By Melissa O’Shea, Park Shore Nutritionist

Picky eating, while frustrating for the parent, is very common in children and can stem from a variety of reasons. Some kids may be more sensitive to certain tastes, textures, and smells. While others may be modeling their parents, caregivers, or sibling’s picky eating habits. Children are also looking to become increasingly independent as they get older and may push back on food choices as a result of this. No matter what the cause, we know that punishing, bribing, or making mealtime a battle will only make things worse. As hard as it may be, it is important to remember the division of responsibility when it comes to mealtime – You as the parent are responsible for What, When, and Where and the child is responsible for whether they eat and how much they choose to eat. As parents, we should focus on consistently offering a variety of food during designated times at our preferred spot (i.e. kitchen table). 

One approach to helping kids try new foods, without pressure or tricking them into eating certain foods, is to make it playful and fun. Don’t be afraid to get silly and messy. You will be surprised that just by serving food in a different, fun way or getting your kids involved in meal prep can drastically increase the chances they try something new. Here are some ideas to try:

Try Fun Containers and Tools

Believe it or not, the way in which food is presented or the utensils your child has available to them may spark some interest in trying a new food. Try putting the ingredients of a meal into a mini muffin tin – this can be fun with a deconstructed taco or to make a kid-friendly charcuterie board. Offer chopsticks or a mini spreader at meals to pique some interest.

Utilize Dips

There is something about dipping food that most kids just love. Try to pair a new food with a dip or condiment they already like, such as ketchup, ranch dressing, salsa, hummus, or nut butter. Anything goes here so even if it sounds yucky to you, it may just be the motivator they need to try that new veggie. 

Involve Kids with Meal Prep

The more kids are involved in the process of mealtime, the more likely they are to eat what’s served. This can start with picking out fruits and veggies at the grocery store. You can even head to a Farmers’ Market for this. Allow them to pick out just the right cucumber or banana or ask them which color pepper you should buy. When it’s time to cook, assign them an age-appropriate task, such as tearing lettuce or using a plastic knife to cut up ingredients. Even having them set the table can make mealtime more meaningful to them. 

Switch up Your Environment

If you typically eat your meals at your kitchen table and your child is resisting trying new foods, try to mix up where you have your next meal. This could mean a picnic-style meal on the living room floor, taking your meal to go to the beach or park, or trying a new restaurant. Sometimes the pressure is lifted when we switch up the environment and your child may be more open to expanding their food choices. I find having friends (positive food role models) over to eat can also help encourage even the pickiest eater to try something new. 

*If you are concerned your child has a very limited amount of safe foods and may not be getting adequate nutrition, please reach out to your pediatrician. If you think your child’s picky eating may be sensory-related, an Occupational Therapist or Food Therapist can be a great resource. 

Melissa O’Shea, Park Shore Nutritionist

Melissa O’Shea is a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s Degree in Nutrition Education from Columbia University. She has spent most of her career working in corporate wellness, managing diabetes and weight management programs, presenting lectures, and offering individualized counseling. She has served as National Director of Nutrition for a wellbeing spa and was an adjunct professor at a New York City college. She loves working with families and individuals to help support them meet their health and wellness goals. She believes in keeping things simple and that small, gradual changes will lead to lifelong wellness. Eating healthy can be easy and delicious with the right tools and support! As a long time Park Shore student, camper, and now parent, Melissa is thrilled to be a part of our team to help educate and provide support to the Park Shore community. 


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