December 27, 2013 | Home >Healthy Kids > Picky Eaters >Are They Picky, Or Just Selective?
Are They Picky, Or Just Selective?
December 27, 2013 | Home >Healthy Kids > Picky Eaters >Are They Picky, Or Just Selective?

Are They Picky, Or Just Selective?

boy and vegetables

Is this the typical response you get at meal times, “Can I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead?” Or do you simply receive those weird faces? Are you ready to just tear your hair out? Believe it or not, I completely understand.  Even more frustrating is when I get those looks from my husband (Insert my own weird face here)! So we all have them: picky eaters.

Being a picky eater during toddlerhood is just plain normal. As a personal attest, I know it is frustrating and I find myself wanting to just throw in the towel…A LOT! But do I? Once in a while, yes, I do, but mostly I stick to what I preach as a professional. One important piece of advice I stick with is looking at the big picture. With this I am referring to looking at a full week’s worth of food as opposed to a single meal or a day’s worth of food. Kids have this amazing intuition, so-to-speak, about how much their growing bodies need. (You know, the natural instincts we as adults often ignore!) So, not only are they learning about tastes and textures of foods, they are truly eating the energy they need at that particular time and day. As far as my “selective” 5 year old learning and exploring tastes and textures, I personally like to refer to this: If our kids take years to master writing, why can’t we see it in the same way as with food? As described in the book Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters From High Chair to High School, by Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen, “We need to have this same attitude about eating – all kids can learn how to eat well but it takes time, patience and courage to let each child learn at his own pace.” Simple, right?

Many are reading that passage saying, “Uh, yeah. Sure.” So just how can you get to the point of “fearless feeding?” First, as we do for you here at Super Healthy Kids, you can plan ahead! Through planning, you are armed with a food plan which means you will not be in a bind of time constraints, stressing over what’s for dinner to then give in to your finicky eater’s preferences. Through your planning, you can also take time figuring out exactly what your child likes, what foods you have served and how many times you have offered that particular food. Earlier this year, we had a guest post from a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in feeding difficulties and sensory integration. She advises making a list of all foods your child will eat at least 50% of the time. Place these foods into simple categories and then see if there are any patterns in your child’s choices. Read more here, where this great plan is detailed. Remember, it does take several times before a child can acquire a true like or dislike of a food.

Here’s another simple strategy or thought process to try:

  • Offer choices: This means offering two different types of veggies, such as “would you like broccoli or cauliflower?” Your child is making the choice in what to eat, as well as how much to eat. You, the caregiver, is providing the healthy food option.
  • Offer at least one food item you know they will like. This will take the pressure off of you both. He sees a familiar food and you know he will not starve.
  • Offer your child the pen and paper to do the meal planning. Yes! Especially when there are older children in the household, they will love helping out. Check out our printable section where you will find some fun, kid inspired meal planning pages.
  • Offer new foods in a fun environment. My kids love at home movie night. So I take advantage of this fun mealtime and use it to offer new foods. I have gotten my daughter to try orange and yellow bell peppers and my son raw cauliflower during one of these moments. Although they still need some exposures, I am thrilled they have at least tried these new foods.

What if your child is older, and the selectiveness persists? This is when your pediatrician may need to intervene because your child may have a sensory, mechanical or medical condition that needs to be addressed. Here’s another great guest post of a determined mom of an autistic child finds great success using child-specific tactics to add more nutrient-dense food choices to her son’s plate. Read her amazing story here, and see how her methods are similar to some thoughts mentioned previously.

Bottom line:

• Be the role model

• Be patient

• Be consistent

• Be calm

• Be the one who offers nutritious foods


Beautifully stated in Fearless Feeding, “You’re doing a good job if your child enjoys eating and is being exposed to a variety of foods.” So enjoy your dinner table family time and keep offering those nutritious foods because, our children’s “taste buds will grow accustomed to the newer fare.” (Dr. David Katz, author of Disease-Proof).

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Lucky for me, my first child isn’t a picky eater at all. He actually wants to eat EVERYTHING. Constantly!

But just in case that changes in the future, I now have your awesome advice to go off!

Thank you!

Jennifer Smith says:

I love the information in this blog! I am going to sign up to super healthy kids today and I am going to tell all of my mom friends about it too!

Ryan Byars says:

Great suggestions. I especially like the veggie option suggestion — good thought!

Great ideas for adding fresh fruits and vegetables to your kids’ diets. Adding veggies to their favorite dishes (macaroni and cheese or chicken noodle soup) is an easy way to sneak some nutrition into their meals.

It is important to remember to stay patient and calm in these situations, something we all need to remember at times.

jackie-2 says:

Yes! We’ve actually got a great Mac-N-Cheese recipe made with puréed summer squash.

jackie-2 says:

Great! I’m happy to hear you will revisit my post if you see future challenges.

jackie-2 says:

Yeah!! Thank you, Jennifer!

jackie-2 says:

Thanks! I have used that scenario quite often! They love choices in all things! Even if it means choosing between two veggies they are not quite sure of. One thought I hadn’t mention there was that even if they don’t eat that food they chose, that’s ok. Their choice alone is a step in the right direction. It will become a food that is no longer foreign to them.

angela says:

do you have any suggestions for what to do when you give them the choice of broccoli or cauliflower (or ANY veggie that isn’t corn) and they say “neither” or “Yuck!”?

jackie-2 says:

That’s a good question, Angela. I have been there too. And if they are not eating ‘any’ vegetables you really don’t have a choice. It is a matter of consistency in the offerings. Continue to offer one or the other.

Take your child to the grocery store, the farmers market. I have asked my daughter in the past what her friends eat for lunch, and that has given me ideas of what to offer here. Then, I can use their friends as examples, “Hey, Mary loves this vegetable, why don’t we try it at home?”

Today, actually, I am taking them both to Whole Foods. They will choose a new fruit or veggie to try. For this particular outing, I encourage them to choose something they truly will try. AND, they are in the kitchen with me and whether or not I have tried it, I always play along and act like I have never tried it. They love that they are experiencing something new with us.

Another thought, mix the corn with just the very tips of the broccoli florets, and make up a name! Yellow pebbles and mini tree leaves…just off the top of my head! 🙂

A great book to try too is “I Will Never, Not Ever Eat a Tomato” and it is the Charlie and Lola series. It talks about renaming foods and in the end she tries a tomato.

A lot to think about, but just use my thoughts on always offering a veggie, it will eventually become a familiar food. And definitely make it a family affair. Everyone needs to on board! And why not? Fruits and veggies are powerhouse foods! Come back and let us know how its going.

Jennifer says:

We rename foods at our house too. It seems to work,
Also, when Michael asks for a snack I will give him only healthy options. Good luck!

Margaret says:

Do you have any suggestions for older children, almost 10? He ate great as a toddler and preschooler but slowly eliminated foods one by one as the years went on. He’s very active and has developed a sweet tooth but does not have an ounce of fat on him. He can detect a vegetable from a mile away and won’t go near any.

jackie-2 says:

Hi Margaret!

Although my children are a few years younger, I can assure you that it is normal. He has a lot of influences at school and as each year passes, there are different people involved in his life.

An important aspect to remember: You bring the food into the house, offer those nutritious foods to him and he is the one who decides to eat them or not. Use the tactics I explained in the blogpost, especially being the role model. (I don’t know how many times I kick my husband under the table trying to get him to eat his veggies!)

Yes, I understand, you will not have that kind of control while he is away from you, but there will come a time when he will once again eat veggies and love them. Just do not give up the continual offering of them. –oh! And another thought, you said “he’s very active…” This is a great opportunity for you to seek some materials regarding how good nutrition can give him an edge! Good luck!

When someone writes an piece of writing he/she retains the thought of a
user in his/her brain that how a user can know it. Therefore that’s why
this piece of writing is perfect. Thanks!

Debra says:

Our daughter is 8 and has been a picky eater from her first foods
She spent a lot of time vomiting and sees food as a threat
She will eat a few foods as long as they are not touching each other Some days she refuses to eat anything She lives on a special Fortini drink Sadly she will starve herself as the doctors have seen
The older she gets the less she will eat
She has a lot of hospital stays due to her Cystic Fibrosis Now they just put a NG tube in to feed her whenever she is in hospital
She is under the care of a psychologist and occupational therapists
She is very tactile with tastes and textures
We do lots of play picnics and try new foods on Wednesdays
None of this is helping
We always offer healthy choices but nothing seems to make a difference
She will sometimes eat a pkt of chips but even this is tapering off
With the CF she needs 150% more calories to maintain and gain weight
If it wasnt for the Fortini she would have no weight left
If she goes of the Fortini (crap and full of sugar) drinks she drops weight so fast

We are at a loss and at our wits end

Lisa Cannon says:

My son is 7, As a baby was lactose intolerant & had severe reflux which needed medication, I think he still associates food with pain rather than enjoying it. Very hard to get him to try new things. He often gags & gets upset. His dislike for veggies is starting to rub off on my 2 yr old who previously was a pretty good eater. Would love some suggestions to make dinner time less stressful!

jackie-2 says:

Hi Lisa,

I am sorry you are going through a challenging time. Recently we had a great guest post. She is a sociologist and has experience with these types of scenarios. I would definitely take a look at it. One aspect she points out, I, as a mother of two, follow as well: offer the new foods at other times rather than just at mealtimes. I always am sure that I offer my selective eater at least one or two food items I know he will like. For example, he loves all fruits, so thats a win-win for me. But, because he is not too keen on certain meats, I will do something such as offer an apple with peanut butter. This way, I know he is getting a source of protein from something. I will also do such things as when I serve tortellini. He was not too into that either, but when I gave them little toothpicks and made it like h’orderves. It takes a little creativity sometimes. I hope this helps a bit. Here is the link to the post I was referring to.

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