4 Bits of Advice for Picky Eaters

With patience and persistence, you can make sure your picky eater has a well-rounded, nutritious diet.


Providing the right nutrition for toddlers is a struggle when your child is a picky eater. No matter what approach you take, your little one stubbornly may refuse to eat anything but pasta and PB&Js. Every parent knows these meals aren’t enough for a growing body, but many are at a loss on how to feed their picky eater. Below are four tips to help mealtime go smoothly:

1. Have children pack their own lunches

This method gives your children agency and the chance to explore their meals, increasing their confidence. As children grow more self-assured, they also become more adventurous and will eventually seek new foods on their own.

At the same time, don’t give your kids free reign. Otherwise, you might end up packing a lunch that’s nothing but raisins and ketchup. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association had some great advice – use lunch boxes or plastic food containers with various compartments to teach your child about different food groups. For example, if you use a box with five compartments, label each section the following way:

  • Grain.
  • Protein.
  • Fruit.
  • Vegetable.
  • Dairy.
A young boy preparing his lunch in a kitchen.Having kids make their own lunches encourages them to try new food.

2. Try small portions of a variety of foods

Fixing smaller portions lets you experiment with a variety of foods and flavors at once. Instead of making a meal of three dishes – say, lunch with a turkey sandwich, apple slices and whole wheat crackers – try small portions of six different foods. Boost the previous meal suggestion by cutting the sandwich in half and adding shredded chicken, sauteed broccoli and low-sodium popcorn. You can even try the same food prepared two different ways. Switch the popcorn for steamed broccoli and see which your child likes best.

The key to making this tip work is to not get too experimental. Don’t choose completely new food for picky eaters, otherwise you run the risk of making a meal with nothing your child likes. This turns dinnertime into a tantrum. Instead, anchor each meal with a dish or two your kid loves. Keeping portions small means they won’t fill up on their favorites, so they’ll have no choice but to try new things.

3. Understand the reasons

Research published in Scientific American revealed picky eating may be more complex than we think. Some kids are born not liking certain flavors, so they take a little time to adjust to the taste. Others don’t shun dinner because of the food itself – they’d just rather do something else like play. When your child doesn’t like something, simply asking why helps you understand the underlying issue.

4. Give it time

Sharon Donovan, professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told Scientific American that anywhere from 19 to 50 percent of children up to age 2 are considered picky eaters. The phenomenon peaks around this age and tapers off around the time kids reach 5 years old. If you’ve tried everything in the book and nothing seems to stick, take solace in the fact that your kids will likely develop their taste buds as they get older. Don’t give up, but don’t run yourself ragged trying to create the next “MasterChef” critic.