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#34: Getting a Picky Toddler to Eat Without Short Order Cooking

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How To Avoid Short-Order Cooking

Short-Order Cooks: Parents who: ask their child what they want for each meal, then make it; give LOTS of meal alternatives; get their child something else when they deny a meal; sometimes feel like failures for giving in when they WANT their child to eat what they made.

Short-Order Kitchens: Frustrating places where alternative meals are always on-deck, pantry favorites are forever available in place of meals, and exhausted parents automatically make kid-approved meals alongside their own.

Feeling seen? Triggered? Attacked? 😅  I promise it’s OKAY if you’re in this position right now. I was once, too. Now cut yourself some slack for surviving life as a parent (it’s allowed), and let’s get you out of it, yeah?!

In This Episode, We’ll Walk You Through…

  • How to stop short-order cooking (03:25)
  • Tips on better ways to cook for your picky eater (05:45)
  • How to get your child to actually eat what you cook (08:45)
  • Easy ways to make healthier meals for picky eaters (12:15)

Listen To The Full Episode Here:

Need Some Picky Wins In Your Life (Or Kitchen)?

I share SO many more tips and tricks like the ones in this podcast episode in my picky eater membership, Simple Steps to Picky Wins

Recently, Picky Wins had a glow-up: going from a course to a membership. Why? Because it’s one thing to learn ABOUT reducing picky eating, it’s a whole other thing when you’re in the trenches with your kid and ALL the questions come up. I realized I could help you see results faster with a monthly membership that includes weekly coaching calls and frequent Q&As with me, plus a supportive community of other moms to support you. Because now, when you start to wonder, “HOW do we get away from this ONE brand?!” you’ll have me—and the rest of the Picky Wins community—there to get you answers!

We’ll only open the doors to Picky Wins a few times a year. Get on the waitlist so you don’t miss your chance to join!

Episode #34: How To Avoid Short-Order Cooking (Complete Transcript)

Your picky eater only likes a handful of foods, and it’s a problem because you want to eat different foods for dinner, they don’t want to eat what you made, and then you’re stuck in this position of being a short-order cook, just going off their whims at the moment of what they feel like having!

You’re not happy to be doing this extra work, and what’s even the point of cooking a meal if your kids aren’t going to even try it?! They’re not happy because they don’t want what you made, they tell you something they want, and then they still aren’t happy about it. And then maybe you even feel like you need to get them something else. This isn’t serving you and it’s honestly not serving them when the goal is to work towards them eating what you made!

Welcome back to Feeding Toddlers Made Easy. Yes it CAN get easier, I promise. I’m Kacie Barnes, MCN, RDN, and I’ve not only seen my own picky eater’s eating improve, but hundreds of other kids’ too. Take a second to hit “Follow” on the podcast so I’m always here when you need me. “Don’t ever leave me…cuz I’d find you” (Wedding Crashers? Isla Fisher? Anyone? 🤷🏻‍♀️ 😂 )

What Is A Short-Order Cook? And How Do You Know If You’re Doing It?

Being a short-order cook to your picky eater looks like:

  • Asking your kid at meal time (or even after you’ve already made something else) what they’d like—then making it.
  • Giving LOTS of alternatives to the meal you intended to make or already made.
  • Getting them something else to eat after serving the meal, and they don’t want it.
  • You want them to eat the original meal you made, and part of you hates getting them something else. Or you feel like a failure when you do.

This Is What Happens In A Short-Order Kitchen:

  • You have back up meals on-deck.
  • You go to the pantry when they refuse a meal.
  • You rely on pouches, crackers, or bars when they don’t want the meal you made.
  • You automatically prepare one of their favorite meals without offering the meal you made yourself or wanted to make.

Quick Tips On Cooking For Picky Eaters

To avoid promoting picky eating and making it worse, you’re going to want to do these things:

  1. Avoid over-catering.
  2. You provide, they decide. That means you offer the options, and you let them choose what and how much they eat. (Just make sure you’ve included at least one food you know is safe for them!)
  3. Get in the habit of giving 2 or 3 choices. (“Do you want cereal or a smoothie for breakfast?”)
  4. Remember that it’s okay if not every meal is perfectly balanced. If you make pulled pork tacos and they end up eating just tortillas and cheese, it’s okay. You don’t have to make them chicken nuggets to make up for not eating the meat.

How To Get Your Child To Actually Eat What You Cook

#1 Start with small portions of new foods. It’s okay to serve components separately, or even to add tiny drops of sauces for exposure.

#2 Have them help you cook! This engages them in more of the process.

#3 Use a teeny tiny tasting spoon or tasting plate. This way, they won’t have an intimidating amount of a new food or flavor on their plate.

How To Cook Healthy Meals For Picky Eaters

The best way to get started cooking healthier meals for your picky eater is to use my picky eater starter guide! Download the guide, then fill out your list of their safe foods, and look at what fruits and vegetables are on their list. If you have any, you can make sure to plan those into daily meals EVEN IF they don’t “go” with the rest of the meal you’re making. (Like, fruit can totally be served at dinnertime if it’s a serving of produce that they will eat.)

Then, make simple swaps like choosing olive oil or avocado oil for cooking most often, and incorporating more whole grains. Even chickpea- or lentil-based pastas can be a great transition food!

Just Don’t Sneak Healthy Foods In!

Sneaking in foods they don’t like can backfire because if they find you out, they lose trust and will be way less willing to eat anything new or different looking later. So for example, have them add the spinach to the smoothie, so they can see it going in there.

Take Simple Steps. Get Picky Wins!

We go over much more tips like these in Simple Steps to Picky Wins, my picky eater membership. I turned Picky Wins into a membership recently so that I could help you see results faster with weekly coaching calls, frequent Q&A sessions, and a supportive community of other moms going through the same thing. So when you have those questions like, “Is my kid the only one who doesn’t like pizza?” or, “I totally lost it at dinnertime tonight when they refused to eat anything, am I alone?” You’re going to have other moms right there with you. 

We’ll only open the doors a couple times a year! Make sure you’re on the waitlist so you know when you can get in.

Sharing Is Caring!

If today’s episode was helpful, tell a friend, tell your partner, tell your mom! I so appreciate you spreading the word about FTME, and 5-star ratings and reviews are SO helpful too. Make sure you’re following the podcast so you get notified when new episodes come out.

And if there’s a topic you’d like me to cover, hop on over to and let me know!

Grab the Picky Eater Starter Guide Here!

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