I mean, they might be eating it when we hide it in foods like brownies or chicken nuggets, but they aren’t really learning to like veggies in their true form. Not only that, aren’t we doing the kids a disservice by hiding good foods in bad food forms? What happens when they get older and have more power over making their own food choices? Aren’t we promoting bad food addictions? If a kid is getting their nutrition from a brownie, and they learn from an early age that brownies taste good while concluding that healthy food tastes bad, won’t it be that much harder to get them to eat nutritious foods later on?

I suppose I was lucky. I didn’t have picky children as they were growing up, or at least I didn’t have all out wars when it came to foods. Ever since they started eating solids, the rule was to eat at least one bite of everything on their plate. They weren’t forced to finish it to get dessert. And food didn’t become a punishment by wrapping it up and serving it again for breakfast. Simple rule was to try it. If they didn’t like it, I wouldn’t make it again for them. And in this food journey, we discovered nutritious foods they DID like. Brussels sprouts are a favorite of theirs, even if I’m not a huge fan. My daughter loves salad, but my son will only eat it if it’s Caesar. They both love fruit. And broccoli. And both have their favorite flavors of soups.  And they are passionate about artichokes. And they also love foods like brownies, ice cream, pizza, and hamburgers.

But I realize that picky eaters are a whole other story, and it isn’t always this easy. My niece, for example, is extremely picky. She will sit there and cry if made to eat food she doesn’t think she’ll like. And let me tell you, that girl is more stubborn than 10 adults put together. The trick I have used with her starts by putting the food in front of her and encouraging her to eat. When she starts to put up a fight, I come over to her plate and divide her portion in half. I then instruct her to NOT eat one half of it, and she can be done when the other half is done. But I put a big emphasis on the portion she is not to eat, even repeating it while she giggles at “getting away” with her pickiness. In the end she eats at least most of the portion she is “allowed” to eat.

How do you deal with picky eaters? Do you hide nutritious food in more “fun” foods like spaghetti or desserts? Do you make eating a game? What tricks have worked with your picky eater?


3 thoughts on “Getting picky eaters to eat

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  1. I was a picky eater. The worst thing a parent can do is make food an emotional issue. Use multiple approaches. Google “supertaster”; new research is showing that different people have physically different sensitivities to different food/taste compounds. It’s not all psychological. Trying to talk, bribe, or force a child to eat a food that genuinely tastes or smells terrible to him or her will not fix the problem. Some picky eaters are not particularly sensitive to food, they might just be afraid. Children shouldn’t be punished for being fearful. It is okay for a child to not eat a meal or all of it every now and then. It is okay to supplement a child’s diet with hidden veggies. It is also okay to prepare foods in various ways and introduce them to a fearful/picky/sensitive child repeatedly; increased exposure means developing familiarity. It’s okay for parents and children to negotiate on what/if/and how much a child has to eat. Bribing with food might not be a good idea, a stubborn child will easily choose to skip dessert if it means they can skip the peas. It’s becoming increasingly understood that texture is as much a part of food rejection as taste/smell. Try to understand the source of your child’s pickiness/fear. In the toddler stages is it natural for children to resist eating new foods. As in all things food related, moderation in all approaches is the key.

  2. When I was growing up the rule was always that I had to TRY the food, and if I didn’t like it that was okay, as long as I tried it. On the other hand, dessert was not REAL food…it was a treat. If I didn’t eat my real food, I didn’t get to have the sugary treat. I always thought this was a very fair approach. I know some of my friends were subjected to the ‘you can’t leave the table until you clean your plate’ treatment, which does no one any good.
    Also, I understand that if a person has a particular dislike for a certain food, it is often due to a sensitivity or mild allergy to something in it, and it is better not to force them to eat something that their body may be telling them it has problems with.

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