3 Steps to help picky eaters


So many Canadian families face this problem: You make a large family meal and your kids only take two bites, or you wish there were meals everyone could agree on.

The good news is that taking control of dinner hour is within your reach. Whether you are dealing with picky eaters, rushed mealtimes or other dinner table dilemmas, this year’s Nutrition Month campaign – Take the Fight Out of Food – has a solution. I’ll walk you through a 3-step problem-solving approach, which works well for nutritional concerns in general.


The Scenario:

Jessica works full-time and prepares dinner for her family every night. She often struggles to get a meal on the table that everyone will enjoy. One child is quite picky, one doesn’t want to try new things, and no one agrees on the foods they like.

1. Spot the problem

Jessica’s struggle is making family meals that everyone will enjoy.

2. Get the facts

Jessica visits and searches “picky eaters.” She reads that parents and children have different jobs at mealtime – and she’d never thought about it that way before. Her job is to decide which nourishing foods are served, when dinnertime is, and where they will eat. It is up to her children to decide what and how much to eat from what she offers.

Jessica is relieved to have a framework for a plan, with separate roles for herself and her kids. She quickly realizes that some small changes can make mealtime more enjoyable for everyone. Now that she knows that it’s her children’s job to determine how much to eat, she can stop telling them to “eat everything on their plate.” Plus, she now knows not to let the kids decide where they want to eat, which is often in front of the TV instead of at the dinner table.

As she continues to read information about picky eating on Eat Right Ontario and Healthlink BC websites, she learns that children take nutrition cues from their parents, so she can set a good example by preparing and eating nourishing choices. She admits to herself that she rarely eats vegetables, and realizes her kids won’t either! She also finds out that:

  • Children’s appetites can be erratic and that’s okay! The amount her children eat will vary each day depending on their appetite, fatigue, activity level and whether or not they are having a growth spurt. It doesn’t always mean they are picky – it is normal.
  • Getting kids involved with grocery shopping, prepping and cooking food can help them become interested in trying new things.
  • It can take 8-15 tastes or more before a child will like a new food.
  • Kids may seem picky or may eat a small amount because they are simply not hungry at meal times.
  • It’s best to offer three meals and two or three snacks at regular times each day and to make sure kids aren’t grazing throughout the day. This will help the kids come to the table hungry since even a little milk, juice or few crackers can spoil a child’s appetite.

3. Seek support

Jessica feels better knowing that she’s not the only mom with picky eaters. Up to 35% of toddlers and preschoolers are described by their parents as picky eaters too! She finds some online support groups to talk to other parents about mealtime craziness. They share stories, swap recipes and inspire each other.

This is where dietitians can help too. Find a dietitian in your area at, or dial *8-1-1 in BC and ask to speak to a dietitian for quick support and questions. You can also try your local grocery store, which may have staff dietitians who offer store tours and cooking classes for kids. Choices Markets in Vancouver does this sometimes. Project Chef is also a great program offered in some Vancouver schools.

Getting your kids more involved in shopping, prepping, and cooking meals will make them more interested in family meals. Start by cooking these three kid-friendly options from the Nutrition Month Feature Recipes:

Look for more recipes on the Cookspiration app, and choose one that is marked as “kid approved” or “kids choice.”

Did you know that Dietitians of Canada has led a Nutrition Month Campaign for more than 30 years? This blog post was adapted from materials found on the DC Nutrition Month website.

This post was originally posted on my UBC blog. Check it out along with my other articles here. 

Share your thoughts + comments with Melissa (upbeet, RD)!


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