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How I Stopped My Child’s Picky Eating

Before I became a parent, there was a long list of things I swore I would never let happen with my child and being a picky eater was one of them. 

I distinctly remember reading all the parenting books and coming up with a list of strategies before my little one was even on solids.

I pulled out all the tricks when he first started trying food, like introducing him to a variety of fruits and veggies and seasoning all of his baby foods with weird spices (who puts rosemary in baby food? Me, that’s who!) 

Little girl eating a salad

When my son was almost two I remember eating at a restaurant and as he sat devouring a plate of food, an older woman came over and complimented me on his eating. I sat there quite smug, thinking to myself I had made it as a parent.

If he wasn’t a picky eater by two I was in the clear.  I had never felt so confident as a parent. Fast forward one year and you would find me buying four different types of bread because the one and only bread he would eat was out.  

My son is now almost five and is still only eating one specific type of bread (he has hated all the other breads that we have tried in the past two years) and most days he will encounter a food that he doesn’t like, but overall his pickiness is slowly improving thanks to some easy strategies and a whole lot of patience. 

If this feels relatable and you also have a picky eater some of these strategies might help. 

Helping in the Kitchen

Having your picky eater help out in the kitchen is a great strategy to get them interested in trying new foods and taking ownership over what they are eating. When they are involved in making food they are more likely to try it and you might even find them sampling foods that you never thought they would try! 

This has been our most successful strategy and has also been a way for me to spend time with my son while I’m making dinner.  Interested in trying this? Here are some tips: 

  • When your child is helping make dinner, give them manageable jobs for their age and ability. For an almost five year old this looks like cutting up veggies that are on the softer side.  For younger kids, this might look like handing you ingredients, or helping you stir or mix.  
  • Getting your child tools they can use in the kitchen makes it more fun, but also gives them the idea that they can make food too!  There are some great options out there! Some of our favorites have been plastic knives (they cut softer food but can’t cut little hands), smaller mixing spoons and getting a kids apron. 
  • Make helping in the kitchen a routine.  When my little guy knows he is helping in the kitchen, he knows where his apron and tools are and gets his stool pulled up right by the counter.  It’s something he can prepare and take ownership of. 
  • Have your child help constantly.  This one is the hardest part because having your child help with any meal will 100% take you more time. This may not be possible everyday depending on your family’s schedule and your sanity.  Set a schedule that does work for your family.  Our’s is based on our work schedule and our goals for the night.  My son currently helps cook dinner with me on Monday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and for now this is what works best for us.  I will say that the nights he does help with dinner he eats and tries way more than the nights he doesn’t, so my goal will eventually be having him help every night.  

Grocery Shopping

Taking your child grocery shopping is another super easy way to get your child interested in new foods and opening them up to trying new things. 

With kids it’s really about finding ownership in what they are doing and having them help pick out foods for meals is a way to let them have a voice in what foods they will be seeing.  Here are some ways to get them involved at the grocery store: 

  • Let them help you pick out each item on your grocery list.  For example, if you are getting an onion, let them pick out which one you should bring home and let them put it in the bag.  While they are picking, explain what the onion will be used for. My son loves talking about each ingredient and how we will use it and I find that when we end up cooking that meal and using the ingredient he remembers he is the one that picked it out! 
  • Teach them how to pick out good produce.  This is one of my son’s favorite things to do and he loves learning about different foods and how we pick them.  An example of this is picking an avocado.  When my son picks one out we talk about finding one that isn’t rock hard, but also not too soft.  It’s not only teaching them grocery shopping skills for the future but once again gives them ownership in what food is coming home. 
  • If you can, go with the flow on trying something new.  One time we were in the grocery store and my son wanted to get brussel sprouts. He had never actually tried one before but he was insistent that this was something he was going to “love” and that we had to have it for dinner.  We decided to get a few of them and we cooked them together that night.  He tried one bite of them and that was it, but I still counted that as a win because it was a new food that he actually tried.  
  • If you are feeling really brave, include them in your meal planning.  I will try to have my son give me one idea for a meal or side each week. Most times it’s the same things he likes like corn, but at least he gets to help choose something out. 

Dinner Table Tips

The last big strategy that has worked for our family is setting up some routines and rules around eating each night.

These may look very different for each family, but these are some we have established with our son and have worked really well. 

  • We always include one food that we know he will eat so that meals are not stressful for him.  For us, this is usually putting a vegetable and a little hummus on his plate so he always has that as a go to. 
  • We don’t make another meal for him. If he doesn’t like what we are having, he can always eat the “safe” foods on his plate.  We do give him more of these if he wants them but we will not make a completely different meal. 
  • We always put a small portion of everything we have made on his plate.  Right now my son HATES black beans because one single time in his life he had some that were a tad bit spicy and now he has declared he hates them all. I still put a few black beans on his plate every single time we have them because I want to continue to expose him to them. I do want to stress that I only put a few (like four beans). I don’t want to get into the habit of wasting food, but I know that constant exposure is really helpful for picky eaters. 
  • We don’t make a big deal about food and our focus at the dinner table is not about what’s on our plate, but focused on what we are chatting about.  We find that our son not talking about what is on his plate leads him to trying more foods than if we tell him to or talk about the foods we put on there. 
  • This might be the most out there tip, but we serve dessert on his plate with the rest of the food. We really didn’t want desserts or sweets to have power over the other foods so each night we put a small dessert (usually a small cookie or chocolate cracker) on his plate with the rest of his food.  We don’t bring any attention to it or in what order he eats it in. This has been really successful for our son because it took away the “eat dinner first if you want dessert” struggle and instead made food about being hungry and eating until you’re full. 

Parenting is hard sometimes and having a picky eater can feel so frustrating, especially after making a really nice dinner!  We know (and really are hoping) that this picky eating is just a phase and so we have tried to establish different strategies to help us and our son get through it. 

I hope one of these strategies has been helpful for you and your little one and if you have a strategy that has worked for your family, please share it in the comment box below! 

Parenting really takes a village and sharing tips and tricks makes parenting so much easier!

Boy eating broccoli