Picky Eaters: 7 Suggestions to End Family Dinner Battles


Are your children picky eaters who pout or refuse to eat the meals you serve? If you don’t want to become a short order cook, these 7 suggestions can help.

If your kids are picky eaters, we’ve got some great ideas today to help you get them to eat the healthy delicious meals you prepare for dinner. 

Picky Eaters: 7 Suggestions to End Family Dinner Battles - Kenarry.com

Welcome to “Ask Kenarry,” a feature on our blog, where our friends, fans and followers ask us to gather ideas for their home or family. The question most recently posed was “What ideas or strategies do you have for children who are picky eaters?” We threw out the question to our followers on social media and did a little online research to gather seven suggestions to help your family put an end to dinner time battles.

ASK KENARRY QUESTION: What ideas or strategies do you have for children who are picky eaters?

A friend of mine is frustrated and wondered about ideas or strategies for children who are picky eaters. She wanted to know whether other families facing the same issue serve one meal or make something separate they know their kids will eat. She’s tired of mealtime battles and PB & J every day.

Suggestion for Picky Eaters #1: Determine the Root of the Problem.

“I’d start by the battle itself. What is the kid saying? Does he/she give exact reasons (texture/colour/feeling icky afterwards)? Sometimes there are fears behind the resistance (will I choke? will seeds grow in my stomach? the puree reminds me of something disgusting in my mouth) and sometimes the food becomes the battleground for other things that are bothering the child’s mind.” — Paula, Argentina

Suggestion for Picky Eaters #2: Don’t Allow Mid-Day Snacking.

“Everyone eat the same, and no grazing during the day. You just want them to eat, so you give them a graham cracker etc, then at mealtime they aren’t hungry enough to overcome their pickiness. And be ready for a battle and mom angst but then, a more adventurous eater.” – Liz, Michigan.

Suggestion for Picky Eaters #3: Offer Mix and Match Meals.

“We did one meal, but tried to at least occasionally make it something quite customizable. For example, our Thai chicken wraps (flour tortillas, rice, vegetables in two parts, grilled chicken, and peanut sauce) could be assembled including or leaving out specific things, or using a mild or spicy sauce. I suspect some dinners were rice and a tortilla, but at least we were eating from the same menu! Pastas with separate sauces and add-ins are another example–the kids nearly always liked pasta with cheese.” – Lois, Michigan

Suggestion for Picky Eaters #4: Encourage and Affirm When Your Child Tries New Foods.

“For my daughter, I usually offer one ‘safe’ or good food alongside a food she doesn’t like. I control the amount of the preferred food, however, by telling her she can have more if she takes a bite of other food. Of course if she tries it and truly can’t/won’t do it she can have the food she likes. I try to have her at least taste it and give over the top affirmation when she does take a taste.” – Sarah, Michigan

Suggestion for Picky Eaters #5: Allow One Alternative Option.

“We don’t make separate meals. We fix their plate with whatever we’re having. But I usually make sure if we’re having salad or a veggie they don’t like that I also include a fruit they like on their plates since that’s easy. After awhile at the table if they haven’t eaten we say, ‘If you don’t like what we’re having for dinner, you can have peanut butter and jelly.’ And they definitely don’t get dessert if they didn’t try and eat a decent meal!” – Carrie, Michigan

Suggestion for Picky Eaters #6: Teach Your Child to Politely Say “No” to Foods and Be Patient During Meals.

“Sometimes you just have to figure out what works best for you and ignore the well-meaning (but often hurtful or at least frustrating) advice of others. This is what we’ve settled on: [Our daughter] does not have to eat what we are eating, but she does have to sit quietly while everyone else eats. When we are done, I usually let her help herself to something else, but before she was old enough to do that I would make her something. If she took one bite of everything we were eating without spitting it out, then I give her a graham cracker or some similar snack to munch on until we are done eating. As adults, we are allowed to say no to foods, so I think kids should be too, but not at the inconvenience of everyone around them (or of mom). So this is our middle ground. The whole “she’ll eat when she’s hungry enough” doesn’t work for us, because [our daughter] truly would not eat. And then the temper tantrums from hunger are out of control. I personally cannot handle going through that hell every single time. So that’s what works for us. And if she can’t wait patiently while we eat, she gets put into timeout until she can sit quietly again. It only took a couple of days of that though before she learned.” — Karen, Michigan

Suggestion for Picky Eaters #7: Involve Your Kids in Making Meals.

In the NY Times article, “The Picky Eater Plan: 12 Ideas to Take Back the Dinner Table,” Susan Sampson suggests involving children in planning and preparing meals. Kids will often eat better if they feel they have some ownership in what’s being served. Have them help you find recipes online that you can make together. Kelly from Smart School House offers 10 Recipes to Try with Your Toddlers. Another great resource for fun, creative kid-friendly foods is the blog, Kitchen Fun with My Three Sons.

Food Ideas for Picky Eaters

Looking for other ideas to help feed your picky eaters? Follow our Pinterest board for Food Ideas the Kids Will LOVE.

While you’re here be sure to check out these other kid friendly recipes on Ideas for the Home by Kenarry® – 

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  1. We lived this story out. My daughter is now 13 and is still pretty picky. I spent years short order cooking, or making a bland version of what we were eating in a separate pan for her.

    The one thing we always insisted on was she had to at least taste what we had.

    When she turned 9, we showed her how to make scrambled eggs so if she didn’t like what was on the menu, she could make her own dinner. She still occasionally does this for herself

    1. What a great idea to teach them how to make their own alternate option if they don’t like what the family is having for dinner! Thanks for sharing, Sandi!

  2. I think it’s very important to offer small children choices whenever possible. Everyone has to try one bit of everything, and after one bite they can choose one thing they absolutely hate and don’t have to eat (like the peppers in the spaghetti sauce). Hello from Let’s Get Real (co-hosting this week).

  3. I absolutely hate the term picky eater. Labeling the child as picky affirms their “pickiness.” Instead I let my 9year old be opinionated about what foods he likes and dislikes while still serving him a bland or tomatoless version of what we’re eatin. By giving him control over his own body and his own taste buds, he’s learning to respect and listen to what his body is telling him and he’s learning to experiment with new foods at his pace.

  4. I agree with Karen, kids should have the right to say no to foods they don’t like. I also, agree with #1. You have to know what is causing the issue. I have a very picky eater who has sensory issues. So there are different reasons why it is hard for him to try new foods. Great post. Stopping by from do tell tuesday.

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  6. I can’t say I blame you, Christine, especially since one of your kids has food allergies. Perhaps Lois’ idea about making mix and match meals would work great for your family. Thank you so much for featuring the story this week on the Wednesday Round-Up! We’re thrilled!

  7. That’s an awesome idea. I love how you let your son pick one dinner each week. Thanks so much for sharing the idea with our readers, Steph.

  8. Great tips! I remember back in the days when I was a very picky eater. My mother always encouraged me to sample small bites of different foods but I absolutely despised vegetables (except carrots & potatoes), meats, and even some fruits. To this day I still have a love-hate relationship with lima beans, but that’s about it.

    I’ve actually developed a fascination with fruits, vegetables, grains, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, spices, legumes – you name it! I even juice and indulge in homemade raw foods on a regular basis.

    Though I was a strong-willed child convinced that I could never love such things, mom knew exactly what she was doing and it worked!

    1. Thanks, Dominique! That’s a great encouragement for all of us, moms, who are trying to encourage our kids to try a bite of everything. Perseverance pays off! It certainly take a lot of patience when a strong willed child doesn’t want to cooperate or try.

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  10. Hi…stopping over from Think and Make Thursdays and this title sucked me right in! I have 2 little guys who are fairly picky. One is EXTREMELY picky. We’ve tried lots of different ways to get him to eat dinner but we have a long way to go. Unfortunately, I’m not an adventurous eater so I know exactly where he’s coming from and can empathize but I do really hope he gets better as he gets older…all these tips help – thanks!

    1. Thanks, Amy! I’m glad to hear these tips gave you some ideas to try with your little guys. You mentioned you’ve already tried some things before reading this post. What’s worked the best for you so far?

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