5 Ways to Survive Meal Time with Picky Eaters

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Inside: Meal time with kids can be a challenge. Here are a few ways to make it easier for your family.

As much as I love to eat and try new foods, I don’t consider myself a good cook. I can follow a recipe, but if it has more than 5 steps I get easily overwhelmed. So when I spend the energy to make dinner for my family and they don’t like it I get more upset than I probably should.

My four year old has entered the picky eating phase so most of the time we stick to the same 4 or 5 meals that I know everyone likes to eat- tacos, pita pizzas, spaghetti, or cheeseburgers and hotdogs. For someone who likes to try new foods, this can get very boring!

Luckily my now seven year old went through a similar picky eating phase that he has mostly grown out of, so I know there is hope. I’ve started trying to branch out with our menus, but it feels like a never-ending battle sometimes.

Right before Thanksgiving my four year old made a pumpkin pie with his class at pre-k. He came home from school that day really excited about it, so I thought it would be nice to make one together for our family Thanksgiving dinner. It was a simple pumpkin pie recipe with graham cracker crust, pumpkin pie filling, instant vanilla pudding, and whipped cream.

I purchased all of the ingredients and set out to make the pie with my kids. After washing his hands, getting a band-aid for his “boo boo,” a potty break, and washing hands again, my four year old finally said to me, “Mommy I didn’t like the pie I made at school.” Are you kidding me?

I could have let this derail me and given up on making the pie, but we made it anyway. My older son and I licked the bowl and it was quite good. I don’t even remember at this point if my four year old ate the pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, but the rest of us enjoyed it. The point is, don’t let your tiny dictators, stop you from cooking or baking what you want.

Here are a 5 more tips that will make meal time with picky eaters easier.

1. OFFER AT LEAST ONE THING YOU KNOW YOUR KIDS WILL LIKE

Whenever I try a new recipe that I’m not sure whether or not anyone will like I make sure to still offer at least one thing I know the rest of my family will eat. My kids will eat just about any fruit, so we always offer fruit with every meal. This way I feel like they aren’t going to starve if they don’t eat the main course

2. STAY POSITIVE

I know it can be frustrating and easy to raise your voice when things don’t go as planned, but engaging in a battle of the wills with your kids often doesn’t do anything other than get everyone upset. Try to start out positive, hoping that everyone will at least try what you offer, but if they don’t it will go much smoother if your response is, “That’s ok.” It’s important for children to develop a healthy relationship with food at a young age and if all they remember about meal time as a child was fighting, that’s not going to help.

3. TRY REVERSE PSYCHOLOGY

This may sound counterintuitive, but it worked for us. When my now seven year old was four, he would gag himself when we made him eat something he didn’t want to eat. One day, my mom said to him, “You won’t eat that!” and it had the opposite effect. He ate it! So for several weeks we dared him not to eat his meat and it got him to try it. He realized that he loved ground beef and now his favorite food in the world is cheeseburgers.

4. USE A REWARDS SYSTEM

My kids are not only competitive, but they love positive reinforcement. This can work in our favor or against us, but the simple way we use it at mealtime is by offering a small dessert if they eat a “good” dinner. A “good” dinner to me doesn’t necessarily mean cleaning your plate, but at least trying a few bites of vegetables and every food offered. You can also use a sticker chart and give your child a sticker for each day meal time goes well. Then when they have a certain number of stickers they can earn a reward such as an extra book at bedtime, a small toy, or they get to choose a family outing for the weekend.

5. DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU

Too often in the beginning as a mom, I would google things like the best way to get your child to sleep and come up with so many conflicting answers that it stressed me out even more. If it works for your family to cook separate meals for your kids, do it. If you’re a believer in sending your kids to bed hungry if they don’t eat what you cook, then so be it! I have two very strong-willed boys, one who will sit at the table for an hour chewing the same bite just so he doesn’t have to swallow it. So forcing my kids to eat something doesn’t work for me.

Most importantly, don’t give up. If you are in the midst of the challenging phase where you dread dinnertime because you’re afraid it’s going to be a struggle, just remember this too shall pass!

Share in the comments what has helped mealtime with your family more manageable.

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6 comments

  1. You could also maybe add that sometimes they say no they don’t like it but they actually love it (please don’t tell me it’s just my toddler?? Lol). For the longest time, he gags when he sees broccoli. A week ago, I cooked it with cheesy pasta and he ate nothing but broccoli! And I had to go to the shop 3 more times because he keeps asking for them. 😄 was it the cheese? The broth? Or was it me saying he wouldn’t like it?

    Anyway, I’m rambling now. But I suppose I just wanted to say, “I agree. Never give up. Never surrender (to toddlers)!” (*sigh* and now I made myself want to watch Galaxy Quest)

    So yeah, awesome post! 😁

    1. Haha. I feel you! I remember getting so excited when my kids ate chili and then when I made it a few weeks later you would have thought we were torturing them! Kids can be so unpredictable and it makes meal planning feel impossible sometimes!

  2. This is very helpful. I have 8 children so never easy in my house, but we try to accommodate all of them and if it is just one that doesn’t like at least one thing we just try to substitute it with something they do so that way they are still getting all of what they need for a happy plate as we call it:) thanks for sharing!!

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