I was off of work today and decided to go all out for dinner tonight. I made melt in your mouth ribs, whole grain wheat bread, roasted red potatoes, pineapple, and brussel sprouts. While my 9 year-old was stoked about what was for dinner, my 5 year-old was not. She proceeded to give me the million reasons why she didn’t need to eat her brussel sprouts (in particular), including: “I remember trying them when I was 4 and didn’t like them.” I mentally rolled my eyes and thought “serenity now.” Why can’t my kid just eat without a debate?

I calmly gave her the explanation that the meal was perfectly planned for her nutritional needs. I wanted her to get the protein in the ribs, the vitamin C in the pineapple (since she just started kindergarten and I didn’t want her to get sick), etc. I tried telling her of the nutritional value of brussel sprouts. I told her my job was to make sure she grew and was healthy. Meanwhile, my son asked, “Mom, why bother, she doesn’t like them?” My answer was “because the average kid takes 14 introductions to a new food before he or she will integrate it into his or her diet.” Translation: try a food 14 times before you give up on it. In the end, I didn’t get her to take more than our baseline family rule which is one bite (and swallow it) before declaring that you don’t like something. A lot of thanks I got from that one for my extra effort today. I figured that if I’m struggling with getting kids to eat, so are other parents. Sometimes it helps to know you aren’t alone. It can be exhausting, believe me, I know.

Here are a few tips for that picky eater:

  1. Keep offering a good variety of healthy foods.
  2. Try preparing the same food in different ways (e.g., cut veggies in different ways/shapes, try various seasonings or methods of cooking, or offer a dipping sauce to go with the veggie).
  3. Don’t be a short-order cook. About the worst thing you can do is make your picky eater a different meal after he or she expresses dislike over the first option. If your child knows you’ll make something else if he or she throws a fit, then you better believe you’ll see more fits.
  4. If the child is old enough, have the child help shop at the grocery store. A child is more inclined to eat what is cooked for dinner if he or she helped choose it.
  5. Offer an option (when you’re deciding what to make). I will often ask my kids, “Would you rather have peas or green beans with dinner?” It’s hard for kids to make the argument that they don’t like what they choose.
  6. Avoid nutritionally empty foods altogether. If your child is never given french fries, nuggets, mac and cheese, and ramen noodles, then you won’t ever a have a child who will only eat those foods (the child won’t cry for what the child never knows).

Having a picky eater can be extremely frustrating. Take heart, you’re extra effort is well worth it.