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The first step to take with your picky eater (if they freak out about new food)

Does your little one freak out if you try to serve a new food? Do they refuse their plate, get upset, or throw a tantrum?

When you’ve gotten to the point where meals are nerve wracking, and you’re afraid of your little one’s response to new foods, it’s a sign that something needs to change.

When mealtime is upsetting for your little one, it’s stressful for you! And you can be left wondering, when did this get so hard?

Note: this post is sponsored by Picky Eaters; all opinions are my own.

How to Turn Mealtimes Around

A helpful first step to take is to change the vibe at the dinner table.

If your little one is coming to the table prepared to battle, then you’re not going to make any progress with their picky eating.

Some things that can throw off the vibe at mealtimes:

  • Asking or telling them to eat a certain food or a certain amount
  • Requiring them to eat something before they can have another food they like better
  • Any sort of bribing, really!
  • Being negative about their eating, with comments like “you’re so picky” or “you never want anything I make!”
  • Attempting to physically put the food in their mouth for them when they are hesitant or resistant
  • Wearing a frown or rolling your eyes

I fully admit to doing all these things at one time or another, so don’t think you’re a crappy parent if you’ve resorted to these tactics.

When you get frustrated with your little ones’ eating, and you feel like you’re failing, you’ll try ALL THE THINGS, and you sometimes end up in a BAD mood when you don’t see improvement.

Or if you know that your little one is going to complain about what you made, you’re not going to come to the meal with a giant excited smile on your face!

But you CAN bring fun back to mealtimes. And this is something that can drastically change the mood at meals! I know you’re ready for that.

How to Bring Back Fun to Meals

  1. Be silly: Toddlers and young kids LOVE silly. The good news for you? Very little creativity or thought is needed to be silly. Start singing a song in a goofy voice, make a food mustache, pretend you’re a rabbit. Any little thing to show them that you are being silly will invite them to do the same. Starting with silliness will bring their guard down.
  2. Play music: A good song can instantly change the mood! Play something you like while preparing the meal to get your spirits up, then play something they like when you sit down.
  3. Allow a small toy at the table: Many picky eaters HATE when the attention is on them to be trying a food. Instead, have them feed a little doll or animal toy friend so they can be in charge and don’t feel pressured to try something they don’t want to.
  4. Talk about fun things only: Even if you’re dying inside for them to try the veggie, the focus right now is simply about making meals an enjoyable place to be. Creating this positive environment will help lead them to trying new foods in the future. So you are not talking about tasting the food — you’re talking about your little one’s interests. Even if they are 1 or 2, you can spend a little time talking about trucks or Peppa or whatever it is they are into. Obviously they won’t contribute a ton to the conversation but that’s okay! They will enjoy your attention and hearing you talk about something they like.

Start to Break the Routine

Picky eating can worsen when your little one gets too stuck in their routines. Routine in general is absolutely a good thing for toddlers and young kids. But we want to make sure that they can handle some breaks in routine, too. I’ll explain.

Having a meal and snack routine? That’s a great way to bring structure to the day, and make sure your little one isn’t snacking too much in between meals. 

But if they eat the same thing for every breakfast or every lunch? Then we need to work on branching them out a bit!

The more often they see new foods, the more comfortable they will get. You may have heard at some point that it takes up to 10 times of trying a new food for your little one to like it? Well for very picky eaters, they usually need to see it a lot more times than that before deciding to try it.

So you may feel like you’re making ZERO progress by just serving different foods at the meal (not even expecting them to eat those foods) when they don’t touch it. But I assure you that even having the food in a serving dish on the table IS progress! You get those exposure points.

If they rely on having the same few foods all the time, it can get hard to break away from that. 

The way I recommend breaking away from the routine without causing a meltdown is to start by offering new foods at the table but NOT on their plate, combined with serving foods they like in new ways.

Offering New Foods Without a Meltdown

  1. Serve foods family style: no fancy serving dishes necessary! I often will move food to a glass storage container after cooking and serve from there, so clean-up just means putting on a lid and putting it in the fridge. This way they see the new foods without the pressure of the food being on their plate.
  2. Small pieces: if you ARE going to serve something new on their plate, or perhaps on a side “tasting plate” or the very upscale “tasting napkin” we often use, go SMALL. Grain of rice size is the way to go for something new!
  3. Make it fun: remember that part about being silly? Do that with new foods! It can be about fun and exploration, not just, “try this, you’ll like it.” 

Change the Way You Serve the Foods They Like

This is all about appearance, not taste. This is the gateway to bigger changes with new flavors and foods. First, we just want them to get used to the idea that their food is not going to look the same all the time. Ways to change the foods they like:

  1. Cut into different shapes:
    • Small pieces or long sticks
    • Cookie cutters for things like sandwiches, pancakes, or waffles
    • Cut a sandwich in different size shapes: triangles, squares, rectangles
  2. Use a different plate or bowl:
    • Normally serve on a divided toddler plate? Try an undivided plate
    • Squeeze a pouch into a bowl to use a spoon
    • Serve yogurt in a small dish or even drinking cup
  3. Vary the sides:
    • If you’re pretty routine with the foods you pair together (like a PB sandwich and apple slices, for example) change up the side dish to something else they like
    • Offer a selection of dips 

A Fun and Helpful Tool for Picky Eating

The Picky Eaters food picks help you accomplish so many of these goals! They help make meals fun- my kids were delighted naming the characters and pretending to be animals picking up their food. 

Picky Eaters break the routine, since they’re a new fun thing you can use at meals, and they can help you introduce those tiny bite sized pieces of new foods, too!

I love that they are durable and dishwasher safe, plus BPA-free. You can feel good about your little one using these. And anything dishwasher safe is a win in my book.

1 Comment

Paola Molina · October 15, 2021 at 3:31 pm

Hi, I tried to use the code for the food picks and it didn’t work. is there an updated one?

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Kacie Barnes holding an apple
Hi, I’m Kacie!

I’m a mom of two and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. I offer e-guides and e-books (go to my Shop page), workshops, brand partnerships, and nutrition counseling. Check out my blog for nutrition and feeding tips for your little ones.


This post may contain affiliate links. I may earn a commission. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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