5 Expert Tips to Transform Mealtimes with Your Picky Eater

Colette Reynolds

Colette Reynolds

November 15, 2021

tips for fussy eaters

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Do you have a picky eater? Are mealtimes a battle? Try these 5 easy tips today to transform mealtimes with your picky eater – and discover the number one reason why children have a poor appetite.

Parents and caregivers can do lots to influence what our children like to eat. Young children’s’ tastes are still developing. If they don’t eat a food one day, keep reoffering the same food again, especially foods that the rest of the family eat, so that they become more familiar with various foods including veggies.

Picky Eater Tips for Parents

#1. Rethink Snacking

tips for fussy eaters

For many children it is really useful to watch the quality and quantity of snacks we serve. If our children are frequently eating it may be a good idea to serve some ‘mini meals’ sometimes. This means instead of always serving ‘snack type foods’ such as crackers and cheese, offer other choices such as soup or chopped, raw veggies.

If we focus on the quality of snacks we offer, we are improving our children’s eating significantly before we even consider making any changes to mealtimes.

We may also need to consider the quantity of snacks being eaten. Snacks should be viewed as a quick stop until our next meal, rather than filling us up.

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#2. Always Offer a ‘Reasonable’ Food

Try to ensure there is always at least one ‘reasonable’ food served at all times. This is a food that is usually eaten, for example, a small portion of fruit, bread or pasta. This may also be called a ‘safe food’ or ‘acceptable food’.

This can help our children feel more at ease when they sit down to eat. For some children, starting eating maybe the biggest challenge so serving a familiar ‘liked food’ such as a small portion of fruit can really help.

#3. Avoid Grazing

For many children, grazing or eating small amounts very frequently is very common and this is the number one reason many children have poor appetites.

For many children their preferred foods are finger foods such as crackers, cheese and fruit. This may mean they are less likely to eat other types of food particularly wet or mushy foods such as soup.

In addition, if our children are frequently snacking, they probably are not hungry to eat a meal and may request another snack shortly after the meal and therefore the pattern of frequent snacking continues.

Generally 3 meals and 2 snacks is a good guideline for the number of times children should eat during the day. However it depends on the individual child and their age. Having more structured eating means there are eating times (i.e. meals and snack times) and then there are times for other activities like play.

The timing of this looks different for different families, for example, some families have their main meal just after school or in the evening.

The aim is to have no more than 5 eating times a day or possibly 6 including a bedtime snack. Ideally there is at least 1-2 hours between eating which allows our children sufficient time to get hungry again.

One way to do this is to start increasing the gap between meals and snacks slowly by a few minutes every day until our children are hungrier for mealtimes.

#4. One Meal for Everyone

tips for fussy eaters

While it may seem necessary to make different food for our children, it is important to serve the same meal for the whole family.

Not only does this mean less work for us as the cook, more importantly it shows that there are no ‘special’ foods just for children. Of course food may have to be adapted depending on the age of children, like cutting up meat.

One really simple way of doing this is to deconstruct the meal – in other words, serve all the elements of the meal separately.

Take spaghetti Bolognese, for example; serve the spaghetti, tomato sauce, meat (or vegetarian option) and veggies all separately. Then let everyone choose what they will eat.

If small portions of each food are served it means that no one can fill up on their favourite food such as pasta.


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#5. Think Beyond This Meal

It is easy to get caught up in the moment when our children are refusing to eat food but instead of just focusing on that one meal, try to think more long term.

For example, if our children eat very little or nothing at a given meal, it is best not to offer an alternative food afterwards. If we do, it can set up the expectation that there is always a ‘back-up’; leading many children to ‘hold out’ or wait for their more ‘preferred’ food such as cereal.

If our children are hungry later on, we can absolutely re-offer some of the same meal. This works best if there is one ‘reasonable’ food (as mentioned above) served as part of the meal.

Discovering what your picky eater is willing to eat, and what causes a mealtime battle, is an important first step. As each child is different, so too is every picky eater. Focus on the steps above for gradual changes you can start today, and you will soon see a transformation at the dinner table.

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