Tracy has been working in the field of education for many years specializing in both Waldorf and Montessori methodology.
After having two children who would pretty much eat whatever I set before them, I was handed a challenge: my third child was as picky an eater as they come. He wouldn’t try much of anything. He would have been happy eating plain pasta and drinking a cup of milk at each meal. However, I was determined not to accept his limited palate so I set out to broaden it one day at a time.
Broadening the palate of a picky eater is a slow process, beginning with incremental goals and a long-term vision. My vision for all of my children was that they enjoy a wide variety of healthy food as a part of experiencing life to its fullest. To fulfill this vision I calmly set out each day using a multi-layered approach to make food both a pleasurable and healthy experience. Here are some things that worked for me.
1. Rid Your House of Unhealthy Options
Junk food warps our taste buds and distracts us from enjoying the flavors of healthy food, in particular fruits and vegetables. You are not doing your child any favors by only giving them food items that taste good to you. Preference for food is learned and our taste buds are varied and adaptable.
2. Regularly Include Vegetables From the Start
After the baby food stage has passed, parents should continue to serve vegetables as the normal fare. Try and find at least a few vegetables that are your child's favorites to use as snacks—like baby carrots, sliced cucumbers, or celery sticks. Here are a few more tips.
- Try to include a salad and a cooked vegetable for each dinner. This gives your child more chances to develop a taste for veggies. Pasta by itself does not constitute a well-rounded meal; although I know of one dad that tried to convince me otherwise.
- Some negotiation might be necessary to encourage a child to try a new vegetable or even to eat a familiar one found sitting on their plate. If the child states that they don’t like the vegetable, you can offer that they simply take one bite. This is a compromise but should be stated in a matter of fact way using a calm tone of voice. Your child may need to develop a taste for the vegetable and after a few tries might realize that they do in fact like the formerly offensive item.
- Try serving a salad or raw vegetable sticks before the entree to take advantage of the time when your child is at their hungriest, as this might push them towards trying a new vegetable that they might otherwise avoid.
3. No Special Meals for Individuals
Offering individual meals is a slippery slope. Some parents have been known to make individual meals not only for their children but for their spouse as well. One person likes pasta with no sauce, one likes sauce, the other doesn’t like pasta, etc. This leaves the chef washed out before even beginning their own meal. Individual meals are not a long-term solution.
4. Imagine you Are Feeding a Larger Family
Larger families have fewer issues with food aversion because catering to certain children is unrealistic. It might not be so difficult to make a special meal for one or two children, but if you were serving a family of five or more, it would just make sense to expect everyone to eat what was set before them or at least not to complain or make an issue out of it. Catering to each child’s likes and dislikes creates an expectation that the world will cater to them as well. Begin your meals with the calm expectation that your child will eat what is being served rather than giving in to what the child thinks is best.
5. Make Peer Pressure Work for You
Sometimes a child will be motivated to try a new food when surrounded by other children who already enjoy that food. This could be at a birthday party, a play date or in a family setting. Taking advantage of these social opportunities can help motivate a picky eater to try something new.
6. Don’t Make a Big Deal Out of Food
Make it a matter of fact, and don’t lock horns, at least not for long. You wouldn’t discuss whether or not your child should brush their teeth or take a bath—these are a given. The idea that we would continue to negotiate about eating a healthful diet is problematic.
You can also make food a celebration, using this as a way of introducing a new vegetable or other food. Kids get so excited at the thought of a holiday or party. With all of this enthusiasm around an event, children are more likely to try something new. This doesn’t have to simply be about vegetables but rather about widening their palate and, of course, every celebration can include a veggie platter with a dip.
7. Make a Dip
Dips make food fun! The action of dipping is very enticing to children and offers a fun way to introduce new vegetables. My kids love hummus dip but other options include sour cream, salsa, or cream cheese.
8. Plant a Garden
When spring rolls around, plant a simple vegetable garden—it could even just be in a small pot. When your child takes part in sowing and tending to a garden, they not only learn a great lesson but will likely be enthusiastic about eating the vegetable as well.
Variety Is the Spice of Life!
While it might take more work on the part of the parent to encourage the child to eat their vegetables and develop a broader palate, in the end, this work will pay off. Not only will the child be open to trying new foods at home, but they will also be able to experience the varied culinary delights that the world has to offer.
I can proudly say that my picky eater will eat just about anything now. He truly enjoys a variety of food and fits right in with my other children at any meal. At times he still hesitates to try something new but with my calm encouragement, he will try a food that is outside of his comfort zone.
Broadening a child’s exposure to a variety of foods not only works to build a lifetime love of healthy foods but also broadens the child's horizons for the varied wonders that life has to offer them as they grow.
Here's an Avocado Dip to Try
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Tracy Lynn Conway
Tracy Lynn Conway (author) from Virginia, USA on January 02, 2017:
Kiddiecreations, thank you for your comment! My daughter also claimed to be a vegetarian for a while, I just smiled and said "ok." I feel that making a big deal out of the "decision" would somehow fuel some tension, so I didn't. She purposefully avoided meat for a about a week or so and then forgot. Now she does eat smaller portions of meat/fish but again, I don't make it into a point of contention. If she chooses not eat the protein source in a given meal, I do require that she eat an alternative protein such as peanut butter, nut butters such as cashew butter, black beans, tempeh, tofu, eggs, cottage cheese and yogurt, but there are of course others.
Nicole K on December 21, 2016:
Thanks for this article! I just wrote my own and then yours popped up. I'm dealing with this problem with my three year old son. He's a very picky eater. I would like him to eat more protein, but he decided to be a vegetarian somewhere along with the way! He loves most fruit, avocado, peanut butter, toast with butter, milk, etc. I liked your comment about not locking horns too long on this issue. It's very difficult but we're trying our best!
Tracy Lynn Conway (author) from Virginia, USA on September 29, 2013:
Heather – I am like you and consider food an adventure, so when I first had to approach my picky eater it was like entering unchartered waters. I enjoyed reading your adult perspective on the matter. Thank you for your interesting comment and that was funny about the dolls!
Theater girl – The food aversion in children has an evolutionary purpose, it would protect a child from eating something poisonous or rotten, but now this need is nearly non-existent. Having a vision for your children puts daily challenges into perspective. “Keep your eyes on the prize.” Thank you for your comment!
ComfortB – Rewarding good behavior or behavior modification is a useful approach and sometimes the only thing that works. Glad to see that you found a compromise that works with your son. It is interesting that you started out at a picky eater yourself. Thank you for the praise and votes!
Pstraubie – I hope your grandson can broaden his choices. Thank you!
Rebecca – My son and I planted a garden that included string beans. He loved eating the string beans that were just picked, but said he would not eat any that were store bought. I convinced him otherwise, but I found the whole thing funny. Thank you!
Career Mommy – Yes, dips are a wonderful way to encourage a child to try and continue to eat a certain food. My 14 year old daughter and I made a French dressing a few days ago and she put it on everything. Thanks you for commenting and for your praise!
Sybol – I appreciate you mentioning the point I made about not making a big issue out of a picky eater’s choices. I find it ruins the meal for all involved. Meals are ideally a pleasurable experience; battles have no place at the table. Your point about dressings is an interesting one. I find I like vegetables plain, like raw carrots or green peppers. My husband loves seasoning everything. Some foodies say that fresh vegetables don’t necessarily need anything added to them. I have read that some people have stronger taste buds and therefore the pure food has enough by itself while others need more punch to taste what they are eating. Thank you for your interesting comment.
Faisalrbj – Yes, healthy eating enables our children to thrive. Thank you for your comment.
Your Cousins – Great story! Lots of people have an issue with raw tomatoes but then love pizza; it must be the texture of the tomato.
MsDora – Thank you very much!
MsDora on September 28, 2013:
Great article! Great suggestions! I like the one about peer pressure, although I'd call it peer support. Thank you!
Your Cousins from Atlanta, GA on September 28, 2013:
Love the idea of having them help plant a garden and eating produce that they grow. My older daughter didn't like tomatoes and it rubbed off on the younger one. But we planted some and sliced them for dinner. Now the younger daughter likes tomatoes -- one out of two ain't bad! Congrats on HOTD.
Faisalrbj on September 28, 2013:
Hi, the options you have given are very good and i think they are the most appropriate one, they would increase the metabolic rate and also the growth of the child
sybol on September 28, 2013:
I am a picky eater and I have been all of my life. I am 58 and I am, in the eyes of many still a picky eater but I eat many more foods in the last 10 years. Your points are valid. I hate when people make a big deal about what I don't like. It makes me cling to my favorites and not want anything else. I find that I like raw or uncooked vegatables. I stayed away from vegetables until I started trying to eat healthier. I don't like a lot of sauces and this, I found out, is why I stayed away from salads. Too much dressing. I could go on but this is a comment.
Tirralan Watkins from Los Angeles, CA on September 28, 2013:
Great hub! My oldest is the pickier of my two boys. He's gotten a lot better. I like the idea of adding dips. There are some healthy varieties and they go great with vegetables. Thanks for sharing!
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on September 28, 2013:
Planting a garden with the kids is a great idea. Thanks! Great Hub, congratulations!
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on September 28, 2013:
Congrats on HOTD....picky eaters can be challenging for sure. My grandson eats only certain foods and very little of those.
Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on September 28, 2013:
I was a picky eater, but now, I eat pretty much everything. Picky eaters can really be a challenge.
I have one of my own too, the youngest of my three children. He is content eating cold cereal everyday, but mama won't have that. So, I'll sneak veggies and greens into the menus and tell him there'll be no screen time unless those fruits and veggies are all eaten up. That's usually all it takes.
Great hub. Voted up and useful. And, congrats on the HOTD award.
Jennifer from New Jersey on September 28, 2013:
Thanks for your ideas. I have tried many with my picky eaters, who seem to have been born that way. at 6 and 8, they make small forays that I view as victories. We have little problems with fruits and veggies, our issue is with meat.....I like what you said about seeing the big picture. Its not about whether they loved the chicken tonight, its about whether I am helping them make better choices for ttheir whole life of eating!
Heather from Arizona on September 28, 2013:
Congrats on HotD! I enjoyed this article. My husband was a very picky eater when I met him ten years ago. He grew up eating individual meals and was catered to, as you discuss in your hub. I'll eat just about anything, so this was very strange for me. Since then, I've done my best to beat it out of him. So I do think the picky eater can be changed as my husband is living proof. You have such great tips here. I agree that healthy eating isn't and shouldn't be negotiable. Oh and your children are adorable! I thought you had even more than you do when I saw the picture of them on the picnic blanket... it took me a second to realize a few of those were dolls-- haha ;)
Tracy Lynn Conway (author) from Virginia, USA on September 16, 2013:
Hi Randomcreative - Nice to see you. Thank you for the praise!
All the best,
Tracy Lynn Conway (author) from Virginia, USA on September 16, 2013:
Carter - There are more food choices available now than ever before, keeping limits in house is an effective way to steer a child in the right food choice direction. I hope your daughter can navigate a healthy path.
Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 10, 2013:
Great tips! There is something for everyone here. Very comprehensive overview.
Mary from Cronulla NSW on September 10, 2013:
Good advice here Tracy..sure to help many families if only implementing one or two ideas..getting rid of unhealthy options is such a good start and limits choices for them..one of my daughters has a picky eater and they are working on it at the moment and some of these ideas might be useful for them..cheers
Tracy Lynn Conway (author) from Virginia, USA on September 10, 2013:
Dorian - That is interesting, I had not considered the picky eater personality factor, there must be something more to that.
Dorian Bodnariuc from Kanata, Ontario, Canada on September 09, 2013:
Great ideas Tracy, we have to deal with a picky eater. Lots of personality involved...