Cooking Picky Eaters
Healthy Eating and Exercise

Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters

A colorful variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and lean proteins are key to a healthy diet. Parents need to introduce healthy foods early if they want their kids to eat them as adults.

But, as every parent knows, kids can be picky eaters. They would rather have chicken nuggets than vegetables.

Most picky eating starts around two years old and can go until age five. At this age, their appetites have slowed down and it’s also the first time they are able to express food preference.

Children are programmed to like sweeter, high-calorie foods. That’s why getting them to eat broccoli, green beans, tomatoes, carrots, and other healthy fruits and vegetables can be challenging.

Don’t Get Frustrated

Family Dinner

Getting past picky eating requires patience, experimentation, and persistence. Something a toddler likes one day may get tossed across the kitchen the next. Don’t eliminate it as an option.

Similarly, they may hate something one day and then insist on eating it four days straight. This is normal. Children’s appetites, eating habits, and food preferences need to mature just like they do.

Tips to Avoid Tension:

  • Shared responsibility — A parent’s job is to prepare and provide healthy options. A child’s job is to know when they’re hungry and when they’re full. Don’t force a child to eat. It could lead to a food-related power struggle. It could also lead to mealtime anxiety. They may also ignore when they’re hungry or full.
  • Eat together — This provides the adults a chance to model healthy eating habits. It also teaches children this is their opportunity to eat. You’re not going to cook a special meal for them. If you’re trying to reduce screen time, the dinner table is a great place to start.
  • Be creative — Adding chopped or shredded vegetables to sauces or casseroles is an easy way to add some healthy variety to their diets. Put sliced fruit in cereal or serve broccoli, celery, or carrots with a favorite dip.
  • Cook together — A child is more likely to eat something if they chose and prepared it.
  • Build a bridge — Once you find a food your child accepts, introduce other foods that look, feel, or taste the same. This helps expand their palate. Pairing new foods with familiar foods makes them easier to accept.
  • Start small — Don’t introduce large portions of new foods. That can lead to waste which can be frustrating for parents. Small servings are best. It also gives children the power to ask for more.
  • Teach them — Talk to children about new foods — their shapes, textures, how, and where they grow. It takes the mystery out of the meal.
  • Promote positivity — Children don’t like everything they try. They may get angry or refuse to eat. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Don’t make threats to get them to eat. Also, set limits with children about reactions. They can say, “No thank you,” but not “blech” or “that’s gross” at mealtime.
  • Don’t bribe — Desserts shouldn’t be offered for trying a new food. It makes the new food seem more unpleasant and can lead to nightly power struggles.

Pickiness in the Pandemic

Girl Holding Sandwich

Pickiness isn’t limited to toddlers. Finding variety during the pandemic can be frustrating if you are in a meal-planning rut. Don’t be hard on yourself. It happens when you’re stuck inside, dining out isn’t an option, and easy meals get old fast.

Here are some ways to improve your meal planning and get reenergized about cooking.

  • Kitchen inventory — Know what you have and start there. Eat what’s perishable so you’re not wasting food. Use these items as the foundation for your meal planning.
  • Plan it out — Make a meal plan for a week or two, depending on the size of your household. This helps you create a variety of options. Look at recipes that include vegetables, fruits, protein, whole grains, dairy, and healthy fats.
  • Make a list — It’s important to know what you need. Make space to freeze ingredients until they’re needed. Also, get some other frozen foods and nonperishables to add some easy options.
  • Read labels — Know the expiration dates of what you’re buying. You don’t want to throw out food because you never used it.
  • Prepare — Portion out snacks to limit overeating. Chop the vegetables you need for meals and store them for when it’s time to cook. Also, involve other family members. This is for all of you, so make it a shared activity.

Helping You Stay Healthy

AltaMed offers a host of resources to help you and your family eat well, stay active, and take an engaged approach to managing your health. You can download information on how to prepare healthy meals and watch videos with advice on keeping everyone in your household well. Visit for more information.

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Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters