Do you have a picky eater who is afraid to try new foods?
We all want to raise good little eaters. But our kiddos can sometimes have other ideas – anyone else parenting a die-hard nugget baby?
I would say my kids fall somewhere in the middle of the scale between “mega-picky” and “willing to try anything”. They have their safe foods. They have foods that they, under no circumstance, will allow to pass their lips. But – if they’re in the right mood – they’ll actually try new foods without too much pushing. Probably Jackson (age 4.5) will more than Everley (age 18 months).
Why won’t kids try new foods?
There are a number of deterring factors when it comes to trying new foods, including:
- Fussiness/pickiness (“I don’t like that”)
- Stubbornness (“I won’t try it, no matter what”)
- Fear (“That food is too strange and I’m worried it will taste awful”)
- Association (“That food looks like another food I tried that I didn’t like”)
- Repulsion (“That food looks disgusting”)
Luckily, if your kid won’t eat anything you make, I do happen to have some tricks for you to try!
I’ve weathered some REALLY fussy phases with my kids, and some pleasantly surprising phases where, for whatever reason, they agree to try almost anything. I’ve picked up a number of strategies over the years that have really helped me to push through the pickiness. And while there’s always room for improvement, and I have plenty of days where I want to tear my hair out and scream “What’s wrong with that food?! What’s wrong with it!?” I’m pretty pleased with the variety of foods that they are willingly eating these days.
(I also make sure to hide veggies in a few of our meals each week – just to make sure that my kids are still getting that goodness in while they’re learning to love trickier foods!)
14 Picky Eater Tricks and Tips For Trying New Foods
Cook with them
Sometimes, all you need to do is remove the mystery of food. So when you cook, involve your kiddo. Pop them up in a learning tower and let them watch. If they’re old enough to help, let them have a go at peeling vegetables, tenderizing meat (always a favourite in our house!), pouring flour into a mixing bowl and cracking eggs. If they reach for a piece of vegetable you’re chopping, hand it to them. If they want to stick their finger in the batter and have a lick, let them (unless there are raw eggs in it). Encourage them to be curious about the food you’re preparing, and let them taste the process of it.
Don’t miss it: I have a whole bunch of tips (and recipes!) for cooking with kids right here!
Novelty plates are an awesome team player when it comes to addressing picky eating. Try plates with sections, plates in fun shapes and sizes, and plates that aren’t plates (like these T-rex taco holders). This dinner winner food tray gives kids a start and end point, making their meal almost like a game. Just search on Amazon for “novelty kids plates” and find something your kiddo will love eating from.
Power of the sibling
“If she’s having one, I want one too!” Does this ring out in anyone else’s home? My kids have pretty similar tastes, but occasionally one will enjoy a food that the other won’t touch. So on those occasions, I let sibling envy rear its head and do the work for me! Jackson in particular is really influenced by what Everley is eating – even if it’s a food he would normally turn his nose up at. We’ve found a few foods so far that he was only willing to try because she was eating them – and he now loves them!
Keep foods separate on the plate
Some kids don’t enjoy foods mixed all together – even if it’s a mix of foods that they would usually love if they were separate. If this is your kid, work with them, not against them – especially when trying new foods out. Use a sectioned plate, or keep sloppier foods in a bowl so there’s no risk of them running into the other items on the plate.
Try different forms of the same food
Think outside the box in the way you serve food to your picky eater. Maybe they won’t eat cucumber slices, but will they eat cucumber sticks or half-slices? If they gag at the site of steamed broccoli, might they enjoy biting chunks out a whole, raw broccoli instead? If they balk at baked potato, could they fall in love with it mashed? Instead of treating your child’s “No!” as a defeat, treat it as a challenge to switch things up.
Get creative with names
Chris’s mum loves to remind him that he refused to eat broccoli as a kid… until he was eating dinner at a friend’s house, and they referred to broccoli as “trees”. I was enticed to try (and fall in love with) canned mackerel fillets at my Hungarian grandparents’ house because my Grandma called it “special fish”. My brother-in-law learned to love the mushy parts of bananas because his mum told him they were “honey spots”. Jackson refused to try sweet potato until I told him it was “sweet chips”. You can totally convince a kid to try some foods simply by intriguing them with a creative name.
Study has shown that often, repeated exposure to a food can help a child accept it before finally trying it. How many times should you try offering the same food? Unfortunately there’s no magic number! I have a friend who reckons she offered her son red pepper 90 times before he suddenly started eating it. So just keep putting a small portion of these foods on your child’s plate – even if you know they won’t touch it. One day. they just might surprise you.
Parents who eat a wide variety of foods are an awesome influence on their kiddos. So let them see you eating – having each meal all together as a family at the table is a great, natural way of doing this. When you’re eating something new, comment on it: “Wow, I’ve never cooked eggplant before, but it’s so yummy!”
Buy some food toys
If you’ve got a toy kitchen, stock it with a bunch of plastic foods. Or buy some of those velcro sliceable food toys. These promote curiosity in kids – especially if you play with them and relate the toys back to the food that they eat. You could even play-act some of their favourite plush toys tasting and enjoying the toy foods.
Grow it yourself
There’s something completely satisfying about picking something fresh from the garden and popping it in your mouth. Well, our kids feel the same way! Both my kids have been captivated by picking, sampling and collecting our own homegrown produce over Spring and Summer. Gardening is great for kids in general – from digging, to planting, to watering, to harvesting. If you haven’t tried it before, just pick up a beginner vegetable gardening kit like this one and get started!
Put new foods on your plate
Is it just me, or do kids find the contents of your plate wildly more appealing than their own? My kids happily abandon their meals as soon as they see me sitting down at the table with my own meal. So I’ve used this situation to my advantage. At meal times, I will sometimes put their portion of a new food on my plate – so when they inevitably demand that I share with them, I can huff and roll my eyes and say “Fiiiiine, have it.” But the joke’s on them, because it was their food all along!
Offer tastes when you’re cooking
Jackson enjoys getting a “sneak preview” of dinner before I serve it. I walk up to him like I’ve got a secret, and say “Hey buddy… want to taste a bit of this meat?” He loves it, and will often come back a few more times for more tastes before dinner time. I don’t mind if he fills up a bit before dinner – he often eats more overall if he’s given these tastes, as opposed to me just serving the same amount to him at dinner time.
Eat at restaurants occasionally
We love taking the kids out to eat, as we believe it’s so important for them to learn how to behave in restaurants. But an added bonus we’ve found is that the kids are super curious about all the food on offer. Though they order nuggets and chips without fail every time, they both excitedly taste our meals and any appetizers too. It’s a great way to expose them to a whole variety of new foods in one go without having to cook it all myself!
Find examples on TV
We’ve had a few food wins thanks to some of our favourite TV characters! Jackson has been inhaling whole tomatoes ever since he watched this episode of Peppa Pig. On Chip and Potato, Chip’s exuberant love for all things pumpkin piqued his curiosity for pumpkin. And he became obsessed with raspberries (and peanut butter jelly sandwiches!) after watching this episode of Blippi. Kids want to model all kinds of things they see on TV – eating included! Next time you spot a character enjoying one of your child’s tricky foods, point it out and comment on it: “Wow, she looks like she’s really enjoying that yummy tomato! She’s eating it like an apple!”
Just remember… when addressing picky eating, avoid at all costs:
- Trying to force it (nothing will make a fussy toddler dig in his heels more!)
- Insisting on a clean plate (this can be detrimental to creating a healthy relationship with food)
- Making a big deal of it (channel your inner Elsa and just “Let it go! Let it go!”)
- Pushing a food you know they truly don’t like (remember we all have preferences, and we’re all entitled to them)
- Giving up (you never know when things are going to turn around for your picky eater – so just keep on trying!)
I hope you’ve added at least a couple of ideas to your parenting-a-picky-eater arsenal today!
Kids and food really are an ongoing battle for almost all of us… you are not alone! I know how frustrating it is to put dinner in front of a little one, only to have it untouched at the end of the meal. I know how mind-numbing it is when they won’t try something, even though you KNOW if they would just try it, they would actually love it!
There’s no quick-fix, and every kiddo is different – what works for one might not work for the next. It’s a process of trial and error. But I know that slowly, eventually, we will all begin to celebrate a victory here and there. And that’s all we can really ask for, isn’t it?