Expanding a Picky Palate

Helping Expand Your Child’s Palette

If you live with a picky eater, you know it can be a headache to prepare a family meal that everyone agrees on. More frustrating than that is trying to make sure your picky eater is getting the nutrition they need. Here’s a list of tips for easing your child into unfamiliar territory and broadening their taste bud horizons.

by Katie Faulkner

Portrait of a disgusted little boy refusing to eat his vegetables at the dinner table

1. Don’t Offer Bribes or Rewards

Desserts, snacks, sodas, or other items should never be offered as a reward for your child to eat something they don’t like. This sets the expectation that they will always be rewarded for eating what they’re supposed to eat. Also, withholding sweets sends the message that they are the most desirable food and can cause your child to grow up craving sweets.

2. Make Family Mealtime a Priority

Eating together helps establish healthy habits, allows parents to set good examples, and creates an atmosphere of fun around the dinner table. It’s the perfect time to teach children about new foods. It’s also proven that children who eat meals with their families tend to have healthier diets, and healthier relationships with food.

3. Don’t be a Short-order Cook

Preparing a different meal for your child once they’ve rejected the original meal can actually reinforce picky eating habits. It communicates that avoiding certain foods is acceptable and will be accommodated, when that’s the opposite of your goal.

4. Limit Distractions

The television and other electronics pull your child’s focus from mealtime, making them feel a sense of urgency to be done with their food. Distractions deter their focus on acquiring tastes for new foods.

5. Lead by Example

Children are more likely to try something they’ve seen their parents, siblings, or other trusted adults eating and enjoying. They learn other habits from your example too – if you snack on chips between meals, your children will question why they can’t do the same.

6. Get Creative

Adding chopped broccoli, mushrooms, or bell peppers to pasta sauce, adding fruits to cereals and pancakes, or adding a variety of ingredients into combination dishes like casseroles or soups helps children become more comfortable with flavors, colors, and textures.

7. Create a Routine

Providing meals and snacks at roughly the same time daily, and limiting snacks will both help your child to actually feel hungry at appropriate times. In between meals, only give them water – don’t let them fill up on juice and milk. 

8. Have Patience

Studies have found that a child may need to try a new food anywhere from 10 to 20 times before they actually begin to enjoy it.  Don’t let this discourage you – if they’ve turned down a food before, continue to offer it and require them to try it each time, until they’ve developed a taste for it.

9. Respect Your Child’s Appetite

Alternately, if you force your child to clean their plate after they say they’re full, or force them to eat a food they don’t like, you can cause them to view mealtime and certain foods with anxiety, frustration, and long-term aversion. You can also cause them to lose the ability to recognize their natural “hungry” and “full” signals. Respect their appetite, while continually offering healthy choices at each meal and snack time.

10. Establish a “Try Before You Deny”

Rule If you set the expectation that your child must try at least one good bite (or whatever amount you agree on), then the child is eventually less likely to fight back, knowing there is an end in sight to the unwanted food. And eventually, after so many “tries,” there’s a very good chance they will develop a taste for it.