How to Help a Picky Eater Try New Foods

picky eater

Okay, I don't blame her. I wouldn't eat a corn dog either.

Oh, the picky eater.  It’s the kind of thing that sometimes makes a Mom want to pull her hair out.  It’s also the kind of thing that sometimes makes a Mom ashamed.  Because, really, how do you tell the Mom that said her kids love carrots and hummus that your child has eaten 17 consecutive meals of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (crusts cut off) and cheese crackers.

I’m sorry, but it’s just hard to keep your Mom dignity when that happens.  Or, maybe that’s just me.

We’ve dealt with (and still deal with) picky eaters at our house.  Not all of the kids are picky, and not all of the adults are non-picky.  (Like how I said that diplomatically?)  But, I think we’ve made great strides on all of picky eater problems in our home.

10 Ideas to Help You Deal with a Picky Eater (and Get Them to Try New Foods)

1. BriberyI’m not too proud to admit it.  I’ve done it, and I would do it again.  If you don’t want to click through the link to read about the bribery we’ve done, I’ll give you the quick overview of it.  We gave each child (both the ones that were picky and the one that was not picky) a dime if they tried a new food (or retried something they didn’t like previously).

If they tried seven new things at the same meal, it would have still been a dime.  So, the most I was out per meal was thirty cents.  It was the single most effective thing for us, and was worth the money to us.  (And, we eventually moved to a point where nobody remembered the money.)

I would not, however, offer other food as a bribe.  I would rather they skip a carrot than to have eating a baby carrot mean they get a snack cake.

(Sorry that this is my longest explanation, but it was so successful for us with our picky eater situation.  I imagine that I spent less than $20 between all of the kids in all of the time that we did it.)

2. Take Them Shopping – There is a lot of empowerment that comes in being the person who does the action and gets a say in how something happens.  Once you’re there, why not go to a certain area of the store (produce is perfect!) and ask them to pick something they would like to try for the first time or retry that they hadn’t cared for before.

3. A Certain Number of Bites Rule – I know a lot of people do something like this.  There are a variety of different numbers I’ve heard — a one bite rule, two bites, three bites, or even what my husband’s family called “a no thank you serving.”  (This mentality meant, however, even if it was a food they had tried many, many, many times and still hated, they still had to eat the “no thank you” serving.  I’m not really down with that, but maybe that’s just me.)

We don’t do this (exactly), but we have a similar number of bites rule.  I’ll write about it in the number four.

4. Eat a Certain Amount, but With a Choice –  At our house, there is no set number of bites, and the kids don’t have to try every single thing.  But, I might say, “Okay, there are mushrooms and there’s zucchini.  You need to eat take at least two pieces of one of those.”

This is always met with much more cheerful attitudes than the times I tell them I want them to try a certain number of bites for a particular food.  We all love at least a couple of choices in life, right?

5. Plant a Garden – Once you plant that garden, don’t take care of it all by yourself.  Have your picky eater (and the whole rest of the family!) help with the garden.

My kids are not thrilled about pulling weeds, though they will.  But, they really love planting and harvesting.  This gives them some ownership, and has often made them more willing to try something fresh.

6. Visit a Farmers Market – If you can’t have a garden (or even if you can), this is a fabulous way for your picky eater to be able to ask questions of people who are producing fresh foods to buy.  This is the very thing that made a couple of my kids try honey for the first time.  They were so pleased with the idea of the people we talked to having actually personally gotten the honey from the bees.

Now, I will admit something — they didn’t like the honey.  But, they tried it.  And, maybe they’ll try it again sometime.

7. Combine Favorite Foods with New Foods – This may be difficult, depending on what your picky eater’s favorite foods are.  But, for instance, my eldest loves Asian-style fried rice.  Because of his love for it, when a restaurant we went to added more things (peas, amongst other things) to their fried rice than he was used to, he ate it anyway, thus trying a new food.  (And declaring, “I think I like peas.”)

Of course, rice makes this an easier option.  However, some creativity can make a lot of food combinations possible.

8. Try Ethnic Foods – You never know what kind of food might interest your picky eater.  When my husband and I started dating, he couldn’t remember having been to any restaurants that specialized in a specific regional/country food (except maybe Italian, if that counts).

(Oh yeah, this is the part where I have to point out that we were teenagers when we started dating.)

Yep — that means I took him for likely the first time ever to something like a Chinese restaurant.  He was very uncertain about the whole idea, and he ended up loving it.  Since then, we regularly eat country-specific restaurants – Greek, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, etc.

It became important to my husband, when we had kids, that they try lots of things like that.  So, even my picky eaters have tried things like sushi, gyros, and more authentic tacos than you pick up at Taco Bell.

9. Positive Reinforcement – This really should have been higher on the list, but I don’t want to fix it.  Give your picky eater verbal praise for trying new foods.  Sometimes, when our kids have tried things that have really surprised us, we have gone so far as to call Grandma and Papa to tell them about it.

(I realize that last part probably sounds crazy to someone who has never had a seriously picky eater.  Trust me, it’s exciting to have a child try and like raw spinach when they had a toddlerhood of chicken nuggets.)

10. Relax – Hang on.  I think that “relax” was also my last suggestions for encouraging a reluctant reader as well, wasn’t it?  Well, I still thinks it’s good advice.  I try to get worked up about only the bigger issues in life.  This one is important for their health, but you only have so much control over it.

If your picky eater thinks you’re going to fight with them over it every night, they might do it just to be obstinate.  Kids sometimes don’t have control over a whole lot, and so they might really cling to the power they have over you with this.  It may be the kind of fight where everyone loses.  (This is the advice my pediatrician gave us about potty training.  Best advice ever.)

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings

(Note: If your picky eater child also seems to present many other sensory types of disturbances where things are “too” everything — loud, bright, hot, cold, whatever or the opposite problem where they are constantly seeking out more stimulation, you might want to have them checked out for sensory issues, such as Sensory Processing Disorder/Sensory Integration Dysfunction.  These are real issues, and therapy can help!)

photo credit


Angie Kauffman
Angie, a domestically challenged nerd and mom of three very fun kids, is the founder of Real Life at Home.  Angie also listens to music every chance she gets, writes eBookspodcastsloves Pinterestdocuments the little moments in life on Instagram, and occasionally sleeps.


  1. says

    I have 2 very picky eaters and it drives me crazy so thanks for the tips! Thanks for hosting Angie! I hope you have a wonderful Tuesday.

  2. says

    Great tips! Reminds me a little of what I went through with my niece, but I was lucky because she was 7 so I could be a little tough on her. I get her in the summers, and the first year I got her, she wouldn’t eat anything besides chicken, pizza, and hot dogs.. gross.. it took me 2 summers to kick that habit to the curb!
    I compromise with her by giving her 2 things she likes, ie:(chicken & potato), and 1 thing she doesn’t like ie:(peas).
    seems to work for us. =)

  3. says

    Maybe I’ll try money with my daughter. NOTHING else has worked. I think hers is a control issue mainly – she is insanely stubborn. But maybe also textural, because she will eat baby food pouches but not those foods in their natural states. (And she is 3.)

    I hope I shouldn’t have taken her in for issues yet. She also has a panic attack about getting water in her face, and I really don’t know whether that is normal or not.

  4. says

    I’m pretty lucky. My son is a good eater and except for a few things, my son will eat just about anything I put in front of him.

    My nephew, on the other hand, is very picky. I’ll be passing these tips on to his mom. Thanks for the great tips!

  5. says

    I love the dime idea and shopping idea. We have a great Farmer’s Market in the area I live so we like going there in the summer months. I’m thinking about trying a small garden this year too…but if I think too much longer, the opportunity will have passed! There’s always next year, right? Thanks for the ideas!

  6. says

    My kids are picky sometimes too. You know how one month they might eat blueberries and the next month want nothing to do with them! Oh, well.
    I have found it helpful too in planting some of our own veggies. They’ll eat the cherry tomatoes right off the plant. I’ve also found it helpful it they help me prep the meal sometimes. They might eat some of the veggies I’m chopping. At least I know that got few good foods for the day, even thought it might not be during dinner time! Thanks for the other ideas!

  7. says

    My first is picky, my second eats everything, probably b/c we skipped the baby food and let her eat whatever we were eating when she started solids. I’ll be trying these tips. I also believe in bribery, esp. when potty training.

    • says

      I have never looked at bribery in quite the same way as when one of my professors in graduate school, speaking of behavior modification, asked us if we would show up at work if we weren’t getting paid. She said that we do it for an outcome that we want. So true.

  8. Christina says

    Bless you for adding the part about Sensory Integration Disorder!!! Sometimes it is not pickiness that we are battling but a sensory issue–not easy to recognize but very real. And more common than we realize, especially among children with any of the autism spectrum disorders. Found this out with my first-born child, and because he was my first kid I thought for sure I was “parenting wrong”. :)

  9. JenJ says

    Thanks for the note at the bottom about Sensory Processing Disorder! For years we thought we just dealt with a “picky eater” and 4 pediatricians told us not to worry, that she would outgrow it. They just suggested continue to put the foods on her plate, don’t force her, and eventually she would try them. Finally when she was 7 and losing weight, a occupational therapist started food therapy with her, and it has helped.

    I think your suggestions are great. We have tried most of them, but I may have to try the money idea! Some kids also are more willing to try a new food if they had some part in cooking it.

  10. says

    Great ideas. My middle and youngest children are pickier eaters. My daughter in particular is very picky. However as I child so was I so… LOL
    A rule in my house is you at least have to try a bite. Things that I know she doesn’t overly care for such as onions I will not force the issue. However for others I will make sure she has a tiny bit. I am not fussy on the amount but she has to at least eat a small amount. I will not, I repeat will not make a separate meal for her. :)