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Nutrition Ideas for Picky Eaters

By Meredith Hawk MS RDN LD

The table is set, the food is ready-all that is left is to lure the kids to the table. You get them

there and the first thing you hear is, “I don’t like this”. Picky eating is a common phenomenon

with young children. If you are a parent, you have likely experienced this before in some facet

or another. According to research, picky eating is described as “the consumption of an

inadequate variety of food” (2). Common characteristics include (2):

  • Limited amounts of food

  • Refusing food (typically fruits & vegetables)

  • Unwillingness to try new food

  • Accepting only a few types of food

  • Preferring beverages over foods

  • Having strong preferences

Studies show parents are concerned regarding the growth of their child (for instance if they are

not falling at the 50th percentile on the growth charts), however, only children falling 2 standard

deviations away from the mean are considered significantly deviated (2). There are certain red

flags to watch for that may indicate a more serious issue (2):

  • Dysphagia

  • Swallowing issues resulting in coughing or choking

  • Feeding that is in conjunction with crying (indicative of pain)

  • Skin conditions (eczema)

  • Failure to thrive

  • Developmental anomalies (prematurity, congenital abnormalities and/or autism)

There have even been studies done in college-aged students that suggest picky eating can have

long lasting effects into adulthood (1). While the battles are different than the typical parent-

child feeding relationship, they do exist. Students reported feeling anxiety towards social

situations regarding food (1).

So, how can you get creative to feed your child (or even yourself) the nutrients you need?

  • BLEND- You can create delicious smoothies that incorporate whatever fruits your child (or you) will consume. Spinach is a mild leafy green that is vitamin & mineral dense, which can easily be included in your smoothies.

  • PROTEIN Balls- Protein balls are a quick, bite sized snack that can really include anything you want. Pick out a protein powder that you enjoy (or can tolerate) to create your masterpiece. For a simple PRO ball recipe check out:

  • PUREE- You can puree most vegetables into a thin consistency to create a “sauce”. This works great with spaghetti or pasta dishes. Blend vegetables and include them in your sauce for the dish.

  • CREATE- If you’re trying to get a picky eater to eat more, let them create a meal. Take them to the grocery store and have them pick out foods or vegetables they think look interesting. Find a recipe and have fun in the kitchen together! If you’re an adult looking to expand the palate, think of a cuisine you would like to try and go for it. You can do it at home to eliminate pressures of social situations. You also have the control to put only things you like (and maybe a few adventurous items) into the meal.

  • MAKE IT FUN- Kids love fun shapes, colors, etc. Cut their foods into fun shapes or get colorful, new plates, placemats, bowls, etc. to spark an inviting environment of new foods.

  • SOCIALIZE- Ask your child about their day. Take the pressure off the food, but invite a relaxing, stress-free zone.

  • SUPPLEMENT- If you think your child is not getting enough of the proper nutrition, consider a children’s multi-vitamin. Continue to expose and introduce your child to new foods without forcing consumption. The same goes for adults- find a multivitamin that can help you achieve adequate nutrition, while continuing to try new foods.

Research shows it can take up to 10 times of exposure to a new food before it becomes

accepted (2). Continue to encourage different foods or try different foods without

stressing the situation. According to Walton, et. al food is about the relationships as

much as it is nutrition (3). Allowing the child to have autonomy in the situation, while

the parents provide the food, the time and the location is important in helping children

to foster growth (3). Remember, when attempting to meet nutritional needs, get

creative in the kitchen and continue to trial new foods several times!


1. Dial, L.A., Jordan, A., Emley, E., Angoff, H.D., Varga, A.V., Musher-Eizenman, D.R.; (2021).

Consequences of Picky Eating in College Students. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior,

53, 822-832. <https//>.

2. Ong, C., Phuah, K.Y., Salazar, E., & How, C.H.; (2014). Managing the ‘picky eater’ dilemma.

Singapore Med J, 55, 184-190. <doi:10.11622/smedj.2014049>.

3. Walton, K., Kuczynski, L., Haycraft, E., Breen, A., Haines, J.; (2017). Time to re-think picky

eating?: a relational approach to understanding picky eating. International Journal of Behavioral

Nutrition and Physical Activity, 14:62. <doi:10.1186/s12966-017-0520-0>.

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