How to Help an Extreme Picky Eater: 6 Simple Steps

Parents often ask us for strategies and tips to help with a picky eater. Many children go through phases when they become picky about what they would like to eat. It’s usually a sign that they are growing in independence, but I’m sure we can all agree that it can be very frustrating! After all, as parents and educators, we just want to make sure that our little kiddos are getting enough nutrition.

These 6 tips on how to help an extreme picky eater might feel like a lot if you’re just getting started. Instead of trying to tackle them all at once, identify just one area to start before moving on to the next.

1.Watch what you say

“Picky” might be an okay word to describe the trends you’re noticing with your child’s eating, but it’s not a description we want your child to internalize. If your child comes to learn that they are viewed as “picky”, it’s more likely that they will continue to demonstrate picky habits.

Instead of using the word “picky eater” to describe how they eat, try to empower your child and help them adopt a growth mindset when it comes to their eating.

2. Adjust your expectations

You’re going to be working HARD on helping your extreme picky eater. You will be putting in a lot of thought, effort, and time. That is AMAZING! Your child is lucky to have a parent who wants to make eating easier for them!

The thing is, your child is eating the way they do for a reason. Often there is no quick fix. Even when you’re doing everything right it can still take a while for your child to feel comfortable trying new foods.

This is for a few reasons.

First, your child likely has a lot of practice eating the way they do. Their eating choices have become a habit. It can take a while for them to learn that they can comfortably and confidently eat a variety of new foods.

Second, average young eaters need around a dozen exposures to a new food before they decide to eat it. Extreme picky eaters might need twice or more exposures before feeling ready to eat. That’s a lot of time and effort on your part!

Be patient and persistent. Don’t assume that just because something you tried a few times hasn’t worked YET that it won’t work at all.

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. Ignore that! This is one situation where you want to keep trying!

3. Regularly serve new foods

Regularly serve your child new foods – even if they don’t eat them, even if they never eat them.

Serving your child new foods sends the message that they can eat new foods. It also gives your child the opportunity to try new foods when they are ready.

Ideally the new food can be on your child’s plate along with the rest of their meal. If they are uncomfortable having a new food on their plate, they can move it next to their plate.

4. Build their comfort

Most extremely picky eaters have strong food aversions and anxiety about eating new foods.

We want to break down your child’s reservations and instead help them feel empowered and capable when it comes to trying new foods.

Find out what motivates and interests your child. It might be cooking, learning about food in books or on TV shows, playing with food, doing arts and crafts, experimenting, or grocery shopping.

5. Create consistency with mealtimes

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my work with extremely picky eaters it’s that they have a lot of anxiety when it comes to meals and anything related to eating. To help make this more comfortable for skeptical eaters, it’s helpful to create consistency with mealtimes.

Think about meal timing and everything that happens before, during, and after meals. Being consistent with meal times allows your child’s appetite to regulate and build so they can come to the table hungry and ready to eat. Being consistent with the mealtime routine helps your child know what to expect. Both can make eating easier and increase success when introducing new foods.

6. Don’t freak out

As a parent, I know how stressful it is when your child won’t eat. The thing is, getting upset about it doesn’t help your child. In fact, it can make eating even harder for them. Kids sense our stress and that’s the last thing we want at the table. Our anxiety feeds theirs. Our stress leads to their stress, and stress suppresses the appetite. That doesn’t make eating easier!

The best thing you can do for your child is help them feel calm, comfortable and confident at mealtimes. That starts with you!

For more information about our Four Pillars of Learning curriculum which includes Physical Activity and Nutrition, click here

The Canada Food Guide is a great resource to help with picky eating.