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How We’re Dealing With A Picky Eater

how to get a picky toddler to eat

Oliver has always been a picky eater. He’s never been adventurous with food. The people that say, “have them try all foods as a baby, never quit giving it to him”? None of that has ever worked. He’s also refused anything green (kid won’t eat the green veggie straws). So while he never tried a whole lot, he was, at least, good at eating his staples. Mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, most fruit, a quesadilla…typical kid food. We’ve gone through some periods of time though, y’all- kid won’t eat aaaanything. All he would ask for is “ma-mawow.” Marshmallows. Um, no.

I’m going to disclaim that this post has no resolution as it’s still an ongoing struggle for us. There is no magical “do this and get your kid to eat AMAZING FOREVER” secret in this post. But I know a lot of parents struggle with this, and a lot of kids go through this phase. So I thought I would just share what we do, what we’ve done during eating strikes, and how we handle our picky eater!

Also disclaiming that this struggle with us has only and does only pertain to Oliver. Zoey is a TANK and eats #allthefood. Which I think shows that it’s not necessarily about parenting and how you introduce foods. We did the exact same things with Oliver and Zoey, yet they’re drastically different in what they’ll eat. Just something to keep in mind!

picky eater tips

  • First and foremost, we are really, really strict about absolutely no snacks if he doesn’t eat his meal. We do not back down on this one! If he says he’s hungry later, we offer him (reheated) the same dinner or lunch he refused earlier. Kids are so quick to learn behaviors. If they know they can get a snack without eating their meal- that’s exactly what they’ll start doing! We don’t force Oliver to sit at the table with his meal. If he gets up and says he doesn’t want it, we just let him know he won’t get any snacks until he eats. We’re still going back and forth on the best way to handle this, but right now it’s just a loosing battle to force him to sit. So far we’ve found that he’s more likely to eat and come back to it than if we try to force him and sit the whole time.
  • In phases of more extreme pickiness or food strikes, I’m really strict on making sure his snacks are health(ier). I used to not worry about this too much and was fine with veggie straws or goldfish. When he’s going through one of those crazy phases, though, his snack options are an apple and peanut butter, pretzels and hummus, yogurt, unsweetened applesauce with cinnamon- something that is pretty decent for him. We’re big fans of fruit smoothies with spinach. He loves these, and that way I KNOW he’s getting something good in everyday! If he’s not getting anything decent in meals, I’m gunna get it to him in his snacks! Truthfully he doesn’t eat these quite as often, but I tell myself he’ll eat when he’s hungry! And honestly, marshmallows and veggie straws aren’t exactly filling him up, anyway.
  • He drinks WATER! He gets chocolate milk at breakfast, and if he gets a snack at night, he gets a little milk with that. But he drinks water all day long. Occasionally, if he eats some of his meal, he’ll get watered down apple juice. We really try to not fill him up on sugary drinks, though, especially if he isn’t eating right. I’ve actually pretty much quit buying apple juice because it becomes all he asks for. If he likes water, why am I going to condition him away from that with sugar?!
  • I offer him something I KNOW he likes at every meal. Oftentimes he chooses not to eat it, but I know he’s CHOOSING to and not because I’m forcing him to try all new foods. I know Oliver is not a kid to be adventurous with food. He never was. I’m definitely not going to force that on him now when he’s being picky. He does love black beans and sweet potatoes, so I generally try to offer one of those two at dinner time. At lunch I try to offer a fruit I know he likes, and, honestly, we usually do chicken nuggets or mac and cheese, which he usually eats no problem. Sometimes he even goes through phases where he doesn’t eat that, though, so then I definitely make sure there’s a fruit option he likes!

    mom blog picky eater

    Chicken patty, grapes, and veggie straws. A go to because my picky eater will eat most of this!

  • I ask him what he wants. Since he’s old enough now to have an opinion and answer, I’ve started asking him what he wants and giving him time to respond. He usually picks peanut butter and jelly or mac and cheese, and even then he can refuse to eat it. BUT I can at least remind him that HE chose it, so therefore that’s what he can eat. I’m hoping eventually this sense of responsibility will make him feel important enough to actually eat it…
  • We still have a feeew go-to’s that work. Like spaghetti. Kid loves spaghetti with ground beef, so that meal is made a least once a week, and then we have leftovers. I make this whenever I start to really get worried that he isn’t eating.
  • Find his one meal and keep it consistent. This one is obviously preference, but Oliver loves eggs and a bagel for breakfast, so that’s what he gets. He usually eats this, it just takes him a looong time. Which brings me to…
  • We try not to rush him. This was, admittedly, hard on nights when he has soccer practice. But Oliver has, like, no attention span. So he eats a few bites, wants to go play, comes back and eats more. So he eats his breakfast, it just usually takes about 30-45 minutes total. It’s not my favorite thing, but as long as he’s eating, I’m fine.
  • Work with what they like! Both of my kids are snackers. They don’t do great at meals, but they LOVE to snack. I’ve begun making a little “baby charcuterie” board for them. It’s generally blueberries, apples, colby jack cheese, cut up string cheese, pretzels, crackers, and then a side of hummus. They love this so much!! It’s fun for them, it’s all things that are *decent* for them, and it’s filling. It’s not the strictest definition of a meal, but it’s better than Kraft Mac and Cheese!

how to handle a picky eater

I know some people that are really hardcore. If their kid refuses a meal, they only offer that meal to their kid until they eat it, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We’re not quite there yet. If Oliver really wants something, like applesauce, he’ll eat half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to get it- if he wants it. He’s just really stubborn with a short attention span. We’re trying to be strict but not make meal times a bad experience for him. I do know that kids will eat when they’re hungry! I was a picky kid, and I really don’t worry about it since I’m not letting him fill up on sugar and all things bad! I’m also not a super health nut, so if my kids will eat a whole meal that includes chicken nuggets, I’m not going to be upset because they’re not eating quinoa. I want my kids to eat well and again, we don’t fill on sugar. But I think if you have a really picky eater, you choose your battles!! If you are looking to help your children eat healthier, though, make sure to check out this guest post Kara wrote for this site!

If you have any tips for your picky kiddos, leave em in the comments below! Always looking to try new things if it helps Oliver eat a little better!

Have a phenomenal day!

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how to deal with a picky eater

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