Cooking for the Picky Eater

Article at a Glance

  • Selective eaters are likely lacking many of the vitamins and minerals needed for good health.
  • Being creative with food choices and presentation can entice your picky eater to try something new.
  • With time, patience, and repeated opportunities to try new foods, picky eating may go by the wayside.

If your child says “Ewww!” to a lot of foods, what do you do? Getting kids to eat healthfully is a real challenge. If your little ones are only asking for Mac and Cheese or hot dogs, then they’re likely lacking many of the vitamins and minerals that are needed for good health and growth. Your child is considered a selective eater – a.k.a. a picky eater.

What do pediatricians say?

Babies usually have good appetites during their first year and grow into their bodies, however, between the ages of two to five weight gain slows down. According to pediatric experts, “young children tend to be neophobic – they do not like new foods and are often perceived as picky eaters by their parents. Despite the initial negative reactions to new foods, they do learn to accept them with time and repeated neutral exposures.”

“The best advice I can give is don’t panic or stress about it. Kids won’t starve themselves, and generally continue to grow just fine even when they become extremely picky.”
– Dr. Joseph Hershkop

So, what should parents do?

Don’t stress and turn mealtimes into a battle. Be a good role model at eating healthy foods, and keep the mealtime atmosphere calm without arguments. The American Academy of Pediatrics has put together some quick tips about feeding a picky eater:

  • Let your child pick a new healthy food at the market.
  • Let your child help you prepare food in the kitchen.
  • Let your child feed himself, even if it’s messy.
  • Give your child choices between good foods he likes and new ones to try.

Parents can also play at being creative chefs and present some fun meals. The children may be so intrigued by the presentation that they successfully try something new. Here are a few ideas to try:

Serve some healthy foods in an ice cream cone

Kids like the idea of holding a cone and may just eat something good for them because it is presented in a different manner. Try scooping cottage cheese into the cone and then sprinkle on chopped nuts and fruit on top. Or, fill the cone with tuna or chicken salad, which you can top with raisins, celery pieces, sliced olives, shaved carrot, or small slivers of red pepper. This fun pseudo ice cream cone should lure your child into a fun meal.

Make artistic French toast

Making French toast is easy and full of nutrition from eggs and milk. After the toast is cooked, place a slice on your child’s plate and invite them to decorate it with all sorts of toppings. Place dishes of raisins, fresh fruits, chopped ham, bacon pieces, along with a shaker of cinnamon. It’s fun to creatively decorate the slices and show your creation before you eat it. Make this a fun family event each week.

Paint with broccoli

While we do not advocate playing with food, this may be an exception in the comforts of home. Use small stalks of steamed broccoli with the floret on top. Give the kids a few tiny stalks in their plate along with a dollop of cheese sauce, Ranch dressing, ketchup, or any other type of sauce you may have. Invite the kids to dip their veggie into the sauce, paint on their plate, and then eat it. This is such a fun hands-on experience that will entice the kiddos to eat a vegetable they might balk at without the fun sauces and unique presentation.

Don’t forget the skewers

Threading food on blunted skewers (kabobs) is pure fun for the kids. Why not set up a variety of fruits, vegetables, and cooked meats and allow the children to make patterns on the stick? Have them alternate chunks of fruit, veggies, and meat (cooked chicken and mini meatballs are favorites) to make colorful works of art. If your children are young, consider threading the food on plastic straws.

Blend it up

Today, with our high-speed blenders, smoothies have become an all-time favorite drink among children. Fruit drinks taste delicious, however, what’s the harm in sneaking a little spinach inside? Your kids may never know that they are consuming a very important vegetable inside their fruit smoothie. Add a little powdered protein for added nutrition.

Enjoy these meal ideas or brainstorm your own. With patience and creativity, picky eaters may just become a thing of the past!

Reviewed on June 10, 2019 by: Joseph Hershkop, M.D.
Joseph Hershkop, M.D.
Board-certified Pediatrician

Dr. Hershkop is a former New Yorker who really enjoys working with children from birth to age three, and is passionate about asthma, ADHD care, and dermatology. Languages: English, Hebrew

Saratoga Springs Office
Full Bio



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