Accommodating a child who is a picky eater can be stressful for parents. Between wasted food, less than ideal eating habits, and yet another dinner of just chicken nuggets, many parents want to know, “How can I encourage my child to be less picky with food?”

This article looks at the psychology behind common picky eating behaviors and shares 5 tips you can implement to help your child overcome picky eating.


Picky Eating is Perfectly Normal

Many parents know picky eating is simply part of the childhood experience.

As children grow beyond a diet of breastmilk or formula, parents introduce new foods. The first tastes of banana or pureed sweet potato (beyond being an adorable photo-op for mom and dad!) introduce Baby to the exciting world of flavors. And although they might make faces, most infants are relatively open to new foods.

But as children enter the toddler years, picky eating behaviors become more common. Finicky eating behavior can range from simply disliking a particular flavor, to avoiding certain textures, to refusing to eat anything but particular foods.

Not many studies have looked into picky eating in children. But from the few published studies available, researchers have determined that picky eating tends to peak around age 3. Anywhere between 6 and 50% of children are likely to go through a picky eating phase at some point.


What Causes Picky Eating in Kids? 

Is pickiness a question of nature or nurture?

In truth, it’s probably a little bit of both. Environment plays a significant role in how children approach novel foods. But genetics and natural preference can also affect pickiness.

In truth, it’s probably a little bit of both. Environment plays a significant role in how children approach novel foods. But genetics and natural preference can also affect pickiness.



Studies show genetic variation in tasting ability (so-called “supertasters) can influence pickiness. These individuals have a particular gene that causes extreme sensitivity



The home environment and family attitudes toward meals can affect how picky children become.

Researchers have found that a positive atmosphere during family meals and regularly enjoying family meals together are associated with lower odds of picky eating in children. They also found that children who regularly watched television while eating were more likely to exhibit picky eating behaviors.

Another study showed that when mothers model positive eating behaviors, the prevalence of pickiness goes down.

Keeping a positive attitude toward healthy food and enjoying family dinners together will go a long way toward sculpting healthy eating behaviors in kids.



Sometimes picky eating is simply a matter of personal preference. But is a child who hates mushrooms destined for a lifetime of veggie-less meals? Not necessarily.

Although most children gravitate toward sweet foods like fruit and sugary treats, they can expand their eating repertoire through gentle encouragement.



5 Tips to Help Your Child Overcome Picky Eating


Tip #1 – Offer a Variety of Flavors at a Young Age. Then Do It Again. And Again. 

Karen Le Billon, author of French Kids Eat Everything, overcame her daughters’ picky eating behaviors with French-style taste training. According to Le Billon, the French regularly expose their young children to numerous flavor profiles, starting in infancy.

As children grow, parents continue offering new and exciting foods. Kids don’t have to eat anything they don’t like, but they are strongly encouraged to at least taste new foods. The French food philosophy believes that when adults expose children to a food enough times, they will eventually learn to enjoy it.


Tip #2 – Don’t Make Mealtimes a Source of Stress 

If your child refuses a particular food, don’t make it a big deal. Your child may begin viewing mealtime as a power struggle if you do.

Instead, choose a healthy menu, prepare the food, serve the meal, and relax. Encourage your child to taste new additions to your table, but realize that you cannot force your child to like anything.

You can, however, do everything in your power to make mealtime a fun and rewarding experience for your child.


Tip #3 – Invest in Positive Eating Habits from an Early Age 

A study on picky eating in children found that kids who were picky as young toddlers (around age 24 months) were more likely to be picky in the future. The outcome suggested that kids who start life as picky eaters are more likely to remain so.

Researchers also discovered that the early introduction of vegetables was protective against picky eating down the road. Infants introduced to vegetables between 4 and 5 months old are less likely to be picky, while those introduced to vegetables after 6 months were more so.


Tip #4 – Don’t Use Food as a Reward (or Punishment!) 

Avoid placing emotional value on food.

When you use food to reward or punish your child, food can become a source of anxiety. For example, a reward could be, “Eat your broccoli, and you can have cookies for dessert!” Or as punishment might be, “If you don’t finish your broccoli, you can’t go to Sara’s birthday party!”

To teach children that food is emotionally neutral, practice placing various foods on their plate, including sweets. When a cupcake is next to steamed carrots, the child will feel less pressure to eat the “bad” food to earn the “good” food and eventually develop less picky eating habits.


Tip# 5 – Model Good Behaviors 

There’s no point encouraging your child to try the peas if you turn your nose up at peas at the dinner table.

Children are incredibly observant. If they see their parents enjoying a variety of flavors and foods, they’re more likely to grow into adventurous eaters themselves.

Kids learn by copying those around them. If you want to raise kids who aren’t picky, set your table with many colors, textures, and flavors. Enjoy the ritual of family meal time, and don’t rush. Don’t look at your phone or watch TV while eating. Make conversation. And lastly, make sure to taste everything at least once.

Remember, you don’t have to like it. But you do have to taste it!


You might find our previous article related to food and children interesting – HANGRY KIDDO? HOW NUTRITION AFFECTS YOUR CHILD’S EMOTIONS





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