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How to Overcome Picky Eating with Your Child

how to overcome picky eating overhead shot of a young child eating Fruit Loops in a bowl Middle Class Dad

Nothing drives parents crazier than mealtime. But when I became a dad, I wondered how to overcome picky eating with your child.

Have a set mealtime routine. Get the kids involved with shopping & meal prep so they feel like they have a say. Make one meal for the whole family & don’t give in every time they fuss. Lastly, you can reward them for trying new things and being open-minded about new foods.

Why is being a picky eater bad?

Having a preference for certain foods isn’t bad unless the child starts demanding a lot and it becomes a burden on you.

Making a separate meal for your child each day, taking them to the restaurant of their choice only and buying the grocery items they like not only makes your job harder. But it also sends the child the (wrong) message that the world should cater to them.

If you feel that your child’s picky eating is getting out of control, fear not. Here are some of the best ways on how to overcome picky eating from your child.

These tips can restore some sanity to your house and set all of you up for success.

How can I help my child with picky eating?

For starters, the clean plate days are over. Don’t force your kids to eat if they are full.

While we, as parents, naturally want our kids to eat enough food and we want to watch out for signs of eating disorders, we also need to respect when our child is full and not force the issue.

Kids, especially toddlers, need, want, and crave routine. So make a mealtime routine and get them involved. If they help prepare dinner, they will have a sense of pride about it and naturally be more inclined to eat it.

Do make it fun, but avoid making 5 different meals for 5 different people due to excessive picky eating.

One of the best things I (Jeff) did with our daughters was to get an age-appropriate set of chef knives so they could help with food prep once they turned 5 or so.

Curious Chef makes a set of 3 plastic serrated chef knives for well under 10 bucks that can’t be beaten! My daughters would argue over who got to help in the kitchen first!

Trust me, when we first got our set, I ran the blade across my hand many times and it not only didn’t break the skin, it didn’t even hurt. But it can chop an onion!

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How can a picky eater eat healthily?

My (Jeff) middle daughter Jolie LOVES mac n’ cheese.

Left to her own devices, that’s about all she would eat. So while we don’t make it every meal, when we do make it, I grab a few frozen organic brocolli florets from the bag in the freezer and toss it in while the pasta is cooking.

She barely notices, but because they get coated in cheesy goodness, she eats it up.

My oldest daughter Astrid is pickier still, so what I find works well is to give her a choice of 3 veggies for a side dish. I let her pick and that way she feels she gets a say.

We also set strict limits on things like soda and sweets, but make it clear that when we are doing those things, they only get them if they eat their veggies.

How do you get a picky eater to try new foods?

All of us get a little hesitant to try new foods.

But encourage your child to just TRY 2 bites. Let them know it’s OK to try something and not like it but it’s not OK to not even try.

If they try something and hate it, ask them what it is about it they don’t like:

  • Texture
  • Taste
  • Temperature
  • Spiciness

If you can identify what it is they don’t like, then you can begin to think of workarounds for the next meal.

While we don’t want to cater to our kid’s every mealtime whim when it makes sense, we do, for our own peace of mind, want to find healthy foods they will actually eat.

So now let’s review the . . . 

7 Top Ways on How to Overcome Picky Eating from Your Child

how to overcome picky eating overhead shot of a young child eating in a high chair Middle Class Dad

1. One Meal for the Entire Family

If you start your child off making them something different from what the rest of your family is eating, it can be very hard to change as they get older.

Your child will come to expect a separate meal each and every meal. That creates extra work for you and sends a really bad message to your child that they can always have whatever they want.

Keeping one meal on the table lets the child know that THIS is what’s for dinner. Introducing your child to almost everything you eat when they are young also helps them be more adventurous in their eating as they get older. This is one of the most crucial steps on how to overcome picky eating.

If you are already seeing tantrums, acting out or defiance, take a moment and review the 7 Worst Child Behaviors and Solutions (click to read on my site) to bring the peace back into your house.

2. Homemade Fast Food

If your children only eat fast food and demand to eat out every now and then, try making that type of food at home rather than taking them out all the time.

You can customize the food and make it in a much healthier way.

It will help change the unhealthy habits of your kids and they will ultimately develop the taste for homemade food. Baked french fries and chicken nuggets from the frozen section of the grocery store are inexpensive and easy to prepare. They are also much healthier than typical fried fast food.

Getting your kids to eat healthily can be a real challenge. If this sounds familiar, I highly recommend you take a moment and check out one the most popular Pinterest post from the Middle Class Dad site on the Best Healthy Eating Habits your kids will actually love.

3. The Proven Power of Getting the Kids Involved in Meal Prep

Children love to be involved in an activity.

If you want to get your child excited about eating a certain meal, ask for their help in the preparation. You can ask them to set the table or garnish the meal. While they are helping you, you can share with them the benefits of the foods they usually avoid. Make sure to have them tasting as they go and get their input.

It helps the child to understand mealtime better. Plus, they will be more excited to eat the food which they helped you prepare. This might be one of the most important steps for how to overcome picky eating.

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Written by a pediatrician in conjunction with a pathologist. “This book will prove an invaluable guide to restore peace to your dinner table and help you raise a healthy eater.”

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4. Avoid Pressuring Your Child

The worst way to try making your children eat a meal is to beg them.

When you constantly direct your child and pay attention to them, they tend to enjoy the unnecessary attention and they begin to repeat the same habits.

In order to help kids eat properly on their own, don’t be overly attentive while they eat. Don’t fret over how much they ate. Don’t cave and make something different for them if they won’t eat what you made. Do insist they eat a certain amount of what’s on the plate before they can leave the table.

Kids will eventually come around, but it may take some time.

5. Reward Rather Than Bribing

I see many parents bribing their child to eat.

By doing so, you might be able to get some veggies or healthy food down their system. But by using bribery we are subconsciously programming them to expect that when a request is made of them.

We might take it lightly, but we are actually building a really toxic habit.

The correct way to deal with your child is to reward them after you notice an improvement. The reward does not have to be super expensive. You can take them for an ice-cream or favorite trampoline park.

Appreciate them and tell them what the reward is for. It will encourage them to eat well.

6. Don’t Let Them Control What You Buy

If your child is very picky and begs you to buy a particular brand of cereal that you think is unhealthy, explain why you don’t like that item rather than buying it instantly.

Giving in to your child’s unnecessary demands will encourage that behavior in them. You are literally programming them to pester you to get what they want.

The world isn’t kind to people who think they can get what they want by throwing a fit, so this is an important lesson to learn early.

Therefore, set clear boundaries and expectations and make sure to explain the why behind your decisions.

7. Set a Meal Time Schedule

Kids crave routines.

Setting a schedule for meals and snacks helps build consistency for them and for you. Kids gradually develop the habit of eating with everyone else at set times.

Making a schedule also helps regulate the appetite of your children and they are fully prepared to eat well until mealtime. Just make sure to not give in to whining and tantrums. Be firm, fair and consistent and you’ll ensure peace and sanity and you’ll be creating good habits and manners in your child.

Final Thoughts

Now that you have read the tips, you can start to put them into place in your house.

We reviewed some of the best tips about how to overcome picky eating with your kids. Many of us cook with wine (or other alcohol). But when young kids are going to be eating food cooked in alcohol, it’s crucial to follow some good safety tips as some dishes leave behind more alcohol than others. Stop bribing and giving in to your kid and start restoring sanity around the house.

When you change the atmosphere in the house and set clear boundaries & guidelines, your kids will eventually come around and follow your lead.

Keep a positive approach and accept that your child will take some time to change. As you see improvement in your child’s eating habits, make sure to acknowledge it and know that you are on the right path.

Also, make sure that you create a joyful atmosphere at the table for the entire family to enjoy the meal.

A little healthy conversation at the table and sharing about what is new in life is a great way to improve the family bond. It also takes your mind off of your child’s eating patterns and gives them the complete autonomy to eat the way they like within the guidelines you have set.

Want more great parenting tips? Make sure to check out the 23 Qualities of a Great Father (just click to read it on my site)!

What’s the biggest food battle in your house?

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Jeff Campbell