Picky Eating 101: What it is & how to overcome it

Published: Friday, September 29, 2023
PGY-1 Family Medicine Resident

Does your child constantly refuse brussels sprouts at the dinner table? Do you check the menu before going out to eat with friends? Picky eating is incredibly common. In fact, up to 50% of children are reported as picky eaters by their parents.

What is picky eating?

Picky eating is characterized by an unwillingness to eat familiar foods or to try new foods. Someone who is a picky eater often exhibits strong preferences and aversions when it comes to certain textures, flavors or types of food.

How to overcome picky eating

For young children, picky eating is normal. However, picky eating can lead to short-term or long-term nutrient deficiencies.

Here are some tips to help your child with their picky eating:

  1. Distinguish picky eating from behavioral issues
    Does your child genuinely not like the food, or are they throwing a tantrum? If you treat the behavioral problem as a picky eating problem, then the child will see mealtime as a negative experience and will not be willing to try new foods.
  2. Be a good example
    Fill your plate, as well as theirs, with healthy foods. Be positive when offering new foods and show your child how much you enjoy the food.
  3. Don’t bribe your child with sweets
    This teaches children a bad habit that they will start doing for other routine things, such as brushing their teeth or making the bed. When you offer your child a warm brownie in exchange for two bites of broccoli, this is teaching the child to continue to prefer sweets over veggies.
  4. Arrange foods in creative & colorful ways
    Serve your child’s food on fun plates or in fun shapes. Colorful foods like sweet potatoes or yellow squash can be exciting for children.
  5. Involve your child in cooking
    While at the grocery store, involve your child in the shopping process and offer options to them. Let your child pick between broccoli or cauliflower while standing in the produce aisle. While cooking the meal, allow your child to stir or add ingredients. By engaging your child in the process of cooking, the more likely it is that they will want to eat the final product.
  6. Create a family dinner routine
    Eating together as a family can turn mealtimes into a positive experience for your child. It is important to eliminate as many distractions as possible during mealtime, so turn off the television and put away the iPads.
  7. Try new foods when your child is hungry
    Hunger can often make children less selective and they may be more open to experimenting with different tastes and textures because their primary goal is to satisfy their hunger.
  8. Do not force your child to eat
    Children tend to resist more when they feel like you are making decisions for them. Allow your child independence to decide how much they will eat and if they will eat. Trust that if your child is truly hungry, they will eat!

Learn More

If you have additional concerns about your child’s picky eating, reach out and schedule an appointment with one of our family medicine providers. Find one near you with availability!