How to Avoid Raising a Picky Eater

Do you have picky eaters at home? Is it driving you crazy and wasting a huge chunk of your grocery budget? There are a few tricks that can stop picky eating dead in its tracks, but the best way is to start good habits early. If you are a new or expecting mama, you have got to read this before you introduce solid food!How to Avoid Raising a Picky Eater

By the time my son is one year old, he will have sampled alligator, ahi tuna, spicy boudin sausage, fried oysters, tofu, and spicy Thai coconut curry.  He absolutely loves anything spicy, particularly salsa—he eats it by the spoonful when we go out for Mexican food!

Most parents that we talk to are amazed by what our son will eat.  They share stories about how exhausted they are from making double meals, overpaying for buttered noodles at restaurants, wasting money buying baby food and special toddler snacks at the grocery store, and buying bags upon bags of frozen chicken nuggets.

Not all children are the same, and I am sure there are kids out there who are truly very picky, but I believe that most picky eaters are taught to be that way by American culture.  In other countries around the world, kids enjoy a diet similar to adults from birth.  Have you seen what French school children eat for lunch?  It looks so much better than sloppy joes and mac and cheese!

I want to share with you how I did it—how I managed to have a small child that is happy eating pretty much anything—because at the end of the day, not having to cater to a picky eater saves me both money and sanity.

Start from an early age.

As soon as your child eats solid food and is past the puree stage, feed him or her from your plate.  Cut food up into small pieces, and avoid anything crunchy that your child cannot chew without molars—most food that is soft will be just fine.  I find the exception to that is tortillas, which get stuck on the roof of the mouth.

Basically, just feed your child whatever you are eating.  If you are at a restaurant, order as you normally would and then share bites of your dish with your child.  Introduce baby to all the different and amazing textures and flavors of the foods you enjoy.  You can even try something new yourself, and share the experience with your baby!

If you start feeding your child bland specially-made-for-children food from the beginning, it will be a hard habit to break.  So start your baby off right and feed him real, delicious, “adult” foods.

*Important Tip* The only thing off limits is honey, which your baby shouldn’t consume until he is one year old—it could cause botulism, which is a life-threatening illness.   Always be within arm’s reach of your child when he is eating solid food in case he chokes, and know what to do in case of an emergency.

Only make one dinner.

This one will save you some serious money.  Only make one meal for everyone.  Two meals every night will be a grocery budget buster, and it encourages picky eating behavior.

Making one meal for everyone will be easier if you start it from the beginning and make it a household rule.  Your children won’t know anything else, and you can head off that problem from the beginning.  If you are already making two meals, it is much harder to get out of the habit, so make sure you start off on the right foot.

Change your attitude.

Your child mimics your behavior and attitudes.  Any parent whose child has said a bad word knows that this is the truth.  Kids see and hear everything, they are always learning, and this applies to food as well.

If you have a great attitude about food and enjoy eating variety and sharing the joys of food with your children, they will grow up with a healthy attitude about food.  You set the example for your children.

If you make it a big deal to eat “grown up” food at the table, your child will think it is a big deal.  If you act like it is an everyday occurrence to try a new food, then your child will not think anything of it.

I have noticed that parents of picky eaters often “warn” their children ahead of time that they won’t like the food.  They talk about food in a way that cautions children that it is gross.  Sometimes it is subtle—for instance, choosing boring food items for their child while everyone else is eating good food.  Other times it is obvious—like when they say “You won’t like that” before the child goes to try something new.  Don’t do this.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a parent say, “Be careful, this is spicy”.  Instead, if you really want to warn your child, say “Mommy really likes this because it is spicy, what do you think?”

Make food into a game.

For small children, let them squish their food between their fingers, smell it, and taste it.  Use all five senses to enjoy and learn about the food.  Yes, this is messy.  Yes, lots of food ends up on the floor.  But I do not think it is wasteful, because it allows children to naturally explore new foods.

Ask age appropriate questions about the food, such as “What color is it?” and “What shape is it cut into?” for younger kids.

Did you know it takes more than 20 “tastes” to introduce a new food to a child?

Instead of saying “just taste it” to older kids, play 20 questions to get those 20 tastes in!  Ask questions like “What texture is this?” “What does it remind you of?”  “Is it salty?”  “Have you tasted anything similar?” “Can you taste the basil?” etc.    By the time you are done asking questions about the food, their plate is clean and you may find that they loved it all along!

Work on food vocabulary like sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and the new one — umami.  Talk about textures and flavors, and make tasting food into a fun game.   Get the kids involved in the kitchen, and teach them about how different cooking techniques affect the flavor and the texture—let them try it all.  You can even watch kid’s cooking shows with them to get them more interested!  Before you know it, you could have the next Kid’s Chopped star on your hands!

Raising a child to enjoy great food and be an adventurous eater is all up to the parents.  It starts at a very young age and includes sharing what you are eating with your child instead of making them a separate meal.  It is all about the parent’s attitude toward food and how they speak to their child about  trying new and exciting flavors.  For older children, turn tasting into a learning game to foster a lifelong love of good food.

And the best part?  No more buying double dinners, overpriced Gerber products, or bland kid’s meals.  It saves you money and turns dinner back into a time for family to reconnect and share an experience.  What more could you ask for?

11 Comments

  1. My husband is incredibly fussy and I totally blame my mother in law, lol. His sister didn’t have anything apart from milk until she was 4!!! So I am determined my daughter won’t be a fussy eater. I give her lots of variety, and if she refuses to eat it I just say you won’t get anything else. And guess what – she always ends up eating it!

    Unless she’s at her Granny’s and she will make her another meal…………..

    • Wow! Nothing but milk until age 4?! That sounds so extreme! It just goes to show you that picky eating really is all about how the parents handle food. You seem to be doing a great job with your daughter. Rock on, mama!

  2. Christine S

    Kids are like sponges. What goes in (see it, hear it, etc) will come out. Especially that language thing! Oh, my! And boy, you are right on the mark about picky eaters! I do home day care and EVERY single child I have cared for has eaten EVERY thing I set before them. No exceptions. I give them the food they eat one at a time. When they finish that, they get the next one. I very rarely serve chips and junk. Most of it is fresh fruits, veggies and home cooked meals. Just like you said, they eat what I eat. I have had kids tell me they ABSOLUTELY DO NOT LIKE so and so, and don’t even realize they just finished eating a serving of it. I found that peer pressure helped them eat all they were given. When they finished one thing, they got the next one. Nothing like seeing the kid next to you having something you really like to help you go ahead and eat what is in front of you so you can move on to that next yummy food just like them! My mom taught me long ago to feed my son from the table. That is how we ate as children. She used to say he would eat anything that wouldn’t eat him first! I have a food chopper from Pampered Chef that is hand crank and it is great. (Actually I have three.) I chop up food for the babies and NEVER buy baby food. As beginning eaters I do not add salt if using canned foods because it already has so much but when using fresh I season it just like I eat it. I have had more than one parent thank me for introducing their kids to so many unique foods. Sometimes their kids introduce them to the unique foods they ate at my house and the parents love it! So keep up the good work. Your baby is a lucky baby to have such a smart mama!

    • Thanks so much! You have an amazing home child care! If I was entrusting my son to someone else all day, I would want it to be someone like you! All of those parents are going to be so grateful for how you are handling food…you are really changing the kid’s lives for the better! Keep it up and thanks for reading!

  3. Ashwaa

    This is really so helpful.. My daughter eats lots of things but not evrything like she doesn’t eat tomatoes alone ..it should be cooked .. But I think she is doing ok .. I like ur tips so much and can’t wait try all of them .. Thank u

  4. Angela

    We did this with my son and by 10 months he was eating curry, sushi, pad Thai, any veggies… Pretty much anything at all we were eating. Plus he was a huge eater, the kid LOVED all food! Now he’s 2.5 and he eats no meat, only corn and sometimes peas for veggies, berries and bananas for fruit, and usually bread/pasta. As he got closer to age two he stopped eating a lot of the foods he used to eat and it’s not like he doesn’t like them so much as he won’t try any of it. It’s like he’s suspicious of most food. I still don’t make any seperate food and give him what we eat but he often goes to bed having not eaten since lunch or sometimes breakfast. I’m hoping one day our good eater will come back… He’s never had a chicken nugget in his life and we eat healthy so he isn’t eating junk at least but turns out that sometimes picky kids are just picky kids and our parenting doesn’t do as much as I hoped. Sometimes I think at least the kids of parents who cave and make a seperate meal are going to bed with full bellies! Here’s hoping my kid eats again eventually lol

    • I hope he does too! Maybe it is just a toddler phase, or he learned to be wary after trying something he really didn’t like. You are doing just what I would do in this situation- just keep trying. Keep up the good work, mama.

  5. Tiffany

    What puree’s did you feed your baby? Did you just puree your own dinner or did you buy or make your own?

    • At first, I would purée fruits and vegetables. When my son was ready to eat what I made for dinner, I would either just cut it up into gummable pieces or purée it, depending on what it was. For example, blueberries are hard for babies to eat, so I puréed them. Spaghetti was another challenging food that worked great once puréed. I have never bought baby food, it is so expensive and really easy to make yourself.

  6. Beth

    We did baby lead weaning with my first from the beginning. He ate what we ate and we aren’t in the slightest picky. We eat lots of healthy foods and I love to cook and try new things. He did well until around 18 months or so and just wouldn’t eat anything we have him. Maybe we caved under pressure too soon but he’s 4 and still doesn’t like a lot of things. Went through a stage of only eating yogurt for a while. His go to is pbj with apple slices and a cheese stick. He wil eat chicken tenders and pasta. But he really does not like a lot of things he once loved.

    • That’s odd, my child is only 17 months, I wonder if these tips will hold up when he is 3 or 4 and insists on autonomy. If my toddler won’t eat something (this happened this week with scrambled eggs for breakfast), I offered him the same plate he rejected again at lunch, by which point he was hungry and ate the whole thing. I’m going to try to keep this up to head off the two meals issue (one for him, one for us) that a lot of parents struggle with.

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