How to Live with Your Picky-Eater Preschooler

Do you have a preschooler who is a picky eater? A child who only wants to eat a certain food and nothing else? Is it driving you batty? Are you concerned that without fruits and veggies he/she will not have the proper nutrients that promote healthy development?

If you have answered “yes” to these questions, realize that you are not alone. Many children suffer from being picky eaters!

First, try not to worry. Most children get plenty of variety and nutrition in their diets during the week. Most of the time, your child’s food preferences will mature as they get older.

At Primary Beginnings, we see a lot of picky eaters. Until they are older and have a more developed taste for food, here are 8 tips for dealing with your picky eater preschooler that may make a difference in time. And, we’ve included some ideas for lunches! 

1. Understand that Picky Eating is Developmentally Normal

Recognize that being picky in terms of foods that interest your preschooler is often “developmentally normal.” Many children go through a picky eating phase from 2 to 4 and even beyond. Children have over 10,000 taste buds, nearly twice the number adults have. As you age, you lose taste buds and therefore your tastes change. But, children have so many taste buds that new flavors can actually overload their senses. Flavors that you love as a teenager and beyond are so strong to a young child that they taste yucky.

2. Respect Your Child’s Appetite

In understanding the development of your child’s sense of taste, you are better able to respect his/her appetite, or lack of one. Don’t force a meal or snack on your child if they aren’t hungry. Don’t bribe your child to eat certain foods or a certain amount of food. This can set up a power struggle over food. Additionally, your child may start to associate mealtime with anxiety and frustration. It’s best to serve small portions to avoid overwhelming your child. In this way, the child has the opportunity to independently ask for more food.

3. Be Patient When Introducing New Foods

When you introduce a new food to a preschooler, they may touch and smell it first. Then, perhaps he or she will put tiny bits in their mouth and take them back out again. It may take several times with a new food before the child takes the first bite. You might encourage the child by talking about the food’s color or shape or the way it smells instead of whether it tastes good. Continue to serve healthy choices so they become more familiar.

4. Have a Routine

Have a routine with meals and snacks. Your picky eater preschooler will expect that food is served at a certain time each day. If your child chooses not to eat a meal, there will be another opportunity to eat something nutritious coming at snack time. Have them stay at the table for the designated mealtime, even if he or she doesn’t eat. This reinforces the routine of having a designated time for meals.

5. Stay Away from Milk and Juice Outside of Meals 

Don’t give your child milk or juice unless it is with food during the day. Filling up on juice, milk, or snacks throughout the day can decrease his or her appetite for meals. Offer water in between meals and snacks.

6. Don’t Cook Separate Meals for the Picky Eater

Try to not cook separate meals for your picky eater preschooler. This can encourage their behavior and can even promote picky eating. Instead, incorporate healthy foods into the food they may like. For example, include broccoli and other veggies into spaghetti sauce or add fruit slices on top of cereal.

7. Minimize Distractions

Mealtime should be about eating food without distractions. Turn off the television and other electronic devices during meals to help your child focus on eating. Be mindful of television advertising that can encourage your child to eat foods that are full of sugar and less nutritious.

8. Make It Fun

Do things that can make eating certain foods more fun and enjoyable. For example, serve broccoli and other veggies with a dip or sauce your child likes. Cut foods into various shapes with cookie cutters to make them more interesting. Serve a variety of brightly colored foods to catch their eyes.

School Lunch Ideas for Picky Eater Preschoolers

Many times a little creativity goes a long way in getting your picky eater to eat lunch. Here are some ideas that can help you exercise more imagination and get out of a rut in making lunches for your child. These foods may be more appealing to children around the preschool age. Just experiment and see what goes over well!

Main Dishes for Picky Eaters

  • Turkey and cheese tortilla wrap
  • Chicken quesadilla
  • Ham and cheese bagel
  • Cream cheese and jelly tortilla wrap
  • Hard-boiled eggs 
  • Egg salad sandwich
  • Meat and cheese crescent rolls
  • Breakfast burritos with scrambled eggs, cheese, and bacon in a tortilla
  • Healthy muffins (banana, apple, blueberry)
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwich
  • Mini burger sliders using turkey burger
  • Fruit and cheese kabobs

Side Dishes for Picky Eaters

  • Applesauce
  • Fruit assortments like strawberries, bananas, grapes, melon, pears
  • Veggie assortments like carrots, celery, broccoli, bell peppers with ranch dressing, peanut butter, or humms for dipping
  • Cheese - string cheese, BabyBel, Cheddar cheese cubes
  • Raisins and other dried fruit
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Nuts like almonds, pistachios, cashews
  • Veggie straws

Contact Primary Beginnings Today!

If you are looking for child care that is knowledgeable about your child’s development, contact Primary Beginnings today. We have expert staff at two convenient Raleigh child care centers located on North Hills Drive and Spring Forest Road.