Proper Nutrition for Picky Eaters

Julie Simpson, RD, is a pediatric dietitian at Banner Children's Cardon Children’s Medical Center. For more information on this topic, talk with your physician or call (480) 412-5437 (KIDS).

Question: My son is a picky eater and I’m worried he’s not getting proper nutrition. What steps can I take to make sure he maintains a healthy weight?

Answer: Most of us were picky about food at some point during childhood, so your son’s choosiness is likely normal. Some kids may have had a bad experience with a certain food, others may be sensitive to texture, taste or smell, and some are just plain cautious about trying something new. 

Before mealtime, there are some steps you can take to make food more exciting. Let your son help with the grocery shopping and meal planning, so he has input into what’s served. You can also invite him to help prepare meals by giving him age-appropriate tasks like mixing a salad or measuring ingredients. Also, don’t overwhelm him with options at mealtime. Before you start preparing, give him two choices that meet with your approval (like steamed broccoli or cooked carrots) and let him select the one to be served at mealtime.

The environment you create for mealtime can also encourage healthy eating. Eat meals together so you can model healthy behaviors (you are your child’s most important role model, if they see you making healthy choices, they will too). Remove distractions like television and cell phones during mealtime, and don’t force food, this will only cause stress for you and your son; your son is more likely to eat in a relaxed atmosphere. Share positive memories of food, such as holiday gatherings or your childhood experiences, and make the meal fun by using colorful or themed serving ware. 

Kids love tiny foods, so consider serving baby carrots, mini pancakes, grape tomatoes or baby potatoes as finger foods. Always offer a food at least 10 times over a 6-month period before taking a break for six months. Try a “one-bite rule”. Anytime a food is prepared encourage your son to take one bite; if he does not like it, then he does not have to eat it, but when that food is prepared again encourage him to take one bite, again. His taste buds might appreciate the food as he gets older. 

Talk with your pediatrician at your son’s annual well-child appointment about his eating habits. Your pediatrician can monitor his weight and give you additional advice to encourage him to expand his food interests, or refer you to a dietitian for support.