Coping with Picky Eaters at Family Mealtime

One of our Facebook community members, Andrew, recently asked for advice as he struggles with his 5 and 8 year old kids being picky eaters: "How do you manage this? Do you allow pudding if they don't eat their main course (even if they are saying they don't like it)?"

As a nutritionist and mother of three, I have encountered this problem many times. I find that getting kids to participate in meal preparation is a great way to get them interested in eating well.  Go to farmers markets as a family and let them pick out the vegetables and fruits they like. Then, get them involved in cooking. 

Keep in mind that we may need to introduce a new food to our children many times—a dozen times or even more—before they will accept it. Just offer the new food, and set a good example yourself by trying it and talking about what makes it special—it’s color, it’s taste, or where it came from.

Instead of offering a sweet for dessert, try offering a healthy dessert - such as fresh fruit kabobs with yogurt, or a baked apple with cinnamon and walnuts - so that even if your children do not like the main course, they are eating something nutritious afterwards.  As parents, our role is to provide children with healthy choices.  Children are in control of what they choose to eat. Forcing kids to clean their plates before dessert often backfires in the long run.

Make mealtimes a pleasant experience.  Eat without a TV on. Compliment your children for their help preparing the meal. Try reciting the 5 Contemplations once a week, as a family.

Parents- what do you practice at home?

The USDA website also offers helpful tips:

Photo by UGA College of Agriculture, from the Creative Commons. 


After years of working with families to transform their picky eaters into food-confident kids, I have found the best strategy for picky eaters and dessert (also called pudding) is to have certain nights of the week that you serve dessert and other nights of the week that you don't serve dessert. Keep these nights the same from week to week. Allow your kids to choose to eat dessert on dessert night whether or not they have eaten their meal. The traditional method of "you can't have dessert until you've eaten your dinner" only reinforces that the dinner foods are an awful chore that must be overcome before you get the good stuff - dessert. It actually takes kids further away from enjoying the dinner foods and makes the dessert foods even more glorified.
Kristen Yarker, MSc, dietitian