Essential Tips for Picky Eaters

Written By Alla Levin
August 13, 2021
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Essential Tips for Picky Eaters

If you have a picky eater at home, mealtimes can quickly escalate into a power struggle that turns meals into battles. Unfortunately, if you are making homeschool meals, these battles can disrupt your schedule and ruin your entire day.

As the parent, it’s your job to decide the meal’s menu and when it will be served. Your child gets to decide whether or not to eat it. If you keep those two guidelines in mind, you can eliminate a lot of the struggle, but it’s not always easy. Follow these tips to get your picky eater to eat the foods they refuse:

Stick to the Plan

Whatever you planned for the entire family is what your picky eater should eat. Don’t cook them a different meal or offer them other choices when they refuse to eat what you give them. They will quickly learn that they either eat what’s put in front of them or be hungry. 

Picky Eaters: Set a Time Limit

Often, a power struggle stems from who can wait longer. For example, a child may believe that if they leave what they don’t want on their plate, you’ll eventually replace it. So instead, tell your picky eater that they have half an hour to eat what’s on their plate. Then, if they know you will take the plate away, they’ll eventually eat it.

Keep TryingPicky Eaters

If your child initially doesn’t like something, that’s not unusual. Research shows kids need to be exposed to a food 6-15 times before knowing if they truly dislike it. Some foods are an acquired taste, especially if they have a powerful flavor. Keep offering the food to them on different occasions and encourage them to try it each time, but don’t force them to eat full servings. Often a bite or two is enough to count as an exposure.

Family Members Are Role Models, So Eat as a Family

It’s important to eat as a family so your child can see that everyone else eats the food on the table. Watching parents or older siblings eat the food reassures your picky eater that the food is safe and delicious to eat. Don’t underestimate the power of looking up to an older sibling to help steer your picky eater in the right direction.

Make sure the family eats a variety of foods and add new meals to the rotation all the time. Everyone needs to eat a variety of meals to ensure they are eating healthy. If your picky eater sees the entire family trying new foods, they know it’s okay to step outside their comfort zone, too.

Don’t Pressure, Trick, Praise, or Reward Your Picky Eater

If a child enjoys an activity, they’ll keep doing it. If you constantly pressure your picky eater to eat, they won’t enjoy eating. This associates negative feelings with meals for your child, and they’ll be more likely to come to the next meal time anxious and more likely to engage in a power structure with you. Pressuring, tricking, praising, or rewarding won’t be necessary if your child knows they either eat what’s on the plate or do not.

Trust Your Child

When your picky eater tells you they are full, believe them. Forcing them to eat when they aren’t hungry creates an unhealthy relationship with food that may cause problems for your child in the future.

Ask Picky Eaters to Help With Meal Prep

Often, picky eaters balk at new foods not because they don’t like them but because they don’t have much control at mealtime. Help give them a sense of power by including them in meal prep when possible. Then they’ll have ownership over what they eat, which can make them less likely to engage in a power struggle when you sit down to eat.

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