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3 steps to change your kids’ picky eating habits

July 15, 2015

When it comes to getting picky eaters to expand their horizons, parents’ opinions are as varied as the vegetables their kids won’t eat. Every parent seems to have a philosophy on the “picky eater problem” but let’s be honest, we have no idea if the principles we adhere to really work. Well, here’s some good news for every parent struggling with the age-old problem of how to handle finicky eaters.

A new study has outlined three easy things that every parent can do to get their kid to eat more vegetables. The best part: it actually works!

Which food philosophy do you adhere to?

Feeding kids is no easy task. Whatever issues arise, you’re forced to deal with them over and over and over, every single day. It can be exhausting. And let’s face it; our kids are smart and tenacious. They know how to work the system (i.e. us!) to get what they want. In these trying times, many of us fall into one of these patterns to cope with the ongoing problem:

The “do whatever is easiest” philosophy

You wanna eat chicken nuggets and Poptarts all day long? Whatever, man. This parent is looking for the path of least resistance. And if anyone wonders why your kid only eats pizza and hot dogs, you may find yourself making excuses for your persnickety little person.

The highly controlled dictator philosophy

If you’ve ever said the following sentence, you may fall into this category: “You will not get up from your seat until you’ve eaten all of your _________.”

This parent is engaged in battle and is determined to win at all costs. However, they may have never thought about what it looks like to win the war.

The begging, pleading, negotiating philosophy

Your kid is in control, and they know it. You spend your time trying to convince them to eat what you’d like them to eat, but ultimately they know who’s in charge. For all of your begging, pleading, whining and worrying, it’s not clear whether any good has come from it at all. What is clear is that the effort as exhausted you, but empowered your kid.

A new way of feeding your kids that actually works

We know that teaching our kids to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables is important for helping them develop a healthy lifestyle, but getting them to eat the recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables per day can feel nearly impossible.

The current study looked at various interventions that parents can do in the process of feeding their kids and determined which of these interventions resulted in kids who were willing to eat a greater variety of fruits and vegetables. They found that when parents employed “The 3 Rs,” it dramatically increased the quantity of fruits and vegetables that their kids ate, including those that their kid previously disliked.

The 3 Rs


This involves providing repeated exposure to a particular fruit or vegetable. It doesn’t even require that your kid eat it, but simply be exposed to it. It’s as easy as placing broccoli on their dinner plate or adding carrots to their lunchbox. Often when we know our kid doesn’t like a particular food (and has been vocal about it), we don’t provide that food to them anymore because we think the food and the effort is wasted. However, this study shows that there is value in repeatedly exposing your child to the foods you desire them to eat.

Role modeling

If you need proof that the old, “Do as I say, not as I do” philosophy doesn’t work, this is it. Modeling healthy eating behaviors for your kids is crucial. If you want them to try a new food, eat it first and let them know how wonderful it is. Don’t require something of your children that you aren’t willing to do yourself. Be a good food role model, and it will pay off in the end.


Kids respond well to positive reinforcement. If they are brave enough to try a bite of broccoli, overwhelm them with praise. Reward them for their efforts in trying new foods and expanding their horizons. Even if they don’t like the new food, remember that repeated exposure can win them over. Consider every bite of healthy food a small step towards victory.

When talking about the picky eater problems in our homes recently, a friend of mine told me how she frames the conversation at her dinner table. She said that whenever her kids say they don’t like something, she always corrects them.

“You mean, you don’t like it yet,” she says.

That “yet” is a big deal. It implies an understanding that kids’ tastes change over time, and even if they didn’t like it when they’ve tried a certain food in the past, they very well may like it in the future. Trying new foods has become a sort of game in their house to see whether this might be the time when they try something and like it. Without knowing it, my friend has incorporate the “3Rs” into her food philosophy.

The next time you feel caught in an ugly cycle where feeding your kids feels like a battle that you’re losing every single day, remember: Repetition, Role-modeling and Rewards. Those simple things can make a big difference in helping a picky eater become a little less picky.