How to manage a picky eater

  • Preschoolers can be “neophobic,” meaning they’re afraid of anything new and prefer eating foods they’re used to.

Does your older child around age 2 to 4 years of age want pasta for dinner every night? Or refuse to eat anything green? The truth is, there's no standard definition for picky eating, and what one parent thinks of as picky may not seem picky at all to another.

What’s the deal?
Picky eating usually shows up around age 1 or 2, when children are experiencing developmental changes and becoming more independent. By saying “no” to what Mom and Dad want her to eat, a child is showing that she has her own thoughts and opinions.

Also, as your child's cognitive development advances, she becomes more aware of how foods look, smell, taste, feel, and sound in her mouth. She might need to check it out a few times before eating it. In fact, some experts say a child needs to be offered a food about 10 times before she'll decide to eat it.

Little Miss Picky

Your child may limit the number of foods she'll eat, or even avoid entire food groups. She may demand a food be made a certain way or want the same food every day or at every meal.

Keeping picky eating at bay

There are lots of ways you can help encourage your child to eat and like a varied and nutritious diet:


  • Let your child explore her food, even if it gets messy. Young children often need to look at, touch, smell, and taste a food before eating it.
  • Include a food you know she’ll eat, and then let her choose if she wants to try the other foods being served. Don't prepare a separate meal—it may encourage her to continue this type of behavior at mealtime. Keep serving her healthy choices until she becomes familiar with the food.
  • Be a good role model and eat foods even if you don't like them. If a child sees her mom, dad, or siblings eating a nutritious food, she may be more willing to try it.
  • Let her pick out a vegetable or fruit at the grocery store, and then help you wash and prepare it. Children are more willing to try foods they help prepare.
  • Don't bribe her with sweets because teaches her that some foods are desirable and others aren’t.
  • Follow her hunger and fullness cues. Never force her to finish a meal. Remember this rule: It's your job to provide nutritious foods at regular meal and snack times. Your child decides whether and how much to eat.

We're here to help

Picky Preschooler driving you crazy? Text Dorothy for tips (or some venting time). She's backed by our Registered Dietitians, and she'll show you how GerberMenu can help you plan a nutritionally balanced menu.
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