10 Tips to Support Your Picky Eater  

So you have a picky eater (I like to use the phrase selective eater) and you’re wondering what to do. Well, you’ve come to the right place! I’m a mom of two littles, and a registered dietitian specializing in eating disorder and disordered eating treatment.

Throughout my practice, I’ve worked with children ranging from ARFID to mild selective eating. Each child deserves support in developing a healthy relationship with food, regardless of the outcome. 

This is why I decided to write this post! I want to give you 10 tips – for FREE – from my personal (as a mom) and professional (as a dietitian) perspective that will help you support your selective eater. I believe it is so important for us, as caregivers, to be gracious to our children and also to ourselves if things don’t work out as hoped for. 

By utilizing these tips you can know that you are giving your child the BEST support that YOU can and if the result is not what you are hoping for, that’s okay! Some children need more support from a one-on-one professional. And I would highly encourage you to seek that support if needed. But at least you can say you gave it your best shot first. 

girl holding two eggs for eyes

1.) Offer 3 Meals a day every day.

  • Expect them to eat at least 2 of the meals. Meals should consist of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. 
  • Offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (morning meal, midday meal, evening meal) I will explain more about the timing.

2.) Let Snacks be Snacks

  • Snacks should be offered in between meals. This usually plays out to be 2 snacks/day. Although sometimes an evening snack is appropriate. 
  • A snack is a cheese stick, apple, fruit gummies, or yogurt. If your child eats a small meal or refuses to eat a meal, this can trigger the snacking cycle. Check out this article on All Day Snack Cycle, by Registered Dietitian, Kaci to learn more. 
  • Let this be a boundary that your children are aware of and know that if your child oversteps the boundary and it becomes a habit – the chances of them becoming or staying selective will increase.

3.) Stop Snacking 1 Hour Before Meals

  • This is a common mistake parents make, especially after we just established that snacks are okay. When your kiddo tells you they are hungry of course you want to feed them, right? 
  • This tip certainly falls in the grey area and it’s best to use your own judgment of the situation. However, I like to recommend avoiding snacks 1 hour before dinner. 
  • If that’s not going to work for you – try light snacks. Carrots and ranch, a (small) sample taste of dinner, a small cup of raisins, or a rice cracker.

4.) Eat at the Table, strap to a High Chair if Applicable

  • This applies to adults as well! Keep the distractions to a minimum. Turn off the TV, gather the family around the table, and model what it looks like to sit down and eat. This is not normal for our generation, and if this is new for you, that’s okay! Check out this article, Benefits of Famly Dinners to learn more. 
  • Even if your child doesn’t eat it’s a good habit to practice and they have the opportunity to observe their caregivers enjoying a meal in fellowship with one another!
family eating together

5.) Work On Your Relationship With Food

  • You can’t teach someone how to ride a bike if you don’t know how to, right? The same is true for food. If you want your child to have a healthy relationship with food, then it is imperative that you work on your relationship with food first. 
  • If you are struggling with feelings of guilt, shame, or perhaps obsessive and intrusive thoughts about food, exercise, and your body – that is a cue that you do not have a healthy relationship with food. 
  • love this blog post (and video) by dietitian McKel Kooienga. 5 Steps to Start Creating a Healthy Relationship with Food 
  • Another great resource I recommend to all who are looking to is to explore Intuitive Eating. Check out the books, and podcasts, and possibly get connected with a professional.

6.) Offer Desirable Food

  • Another mistake parents make is offering their children undesirable food – often in the name of health. Raw broccoli, flavorless yogurt, unseasoned fish, plain oatmeal, you name it! 
  • As you begin, or continue, to build a healthy relationship with food, you will get to experience the true gift of the full flavor profile of foods.
  • Discover foods that you and your family can enjoy together and focus on those foods. For example, if you don’t like raw broccoli and nobody in your family likes raw broccoli, don’t worry about offering this to your child. If you love fish and you like to include fish in your weekly meals, but your child refuses it – work on this one by preparing it in a variety of highly palatable ways. You may need to offer it 15-20 times before you know whether your child likes it or not.

7.) Include Your Child in the Cooking Process!

  • This is my favorite tip and it has been a game-changer for my family. Bring them grocery shopping with you, assign them age-appropriate cooking tasks, or allow them to be your official taste-tester. However, you can include your child in the cooking process – do it! 
  • This is one of the easiest tips that also helps with bonding, hand-eye coordination, and maybe even a few science experiments. Children are never too young to be included in some sort of process. 
  • My 2-year-old loves to pour the veggies into the pot after I’ve chopped them and he is currently learning how to pour liquid without spilling. Often times we set a towel on the counter and let him just make a mess as he learns. He is usually extra excited to eat the meal that he has helped prepared 🙂

8.) Offer New Food with a Familiar Food

  • This is a great practical tip. If you offer a new food, let’s use salmon, for example, offer it with a food that your child generally accepts and is familiar with, like macaroni and cheese (for many children. 
  • In this particular example, I would first cook the salmon with your child, and then let them watch you sprinkle in 1-2 bites of salmon in the macaroni and cheese. Do the same on your plate. Don’t force it, and try your best to keep your composure regardless of the outcome. Refer to step 9 for the next step! 
  • Think highly palatable food paired with new food. This will vary from family to family depending on culture and many other factors.

9.) Offer New Foods 15-20 Times

  • This one is all about perseverance. The first thing I would recommend about this tip is to 1, make sure that you’re offering a food that you and your family regularly eat, and 2 a food that is generally considered palatable.
  •  Let’s use the example above for reference. Say you try the salmon and macaroni tip and the first attempt is a no-go for your little one. Please wait a few days, maybe even a week or 2, and try again. Let your little one become more familiar with the new food.

10.) Meet Your Child Where They’re At

  • As with implementing any new parenting technique, it takes time. Take one day at a time. Don’t give up or lose hope! I’ve seen families spend years working on their relationship with food. Don’t strive for perfection, you will fail. Instead, remind yourself, “I’m doing the best I can with what I have and the rest is out of my control” 

Don’t lose hope. You’ve got this! I hope you find these tips helpful. As always, please reach out with any comments, questions, concerns, or success stories! I’d love to hear from you.

Written by Sheridan Glaske MS, RDN, LD 

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