5 Secrets to Encourage a Picky Eater

Dessert First: 5 Secrets to Encourage a Picky Eater

Every night was a battle. At the dinner table, there was yelling, crying, pleading and bargaining; all because my son did not want to eat anything on his plate. We got our first picky eater in the family. Today, he eats about half of his dinner. A minor miracle to say the least, but getting him to eat something has taken a lot of ingenuity and creativity, some of which, turned our thinking upside down.     

As parents, I think most of us, know our children need to eat healthy, well-balanced meals. It is getting them to, that is the problem. God instructs us to eat well. In Daniel 1:8-16, Daniel insists on eating good food and as a reward is healthier and more nourished than the other servants. Now, how do we get our kids to understand? Teaching them this story is a good first start.   

Proverbs 22:6

For those interested in the science behind why kids are picky eaters, continue reading. If you just want the secrets, skip to the heading ‘Picky Eater Secrets’.

Babies are born with an innate taste for sweet foods. Genetics, food consumed while in the womb and breast milk all play a role in the types of food children grow up enjoying. Dislike for bitter tasting foods, such as vegetables, may come an inherent design in our taste buds. Most bitter compounds are toxic, so when trying new foods, anything bitter does not taste good. One study showed that by adding sugar to bitter foods people had an increased likeness for them.

What Does Not Work

  • Bribes
  • Rewards
  • Confinement
  • Giving Up


Picky Eater Secret #1: Kids Can Prep 

Involve your kids in making meals. My picky eater son loves making smoothies in the morning with me. I measure the ingredients and he dumps them in the blender. And guess what? He drinks the smoothies! I even sneak in a little kale, which he doesn’t seem to mind. Kids can measure, dump, mix, push buttons, and (depending on age and with adult guidance) cut food. It is fun and a great way to spend time together.

Picky Eater Secret #2: Consistent Mealtimes 

When we have consistent mealtimes our bodies trigger when we are hungry. When we are hungry, we won’t be as picky. My nephew, the ultimate picky eater, visited us for a couple weeks. “He eats like a bird,” that’s how his family described him to us. Come to find out, he eats that way because he eats all day long. After, and only, eating at certain times of the day his bird eating days flew away. When his grandparents came to pick him up, there was a look of total astonishment when he ate everything on his plate. It may take some planning, but consistent mealtimes may help.


Picky Eater Secret #3: Serve New and Familiar Foods

When serving a meal, include foods you know your child will eat, along with foods you hope (but doubt) they will eat. We serve our son everything the rest of the family gets, just a smaller portion. Sometimes he gets a sandwich in addition to the meal everyone else is having, just so we know he will eat. That being said: Don’t take the short order cook role too far. Try introducing vegetables that have a higher sugar content first such as, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, and parsnips. When cooking foods you think might not go over well, sweeten it with a tiny bit of sugar.    

When trying new foods, we encourage our children to take one to two bites of the non-preferred food. Then we don’t push anymore. A child may need to try a new food anywhere from 10-15 times before they like it. 

Picky Eater Secret #4: Dip It

This is a favorite in our house; our kids dip everything. The most requested dip in the house: hummus (I know, right?) Hummus and salsa are both healthy condiments. If that is what they need to eat a new or disliked food, then go for it. My son started dipping his sliced peaches in ketchup. I cringe just thinking about it, but now he eats his peaches, minus the ketchup.


Picky Eater Secret #5: Dessert First

Include dessert as part of the meal (if serving), not something you receive afterward. This has been our most successful implementation. We used dessert as a reward for eating well at dinner (that’s what our parents did, and we turned out alright). Now we think differently and there has been a lot less fighting and cajoling and much more eating. There is a significant increase in eating vegetables with repeated exposed to them as opposed to a reward system. On the plates, we include every part of the meal and if our kids want to eat dessert first, they can and often do. But after they eat dessert, they eat more dinner. Some mysteries in life are worth not exploring.

These 5 secrets have helped us with our picky eater. Some days are better than others, so we continue to try and continue to teach. We believe God wants healthy individuals and as parents, do what we can to raise our kids this way. Now it’s your turn to try these secrets, just don’t tell your kids I told you.

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John is a husband, father and teacher. His passion is to help fathers raise their children by sharing his own experiences while following a biblical worldview. Master Lego builder and tea party host. The greatest, most rewarding role a man can have is that of a father.

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2 thoughts on “Dessert First: 5 Secrets to Encourage a Picky Eater

  1. John,

    There is some great advice here, I too have struggled with a picky child when eating.

    My daughter was quite bad for it, not so much with my son.

    One thing we found effective was singing to her while we fed her, it kept her attention and she didn’t seem to notice that she was eating.


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