Don’t Battle Over Broccoli: Five Tips for Dealing with Picky Eaters

Young girl turning away from a piece of broccoli being handed to her on a fork.
Mealtimes don’t have to be a battleground! This blog post provides 5 tips for easing mealtimes instantly.

Getting a child who is a picky or selective eater to try new foods can turn the dinner table into a battleground. This is especially true when introducing new foods. Of course, kids need to eat a variety of foods from all food groups (fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains, dairy/dairy alternatives, and healthy fats) to grow healthy and strong. But introducing foods like broccoli, tangerines, and meat to a picky eater can be a stressful experience. Both children and parents often find themselves caught in a cycle of failure and frustration, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are five ways to get healthy foods into your picky eater’s diet, without having to hide carrots in their mac and cheese.

1. Give Them Choices

Most of a child’s decisions are made by adults. From what they wear to school to what time they go to bed, children usually don’t get much say in what happens. Some cases of picky eating come when a child wants to take control over some of their own decisions. One way to reduce picky eating is to let kids make choices about the foods they eat. Let kids control snack time by serving both carrot sticks and cucumber slices. Or let them pick between strawberries and blueberries for dessert. Consider pairing their choices with a food that you know that they already love. For example, offer a favorite crunchy food like goldfish or pretzels with their choice of vegetable, or a dollop of whipped cream or some chocolate chips with their fruit.

2. Let Them Help

Giving kids choices is a good way to develop their decision-making and independence. Older children can develop these skills further – and ease their pickiness even more – if they are allowed to help with meal prep. Let them read out recipes while you cook. Let them measure the ingredients before you mix them up. Let them chop vegetables (with adult supervision and a kid-friendly knife, of course). Any way of getting involved in cooking dinner can get children interested in new foods and more likely to eat them when they’re put on their plate.

3. Be A Role Model

Parents are very familiar with the phrase ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ But one of the best ways to help a picky eater expand their horizons is to model good eating habits. Include a wide variety of healthy foods in your own diet. Fill your dinner plate with vegetables. Slice up an apple for snack time. Kids look to adults to understand the world around them. If your picky eater sees you chowing down on that broccoli, they’ll be more likely to do the same.

4. Vary the Presentation of Food

Meal presentation plays a major role in how a picky eater reacts to it. Try offering a variety of colors on to your child. Fruits and vegetables come in a full rainbow of colors which can entice picky eaters to give new foods a try. You can also change up the way you present your child’s snacks. Cut fruits and vegetables into fun shapes. Make skewers that mix the foods they like with foods you want them to try. Have fun and get creative. Make mealtimes fun and enjoyable to help please the pickiest of eaters.

5. Don’t Give Up

Research shows that picky eaters need to be exposed to new foods multiple times before finally learning to love them. If your child doesn’t jump for joy the first time you put Brussels sprouts on their plate, don’t freak out. Try another strategy, or a new combination of strategies, next time. The most important thing to remember is to keep it positive. Forcing a child to eat food they don’t want can reinforce a picky eater’s fears and lead them to be even more upset by new foods. If your picky eater just isn’t interested in those Brussels sprouts today, keep in mind that there are hundreds of more chances to try again later.

Bottom Line

It takes time and patience to help your picky eater learn to try new foods and increase their diet variety. But it is possible! Pick 1-2 of the strategies above to try over the next few weeks. Once you feel like they have been implemented, pick 1-2 more and progress from there. All children and families are different, so what works for one child may not always work for yours. Keep trying different strategies until you find ones that do work (and you will!). In the mean time, take a deep breath, have patience, and know that you are doing the best that you can. You’ve got this.


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    beth conlon dietitian nutritionist new jersey

    Hi! I’m Beth Conlon, PhD, MS, RDN

    I'm so glad you're here!

    As a Pediatric and Family Nutrition Expert and mom of 4, I truly understand the ups and downs of feeding children. This is a space where you can get tips and tricks that will help you with any feeding challenges, from picky eaters to eating disorders, and more. Additionally, I'm excited to share recipes that are perfect for families.

    I can't wait to share this journey with you. If you need extra assistance, please contact me today and we can explore ways to work together.

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