5 Simple Ways to Win Over a Picky Eater

Have you got a picky eater in your house? You may ask yourself: are they just trying to be difficult, or is the food really the issue? Truth be told, it’s probably a little bit of both. Instead of throwing in the kitchen towel and waving surrender the next time you hear “I’m not hungry,” try some of these useful tips for pleasing everyone’s palate.

1. “I’m not hungry”
A few things could be at play here. They’re not thrilled about what’s on their plate and think they can outsmart you simply by saying they don’t require food. Or, they really aren’t hungry because they’ve been munching cheesy, fish-shaped crackers all afternoon. Either way, take control. If they say they don’t feel like eating, allow it (force feeding rarely works) but insist that they remain at the table until everyone else is done. Picky eating is often about asserting independence; give them the choice to eat or not to eat. Most likely they will begin to nibble on what’s in front of them, but if they decide not to, that’s okay too (seriously, they will not starve!). As for the latter scenario, avoid giving in to chants for snacks as dinner approaches. Most children require something between lunch and dinner, but try to avoid serving anything additional to eat within an hour to 90 minutes before mealtime.

2. “What else is for dinner?”
Whatever you do, don’t get up and make something else. Be honest with them (i.e.: “This is what I made, this is all I made.”) Avoid the tendency to be a short-order cook. Catering to each eater’s idiosyncrasies will only breed a culture of pickiness and drive you mad in the process! Kids want to have a say, so allow them to help plan, shop, and cook for weekly meals. They will be more likely to engage and try new things.

3. “Can I just have [insert cliché kid food here] instead?”
Yes, they will ask for hot dogs and chicken nuggets every night—especially if you’ve subscribed to this tactic in the past. No one can blame you for wanting a quiet dinner, and they are quiet when you serve chicken nuggets… The trick here is to try making your own homemade version of some of those kid favorites. Choose a night where you have the time, and experiment with kid-friendly recipes for things like fish sticks and chicken fingers. Try a chicken sausage served up in a hot dog bun, or high-quality, homemade hamburgers served with oven-baked fries.

4. “Ewwwwwwwww”
It sounds a bit silly, but meals can be overwhelming to a young child. Food that is touching other foods, drenched in sauces, features wild colors, or is even just mixed all together (think stir fry) can overload the senses and scare off a little eater. As mentioned in #2, don’t go down the road of preparing something completely different, however you can make some accommodations. Arrange food in small piles or offer a side plate so food doesn’t touch, deconstruct and separate out the components of a stir-fry, and offer sauces on the side for dipping. These small adjustments can help make the meal more inviting.

5. “Chicken again?”
It is so easy to fall into a dinner rut week after week. Try offering common foods (like, yep, chicken) in new and exciting ways: grilled chicken sliders instead of burgers, pasta with meat sauce instead of meatballs. It also never hurts to give your creation a fun name, like “Samantha’s Salad” or “Charlie’s Chicken.” A small amount of creativity can score you major bonus points, even with the toughest critics.