Picky Eaters ~ What Works for Us

It seems like everyone has an opinion on picky eaters. This post is not trying to change anyone’s mind or make anyone feel like less of a parent because they do things differently.

Here are some ideas that have worked for my family.

picky eater

If you have something that has worked for your family please share it in the comments or on Facebook.

A question from a reader

Do all of your 7 kids eat everything you make?? no sneaky eaters?? kudos to you..7 kids!
please let me know your secret to keeping them all happy!!

Do all my kids eat everything I make? No, they don’t. But they do have to try everything I make.  As a recovering picky eater myself, if I can eat it, they can try it.

I cook simple meals without a lot of exotic ingredients. A few of my kids are pickier than the others. I have one that doesn’t like tacos. But he eats them. He won’t have seconds, but he eats enough so that he isn’t starving before the next meal.

No sneaky eaters? I am not sure what a sneaky eater is, but I am assuming it is when the kids are sneaking food between meals? I have one sneaky eater, she is three.

There are consequences for getting food out of the pantry or fridge without permission when you are three years old. In our house fruits and veggies are always allowed. My kids know that at any time they can grab a banana, apple, carrot sticks, etc… No permission needed.

The secret?

My kids are NOT always happy! They don’t always love the meals I prepare and I can live with it.

In life, they will be given things to do and overcome that do not make them happy. Learning to eat things they don’t love is just one step in their journey to adulthood. Personally, I dislike tomatoes and mushrooms. But, if I am out and they are served to me I can swallow them with a smile. That is just part of life.

From the time they are young they are given a wide variety of foods. I don’t serve baby food, but prefer to feed my kids right from my plate. If they don’t like it I try again, and again, and again. Most of the time, they either learn to like it or at least learn how to tolerate it.

If my kids don’t like something, for example green beans, they are still required to try a green bean if it is served. That is it, one green bean. I don’t heap their plate full of something they dislike. That is why I usually serve two vegetables at dinner. I know what my kids prefer and serving two vegetables gives everyone a serving of at least one vegetable they really like.

The green bean hater eats their bean then fills up on carrots and the carrot hater eats their carrot and fills up on green beans.

Exception to the above policy: Occasionally I have a child who comes across a food in which the texture is the issue, not the taste. Years ago I had a child who would gag on grapes. After gagging twice (I wanted to be sure he wasn’t being dramatic) he didn’t have to eat grapes again… for the rest of his life.

But three years later he tried a grape, on his own, and didn’t gag. So now he will eat them, although they aren’t his favorite. If a particular food causes a physical issue with a child they do not have to eat it.

Sometimes (and this happens more often than not) after months or years of eating one green bean, or carrot, or black bean, or whatever, the child decides they actually like the food.

But, they would have never known that they liked it, had they not continued to try it over and over. This happened just recently with watermelon. I have one child who loves watermelon, the rest of us could take it or leave it.

I continued to give a small piece to my girls whenever I would serve watermelon and now they both love it. It took about a year, but their tastes changed and now they love it when I bring home a watermelon.

If a child chooses not to try what they have been served, they do not get seconds on anything else. Last week we ate jambalaya. My three year old picked out the sausage but wouldn’t eat the rice. After everyone else had finished their meals, they were having apples and oranges for dessert. The three year old wanted an apple, but I wouldn’t let her have one until she took one bite of the rice. Finally, she took a bite of the rice, then ate three or four more bites of the rice. She didn’t love it (it was a bit spicy) but she tried it and then happily ate an apple.

Finally, there is a give and take in my house. Each week my menu includes a favorite meal requested by each of my children. For example last week our dinners were:

  • Chicken Legs (Everyone)
  • Stir Fry (DH, DD 5)
  • Pizza (Everyone)
  • Beef Stroganoff (DD 15)
  • Venison (DS 13, DS 9)
  • Turkey Tacos (DD 15, DS 9, DS 7, DD 5)

On stir fry night my kids were not very happy. I have one kid that doesn’t like the cabbage, one that doesn’t like the shrimp, and one that doesn’t like stir fry much at all. But it is one of DH’s favorite meals and a few of my kids love it.

The kid that doesn’t like cabbage received a serving with less cabbage, the shrimp hater ate more chicken, and the kid that didn’t like it ate just enough to make it until breakfast. Although last week two of my kids who thought they didn’t like it had seconds because I changed the recipe just a bit. They also filled up on any assorted fruits or veggies.

I make stir fry every six weeks because it is not a popular dish around here. So even though they suffered through it last week than dined on pizza, chicken legs, and venison which they all love.

One trick I found to help my kids eat and try new things is to allow them to season the food according to their tastes. My one child who doesn’t like stir fry will eat it if it has ranch dressing on it. Ewwwwww! But he likes it so he is allowed to eat it with ranch. If using ketchup, ranch, garlic or some other sauce or seasoning gives my children incentive to eat something that works for me!

Finally, no drama allowed during dinner. I had a few children who would become especially overwrought at the prospect of trying something new or tasting something they didn’t think they liked.

This type of behavior is unacceptable. Children that throw fits at the dinner table are removed from the table and sit on their bed until they decide to behave appropriately. Most of the time they settle down after a few minutes, return to the table, and finish dinner.


For more help on dealing with picky eaters check out my ebook on Amazon.com, The Happy Housewife’s Guide to Dealing with Picky Eaters.


  1. Just a random question for you . I have a 20 month old son who is starting to show signs that he is ready to be potty trained.. ANY advice on what is a good way to start? Im lost never potty trained a boy ..

  2. I am going to try your ideas starting tonight. My 6 year old is the pickiest eater and after reading your post, I do believe that I have just went along with it. Now with some of your ideas life may be a little more peaceful at the dinner table. She has texture issues, but I think this will help a lot. Great topic!!

  3. Good suggestion on the rule of “you only have to eat one bite”. I should institute that at my house, for both my 3-year old and myself. When my sister and I were kids if we said we didn’t like something (having ever tried it or not), we didn’t have to eat it. Those lax eating rules (or lack thereof) created some incredibly picky eaters.

    I have to admit, being a picky eater as an adult is quite embarrassing. In instituting these rules for my 3-year old, I’ll need to follow them myself so that I can learn to like some items (like beans, seafood, tomatoes, mushrooms, and any green veggies aside from lettuce) enough to eat them in public when served to me – like you with your tomatoes and mushrooms.

  4. I have one picky eater but she has learned that supper is supper and I will not be making several meals to suit everyone’s tastes.

  5. The one bite rule works wonders with my picky eater. Often that one bite is all it takes for her to realize she likes it.

  6. Jen, if it makes you feel any better, because my father did not care for broccoli or cauliflower, my mom very, very rarely made it (and it smelled stinky to me as a child). So, I did not develop a love of broccoli and cauliflower until I was 23. Now we all eat it 3-4 times a week. I gave it to the children pureed when they were babies. I can say, while my ds (age 8) does not particularly care for cauliflower, he will eat it. But both he and his big sister eat broccoli with great abandon. I am now training the baby to love it, lol! So don’t feel badly that you have foods to learn to like. It’s not just you (and yes, I have some I still am working on). I can now eat most anything, except for a couple of items to which I have a sensitivity.

  7. OldNuffToKnoBtr says:

    Great rules. I wish I had not been so insistent that my children finish what was on their plate. We laugh about it now but it was not fun for anyone.

    Are the recipes you list in the same quantity you make them for your family of 9 or do you list quantites for a smaller family?

    Even though I am cooking only for myself I enjoy your menu ideas and enjoy preparing some recipes for myself.

  8. I get what you mean by texture, I have 1 who loves raw carrot but hates the texture of it cooked (will eat it cooked these days but I don’t pile it on her plate) she is the same with rice, loves risotto and baked pudding where it is all soft etc but not a fan of fried rice

  9. This post was excellent 🙂 When you said that not everyone in your house always loves what’s for dinner and that’s Ok, a light bulb went off in my head. I have wasted so much energy worrying about making everyone thrilled with every meal. I want everyone to leave the table saying “that was the best thing I have ever eaten!”. How silly of me! I still want input from my family, but I am done stressing!
    PS: My “reforming” picky eater gags when he eats potatoes. He doesn’t even like french fries! Since they’re not good for you anyway, we don’t press it at all. He can have a different veggie.

  10. I have very similar philosophies. My children must try anything I make. Fruits and veggies aren’t regulated. So far, the kids are good eaters most of the time, but not all of the time. And not one of them has starved yet!

  11. Jenny from SG says:

    Sometimes I think we could be twins in the way we do things! Our food rules are almost exactly the same as yours. Too funny!

  12. Great post!
    You sound like a mama that has it under control : )

  13. When my kids were pre-school age I always made them try at least a teaspoon of everything and if they really didn’t like it okay. my oldest use to gag on rice,tomato’s,banana’s (anything slightly slimmy) not no more she loves all those things. Actually a doctor said she and my 4th child had hyper gag reflex. Me I hated tomato soup we were force to eat as a kid and to this day the smell brings back to many negative memories. But i love tomatoes.

  14. Very interesting info! Thank you for sharing that!!! How soon did you start this with each kid? My son is almost 19 months and I am having some issues with his pickiness. He just wont try anything. And he will go hungry if I don’t give him something else. I have tried this a few times. However, this back fires on me and then he is up in the middle of the night needing a drink and I can actually hear his tummy growling. My husband insists that we feed him only what I make but I think he may be too young for this approach just yet. What do you think? When did you start this with your kids?

  15. Great post!

    I have a four year old with texture issues and I have to admit that I’ve watched him chew on a single bite of stringy meat (roast beef, etc.) for what seems like twenty minutes and for the longest time I had to fight off the frustration. I think I’m going to adapt your one bite rule. The “eat what’s on your plate” rule we’ve been following is just not practical for him.

    Also, I agree about the importance of expanding the kids’ palates. So often I’ll dine with adults who will refuse to eat a salad, or even sometimes a main course without even trying it. I find it a little rude and always feel bad for the hostess who is serving it. Better to develop the habit of trying new things, even if only as a courtesy to the person who is generous enough to be feeding you.

  16. I really like reading these posts. I wonder how my parents got all 4 of their kids to eat and like almost all veggies. Granted, some aren’t *my favorite* (like my sister and cantaloupe), but man, dinner so many nights was a PILE of veggie dishes. Delicious.

    What would you do about vegetarians? I don’t eat meat and am kind of picky about dairy products. My partner (also a vegetarian, but laxer than me) is worried about Thanksgiving and me offeding the host by politely refusing any meaty dishes (yes, this includes veggies cooked with bacon fat).


  17. My mother was very much like you. She served many different kinds of fruits and vegetables. We just grew up eating them and liking them. I truly did not like the taste of carrots, though. However, I had to wear glasses, so I forced myself to eat lots of carrots in hopes that they would make my eyes better. I guess it worked because I no longer need glasses and now I like carrots!

  18. Enjoy reading your suggestions and am taking notes!

    Left you an award on my blog. Play along if you like!

  19. Love this post! Thanks for your thoughts and ideas.

  20. Great post! I’ll have to stop back by here. I homeschool as well (with four kiddos in my care…so far).

  21. I have a child that decided from the day he was born to be a vegetarian-literally has NEVER tried a bit of meat-he goes to a feeding team consisting of psych, nutritionist, and two other drs. He is getting no where and they are trying to diagnose his disease-believe me I have tried everything in the book and then some and NOTHING has worked, not even trained professionals

  22. great post. i only have one daughter, so far, and i do use this type of technique, too. 🙂 of course, it’s probably easier since there are only the two of us to cook for.

    i also use the sauce trick… if she’ll eat a green bean with ketchup on it, i’m ok with that!


  23. Cindy Donahue Anderson says:

    I am a grandmother of 10 grandchildren and your approach to getting your children eat is right on! We raised our 2 children practically the same as you…when it comes to eating. Kudos to you Mrs. Happy!!

  24. I have two children, 3-1/2 and 8 that both have Aspberger’s and are extreme picky eaters. Sometimes they make themselves sick with the thought of just trying it! The Pediatrician say’s it’s a textural issue. My 8 year old is just now starting to try things, but gag’s the whole time. Any suggestions?

Speak Your Mind