Kids, Motherhood

How To End Picky Eating & Get Kids To Eat Their Dinner

I wish there was one easy way to end picky eating, but it’s really been more of a process for us. There’s nothing quite as frustrating to me as making good food for my kids and then hearing “I don’t like that”. I always thought my kids would just obey and eat what I served.  No one told me how hard kids can make it! It’s like I’m expecting at least one kid to resist before I’ve even finished cooking. Can you relate?

It’s also why tons of moms including myself find themselves leaving off this, picking out that…and then you have two or three kids and you about go nuts. We have gotten in a better groove with my 1, 3 and 5 year old so I want to share some things that are working with three very different eaters.

How to get the picky eater to eat what you serve. Meal times are a fight? Want your kids to eat what you give them and not whine? See what has worked for us to get our two and four year old to eat what we give them. Say goodbye to the picky eater. #toddler #healthyeating #snacks #kids #blueandhazel

How to end picky eating when each kid is different

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Straight up we are not perfect! We go through phases where I’m consistent, and then life happens. Some days I’m feeling like a tiger mama watching them down that plate of cucumbers, and other days I’m pulling out my hair wondering what happened. I usually always see regression when someone gets sick, when I cook the same foods over and over, or when I have too many sweets around.

Also be sure to check out healthychildren.org for more practical tips.

But the next time I want them to eat healthy all of the sudden everyone is frustrated.  Doing whats easiest now actually makes it way harder the next time.  Why do they get spoiled so fast?! Do what you feel comfortable with.  It takes us about one week of this and we are back on track.  If you slump back, you can always start over.

What our kids can say if they don’t like something

how to get the picky eater to eat what you give them, try new foods, and stop whining every meal.

It’s pretty embarrassing to take the picky eater kid (we’ve all had at least one, yes?) somewhere for dinner and have them blurt out “eww yucky”. I find it so rude, even though they are just being honest. To solve that issue, we have them say something a little different.

I learned it from Peter’s family.  Our kids are not allowed to say “I don’t like that”.  When they tell me that they have to apologize and I tell them they can say “It’s not my favorite”.  This may seem like a small thing but it’s HUGE! When we go places, especially when someone else is cooking it’s so much less embarrassing to hear “this is not my favorite” rather than “eww, I don’t like this”.

Related Post: 24 Indoor activities for Toddlers

How we are trying to end picky eating

1. We make them try one bite.

While I fundamentally know that a super hungry kid will not refuse what’s in front of them, most the time my kids are not that kind of hungry. The reason I really like the one bite rule is that it’s over relatively quickly for everyone involved, and I have seen my kids start to like some things that they used to be forced to just try. They will get exposed to a LOT of new things this way, which is good!

1. I don’t ask them what they want to eat

This became a necessity when I had two vocal little bodies that wanted different things ALL the time. I’d dread meals and snacks because of all the requests.

Now I don’t ask them what they would like for breakfast, or lunch, or dinner.  I tell them what they are having. I really want them to get used to eating what I give them. And be thankful, haha, is that too much to ask?! 😉 Some days it seems so.

I have started asking them if they’d like x or y cereal each morning, and sometimes I’ll ask them if they would like their bread toasted or not if I’m up for it. But for the most part it’s whatever I’ve decided.

3. I often serve their dinner in courses

Something I’ve fallen in love with is putting the things that are hardest to eat on their plate first (like vegetables or new things), before anything else. Otherwise they tend to just eat all of their favorite thing first, which makes trying the weird new thing harder.

Usually this looks like me putting the veggies and meat on first, before scooping any rice or noodles or bread. You know what your kid will fill up on, so before that you could have them try something else.

4. I try not to make separate dishes

Making two (or three dinners) is exhausting and nuts.  And for a little dictator none the less! I never thought I was cooking two dinners.  But…I was leaving stuff off of their plates because I thought they probably wouldn’t eat it.  For example, I didn’t want to deal with the whining so I’d leave off the pesto from the noodles.

You know your kids. You know which ones hate peas and which ones don’t. I like to give all my kids peas, expect them to all try a bite of peas, and not overwhelm them with tons of peas if they don’t love them. That’s my motto for now.

the picky eater, how to get kids to eat their vegetables

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5. Limiting sweets helps

Peter would bring home treats all the time from the hospital, like a sweet muffin or an extra danish or whatever. Of course, our kids loved it! Then one day it hit me the reason they didn’t want fruit was because it wasn’t sweet! (crazy, I know).   At least not compared to other things we had around on a regular basis.

Now I’m fine with my kids having some sugar.  But I will tell you that when I stopped handing it out multiple times a day they started eating fruit just fine. It took about two to three days for them to stop holding out for treats and then they started asking for a banana or apple.

This is one of my top culprits, probably because I like having sweets!  So that’s why you will find me sneaking a bowl of ice cream during nap time so I don’t have to share 😉 C’mon, please tell me you’ve done that too.

6. Keep making new dishes and flavors.

A big pitfall for me is just making things I know they’ll eat. But I’m finding the more I make some things (not all things!), the more they start to eat it without complaint or eat more bites of it.

I know my kids are likely never going to want a full plate of curry, or soup with beans inside, but they have gotten a little better about trying things the more times they have seen it. That’s why I’m trying not to give up making interesting food rather than just easy kid food.

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Make a bedtime snack plan

At our house it looks like this: They tried a few required bites and “weren’t hungry”.  An hour goes by and they want cereal. So then I realize they could have eaten much more at dinner but didn’t want to…knowing they’d get cereal.

The only way we could break this was to make sure they ate certain things on their plates before being allowed a bedtime snack, or that would just be waiting for them as their bedtime snack.

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I’ve never seen a starving kid be picky.

A really effective way to show them they must eat what you make is to let them experience being hungry if they don’t eat it.

Sigh, bring on the whines.

It is super hard to do when you don’t want to hear any whining or when you just have a lot of good food around the house between meals.

I’m always thinking about the kids I lived with in the Dominican Republic who had barely enough to eat. They were never picky.  They didn’t complain that they ate the same food every day (rice, beans, chicken, eggs, bananas). I think that with so much food around (and good food) it’s easy to get picky. When there are no other options, and they know it, they’ll learn to eat it. That’s easier said than done though!

Letting them go to bed hungry if you have to

If you are like me you are thinking, what if they don’t sleep as well?! I have found they still sleep through the night. We have been woken up around 5 am with a hungry toddler, but to be honest a piece of bread and butter or a bottle of milk took care of that and it rarely happened for us.

But, if sleep is top priority or you just are not comfortable with this, then other ways can work.

I’ll be the first to admit that when I’m super tired, like after our third was born this year, I just gave them cereal before bed at night because well #cantdeal and #didntmakedinneragain.

Curbing the milk

the picky eater, how to ration milk so that they will eat at meal time

My second child loved milk SO much. She has also always been the pickiest eater of all 3 kids, even as a baby.  We would give her milk and too little food because she wanted milk.  It was our way of not dealing with the picky eater thing. She was always the least compliant when it came to trying new foods, and from a tiny age knew that she could just wait it out and get her milk.

We started offering her water.  And dealing with some increased whines.  Then we found she started trying foods she never would eat because she was actually starting to get hungry.  If your kids are just surviving on milk and you want to change that, you can!

Now, it’s not a snacking beverage like it used to be here.  They ask why all the time and I tell them “milk fills you up and you need to be hungry for…(whatever meal is next). It really helps!

Make the kids ask you for a snack

I’m sure this will change as they get older, but for now while they are all under 5 I have had to make the rule that they can’t open the fridge. My 2.5 year old was just opening it all the time grabbing things, which I didn’t like at all. She can ask me for a cheese stick, and go get it out of the fridge if I say yes. But she cannot just go look around for something scrumptious 20 times a day.

Toddlers are just not capable of making good dietary choices, lol.

Let kids help cook

I don’t always do this but it really helps!  They see what all the foods are, they help hand me things, and they later recognize what everything is in their food. I don’t know if it gets them more excited or just prepped about whats coming.  Either way, I’ve noticed the more involved they are with helping me get ingredients out, the less weird they think dinner is.

Tips for getting more veggies in

If your kid likes one, then yay! Feed them tons of it. If they like two, even better, feed them tons of both. You are a champion!

Here’s how we have been able to get a decent amount of veggies in our kids (and it has gotten much easier as they have gotten older…pretty sure my daughter wouldn’t swallow a veggie soft or pureed for the first 2 years of her life).

My trick #1

I find one thing they like or will tolerate and buy tons of it. Right now it’s mini cucumbers for some weird reason, and steamed broccoli for dinner most nights of the week.

My trick #2

I cut up or steam veggies for them to eat while they watch a show. I know, weird, but I swear they’ll eat anything when they watch shows so I’m rolling with it.

My trick #3

Sometimes I’ll also only bring fruits and veggies in my bag for outings, (or at least they think that’s all thats in there), and when they get super hungry it’s more appealing.

Try adding peanut butter or a dipping sauce

If it’s any help, this is how I’ve dealt with celery.  My four year old will eat it with peanut butter fine.  My two year old just licks off the peanut butter.  I got her to eat the celery by only putting a little on hers (knowing she would lick it off and want more).

Then I told her to get more peanut butter she had to first eat the celery piece too.  I don’t think she believed me because she didn’t do it.  And didn’t get any more peanut butter. But the next day same routine happened and she ate them together.

How we do snacks

I’ve found that they would love to snack ALL day, especially on crackers or bread! When I allow it they don’t want the lunch I make or dinner because they are full.  The solution to this for us has been simple. When we are at home (which is most the time) I’ll offer them a fruit or a vegetable.  Other times I’ll make a smoothie.

At first, be prepared they won’t want it.  The picky eater in them says no way.  I tell them, “this is what you can have when you are ready”  Be prepared to figure out how you will deal with fussing, a bad attitude, or pouting.

Now my kids are used to the drill.  They ask and they ask but what they get is what I offer. I don’t know why it shocks me when they ask me for something healthy now like an apple or celery and peanut butter. I think it’s because they know I’ll say yes and it doesn’t taste so bad when the alternative is nothing.

Don’t give up on your picky eater!

Remember that every kid is different and you can do it! I have seen three very different eaters in our family.  They don’t all comply or want to try new things as readily.  Just remember no hungry kid will refuse good food, and that you are a great mother if you even care enough to work on this.  You got this! What frustrates you at meal times, or what is working really well? Leave me a comment and I’ll be sure to respond.

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10 thoughts on “How To End Picky Eating & Get Kids To Eat Their Dinner

    1. That’s so great that you have had success with many of these same tips! And yes my kids also have food preferences too, and I try not to load up their plate with piles of things I know will be hard to eat! But way to go and I hope your kids continue to try new things!

  1. Love your tips, especially the point you made about being consistent. And the it’s not my favorite line is great!

    Most of my kids are great eaters, but my four year old son is not. He “thinks” he hates so many foods, but after we make him take a bite, he realizes he actually likes it. But sometimes the struggle to get the first bite in drives me crazy!

    Great post, thank you!

    1. Thank you! The struggle is real right?! I remember my little girl wouldn’t try vanilla yogurt for the longest time and we finally made her because we knew she would like it. That’s when I realized how important it was for me to do the one bite rule. Good luck with your 4 year old and keep doing what you are doing!

  2. I have a very picky eater! I keep telling myself if she doesn’t eat dinner then I need to just let her go to bed hungry, if she is hungry enough she will eat what we have for dinner, but it’s so hard! I’m going to do better! On the plus side she does love a lot of raw veggies and fruit!

    1. That’s amazing she likes raw fruits and veggies! Raw veggies are one of the things I have a hard time with them, so good job! Keep at it, and I know it helps us when our kids believe us that there is nothing else coming. They are masterminds at manipulating if we are not set, LOL! Keep trying and good job.

  3. I need to try these tips with my 3-year-old. When you let them go to bed hungry, do you let them get up and eat after they are in bed, or do they have to wait for morning?

    1. Hi Audrey! We have mostly noticed that they are able to fall asleep anyways, but wake up promptly in the morning HUNGRY. However, I’ll be honest in saying that occasionally they have woken up and we have brought in a piece of bread and butter or something like that. I’m not really sure if they even associate it with not having finished dinner like they would if I gave it as a “bedtime snack”, in which I think they would surely see it as their backup. It’s whatever you are comfortable doing as the mama. I was inspired to try this through a friend who did it and her kid just ate stuff he didn’t love, and it just made sense to me! Hope that helps!

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