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Try These Key Feeding Plan Tips With Your Picky Eater

Updated: Sep 10, 2023

A girl holding up a piece of broccoli on a fork while she makes a face sitting over her bowl of vegetables

Have you been trying to tackle picky eating with your kids? Does it sometimes feel like an uphill battle? If so, today's picky eater tips are for you!

There's no shortage of friendly expert (and amateur) advice out there, but when it comes down to it, you have to find what works best for your family. Still, there are some general guidelines for a successful feeding plan to help with preventing or transforming picky eaters.

I have worked with so many families over the years who find themselves preparing separate meals on a daily basis to accommodate everyone in the family. I'll admit...been there, done that. When it's all said and done, we all need to have a pretty big reason to change our familiar routines. This includes managing our picky eater.

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It's important to ask yourself "Do I want to be a short-order cook forever?"

If your answer is "No!" then you have found your motivational starting or refining point when it comes to building a better eater.

  • DO - Make it about a healthy eating plan for the whole family

Let's try to take the focus off of our picky eater, helping kids to understand that mealtime is for everyone to enjoy. Teaching healthy eating skills as part of the family routine instead of singling out our picky eater helps with positively addressing the big picture. We also have to recognize our own attitudes about eating as this can affect how our kids will react. When we model healthy eating, while putting healthy foods on everyone's plate (or in their space which is a first step for some picky eaters), we are helping our kids to see this as an important and worthwhile change for all of us.

  • DO - Give your child a heads up about the new 'plan' (AKA rules)

Kids are more likely to get on board when they know what to expect. As you approach healthier eating from a new perspective within your family, be sure to let your children know of the goal for everyone to be their healthiest, and so you are adjusting the "family food plan" (or use whatever language appeals to your selective eater). If seeing healthy foods (think vegetables or grilled chicken) in their space is newish for your picky eater, start with the expectation of them leaving the small amount of new food in their space along with their familiar foods as an important first step. Once your child gets used to this change (and it may take a little while), you can up the ante with requesting they lick the food or take "one bite to be polite". Do expect some resistance, have a plan for managing behavior, and stay the course. It takes the average person 21 days to form a habit, an important thing to keep in mind for sure when it comes to our picky eaters.

  • DO - Structure settings for success

Being prepared is half the battle. Along with planning meals that are quick, easy, and healthy to prepare, offer healthy in-between meal snacks, stocking your pantry with only the snack foods that you want your kids to see and choose from. Little tummies fill up fast so we want to try to fill them with mostly healthy foods. Watch out for too much juice or milk close to mealtimes as this curbs hunger and can further impact kids' willingness to try new foods. Consider posting simple menus for kids who can read or use picture icons for younger kids so they can see what is being served at mealtime.

Think Structure to:

a. Refine current eating routines

Work to establish consistent eating routines with set mealtimes and regularly scheduled snack times.

Try to eat together as a family as much as possible. Research shows that the most pivotal time for kids to accept new foods is family mealtime, particularly dinnertime. Remember to serve the same foods to your picky eater as for the rest of the family (try only one new food at a time served with their familiar/favorite foods). Give your picky eater only a very small portion of a new food to start, and of course make adjustments for age, chewing abilities, allergens, etc.

b. Follow 'table time rules'

Remember, as parents, we choose what to serve, and our kids choose how much and what to eat from the available choices on their plate. In addition to the current rules you may already have in place for mealtimes, consider the following as you refine your feeding plan: If behavior becomes an issue at the table, your child can leave if you/they choose, but you can explain to them that there will be no food until later, and you can wrap up their dinner for the evening snack, or allow them to choose a snack from 2 healthy choices that you provide.

When it comes to table time rules, use your family's language or other kid-friendly language such as 'mealtime manners', 'family food choices', 'one bite to be polite', etc. While it can be really frustrating when you have a picky eater, be sure to remain calm, as our kids tend to respond to our emotions. We also want to foster an overall positive experience when it comes to eating. It can be tempting, but try to refrain from bribing or rewarding with ice cream or other desserts as we don't want to teach our kids that treats have higher food value than healthy foods.

  • DO - Keep Trying!

Your child's picky eating habits likely didn't get this way overnight, so it can take some time to help them adjust to the new plan and to get comfortable with trying and eating new foods. Reinforce appropriate eating behavior with praise, sticker charts and other non-food reinforcement for going along with the food plan. Be patient, positive and persistent in your feeding goals for your child...the time you put in will be worth it.

Build a Better Eater book for parents of picky eaters

Get the quick go-to guidebook to help with your picky eater written by a professional healthy eating/behavioral feeding coach for kids!

All blog content shared through HealthSmart! Kids is for informational purposes only and not to be construed as medical advice. Always talk with your qualified health care provider for managing your health care needs.

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