Child Nutrition: 11 Tips for Picky Eaters

Written by Huda Fareed – Reviewed by Zoha Matin

Do you have children who aren’t eating their veggies? Is mealtime a tough time in your house? It’s always a struggle to encourage your little one to eat right. Let’s talk about the ways that could help your child eat healthy.
The food choices of children are primarily influenced by the environment that they are raised in. Eating habits begin to form when children start eating solids. Therefore, it’s very important for the parents to instill healthy eating habits from the start.
Parents must set an example by eating healthy foods in front of their child, in order to successfully encourage their child to do the same. It should be a family practice to eat all sorts of healthy food items. This approach will increase the chances that your child will try and develop a taste for a variety of healthy foods.
11 proven steps to help your child develop healthy eating habits.

1. Be wary of what you eat in front of your children
Children like to copy their parents. When children see their parents eat something, they want to try it out too. (1) Eat fruits and vegetables in front of them. They will be inclined to try them. Avoid consuming foods in front of them that you wouldn’t want them to eat.

2. Avoid rewarding or bribing children with unhealthy snacks
Bribing your child with desserts or junk food sets a bad example. (1) This will make your child think that such food items are extra special and this will instill a bias towards unhealthy snacks. (2)

3. Appreciate them when they eat right
Acknowledging their correct eating habits is always a good approach. Using phrases like, ‘good choice’, ‘I am so happy that you are eating this’, ‘I like those, too’, ‘You’re giving your body what it needs!’, will encourage them. (3)

4. Provide logical explanations for eating healthy
Children are likely to be more convinced regarding healthy food if they know that it will be beneficial for them. For example, ‘fruits and vegetables will help your body grow’, ‘whole grains and meat will help you play’. (4)

5. Give them choices
Let your child choose between two to three healthy options. They are likely to feel empowered when given the choice to make their own decisions. This will encourage autonomy in your children. Autonomy helps children become confident and improves their self-esteem.

6. Involve your children
Take your child for grocery shopping to pick out items they would like to try. Discuss recipes with them and let them give ideas for meals. Include them in the meal preparation process. (5)

7. Make the food more appealing for them
Use different ways to make your child like food, for example; use moulds to form different shapes of fruits and vegetables, cut the fruit in small pieces, use colourful toothpicks. Make meal times fun. Plan games and activities; ask the children to name the vegetables and fruits, let them make their own platter, make smiley faces or write numbers on the plate using the food.

8. Put some thought into the utensils being used
It really matters what cutlery is being used. The idea is to let the children choose their favourite bowl or plate so that they are encouraged to eat what they are being served. In addition, its best to use minimalistic plates and bowls because those that have a lot of figures or cartoons on them may distract children.

9. Don’t force feed your child
You should never force children to eat something with scolding, coercion or punishment because that will cause them to develop an aversion to that particular food. It’s okay if your child refuses to eat something when tried for the first time. You may have to reintroduce the same food item multiple times (around 8-10 times). (5) You have to be patient and try different ways, for example, changing the shape or texture of the food.

10. Try to offer a variety of food items in one meal
A helpful tip is to give your child their favourite and least favourite food together in the same meal. For example, if you are giving your child white sauce pasta, add some broccoli in it.

11. Keep a check on the quantities
Large quantities of food can be overwhelming for children. Food being introduced for the first time should be given in small quantities. This will help children finish the food easily. If you want to give an impression of smaller quantities to a child, serve their meal in a larger plate.

It is important for children to have a balanced diet that includes all the nutrients. The essential nutrients in food ensure your child’s growth and development, both physically and mentally. Childrens’ diets should include large amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. They should consume adequate amounts of proteins which they can obtain from both animal-based foods; meat, poultry and seafood, and plant-based foods; legumes, nuts, seeds and soy products. Along with these, adequate amounts of dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese should also be consumed. (6)

1. KidsHealth. Healthy Eating (for Parents) – KidsHealth. Published 2018.
2. Healthy Eating Habits for Your Child. WebMD. Published April 12, 2002.
3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disaeses. Helping Your Child: Tips for Parents and Other Caregivers | NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Published October 2019.
4. Davis S. Teaching Kids to Eat Healthy. WebMD. Published July 26, 2016.
5. Unlockfood. Help! My kids won’t eat enough vegetables and fruits. Published June 12, 2018. en/Articles/Child-Toddler-Nutrition/Help!-My-kids-won-t-eat-enough-vegetables-and-fruits.aspx
6. NHS. Food group fun. GOSH Hospital site. Published 2021.