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How to deal with Picky Eaters as a parent?

Parenting Tips


Dealing with a picky eater can be a daunting task for parents. The constant struggles during mealtimes, limited food choices, and concerns about nutritional deficiencies can create stress and frustration. However, understanding the underlying reasons for picky eating and implementing evidence-based strategies can help parents navigate this challenge more effectively. In this comprehensive article, we will explore research-backed approaches to dealing with picky eater kids, providing practical tips to encourage healthy eating habits and promote a positive mealtime environment.

Understanding Picky Eating

Picky eating is a common phase that many children go through, typically starting around the age of two. It is important for parents to recognize that picky eating is often a normal part of a child's development and not necessarily a cause for alarm. Research suggests that certain factors contribute to picky eating, including genetic predisposition, sensory sensitivities, and a natural wariness of new foods.

Creating a Positive Mealtime Environment

The atmosphere during mealtimes plays a crucial role in shaping a child's eating habits. It is essential to establish a positive and relaxed environment that promotes healthy eating. Research indicates that pressure or coercion to eat can actually worsen picky eating behaviors. Instead, focus on making mealtimes enjoyable and stress-free by engaging in pleasant conversations and modeling healthy eating habits.

Gradual Exposure to New Foods

Introducing new foods gradually is a key strategy to help picky eaters expand their food repertoire. Research shows that repeated exposure to new foods, without pressure, can increase a child's acceptance and preference for those foods. Parents can offer small portions of new foods alongside familiar ones and encourage their child to try them, emphasizing praise for their efforts rather than focusing on the outcome.

Involving Children in Meal Preparation

Involving children in meal preparation has been found to positively impact their food choices and willingness to try new foods. Research suggests that when children participate in age-appropriate kitchen activities, they develop a sense of ownership and are more likely to eat the foods they helped prepare. Parents can engage their picky eaters by allowing them to choose ingredients, assist in meal planning, and participate in simple cooking tasks.

Making Healthy Foods Appealing

Research indicates that presenting healthy foods in an appealing and visually attractive manner can increase a child's willingness to try them. Creative presentations, colorful plates, fun-shaped fruits or vegetables, and food arrangements can make eating more enjoyable for picky eaters. Additionally, offering healthy dips or sauces alongside vegetables or whole-grain crackers can enhance the taste and encourage exploration of new flavors.

Establishing Reasonable Expectations

Setting reasonable expectations for picky eaters is crucial to avoid unnecessary pressure and frustration. It is important for parents to respect their child's appetite and allow them to listen to their hunger and fullness cues. Offering a balanced meal that includes a variety of food groups, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and dairy, ensures that children receive essential nutrients.

Maintaining Consistency and Persistence

Consistency and persistence are key when dealing with picky eaters. Establishing regular meal and snack times helps create a predictable eating schedule and reduces grazing between meals. Parents should continue offering a variety of foods, even if they have been rejected in the past, as research shows that repeated exposure is essential for developing food preferences.

Dealing with picky eater kids requires a patient and evidence-based approach. By understanding the underlying causes of picky eating and implementing research-backed strategies, parents can help their children develop healthier eating habits over time. It is important to remember that picky eating is a normal phase and most children eventually outgrow it. By creating a positive mealtime environment, gradually introducing new foods, involving children in meal preparation, and making healthy foods appealing, parents can encourage their picky eaters to expand their food choices.

Research consistently emphasizes the importance of consistency, persistence, and reasonable expectations when dealing with picky eaters. It is essential for parents to respect their child's appetite, establish regular meal and snack times, and continue offering a variety of foods. By maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet, parents can ensure that their children receive the necessary nutrients for healthy growth and development.

Remember, every child is unique, and it may take time for them to develop a broader palate. Patience, encouragement, and positive reinforcement are key throughout this process. Seeking guidance from a pediatrician or a registered dietitian can also provide valuable insights and personalized recommendations for managing picky eating.

Ultimately, the goal is to create a healthy relationship with food and foster a positive attitude towards eating. With research-backed strategies and a supportive approach, parents can navigate the challenges of picky eating and set their children on a path towards a lifetime of healthy eating habits.

Try these delicious and kid-friendly recipes to entice your picky eater:

Cheesy Veggie Quesadillas

Hidden Veggie Pasta Sauce

Rainbow Fruit Skewers

Veggie-packed Mini Meatloaves

Berrylicious Smoothie Bowl

Pizza Roll-ups with Homemade Tomato Sauce

Remember, patience and persistence are key when introducing new foods to your picky eater. By creating a positive and fun mealtime environment, you can encourage your child to explore and enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods.


Taylor CM, et al. Factors influencing the development of eating behaviors in children. Proc Nutr Soc. 2016;75(2):259-266.

Dovey TM, et al. Food neophobia and 'picky/fussy' eating in children: A review. Appetite. 2008;50(2-3):181-193.

Birch LL, et al. Development of eating behaviors among children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 1991;88(4): 832-835.

Cashdan E. A sensitive period for learning about food. Hum Nat. 1994;5(3):279-291.

Anzman-Frasca S, et al. Strategies for effective eating development. Semin Pediatr Surg. 2009;18(3):171-178.

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