10 Tips For Pleasing Picky Eaters

by Sally on January 12, 2015

10 Tips for Pleasing Your Picky EaterMy younger son is usually the toughest customer at the dinner table every night. But when he was about five years old, he asked me, “Mommy, what’s a picky eater?” I was glad he didn’t know what it was, because that meant he was never labeled as one.

So while I don’t advocate for calling kids “picky”, I do use the term here on my blog because it’s one we all know. It sums up the garden variety food refusals that a lot of parents encounter with their young kids–refusals that can make mealtime hard. (Learn more about what might be going through your child’s head during this stage: What Your Child Wants to Tell You About Picky Eating.)

So if you’re in that boat with your kids right now, here are 10 tricks that just might help:

1. Make “Zebra Pasta” 

10 Tips For Pleasing Picky Eaters by Real Mom NutritionIf your family isn’t sold on whole wheat pasta, mix half and half with white pasta and give it a silly name.

2. Serve veggies in unexpected way

10 Tips For Pleasing Picky Eaters by Real Mom Nutrition

 At snack time or as a pre-dinner appetizer, put some veggies in an unexpected container, like a glass, mug, or measuring cup. That curveball may be enough to make them more enticing.

3. Or keep veggies big

10 Tips for Pleasing Picky Eaters

This is another way that serving veggies in unexpected ways can lead to happy results! Keeping veggies big–even leaving the green tops on carrots and celery–can be fun for kids. I used to ask my son if he wanted his carrot big “like a bunny” or stalk of celery big “like the Wonder Pets”.

4. Pack a checkerboard sandwich

10 Tips For Pleasing Picky Eaters by Real Mom Nutrition

This fun lunchbox surprise is a good compromise if your kids like white bread but you want them to eat whole grain. Use one slice of white bread, one slice of whole grain, then cut into six pieces and flip three of them to create a checkerboard.

5. Put food on a stick

10 Tips For Pleasing Picky Eaters by Real Mom NutritionI don’t know about your kids, but mine love eating stuff off a stick: fruit, meat, or veggies. Pick up a bag of wooden skewers at the store–or use lollipop sticks, which aren’t as sharp.

6. Puree onions into a paste

10 Tips For Pleasing Picky Eaters by Real Mom NutritionI like using onion in recipes, but my kids don’t like finding pieces of slippery onion in their food. So I quarter an onion and puree it in my mini chopper until it becomes a paste. You get all the onion flavor but without the onion bits. I sometimes make multiple batches and freeze them flat in zip-top bags.

7. Use white pepper instead of black

10 Tips For Pleasing Picky Eaters by Real Mom Nutrition

I heard this idea from a friend and thought it was genius, especially since my younger son’s pepper radar is always on high alert. If you’ve got a child (like mine) who will balk at a food if there are visible pepper flecks–but you still want the pepper flavor–swap out black pepper for white, which disappears more easily into food.

8. Roast veggies

10 Tips For Pleasing Picky Eaters by Real Mom Nutrition

Roasting makes veggies crisp and brings out their natural sweetness. Roast broccoli, carrots, asparagus, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, you name it. Just toss veggies in olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until brown and crisp.

9. Create a buffet

10 Tips For Pleasing Picky Eaters by Real Mom Nutrition

Kids like having control, so try putting meal components in dishes and letting everyone choose what they want. They may not take everything–and that’s okay. But giving choices reduces the pressure on them, which may lessen some of their resistance.

10. Have fun!

10 Ways to Please your Picky Eater by Real Mom Nutrition Ask your kids to be recipe reviewers, rating foods on different scales (taste, aroma, appearance) or how well they like it. You can download and print this free Recipe Reviewers Chart (shown above) from the Meal Makeover Moms. For more ways to add fun to dinner, including playing “restaurant” and other games, read 6 Ways to Add Fun to Family Dinner.

Do you have any tried-and-true tips that work for your kids? Please share!


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5 Tips for Easing Mealtime Stress

by Sally on June 18, 2014

Tips for Managing Mealtime at Real Mom Nutrition

Whenever a new mom tells me what a great eater her one year old is, I smile politely and say something encouraging like, “Gee, that’s great!” But I’m actually thinking, “You don’t even know what’s coming!”

Feeding toddlers can be challenging–after all, their growth has slowed (which can lower appetite) and they’re testing out their newfound independence. But stay the course: Continue to offer your child an array of healthy foods because “research shows that when left to make their own choices children will, over time, eat in a way that is nutritionally balanced,” says Dr. Yvonne Gustafson, Ph.D., co-author of the new book Tools For The Toddler Years(You can enter to win a copy of the book in this giveaway that ends Friday.) 

She offers these reassuring pointers that ring true for kids of all ages:

1. Each meal does not have to be nutritionally “perfect.” It is what is eaten over the course of a day—some pediatricians suggest over the course of a week—that matters. So, if on Tuesday your toddler is on a cereal kick, remember that it can be balanced with other essential nutrients on Thursday.

2. Understanding portion size can help you resist the urge to “push” food. In general, a serving size is one measured tablespoon per age of child. How many chunks of green bean can actually fit in a measured tablespoon? Two, maybe three?  When your toddler eats four bites of green bean she has probably eaten an amount appropriate to her age and size. Further, you may find that when portions are kept small it is easier for the child to focus, rather than be distracted by the science of mixing and smearing all the food before them.

3. Understand that your child may have his own internal eating clock. He may love a big breakfast and lighter fare for dinner. Or, he may not be ready for very much food until mid-morning. Noticing and planning your offerings to match your child’s preferences can create a more positive relationship with food.

4. Expect fluctuations. When a child is in a growth spurt everything about serving size and interest in food can shift. Some days it may seem your child packs away more food than you! In the absence of power struggles over food, trust her body to eat what it needs to maintain the energy she needs.

5. Be aware of alternative sources of nutrition. For instance, for the child not yet ready to handle the textures of meat, try mashed up beans or cubes of tofu for protein.

For more parenting tips, check out Your Parenting Matters.

6 Tips for Managing Mealtime at Real Mom Nutrition

Illustration by Greg Bonnell


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{Recipe} Easy Fish Tacos

April 28, 2014

My kids weren’t always fans of fish. Until I made fish tacos. Apparently, being able to wrap your fish in a warm tortilla and pile on whatever toppings you want was a game-changer for them. This recipe is featured in my new cookbook, Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide (read: “A Peek Inside My New Cookbook!“). What I […]

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April 22, 2014

I was over the moon when Cooking Light asked me to write a cookbook for busy parents. I’m pretty darn proud of the finished product, Dinnertime Survival Guide, which officially launched this week. I set out to write a cookbook I’d want to read myself–one that was easy to scan, that had a line-up of recipes that […]

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A Peek Inside My New Cookbook!

April 15, 2014

Complete the following statement: Cooking dinner every night… A. Is really important and allows me to express my love for my family and communicate our food values. B. Can sometimes feel like chore at the end of a very long day. C. Makes me want to run screaming out the back door, jump into my […]

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From-Scratch Cooking Confession: I Can’t Keep Up!

March 3, 2014

I believe that a diet based around whole foods is the way to go. I believe we should know what’s in our food, that we should strive to eat food that isn’t laden with preservatives and artificial flavors. Over the years, my suspicion about ingredients like artificial colors has grown, and I’ve become increasingly annoyed with […]

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6 Ways to Add Fun to Family Dinner

January 15, 2014

  On a recent Sunday, my husband and I were cooking together, and the boys were pretending we were on a cooking show. It extended to dinner time, when they wanted to judge the dish (a new-to-them chili). So we asked them to rate the chili on a scale of 1-5 for various categories like […]

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