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Remedy for Picky Eaters!

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

Do you have children who are picky eaters? You are not alone! I often joke that God must have a sense of humor because as a dietitian, I have not one, but two picky kids when it comes to food. They wouldn’t touch rice or pasta for the longest time. My oldest doesn’t love eating meat (though chicken, turkey and fish are tolerable at times), wouldn’t eat anything mixed together (casseroles) or varying in color (grilled anything), while my youngest wouldn’t eat any fruits or vegetables except for strawberries and bananas unless they were pureed, juiced or freeze dried (then he would eat anything). We’ve had lip and tongue tie challenges (and revisions) with breastfeeding and eating solids: reflux, poor weight gain, low supply, inability to take a bottle or pacifier, gagging, gassiness, pocketing food or taking overly large bites, sensory or texture issues, speech delays and consequent therapy for speech and feeding. There was so much that I didn’t know when I became a mom in 2014.

My first-born and I. Can you spot the tongue tie? Photo credit: Jaclyn Simpson Photography

Now that my boys are 7 and 5 years old, their variety continues to increase. It all started in the family veggie garden. When my oldest son was 4, he saw the swiss chard that we were growing and asked if he could try it. I said, “Absolutely!” To my surprise, he liked the raw, bitter chard and looked forward to tearing some off each time we were outside. You see, we are curious by nature. By growing a few of our own fruits and vegetables, we could talk about them, watch them grow, harvest them, cook with them and eat them. There is such a disconnect from where our food comes from in our culture. Our raised garden beds are in our front yard for the neighbors to walk by and enjoy each day, and I have observed the joy and wonder that it brings. “Are those bell peppers?!” “Look at those tomatoes!”

My boys and I with our first carrots of 2020!

My kids love helping me in the garden. We have instituted the “no, thank you,” bite to try everything on our plates at dinner. They can try it, and if they don’t really like it, then that’s ok and enough for today. Both of them have grown to like various fruits and vegetables using this method. According to the CDC, it can take more than 10 times for your toddler to like a new food. As a parent, you get to say ‘what’ and ‘where’ with food, but your child gets to say ‘how much.’ These are normal behaviors for toddlers, so don’t be discouraged! In the meantime, try your best to get nutrient density in however you can while not creating a stressful mealtime with food battles and power struggles. They will follow your example and hopefully develop an adventurous attitude towards food, especially if you travel and talk about how great it is to try the local cuisine. One example is that the boys enjoy helping me juice our CSA (community supported agriculture) produce when it is in abundance and we have all gotten in beets this way, which are admittedly not a food I typically enjoy.

My oldest trying fried alligator in Florida.

I am grateful for our challenges with picky eating, as it has developed an empathy for other families that can only help me in my nutrition therapy practice. Picky eating can be a normal phase for young children, but it can also be a sign of nutrient deficiencies like zinc, which is something to be aware of. No matter your situation, invite your children into the garden and the kitchen with you and harness the power of their curiosity as you remedy the challenges with picky eating.

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