12 tips for feeding picky eaters

Sometimes you have to feed the stuffed animals too!

Sometimes you have to feed the stuffed animals too!

When I was a kid I was well known as being one of the most picky eaters on Earth. I adored candy, and still have quite a sweet tooth (see my tip for Halloween at the bottom of this post). As a kid I would eat an entire block of Kraft cheddar cheese after school. I don’t think it really qualifies as cheese, maybe cheese “product”. Fruit, I would eat with abandon. Veggies were okay. I had a deep distrust of anything animal and loathed milk.

I HATED onions with a passion most people save for terrorists and Charles Manson. When I was 9 my onion loving dad told me I would someday grow up and like onions. I refused to believe it, and wrote him a note which I dated and signed that said simply, “I will NEVER, EVER eat an onion.”(I do eat onions now, so 9 year old me was wrong)

My kids are the payback for the grief I caused my parents. I have 4 kids that are various levels of picky. Finding meals that incorporate 1 thing that everyone can eat, some veggies, and whole grains can be a tremendous challenge.

Here are 12 ways we feed our picky eaters without breaking the bank.

  1. Compromise: The kids want white bread, but you want them to eat whole grain. Try products that meet both your needs like this whole grain white bread from Wegman’s.
  2. Pick your battles: Choose the best foods and keep finding new ways to offer them.
  3. Find balance where you can: For instance, you may think your child needs more greens, so start by offering green fruits, and bland veggies like green beans that can be coated with butter, dressing, or ketchup.
  4. Try new things: Don’t be afraid to offer new things, or try different recipes. Just make sure you have 1 thing on the table your child will eat.
  5. Offer less options: Fabulously Broke shared that her mom had an eat it or starve policy. While they be too extreme for some parents, we should not be expected to be short order cooks serving different meals to each member of the family.
  6. Keep trying: Research has shown that a child needs to be introduced to a new 5-10 times before they accept it. Don’t give up just because your child says they “hate” something.
  7. Make it fun: The he half of Vilkri shared that his family makes pasta and then everyone “customize(s) their toppings.” Other ideas, use cookie cutters to shape sandwiches, have a tea party, have a food from every color of the rainbow, or choose foods that start with the first initial in everyone’s name.
  8. Offer treats: Treats should not be tied to finishing your meal, or cleaning your plate. Offer a fixed number of treats per week or day and let your child choose when to have them. (via my friend Liz)
  9. Have a backup food: Dina Rose shares a great tip, have a backup food. One your child LIKES, but doesn’t love. That way if they refuse their meal you have an alternative.
  10. Don’t make food=reward: Research has shown this can have a negative impact on the reward, and the enjoyment of the food.  
  11. Enlist your child’s help: Have you cooked with your kids? Even wee ones love to help dump things into batter, or take a turn stirring. Older kids can even prepare full meals. IF you have a young child I HIGHLY recommend getting a Learning Tower. It has enough room for more than one child, and is a safe way for them to help. For older kids choose kid’s cookbooks. A few of our favorites can be found in my Amazon shop.
  12. Keep junk out of the house: This tip isn’t just for the kids, it’s for adults like me who can’t help themselves. I’d rather spend more money to go out to an ice cream shop, than to have it sitting in the freezer calling my name, or having the kids beg for it every 5 minutes.

With Halloween only days away, I have no candy in the house. We’ll pick it up the day before Halloween. We also offer the kids a bigger treat, or small toy in exchange for some of their candy. That way they get full enjoyment of a handful of pieces, and the rest we can give away. This keeps both us, and the kids healthier.

What tips do you have? Tricks? Ideas? Share them in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

For more ideas read Melinda Fulmer’s article in the LATimes online.

For FABULOUS kid’s sized cooking utensils, shop at For Small Hands, where you can find many things Montessori,   or check out Williams-Sonoma Kids, which has recipes, tools and ideas galore.

Kelly

*links to Amazon are affiliate accounts, meaning I get a few ¢ents if you order through my link. :)

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About Kelly Whalen


Kelly Whalen is the founder of The Centsible Life, a blog where motherhood and money meet. Her goal is to help readers live well on less. Kelly is a mom to 4, and loves that she can stay at home with her kids, and still pursue her passions for writing, personal finance, and social media. You can often find her on twitter and Facebook talking money and motherhood.

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  • stacibrown

    Found it!

  • Barbara

    I was trying to be accomodating for my grandchild who wasn't wanting what I'd fixed. My sweet daughter in law said America must be the only place on earth where children had the "luxury" of being picky eaters. She just said don't worry about it. If he's hungry, he'll eat. No child ever died of starvation on purpose.

  • Barbara

    I was trying to be accomodating for my grandchild who wasn't wanting what I'd fixed. My sweet daughter in law said America must be the only place on earth where children had the "luxury" of being picky eaters. She just said don't worry about it. If he's hungry, he'll eat. No child ever died of starvation on purpose.

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  • http://erica.biz/ Erica Douglass

    My DAD is the pickiest eater! Growing up I never even had Mexican food until I turned 18. (It has since become one of my favorite types of food.) He can’t stand spicy food. He is one of those people where if two different foods are touching, it really irks him. (He once said one of his favorite inventions was that plate that has three “trays”…LOL!) He won’t eat anything green. He likes steak, potatoes, and pizza, in that order. And spaghetti. (I still refuse to eat it after so many years of eating it several times a week with the blandest meatballs I have ever tasted because he didn’t like spices.)

    Fortunately, I am not THAT picky. It was definitely a real challenge for my mom to cook…for my DAD!!!

    -Erica

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/CentsibleLife CentsibleLife

      I have to take the 5th here, since I could say something similar about someone in my life. I LOVE Mexican food.

  • http://erica.biz ericabiz

    My DAD is the pickiest eater! Growing up I never even had Mexican food until I turned 18. (It has since become one of my favorite types of food.) He can’t stand spicy food. He is one of those people where if two different foods are touching, it really irks him. (He once said one of his favorite inventions was that plate that has three “trays”…LOL!) He won’t eat anything green. He likes steak, potatoes, and pizza, in that order. And spaghetti. (I still refuse to eat it after so many years of eating it several times a week with the blandest meatballs I have ever tasted because he didn’t like spices.)

    Fortunately, I am not THAT picky. It was definitely a real challenge for my mom to cook…for my DAD!!!

    -Erica

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/CentsibleLife CentsibleLife

      I have to take the 5th here, since I could say something similar about someone in my life. I LOVE Mexican food.

  • Craig

    Offer less options is actually a great idea because if there are no other options, they don’t have much of a choice. either that or nothing and I think they will learn to cope.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/CentsibleLife CentsibleLife

      I like to make sure there is 1 thing each person will eat. I also serve them myself instead of letting them serve themselves. Otherwise they would never pick the salad, which they always eat, but wouldn't choose.

  • http://www.originalcouponcoach.com Amy

    My son is super picky. He gets it from me and I never really grew out of it (although I do have a slightly wider selection of foods I will eat now) because if I didn\\\’t eat, I would have to go straight to bed. This led me to hate trying new foods because it was never made fun as a kid.

    I try to make things that everyone can create their own \\\”meal\\\”. For example, I have this recipe for Taco Pie that is supposed to be kid friendly but my son will not eat anything with any type of spice. So I made the casserole normal, but pulled out some unseasoned beef. So the kids both got a plate with a pile of unseasoned beef, a pile of tortilla chips, a pile of shredded cheese and other veggie toppings. They then at the portions they liked and had the option of trying something new, while we got to eat the casserole as it was meant to be.
    .-= ´s last blog ..Restaurant.com – 80% Off! $25 GC for $2! =-.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/CentsibleLife CentsibleLife

      I think that's a great method for getting them to eat variety. We're big fans of "nachos" too since everyone can make their own.

  • http://www.originalcouponcoach.com/ Amy

    My son is super picky. He gets it from me and I never really grew out of it (although I do have a slightly wider selection of foods I will eat now) because if I didn\’t eat, I would have to go straight to bed. This led me to hate trying new foods because it was never made fun as a kid.

    I try to make things that everyone can create their own \”meal\”. For example, I have this recipe for Taco Pie that is supposed to be kid friendly but my son will not eat anything with any type of spice. So I made the casserole normal, but pulled out some unseasoned beef. So the kids both got a plate with a pile of unseasoned beef, a pile of tortilla chips, a pile of shredded cheese and other veggie toppings. They then at the portions they liked and had the option of trying something new, while we got to eat the casserole as it was meant to be.
    .-= ´s last blog ..Restaurant.com – 80% Off! $25 GC for $2! =-.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/CentsibleLife CentsibleLife

      I think that's a great method for getting them to eat variety. We're big fans of "nachos" too since everyone can make their own.

  • http://www.girlymama.com melissa from girlymama

    this is terrific. i need all these tips!!! i’m trying to get the boy to eat something besides hot dogs and waffles ;-)
    .-= ´s last blog ..i had something creative and interesting to say =-.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/CentsibleLife CentsibleLife

      Thanks for stopping by. On your blog you mentioned he only eats the outside of stuff. Keep offering it complete with the outside anyway, eventually he may change his mind. Plus who has time to peel apples and cut off crusts?

  • http://www.girlymama.com/ melissa from girlymama

    this is terrific. i need all these tips!!! i’m trying to get the boy to eat something besides hot dogs and waffles ;-)
    .-= ´s last blog ..i had something creative and interesting to say =-.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/CentsibleLife CentsibleLife

      Thanks for stopping by. On your blog you mentioned he only eats the outside of stuff. Keep offering it complete with the outside anyway, eventually he may change his mind. Plus who has time to peel apples and cut off crusts?

  • dogear6

    I did a variation of the eat it or starve with my daughter also – mine was called eat it now while it’s hot or eat it cold for breakfast tomorrow. She was not an overly picky eater as she got older, and as an adult she cooks and eats most anything.

    I was employed full-time while raising her (her Dad was the stay-at-home parent) and did not have time or patience to cater to picky eaters. I didn’t do the eat it or starve with my husband as he ate most everything.

    One rule though – we constantly tried new recipes. If we all detested it – really hated it – we did throw it out. We did not make outselves eat something that was didn’t turn out right. That helped a lot especially with new vegetarian recipes.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/CentsibleLife CentsibleLife

      I think it's a useful tool for some kids, but kids with serious texture issues or overly sensitive taste buds really would starve! Speaking from my own experience.

  • dogear6

    I did a variation of the eat it or starve with my daughter also – mine was called eat it now while it’s hot or eat it cold for breakfast tomorrow. She was not an overly picky eater as she got older, and as an adult she cooks and eats most anything.

    I was employed full-time while raising her (her Dad was the stay-at-home parent) and did not have time or patience to cater to picky eaters. I didn’t do the eat it or starve with my husband as he ate most everything.

    One rule though – we constantly tried new recipes. If we all detested it – really hated it – we did throw it out. We did not make outselves eat something that was didn’t turn out right. That helped a lot especially with new vegetarian recipes.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/CentsibleLife CentsibleLife

      I think it's a useful tool for some kids, but kids with serious texture issues or overly sensitive taste buds really would starve! Speaking from my own experience.

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  • Craig

    Offer less options is actually a great idea because if there are no other options, they don’t have much of a choice. either that or nothing and I think they will learn to cope.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/CentsibleLife CentsibleLife

      I like to make sure there is 1 thing each person will eat. I also serve them myself instead of letting them serve themselves. Otherwise they would never pick the salad, which they always eat, but wouldn't choose.

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