When our son, Solomon, was little, his picky eating drove me to tears. He seemed to have little interest in eating at all, and when he did eat, it seemed like all he wanted were the same five or six foods. Sometimes I would feel sorry for myself because I–who loved to cook and enjoyed food so much–was blessed with a child who would prefer drinking milk or water all day to eating just about anything.

How things change! I can hardly believe that my formerly finicky (albeit well-hydrated) plate-picker is now one of the most adventurous eaters I know. Solomon has developed a taste for Japanese, Indian, Mexican, and so many other cuisines, and, at age 13, never hesitates to try something new, often boosting flavors by sprinkling his dinner with freshly ground pepper or hot sauce.

Over the last 12 years as a cookbook author, food writer and parent, I’ve talked to so many moms and dads who are at their wits’ ends with their own stubborn eaters. I’ve developed some suggestions, based on my own experiences, research and advice from many other parents, that can help parents raise children who are healthy, open-minded eaters:

1. Cook with your kids.  They’re more likely to eat foods that they’ve helped create.  The meal will also seem a little less mysterious if they see and have some control over exactly what goes into it.

2. Try to sit down to meals as a family.  Your children will be more likely to eat what the rest of the family is eating when you sit together.

3. Cut down on (or drop) snacks and juice between meals.  Kids are unlikely to try new foods or eat much at all if they’re not hungry when they sit down at the table. If they do need snacks between meals, make sure they’re healthy ones.

4. Consider the “one bite to be polite” rule to encourage kids to try new foods.  Remember to shower them with praise if they eat more than one bite, and give them positive feedback for being brave enough to try a new food.

5. Give your children opportunities to eat around other kids (especially older ones).  Kids are often more willing to try new foods in social settings, when “everyone else is doing it.”

6. Keep a list of new foods your picky eater has been willing to try.  Every time they try a new healthy food without rejecting it, make a big deal of adding it to the list!

7. Keep offering new foods even if your son or daughter didn’t like them in the past.  Taste buds mature and children sometimes need multiple exposures to new foods.  If they still don’t like it, say something positive like “That’s okay, your taste buds are still maturing, so maybe you’ll like it when you’re older.”

8. Make new foods fun or funny.  My husband, Andrew, got Solomon and Celia to eat green beans by telling them that if they ate one for each finger, they would be able to push him over with their strong fingers – and they did! 

9. Tell your kids why it’s important to eat healthy or “growing foods”.  We often talk about what part of the body each food benefits– broccoli and other green foods help our bones grow strong, carrots help us see better, and beans are good for our muscles. Our bodies need good fuel, not junky food, to keep us healthy and going strong.

10. Keep it positive, and don’t push too hard.  Kids won’t starve themselves.  I remember my pediatrician saying that kids seem to survive some days on air.  If you get into a power struggle with your children over food, they’re likely to win and a lot of the pleasure is also drained out of sharing meals. 

Your picky eaters are likely to gobble up these delicious mini-burgers suggested by our friend Mark Spindel.  They’re so versatile — the basic recipe is delicious, or you can give them an Indian flavor by adding curry powder or an Asian flavor by adding a little ginger and soy or teriyaki sauce.  You may enjoy them with Alice’s Seasoned Baked French Fries.

What are your best suggestions for coping with picky eaters? Please share your advice for other parents here!

Recipe: Mini Chicken Burgers

  • Prep Time: 20 min(s)
  • Cook Time: 10 min(s)
  • Total Time: 30 min(s)
  • Servings: 6

Please picky eaters with these mini chicken burgers.

Ingredients

    • 2 lbs. ground chicken
    • 1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic, (2 - 3 cloves)
    • 1/2 cup Italian flat leaf parsley, minced, or more to taste
    • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano or 1 1/2 tsp. fresh
    • 1/2 tsp. dried basil or 1 1/2 tsp. fresh chopped basil
    • 1/2 lemon, juice only, about 2 Tbsp.
    • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp. salt, to taste
    • 1/8 tsp. black pepper, or to taste
    • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
    • 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
    • 1/2 cup honey mustard, barbecue sauce, and/or ketchup, for serving
    • 6 small whole grain buns or rolls for serving (optional)

Instructions

    • In a large bowl, thoroughly combine the chicken, garlic, parsley, oregano, basil and lemon juice. Season it with salt and pepper.
    • Put the bread crumbs on a small shallow dish.  Form the chicken mixture into about 15 small, thin patties, about 2 inches in diameter.  Press the patties into the bread crumbs to coat each side and set them aside on a plate.  (At this point you can refrigerate them for up to 24 hours or proceed with the recipe.)
    • In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.  When the pan is nice and hot, cook the patties until they are browned on each side and cooked through, 8-10 minutes total.  If the patties are cooking too fast on the outside, reduce the heat and partially cover the pan for a few minutes so the insides will cook, too.
    • Serve them hot with honey mustard, barbecue sauce, ketchup, or your favorite condiments.

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  • http://savoryssweetlife.com alice

    Great list Aviva! We have the one bite rule at our house. I used to think it was very frustrating when I felt the girls were working the system by taking the smallest of bites and then rejecting the food. But as they got older, sometimes that one little bite turned into one of their favorite dishes. Consistency is the key!

  • Gabrielle

    Love the picky eater tips. My 4yo is a master of saying “no.” Hoping to change that with these ideas. Thanks!

  • http://theherbedkitchen.wordpress.com Joy

    This is a great list! My sweet girl went from a super adventurous 3 and 4 year old to a 5 year old who hates everything. It was so upsetting to have her suddenly hate the food loved. We’ve been gently persistent and use words like “sweet” when describing white beets and we’re very careful about our language around certain food. Prepare the food in familiar ways – veggie wedges instead of potato wedges.

  • Jenn

    I let my 3yr old pick her veggies, I give her 2 or 3 to choose from. I add the word “candy” to some things if all else fails!

  • http://www.thescramble.com Aviva Goldfarb

    I love these ideas, Jenn and Joy! Thanks for sharing them with us.

  • http://www.feedourfamiliesblog.com Gina

    Great tips! We love all of these, especially #7 about staying persistent with trying new foods. Be patient.

    If my kids are hungry before dinner, they can snack on fruit or veggies. I know they’re eating healthy, so I don’t mind.

  • http://fabulouswatches.com michele

    Wow.. chicken burgers? I will have to try these. Thanks for the tips :)

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    My 18 month old is so picky – these tips will come in handy as he gets older.

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  • Karen

    My son is 4 & loves veggies–& salad (with many crutons:-) –so do I, so for that I’m grateful. but he does NOT like FRENCH FRIES (or potatoes)–no tater tots, no mashed potatoes….I think a few years back this may have been a problem with eating out at Mc Donald’s or family restaurtants like Outback or something , but he LOVES sweet potatoes & we get the fruit option when at Mickey D’s!!:-)

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    What my wife does is hide veggies under a pile of mashed potatoes on the spoon and he eats it right up (my son loves mashed potatoes). Hopefully he will get over the pickyness.

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