UMass Amherst


Have picky eaters?


Posted on: Feb 6, 2012

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Some kids reject new tastes and textures, while others show their independence through eating – or not eating – the food they’re offered. But, even picky eaters can learn to like fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods and beverages.

Try these strategies to create a positive eating environment and avoid struggles during mealtimes. · Do the dip. Toddlers and preschoolers love dipping, so try serving veggies with yogurt, hummus, low-fat dressing, or low-fat melted cheese.

· Have children help make the food. When kids help stir and add ingredients, they feel proud of what they’ve made and may be more likely to try new, healthy foods. For kid-friendly recipes and snacks kids can create, check out our Healthy Eating page.

· Create a game or lesson around trying new food. For example, when teaching children about states in the US or other countries, bring in a fruit or vegetable from those places. Have children who are interested in trying the new food take a bite and share their thoughts about it. When picky eaters hear where the food comes from and what their friends are saying about it, they might want to try it too.

· Don’t use food as a reward or punishment. Avoid forcing children to finish the “healthy foods” to get to their dessert. That can make the healthy foods seem like punishment and force children to eat when they are full.

· Don’t give up! A child’s frown can be discouraging. But, remember it may take 10 to 15 tries for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers to accept a new food. Plus, teaching kids to appreciate healthy foods early on will help them to develop healthy eating habits that can continue as they grow up. For more tips and resources, visit the Let’s Move! Child Care Web site.

· Set a good example. Remember that you’re an important role model! Try the nutritious meals and snacks you offer kids. When they see you eating and enjoying healthy foods, they might choose to eat healthy foods too.

As you try these strategies, talk with parents about how you’re encouraging picky eaters to eat healthy. Better yet, work with parents as partners to teach kids’ taste buds to enjoy fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious foods. For example, provide parents with an easy-to-read material on how to teach healthy eating habits. One helpful resource is the article "Toddlers at the Table: Avoiding Power Struggles".