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Learning to Love Food – Picky Eaters

One major concern for parents is getting their kids to eat healthy foods that provide nutrients and energy for their day. When a child is a picky eater, this can result in a lot of stress and even animosity around mealtime.

By: Kelly Atyeo-Fick, B.A.Sc., M.H.Sc., P.H.Ec.

One major concern for parents is getting their kids to eat healthy foods that provide nutrients and energy for their day.  When a child is a picky eater, this can result in a lot of stress and even animosity around mealtime.  This typically starts when your child is a toddler.1,2 Do not fear!  This is very common as your child is learning so many new things that they sometimes resort to the same foods for comfort.1 Also, sometimes toddlers aren’t as hungry because their growth patterns begin to slow down.1,2

Yet, there are opportunities to get your child learning healthy eating behaviours during this time.

Parents Teaching Kids!

A parent’s relationship with food can impact a child’s relationship with food. For example, if you are constantly saying that a particular food is bad, your child will likely avoid that food.1,2

Avoid these “negative” comments towards specific foods and instead cook with your kids and be open to trying new foods.1,2 Experimenting with ingredients in your kitchen will get you kids trying different tastes and textures.1,2

In general, parents must choose “what” food is offered, “when” and “where”.3 This helps set your child on a routine by designating meal and snack times.  It also allows children to learn their hunger cues.4

Let Your Child Teach You!

Letting your child find out their own likes and dislikes is an important learning process.  From the time they are toddlers right up to adolescents, your child is responsible for deciding “how much” and “whether” they’d like to eat what is being offered.3,4 Sometimes children may need to be exposed to food 10-15 times before they’ll even try it!1  Be patient and allow them to say “no”. Their food patterns may change from day-to-day, so it’s key to make sure all meals offered provide good nutrition.2

Healthy Options for Picky Eaters

Since you really want to maximize the amount of nutrients at each meal/food occasion, try to select foods that are “nutrient dense”.  Some options that a picky eater may be interested in trying include2,4:

  • avocado
  • whole grain pasta
  • broccoli
  • brown rice
  • sweet potatoes
  • chicken
  • squash
  • yogurt
  • eggs
  • cheese
  • potatoes

Try making a healthy meal that doesn’t have too many ingredients. 

Almond Crusted Chicken Fingers with Sweet Potato “Plum” Sauce

This chicken finger recipe is a great one for picky eaters because they will be able to taste it either plain or with a sauce (depending on their age & how adventurous they are!).

Chicken and Pasta Salad

This is a great recipe to make for kids because there are veggies, chicken and whole grain pasta in the dish – packing a lot of nutrition.  Best of all, your child can choose if they want to eat it separately or together.  Also, give them the option of whether they’d like to try it plain or with the dressing.  If they opt for plain, the next time encourage them to try something new (without forcing!).

Plain and Simple!

If your child is not keen on bold flavours or spices, stick to the basics.  Chicken is a complete protein with all the necessary amino acids to support a child’s growth and development.   Making a simple meal with a plain chicken breast and some vegetables (sweet potatoes, peas, carrots) on the side is great for a picky eater.  Asking them how they’d like to cook the chicken or what side dish they want at the next meal occasion may spark the conversation for more food exploration.  Fortunately, experts suggest that the picky eater stage is just a phase! 3 And luckily chicken is usually a big win with kids!


  1. National Center For Infants, Toddlers and Families. (2014). How to Handle Picky Eaters. Retrieved April 3, 2016, from http://www.zerotothree.org/child-development/health-nutrition/how-to-handle-picky-eaters.html#Pickytoddlers
  2. Ask Dr Sears. (2015). Picky Eater. http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/feeding-eating/feeding-infants-toddlers/picky-eater
  3. Ellyn Satter Institute. (2016). Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding. Retrieved April 3, 2016, from  http://ellynsatterinstitute.org/dor/divisionofresponsibilityinfeeding.php
  4. Remmer, S. (2015). How This Well-Meaning Habit is Enabling Your Picky Eater. http://www.yummymummyclub.ca/blogs/sarah-remmer-the-non-diet-dietitian/20150324/help-for-parents-with-picky-eaters


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