Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Tips for helping a picky eater

10/1/2020 by Madison Hemer and Michaeleen Burroughs


Having a picky eater in your household can be frustrating and make mealtimes stressful. Picky eating typically begins in young children and can last a lifetime. The good news is that it's never too early or too later to broaden one's palate and take a bite into a new food experience.

Should I force picky eaters to eat veggies?

You should not force picky eaters to eat their veggies. Force-feeding tends to interfere with the pleasure of eating. However, there is a difference between forcing, and encouraging, guiding and modeling healthy eating habits.

Will picky eaters grow out of it?

Up to 20% of children between the ages of 2 and 3 could be described as picky eaters. It is normal for young children to have strong likes and dislikes to foods. While most children grow out of it, some still have specific likes and dislikes. Acknowledge this, but continue to expose your children to plenty of healthy options. Also, be patient and try not to make food likes or dislikes a constant battle or topic of discussion.

Tips for incorporating new foods

Try these tips to help picky eaters incorporate new foods:

  • Let your children help prepare the food. Give them hands-on experience touching and smelling the food.
  • Allow your children to fill their plate. Let them decide what and how much they will try.
  • Encourage them to take a bite of new foods, but don't get frustrated if they don't like it. It can take up to eight attempts of trying a food before they start to like it.
  • Try growing a few vegetables and have your child help with the process. This gives them an understanding of where food comes from.
  • Offer the same foods to the whole family, and let your child see you eating and enjoying the meal.

What you say matters

Telling your children that they have to eat the new food placed in from of them can make them feel as though they don't have a choice. Instead use phrases that help your children understand the sensory or beneficial qualities of a food.

For example, instead of saying, "You have to take a bite," instead try saying: "These are carrots, and they are crunchy. They help your eyes so you can see better." By doing this, your children know a little of what to expect when they bite into the food.

Adult picky eaters

Expanding food preferences in adulthood can take a little more work, as adults have already distinguished the foods they like and dislike. Breaking out of the picky eating habits can be more stressful for adults, but it can still be done. Just as with children, don't force adult picky eaters to try new foods. Instead, encourage and support them.

Here are some tips for adult picky eaters:

  • Take your time experimenting with new foods.
  • Start out slow. For your first experience, just put the food in your mouth to understand its texture and how it tastes. It is OK to spit it out. For your second or third experience, just take one bite and swallow it. Next time, take a couple bites and keep growing from there.
  • Most importantly, trust your own feelings as you try new foods, and go at your own pace.

Madison Hemer is a former dietetic intern at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. She completed her undergraduate education at Iowa State University. She is interested in gastroenterology and oncology for adults and children.

Michaeleen Burroughs has been a dietitian at Mayo Clinic in Rochester for 29 years. She works with patients in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson. Her areas of interest include diabetes, pediatric and adult weight management, and healthy eating for families.