How to Handle Picky Eaters

Almost every parent knows the struggle of a child who just won’t eat their dinner (or lunch, or breakfast, or snack…). Picky eaters can be a challenge, but there are lots of ways to help children learn to try and like new foods.

 

First, it’s important for you to have good eating habits. As the adult in their life, your kids look to you to know how to behave. If you are open to new foods and eat a well-balanced diet, your kids will be more likely to do this too!

Don’t encourage picky eaters by preparing special meals. Plan meals that include lots of food groups, and have everyone choose from what’s on the table. This will help kids learn to like new foods more quickly and will save you a lot of time and energy. 

It’s also helpful to let kids help choose and prepare meals. This doesn’t mean that your picky eater should get to plan the menu, but do give them some choices. Try letting them choose the vegetable, grain, or protein type, and ask them to help you in the kitchen. When kids feel like they have a say in what is served, they’re much more likely to be excited about eating it. (Kids are also more likely to try new foods they’ve grown themselves. Carrots, radishes, potatoes, and snap peas are all pretty easy to grow at home. Check out this guide from NC State Extension to help you start your own garden.

Set regular meal and snack times, and don’t serve snacks outside of these times. This way, kids are more likely to actually be hungry when it’s time to eat and will be more likely to eat the food they are given.

If your child doesn’t like a food one way, they might like it another. Try serving the same foods in different ways. For example, have kids try raw, steamed, and roasted vegetables. Be sure to switch it up often so picky eaters don’t get stuck on one food they like. Also keep in mind that it can take up to 10 tries to start liking a new food, so don’t give up if it feels like you aren’t seeing big changes in your picky eater’s habits!

Also remember that children don’t need as much food as adults, so tell kids to eat until they are full instead of until their plate is empty. Teaching kids to pay attention to how hungry or full they are will help them keep eating healthy amounts of food as they get older. 


Finally, there are some foods your child just won’t like, and that’s okay! As long as they give new foods a fair chance, it’s normal if they don’t love every single food they try.


© 2021 North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP)

North Carolina State University
Agricultural and Human Sciences Department

Cooperative Extension at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES)