Preventing Picky Eaters

Picky eaters is something every parent has had to combat at some time in their child rearing. I had two picky eaters one wouldn’t eat meat the other only ate white food, which was mostly true until she was about 10 or 12 when her taste buds began to change.

Yes as we mature our taste buds also mature as well. Infant  and child taste buds are very sensitive especially to bitter foods. This is actually a protective method nature gave us to prevent eating poisonous foods, much of the difficulty for kids is overcoming the texture of foods. We as parents are also to blame, we want our babies to be happy so in our efforts to keep them alive we give them the foods they will eat. Here is where we go wrong. Kids in Asia eat foods even American adults won’t eat, Aborigine children eats grubs without complaint. We Americans are very spoiled by the modern manufactures who produce not only infant food but now toddler food as well. These are all very convenient for busy moms and although they appear to be nutritious they are not the best option for teaching kids to eat healthy.

We need to teach our kids to learn to love all types of food. The longer they are fed processed foods the more difficult the battle of picky eaters will go on. Here are a few steps to over come the food battle. My first tip is to eat what your kids are eating. If you proclaim to hate broccoli your kids will also say they hate broccoli.

New feeding guidelines are very different than what has been taught by physicians in the past. The new guidelines are in an effort to prevent allergies as well as finickiness. As reported in US News the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology released a new set of recommendations for feeding infants to help prevent food allergy. It states that “once an infant over 4 months old has tolerated a few non-allergenic solid foods [such as] rice cereal, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, carrots, bananas, apples or pears), parents can [introduce] other more allergenic foods…as with introducing all new solids, only one new food should be introduced every three to five days to help isolate triggers of any allergic reaction”(Freuman, 2013).

In summary when a child is 4 months old and can sit in a high chair, start to introduce all food with the exception of honey. This includes eggs, shellfish and nut products which have been restricted in the past. I personally recommend starting with bottled infant foods because they are one ingredient foods without any spices or fillers. This is the easiest method, this is where my recommendation for processed food ends. Once you have introduced all foods and the child has not had a reaction to it, move on to feeding them table food. Starting solids does not mean feeding them their first happy meal.

Step two entails the dislike of foods. Textures and flavors are new to infants so they may object to certain foods. Babies are products of nature and they will put everything they can reach in their mouths. During this developmental stage take advantage of this. Provide a small infant spoon to your child during meals and place the food that they are objecting to on their food tray (NOT A PLATE) and put the food on their spoon and let them make a mess, some food is bound to get in their mouth. As the parent, take turns putting the food in the babies mouth, even allowing them to feed you the food. When you are fed the food make the biggest happiest yummy face you can make. Baby will learn that food is good.

I know many of you are cringing as you envision the mess that will occur. This can be overcome with tricks such as feeding them in their diaper or onsie, putting a vinyl table cloth on the floor under the high chair, using large bibs that cover their shoulders and tummies. This should comes off easily, use it to wipe the child off, dump out any solid pieces in the garbage and throw it in the washer.

Step three is a difficult one for busy parents to handle. Throw away all the processed boxed food, or just never buy it. Start cooking, go back to basics. Make your own baby food in a blender or food processor. There are many products available today or you can use the basic blender or food processor which you have in your kitchen. As the babies tummy matures between four and 9 months old, slowly add foods that have been slow cooked that are soft and can be mashed with a fork. Use fresh or frozen foods since these do not have salt of chemicals in them.

From step one and throughout infancy, FEED THE CHILD FROM YOUR PLATE! They can eat mashed potatoes, cooked carrots and green peas, pasta, rice and any other food that can be mashed with a fork. This is probably the most important thing I can tell parents. The second is to stop being picky yourself and stop vocalizing your dislike.

Feed the child everything and when they complain use this next practice. Everyone at the table is required to eat whatever is on the table. This also requires having family meals at the table not in front of the TV, or other distraction device. As other family members eat the dinner, all eat with a smile and a verbal praising of the yummy food. Another method is combining foods or disguising food. The point is to get the child used to the flavor and texture.

A fun practice is renaming the undesirably food in a more desirable way. Fairy drops, dragon toes,  princess jewels, pirate plunder. Another method is cutting foods into fun shapes that tiny fingers can pick up. Remember step two, let them touch it and experiment with it. When encouraging them to eat an item, they only have to have one bite for every year that they are, up to age 10. To satisfy the picky eater rule. 5 peas for 5 years, 7 spoons of applesauce for 7 years, 10 noodles in sauce for every year over 10. I was tending my 3 year old nephew who was a picky eater, I made homemade lunchables and cut the meat and cheese in fun shapes using tiny cookie cutters, I then gave him tooth picks to eat with. This was fun and he ate all of his lunch. I told his mom of my success and she was impressed. She tried this technique later at home. He promptly told her, I only like this at Stacy mom’s house.

These steps may sound time consuming, consider the long term goal. Do you want to hear at every meal put on the table, I hate that, I don’t eat that, I only like… As the parent you need to be the boss. The child has a choice, the choice is eat what is offered or don’t eat.

I know my younger sister is screaming all her complaints about how her child would starve to death first. I do have a niece who went days without eating until my sister gave in. Her final plan was to offer the children a deal. Everyone gets to have one food that they have a free pass on and they don’t have to eat. This can be done with older kids. They pick the one food, when it is served they get to use their free pass at that meal they get to have a alternate item that they can prepare themselves. Mom does not make different meals to accommodate, picky kids.

The best tip ever is to get the kids in the kitchen with you. If they are preparing it then they will be excited about eating it. One thing I did was assign each kid to cook one meal each week, they chose the menu, there were guidelines, each meal had to have vegetables, and protein. Nobody could complain about what anyone else was cooking because it was their turn next. Also take them shopping for the items, let them pick out the fresh produce and see where food comes from, see that it does not come in a box.

My secret is to hide less desirable food in the good food. Shredded zucchini in spaghetti. Finely chopped spinach in ground beef. Chop onion in tiny pieces, kale in a berry smoothy. We had a saying “don’t ask what is in your food just eat it”.

I have seen some practices by parents that I cannot believe. One was a 14 year old daughter who refused every meal, the mother gave her a few dollars and the daughter was allowed to go to the fast food place across the street. Second is the mother who is making separate dishes for each child, because each child did not like specific foods. The third is the mom who is making a few specific foods for every meal because the child will only eat these few foods. Another that was really astonishing was the mom who was chasing her toddler around the house with bowl and spoon in hand, begging him to eat just one bite. We once invited a family to a week long vacation on our house boat, the mother brought a weeks worth of mac and cheese and fruit loops because that was the only food the child would eat. In all of these examples the parent had lost control and the child was running the show. If a parent can not get control of feeding, they are going to have huge discipline problems later in life. So when I say, get this one thing under control in infancy and you will have less battles in the life long goal of raising children, I am speaking the truth.

As I said I did have picky eaters, my son I just prevented vegetables until he ate meat so he was easy. My daughter and I struggled with this until she was a preteen, when amazingly she started eating broccoli, and hamburger (yes she hated hamburgers). She has progressed to even eating her most hated foods of tomatoes and mushrooms even though this did not happen until she was about 17. She finally got old enough and mature enough to finally try them, she even loves sushi with seaweed and niguri. I feel this is a success because she did finally get to that point, because she got used to tasting things that looked or sounded undesirable. She tasted the food and still had the choice of not liking it, but she was at least trying. As a baby I would sneak one tiny piece of peach (which she hated) into a spoonful of something and she wiggled that one piece of peach out of her mouth and refused to eat it. She still loves white food, it is still her most favorite, but she does experiment with new flavors.

I peeled grapes and oranges, cut off crusts and made meals without mushroom just like all moms do, but overall these were the rules. By the time they are a certain age babyish tantrums just were no longer accepted. Saying you don’t like something on the table before it is even served is unacceptable. Being rude to acquaintances when eating at their homes is unacceptable. I’ve raised three kids, and babysat numerous others for several years each, these rules applied to everyone who ate at my table. These kids would eat foods at my house that they would not eat at home, I can’t say these are 100% foolproof, but it is at least a game plan. Happy moms equal happy kids and visa versa.


Freuman, Tamera. US News. 2013.

Full article on new guidelines: