My Best Strategy For Getting a Picky Eater to Eat
My top tip for getting a picky eater to eat what you want them to!
As we were hanging out with our neighbors on Sunday night, the 3 year old, upon seeing my son TJ eating an apple, picked up an apple and started eating one himself. Shocked, my neighbor Julie said, “We are witnessing a miracle here! He never eats apples!” Julie’s 3 year old loves my 8 year old son TJ, and loves to copy things he does. The strategy that has worked for me in getting kids to try new food, is none other than:
You can call it modeling or mimicking, but the fact is, peer pressure has proven to be effective over and over in the circumstances I’ve witnessed with a picky eater. The pickiest eaters won’t even hesitate to eat the same foods as their friends, whether they like the food or not.
Peer pressure is defined as “social pressure by members of one’s peer group to take a certain action, adopt certain values, or otherwise conform in order to be accepted.” (source)
Seeing their friends, or mentors eating vegetables that your kids would normally not eat, is great motivation for them to try it. The best results I’ve seen here is when it is by their actual peers… by other children. It’s great for your kids to see you eating fruits and vegetables, but the powerful impact of their peers eating them is amazing.
Our second incident was over Kiwi. TJ didn’t like Kiwi for a long time. Then one day, we had one of his friends over for lunch. The friend, Douglas, had brought a kiwi from home. I mentioned how delicious it looked, and replied with
“It’s my favorite! It’s sour! Do you like sour things TJ?” Suddenly for the first time, TJ wanted to try kiwi!
So, yesterday we tried it with 2 year old Michael, who LOVES Nathan! Of course he wanted to try it when he saw Nate eating it!
(Actual picture of Michael asking for kiwi that his favorite cousin Nate is eating)
How to encourage peers to influence your picky eater
Leverage school lunch
Not only can peers encourage each other to eat a new food, studies have actually shown in a school lunch room, they brag about the different foods they are willing to eat “….it seems that once at school there’s a desire to fit in with everyone else and even some positive peer pressure to boast about the variety of what foods you can eat. (source) Research has found that 4 out of 5 kids will try a new food at school, that they have never tried at home. According to the BBC:
“Getting children to eat healthily is every parent’s dream, but meal times at home can often be a battle ground and emotionally charged. From Mumsnetters’ experience it seems that once at school there’s a desire to fit in with everyone else and even some positive peer pressure to boast about the variety of what foods you can eat.”
Orchestrate the playdate
I have done this! Knowing a neighbor loved spinach salad, I invited him for a play date and dinner! I of course served, Spinach salad! My son Nate, in not having an interest in this salad in the past, saw his friend eating seconds of his salad, and took some himself. I didn’t even say a word, and he just ate it!
The teenage picky eater
Although as kids grow up, their palate naturally expands, and they are wiling to try and taste new foods, but do they choose these foods when they are with their other teenage, influential friends? They can! You behave similarly to the way your closest groups of friends behave (as adults as well as teens). So when my friends daughter had a friend that loved bell peppers and brought them to school in her lunch every day, so her daughter was intrigued enough and liked her friend so much that peppers became one of her favorite foods too! While you can’t choose your teenagers friends the way you can choose their friends in preschool, it might be worth your time to inquire about what they bring in their lunch to help your teenager notice! Unfortunately, many teenagers eat fast food during school lunch, but one highly influential teen can change that and set the tone for their group of friends.
Have you noticed the same thing?
READ NEXT: 21 THINGS TO DO WITH A PICKY EATER
I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.Learn More about Natalie
So true.. I noticed the same thing a few days ago and did a similar post.
Love your blog btw…
It really does work. Also we have a rule at our house ~you are not allowed to make a face, turn up your nose, say it smells funny or make any other negative remark about the food you have been served until you have taken atleast one bite.~ If you don’t like it after one bite then don’t eat it. I find about 80% of the time kids actually like what’s on their plate.
In interesting face is that it takes 30 tries of a new food before a child’s taste buds change! So just continuing to give a kid the same food over and over often will change behavior!
I wish this was true at my house, they are all too picky and sometimes even their friends are picky, 2 of them don’t drink milk at meals and get very upset with me when I say milk or water instead of pop or pop to them. Their cousins eat really good but none of it rubs off onto my kids. My sister and I always have to pack our own coolers when going on day trips because her kids eat the opposites of what mine do. How strange.
I love your fruit bowl from yesterday it’s gorgeous, almost to pretty to eat but also so yummy I’d have to eat it.
My kids are usually the inspirers. 🙂 Although, at such young ages they just get funny looks or their friends try and end up still having a plate full of cucumbers which they push over to my kids. The best was when my 7 year old ordered a house salad when we went out to eat with some friends, “A salad? That’s it?”
I have to say with picky or non picky eaters you like what you like. I know I do. Luckily I like healthier things but there are some things I will NOT eat it kind of makes us who we are but there is not harm in trying new things.
I agree with you. My daughter ate a mango today because of pressure from me and her brother and she even said she liked it when minutes before she was saying she didn’t. And thanks for the kiwi recipe! I’ve got kiwis in my fridge I need to use up so this will be perfect! Once again LOVE your blog. Thank you!
This is so true! My son has become a MUCH better eater since he started preschool and sees other kids his age eating different things. Thank goodness for peer pressure when it comes to getting a picky eater to eat!
We do the same as Annette, no negative comments when you haven’t even tried it yet. My son might take a bite of something new and then say, “It’s not too bad” but then still not want anymore. But you are right about it helping to see their peers eating things. I am not a big fan of my kids buying the lunch at schooo, but doing this once in a while has opened them up to trying some new things. I only wish I knew some kids that liked broccoli (aside from my 3 year old who is so far not convincing her older brothers).
Thanks for sharing an awesome information .
Hello, thank you for sharing this useful blog. My 3-year-old daughter is very picky eater lately, I’ve tried many ways and cooked a lot of different dishes but they were all hopeless. When I was looking for information online, I found this article and I applied it right away. There have been positive developments.