Picky Eater Tips

Whether your kid flat-out refuses everything green, seems to have a fear of fish, or takes issue with anything new, we’ve rounded up 10 of our favourites tips (and recipes!) to help you and your picky eater overcome their reluctance, all while keeping mealtimes fun and stress-free.

Sure, it may take patience and persistence (sometimes, a lot of it!), but offering a consistent variety of nutritious choices is key. Plus, here’s a fun fact to consider: Much of what we consider “poor table manners” are actually normal developmental behaviour for young kids. It’s natural for little ones to want to assert their independence, and controlling what they eat is one way they often feel they can achieve that.

But if picky eating is starting to get in the way of a balanced diet and wholesome nutrition, here are some easy ways to help get your fussy eater to try (and maybe even enjoy) new flavours, textures and ingredients.

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1Blend your veggies.

Instant pot mac and cheese

Why it works: Even if your little one won’t touch a broccoli floret, they might see the fun (and beauty!) in a “green soup” or sauce. Try grating, mashing or blending the vegetables first to make them more palatable (since they’ll easily mix in with the other ingredients). Best of all, this hack can work for a variety of foods, from baked goods like zucchini pancakes, to a kid-friendly classics like mac and cheese with butternut squash or cauliflower sauce. However, do try being upfront with your kids about the ingredients—you don’t want them to distrust you when it comes to food, or anything else for that matter!

Picky eater approved recipe:
Instant Pot Mac and Cheese

You’ll need:

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TIME-SAVING TIP
Cooking the pasta with the squash saves time and cuts down on dishes. If you don’t have fresh butternut squash, you can also use diced frozen squash.

2Ask them to be your sous chef.

Ask them to be your sous chef.

Why it works: No matter what parents are doing, kids love to help. Working in the kitchen is no exception, so enlist your little ones to assist with meal prep. Pre-schoolers love to wash fruits and vegetables and help with jobs like mixing and stirring. School-age kids can help to read recipes, and measure or chop ingredients (using kid-safe knives, of course!).

Picky eater approved recipe:
Maple Sweet Potato Mash

You’ll need:

3Give them the power to choose.

Instant Pot Risotto

Why it works: Surrounded by rules, dos and don’ts, kids can often feel powerless. Mealtimes offer the perfect opportunity to call the shots. Encourage them to find meal ideas in your recipe books (or online!) and plan a fun menu together. This picky eater tip also gives you a chance to talk with your child about making healthy choices and what goes into a balanced dinner. Meals that give them even small decision-making power, like which toppings to mix into their risotto, is a guaranteed win.

Picky eater approved recipe:
Kid-friendly Instant Pot Risotto

You’ll need:

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Quick Tip

Power down: Turn off the TV, put away the tablet, and shelve your phone for the duration of mealtimes. This will help your child to focus on their food.

4Keep it separate.

Keep it separate.

Why it works: In addition to tastes and textures, food presentation is a big factor for little kids. And, as you may have noticed, they often prefer their mains and sides to be simple—and separate. Sure, not wanting food to touch is a phase, but it can be a big deal for kids at the time. Make it easy on everybody by serving their meals on plates with dividers (or create your own compartments using silicone baking cups!) and packing lunches in bento box-stye containers. Luckily, many dinners can be easily deconstructed, like a chicken pasta where you place their noodles, meat and veggies in different compartments on their plate, instead of tossing them together.

Picky eater approved recipe:
Garlicky Chicken Pasta

You’ll need:

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Quick Tip
Stick to a routine: Having meals and snacks at roughly the same time each day is comforting for kids, and gives them ample opportunities to fill up on nutritious foods.

5Practice dining out, at home.

Practice dining out at home.

Why it works: Playing “restaurant” is sure to up the fun factor at dinnertime and can be easily adapted to suit your child’s budding culinary tastes and interests. You could enlist them to create a menu or draw a chalkboard sign, choose a theme, (think Thai, sushi or even “food truck”) and/or break out some different and appropriate cutlery, like chopsticks, or a nice tablecloth and napkins if you’re going fancy!

Picky eater approved recipe:
BBQ Chicken Skewers

You’ll need:

6Go crispy!

Go Crispy

Why it works: Not all picky eaters are after bland and boring meals. Some are desperately seeking more flavours and textures. Kids sometimes prefer raw vegetables over cooked ones (they like the crunch!). Air Frying is a great way to add more texture to kids’ meals, too. (In case you’re not already a fan, these handy appliances use less oil when cooking while keeping all the crispy and juicy flavour of your (and your kids’) favourite foods.)

Picky eater approved recipe:
Easy Air Fryer Tofu

You’ll need:

7Try the “same, but different” approach.

Why it works: By leveraging a format that kids already know and love, like pizza or Shepherd’s Pie, the new food you’re introducing won’t seem as, well, new. Try a cauliflower crust on your next homemade pizza, for example, or add some grilled zucchini to a roast beef sandwich. (Check out these kid-friendly zucchini recipes for more ways to get them to learn to love this veggie, too!)

Picky eater approved recipe:
Vegan Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

You’ll need:

8Let kids play with their food. (Yes, really!)

Let kids play with their food.

Why it works: It’s important to help our kids create positive relationships with mealtimes (after all, tense and stressful dinnertimes aren’t helping anybody.). So cut loose and let them play every so often. Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes out of fruit, vegetables, toast, cheese slices and pancakes. They’ll enjoy creating characters or scenes on their plates with food—and chances are that they’ll even eat some of it, too!

Picky eater approved recipe:
Grilled Ham & Cheese Sandwich Recipe

You’ll need:

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Quick Tip
Allow your kids to have fun with this innovative meal. Serve in bowls with a choice of toppings kids can use to make a silly face. Think sliced red pepper mouth, grated cheese hair, and even star-shaped sandwiches.

9Serve old favourites with new foods.

Cheddar bacon cauliflower pancakes

Why it works: Picky eaters can freak out if there’s nothing familiar, so be sure to offer a new vegetable or style of meat alongside something you know they already love. And don’t wait until dinnertime to do it. You might have the most success offering new foods in the morning, when kids tend to be hungriest. If you’re doing it on a weekday, keep it simple, like a new protein smoothie with their favourite PB&J on toast, for example. Or, plan an adventurous breakfast for a Sunday morning when you have more time. Think savoury pancakes or homemade cashew butter energy balls.

Picky eater approved recipe: Cheddar Bacon Cauliflower Pancakes

You’ll need:

10Start small. (Tiny, even).

Picky eater tips

Why it works: By making the new food a small added bonus on your menu—not the star of the meal—you might find more success. Think a single green bean, a lone cube of cheese or a mouthful of pork roast. The key is to help make the “task” of trying out the new food look do-able from your kid’s perspective. Like, “OK, one bite, I can handle this!” Then, if they liked it, you can increase the portion size next time, or maybe even make it the main course!

Picky eater approved recipe:
A charcuterie board

Tip: Present a few different foods snack-style, so they can choose a bite-sized serving of a new meat or cheese!

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Quick Tip
Set a good example: If you eat a variety of nutritious foods, and model adventurous eating by trying new recipes or styles of foods, your kids are more likely to do the same.

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