Strategies for Picky Eaters


If you have a picky eater, don’t despair.  You are not alone.  Many of my clients particularly those with autism) are very picky eaters – I’ve had children that could tell the difference between two lot numbers of a particular product and manufacturer. In a case like the above or when they gag at the sight of food, hypersensitivity to smell or taste should be considered, and sensory integration may be important. For the rest of you with picky eaters, here are some things you can do:
  • Always provide food at the meal that your child likes in addition to the “new” food.
  • Include a small portion of a new food and serve everyone at the table the same food
  • Involve your children in food preparation of the “new” food (i.e., ask them to count enough carrot sticks for everyone, serve the broccoli, or stir the fruit salad).
  • Let them try just a small taste – any tiny amount will do.
  • Allow them to spit it out and not swallow it – teaching them a polite way to do so.
  • Inform them of what to expect with the new food.  Gain their trust slowly.
  • Keep trying.  Research show that children may need to be offered a new food at least eight or more times before they will try it.  Introduce a new food 15 times.  If at that point, the child is unwilling, simply move to a different food.
While you don’t want to lose trust with your child by “tricking” them to eat a food, if you can sneak nutrients in without them noticing, this can be a way to get around the need to expand the diet in the short term.  One way to do this is cook and puree vegetables (often starting with sweet orange vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes) – puree them very smooth for very picky eaters and add a bit of the puree to tomato sauce, meat balls, smoothies or other foods. Take it slowly.  Expanding the diet of a picky eater takes time and patience.  Slow steady progress with trust will get you there eventually. There are more ideas and strategies for picky eaters and ways to sneak nutrients into the diet in my book, Nourishing Hope.

Julie Matthews is a Certified Nutrition Consultant who received her master’s degree in medical nutrition with distinction from Arizona State University. She is also a published nutrition researcher and has specialized in complex neurological conditions, particularly autism spectrum disorders and ADHD for over 20 years. Julie is the award winning author of Nourishing Hope for Autism, co-author of a study proving the efficacy of nutrition and dietary intervention for autism published in the peer-reviewed journal, Nutrients, and also the founder of Download her free guide, 12 Nutrition Steps to Better Health, Learning, and Behavior.