Tips for Picky Eaters You Might Not Have Tried

I’ve partnered with Wonderful Halos to bring you this blog post. Right now, the brand is hosting a “Good Choice Challenge” to encourage consumers to make good snacking choices by choosing Wonderful Halos over other traditional unhealthy snacks in order to lead a healthier lifestyle. With the holidays here, Wonderful Halos definitely make a delicious (and easy) option! As always, thank you for your support! 

We have quite the picky eater on our hands with Quinn. Sure, it’s his age (he’s 3.5 years old), but it has been a serious struggle for our family. As a baby, Quinn used to eat just about everything that we put in front of him. But, just after his first birthday, things went down hill. Meal time is almost always a challenge, and I can’t remember the last time he ate a vegetable (unless it was stealthily added into a smoothie).

As you might remember, Quinn participated in Massachusetts Early Intervention Program starting at 22 months for a full year. During this time, he made GREAT strides with his language and communication skills, but meal time was always still a problem. We met with a Registered Dietitian on a few occasions. She gave us some eating strategies, but they only kind of helped at the time. We attempted to implement them for many months with only minimal success, so, more recently, we’ve started to do our own thing and identify what works for Quinn. He’s still a picky eater, but we’re finally making some progress. Of course, some days are better than others, but I wanted to pass along some of the things that are working for us right now. When you have a picky eater, I feel like you’re open to just about anything to get your little one to eat, so I hope these help!

No toys at meal time – Here’s a perfect example of adjusting to Quinn’s needs. When he was two, I wrote a blog post about how we encourage toddler conversation. In it, I said that making meal time fun was a good way to get Qman to talk, which, at the time, was our goal. Fast-forward a few months, we realized the toys at the table were distracting him from actually eating, so now mealtime is a “no toy zone,” so Quinn can really focus on the task at hand.

Playing with his food – Ok, so there’s no toys at meal time, but it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun! We often encourage Quinn to play with his food, especially new ones, so he gets familiar with them. The more often he’s exposed to new foods, the more likely he’s to try them. We like to make our food talk and drive or fly it into ours or his mouth, which definitely gets him to eat more at meal time. Wonderful Halos can also be a fun and colorful addition for any part of the day – as a snack, in recipes, and you can even incorporate them in (holiday) crafts with your kids. Related: I really want to buy this construction utensil set for Quinn since food play is working so well for us. Looks fun, right!?

Serving 1-2 foods at a time – This strategy is one from the Registered Dietitian that we met with. She actually suggested serving Quinn no more than 3-4 foods at time, but we’ve since reduced that number to 1-2. I think maybe having too many options overwhelms him, so he does much better with eating when he only has just a couple of food choices (or no choice). If he finishes all of the food on his plate, we’ll give him something else to eat.

Limit milk – Quinn lovvveesss milk. In fact, he used to go days (not exaggerating) with only drinking milk and eating no solid food, so we’ve stopped giving him so much, especially in between meals. Nowadays, he only has milk in the morning and at night with dinner, and we’ll often start him with a small portion to encourage him to eat real food before filling up on milk.

Cooking together – Cooking with Quinn has been huge for getting him to try new foods. He helps me almost every night in the kitchen when I make dinner. I find little tasks for him to do, and he really seems to enjoy it. He doesn’t always eat what we make together (he’s only eaten meat once in his whole life), but sometimes he will and that’s a win for us! Just recently, Quinn tried mashed potatoes and took two bites without spitting them out! 🙂

No snacks after dinner – We really try to stick to this rule. Quinn will often take a few bites of dinner, say he’s “full,” but then ask for a snack 20 minutes later. We caught on to his little game, so now we encourage him to eat while reminding him that there’s no snacks after dinner. It usually gets him to eat a bit more at the dinner table.

Pack only healthy snacks for on-the-go – When we’re out and about running errands, I only pack healthy snacks to bring with us because I know if Quinn is hungry enough, he’ll eat them. Plus, having snacks on-hand prevents us from buying less-than-stellar options. We especially love Wonderful Halos mandarins because they’re sweet, seedless and easy to peel – Mother Nature’s perfect snack. They are 100% California-grown, non-GMO Project Verified, and tree-to-table, which makes them the perfect portable, convenient, and healthy snack for kids and adults on-the-go. (Yes, I sometimes travel with Halos in my purse! Haha!)

Eat treats together – Our family loves “fun” foods just as much as we love the healthy stuff, so we often share our treats among the three of us. That way, Quinn realizes that donuts or Cheetos are foods for special occasions and not a regular part of our diet.

Pick your battles – One of the things that the Registered Dietitian recommended is not making a big deal about food. Even though Quinn’s pickiness is frustrating at times, we do our best to keep a relaxed stance about it. If anything, we focus on the foods that will make him “strong” and encourage those as much as possible. Quinn loves fruit, especially Wonderful Halos, so we’re more than happy to serve it to him as a healthy option in his diet.

Question of the Day

Parents of picky eaters: Any tips or tricks to share that have worked for you? 

 

26 Comments

  1. When my son went through a picky phase DIPPING saved the day. Our pediatrician suggested letting him dip anything, even if it seemed like a weird combination. My son loved applesauce so that was our go to “dip” for every meal. We’d help him dip a bite and get it in his mouth and follow-up with lots of over the top, “Wow! Mmmm! That is SO YUMMY!! Oooh… I’m going to take a bite of my dinner, too. YUM!” comments.

    He’d usually be excited enough to take the next bite and dip on his own. If he started to eat the applesauce straight up, we’d calmly move the bowl out of reach and say, “Applesauce is for dipping.” After 20 or 30 seconds, we’d return the bowl with a, “It’s DIPPING TIME!!” type of comment, and resume dinner. (Take away dip with zero emotion, return with big excitement.)

    After a while he started eating just about everything! Some combos were gross (to us!) but he started eating a wider variety of foods, and eventually stopped dipping on his own.

  2. Hey! I have loved your blog and followed for years! I am a speech therapist so this approach is not one I have expertise in but a lot of the occupational therapists I work with/co-treat with have used food chaining which has been extremely effective for many cases. The technique builds on a child’s successful eating experiences by creating a series of links between those foods she/he eats well to new foods you wish her to eat. The links build on one another, making small variations on the food a child eats well to gradually introducing new varieties. The child is more likely to eat the new variety because it’s similar to the food she already enjoys eating. You may already know all about this!

  3. Thanks so much for sharing about Q. My daughter turned 3 in early October. She is in speech therapy twice a week and an extremely picky eater. Her other sensory issues have all gone but we continue to struggle with food (same w milk here for sure). Speech has helped expand her vocabulary (still limited) but her receptive language skills have increased leaps and bounds since we started treatment. That has really reduced the number of tantrums in a day by a lot, a huge win for me. Anyways, it helps to know we are not the only ones. And to those who are also struggling, professional help (mainly speech for us but limited OT) has been so so so useful.

  4. I work with kids with autism and some of our patients have feeding programs. I’ve never worked closely with a patient on a feeding program, but the gist that I get from it is provide TINY bites of the non-preferred food (in Q’s case, veggies or meat), while stating that a reinforcer (iPad, toy, or a strongly preferred food) is available only after he’s taken a bite. Over time, the bites of non-preferred get bigger or more frequent (e.g., “2 bites, then iPad”) and the reinforcer is faded back until it’s no longer needed. This can be a pretty arduous process, and I can understand why parents leave that type of therapy to an OT or a behavior therapist. I’m sure there are similar, less intense procedures that could be used at home!

  5. Great tips! We use a lot of these too 🙂 Our son Sam is about 6 months younger than Quinn. He is generally a good eater but we certainly have our picky preschooler moments! We’ve found that patience works…if at the beginning of the meal he’s cranky and saying “I don’t want that” to a certain food(s) on his plate, we try not to push it too much other than a little general encouragement….and then often, later in the meal, he may come back to that food and give it a try if we don’t say anything again. We also just try to engage him and have fun – keep him chatting and enjoying being with us – and the happier he is, the more likely he is to eat (the more we “nag,” the less likely he is to eat). He already understands that we want him to try all his food, etc. so we try not too repeat those things too many times (just a couple!) Another thing that’s worked lately is if we have Sam “trick” us. My husband or I will go do something else (fill our water glass, bring something over to the sink or whatever) and say in a silly voice something like, “I’m just gonna go over heeeere and fill my waterrrrr….and I wonder if one of those carrots on Sam’s plate will be gone when I get back…” Then we do whatever we said we were going to do and don’t look at him (taking our time so Sam has time to take his bite), and then when we come back, 99% of the time he’s eaten at least one bite! Then we make a big deal about it and act as if we didn’t know where that piece of food went – and he’s like, “it’s in my belly!” He’s so proud that he tricked us and ate a bite….and then we do it all over again 🙂 And he often ends up eating a few more bites without us having to do that every single time 🙂 It’s fun for all of us!
    Glad Quinn has been making great progress!!

  6. Our almost 4 year old was the same way as a baby, ate everything we offered including all vegetables without issue. Since about 2 years though the only vegetables he eats are corn and peas. While my husband and I make salads and other vegetables for our dinners, we typically make him his own portion of his vegetables as we feel something is better than nothing.
    He will eat chicken, pork and other white meat (loves to dip in ranch), but does not love red meat or ground meat in general. The one dish that everyone is always amazed he eats is salmon that we marinate and grill. It is his FAVORITE.
    We have finally gotten him to eat rice by adding a tiny bit of brown sugar on top to make it “special”.
    There are a couple of rules in our house related to his dinners. 1. you have to try the tiniest bite of whatever mom and dad are eating (unless it is spicy) and 2. you typically don’t get fruit until after you have eaten what is asked of you from your plate (not the clean plate club as we determine his hunger on a night to night basis). While important to his diet, fruit is used as his “treat” after he has eaten what is asked of him.
    Occasionally (especially when out at a restaurant) we try to have a vegetable pouch (typically mixed with fruit) on hand for some additional nutrients. He loves these and asks for them at other times as well. He knows they have green beans, kale, spinach and other vegetables in it, yet he still doesn’t hesitate to eat them. He also loves Naked juices, even though he knows there are vegetables he doesn’t like in them. You take the small wins when you can get them.

  7. Keep up the good work, mama! Our 3.5 year has gotten a bit pickier with her diet lately, and it’s so easy to just let her eat toast for dinner…again… We have the most time to cook on the weekends, so those are becoming family events. Our 3.5 year loves to put muffin liners in the tins, so we make a LOT of muffins and egg cups. Bonus: we can get a variety of veggies in there!

  8. Thanks for sharing, every kid is so different. I find it helpful to have a bunch of ideas and see what works!
    I recently read the book “It’s Not about the Broccoli” and really liked it as it focused more on creating good eating HABITS rather than focusing on the type or amount of food. It also had a lot of different ideas to try.

  9. Not sure if this will bite us in the butt down the road but we tell our 3 year old any and all meat is chicken because he likes it, haha. So if I make meatballs for dinner we tell him they are chicken balls. Or if I make steak we tell him its brown chicken. We also try not to make a big deal about the meal because we find that if we make a big deal he sometimes is more resistant to eating. I also try to put at least one item on his plate that he will eat and I never stop giving him the item he won’t eat. So if I make broccoli tonight and he doesn’t eat it, I will make it again next week and put a piece on his plate because that may be the day he decides to eat it.

    1. @Christine:
      Yes, my parents did this too!! Hahaha! Or maybe it started from my little sister, who loved ham and called everything ham. Chicken or turkey was white ham, roast beef was brown ham, and bologna was “smelly ham” lol. It became a running joke in our family.

      Also, my brother was an INSANELY picky eater as a kid (he is on the autism spectrum). I remember there being food battles and tantrums for years before my parents just gave up and let him eat the 3-4 food items he would actually eat (pizza, chicken nuggets in only “nugget” form, no dino shapes or anything, PB&J or grilled cheese cut in triangles, not squares) and quit worrying about it. I remember on holidays, we would have the holiday meal and my brother would have frozen pizza. Everyone was happy. He is now 30 years old, 6 feet tall, and eats a healthy, varied diet. He grew out of his pickiness (in his late teens) and it didn’t seem to stunt his growth at all!

  10. My aunt sent that construction utensil set to our two year old and he LOVES it! Highly recommend! I’ve also found that letting him “help” me make dinner usually leads to him at least trying it!

  11. OMG! Thank you for sharing this. My strong willed three year old daughter is the pickiest eater and it has been a battle. She has a very small selections of foods that she likes and now it is getting smaller. I am happy to say that she likes healthy snacks, but I can’t get her to eat real meal. She’s not a fan of any meat products, well she does like chicken nuggets, but it has to be Purdue. When we go out to eat at any restaurants, we need to take her snacks, because she rarely eats any of the food.
    I am trying to find ways to introduce to her new foods. I have put a small amount of the new item on her plate, but she doesn’t eat it. I try not to overwhelm her with new foods, but I don’t know what to do. It is always No or Yuck or Noooooooo.
    I am glad to read what you said about the milk. I have been battling my husband about her drinks and why she should not have that first or just give her a small amount. I made sure to forward this article to my husband to read right away.

  12. Man, some of these tips would work for me! Especially the no snacks after dinner rule. I’m not a mom yet, but I do love that you and Mal keep a relaxed stance on food. I think that’s incredibly important, especially as someone who has a skewed perception of food from my youth from ballet. Food is fuel, yes, but it’s also meant to be enjoyed, and you guys have a great balance of that. I’m sure Quinn will come around to more veggies and fruits with you and Mal on his side. And no meat? A little vegetarian!

  13. My sister was a picky eater at first and our mom heard to use toothpicks. If she was eating chicken or pasta, it didn’t matter, it was on a toothpick. She continued to do that for years and eventually outgrew it. Maybe try that!

  14. Good tips. Nora is in a similar boat as Q – and for her I think its a control thing. I made pulled pork for dinner (which she usually loves) and she wouldn’t touch it, but she ate cole slaw. So strange. Our strategy is this: she eats what we eat but I always put something on the plate that I KNOW she likes: cheese, fruit (halos included) applesauce. If I do that, I know she’ll eat something. We won’t freak out that she’s hungry. AND she’ll typically TRY something else on the plate. The exception is chili, this kid loves black beans/chili seasoning. She’ll always eat it.

    I try and remind myself how PICKY I was as a kid, and now I’ll eat just about anything….I actually lived on tortellini soup for lunch for an entire year when I was 5 – and Chef Boyardee after that. There is hope!

  15. I have been wanting to comment about this for days but for some reason comments not working on my phone? Anyway, my daughter is slightly younger than Quinn and a super picky eater. She had some medical issues (different than Quinn’s) that I think were contributors but I also think we made some mistakes along the way in how we tried to handle this. I saw someone recommended “Its not about the broccoli” which is a great book on this topic but my favorite is actually this one: https://www.amazon.com/Helping-Child-Extreme-Picky-Eating/dp/162625110X

    I also highly highly recommend learning about food chaining – it is a simple concept that is a lot of slow work to implement but is super effective.

    So many people told us she would grow out of this phase and/or we just needed to be stricter but neither of those things were true for us and any then things got REALLY bad kind of all of a sudden. Once I gained a better understanding of why she was fighting so hard on new foods and why this would be an area she struggled more than other kids it really helped my husband and I get on the same page and come up with a kind and consistent approach that is in line with our values as parents. We also started my daughter in feeding therapy – there are two kinds and the intensive kind described by one of the commentators above would not have been a good fit for my daughter. She attends a play based therapy once a week that is does not involve bribing kids to eat. We believe it has helped us speed up the progress we are making at home. I definitely recommend looking into it; my understanding is that 3 is a pretty ideal age to start this kind of therapy if it is needed.

    Anyway, lots of luck. It is a tough issue which I clearly have strong feelings about!

Leave a Reply to Leah Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *