6 Tips for Picky Kids

spaghetti clams

A picky kid might be talked into digging into this toothsome bowl of Spaghetti and Clams. That is, as long as you tweezer out all of those flecks of parsley, leave the clams safely back in their shells back at the fish market, and skip the garlic, chili flakes, and freshly ground black pepper altogether. What remains is the suppertime staple for picky palates from sea to shining sea: buttered noodles.

Parents of finicky eaters know what I’m talking about. Picky is tricky. I’ve touched on the subject in a few posts — Raising Adventurous Eaters; When They don’t Like Dinner; and Sneaky Chocolate Bundt Cake — but not plunged in head first. So when I was given a copy of the recently published No Cry Picker Eater Solution by Elizabeth Pantley a few weeks ago, I figured it was time to dig in.

For a lot of folks, dealing with fussy feeders is among the most frustrating aspects of parenting. And it’s pervasive. Ask any group of moms, particularly those with little ones, how often meals are marked by a battle over the plate and you’ll see nods across the room.

There is a laundry list of reasons kids are picky, and no quick fix. But reading through Elizabeth’s book may give parents hope that their kids will indeed graduate from a diet of chicken nuggets and cheese quesadillas. The book strikes a welcome, judgement-free tone, a shift from the tisk tisking of so many parenting gurus (most of us moms do just fine with the self criticism all on your own, thank you very much). She focuses not just on getting kids to eat, but on helping them transition to more wholesome choices over time, say moving from a sweetened, hydrogenated peanut butter to an all-natural one (my own kids are lobbying hard to make the opposite move).

I thought I’d leave you with some of my take-aways from the No-Cry Solution. If you’re hankering for more, you can track down details of the book here.

And when your child has progressed beyond buttered noodles and is up for those parsley flecks and garlicky mollusks, here’s that recipe for Spaghetti and Clams.


1. Start Small

When introducing a new food, offer just a tiny amount — a few chick peas or a single green bean — along with more familiar foods. Then, leave your child be without pressure, emotion, or comment.

2. Don’t Fret over a Single Meal

The balance of your child’s diet rests not on one dish or even one day, but what they take in over many days. Relax a little, truly, they won’t wither from malnutrition.

3. Serve Family Style

Rather than plating your child’s meal, serve food family style so they get to do the choosing. If you’re cooking wholesome foods, they can’t go wrong. Include largely familiar foods, with one or two new or not-yet-adopted options at the table.

4. Give Vegetables More of a Starring Role

Rather than having vegetables be an afterthought, consider putting as much care into them as you do the main course. Also, think about offering two vegetables at meals to up the likelihood that kids will try at least one of them. And let your kids see you thoroughly enjoying your veggies without pressuring them to do the same.

5. Watch the Juice

Most kids love juice and would happily sip away all day long. Unfortunately, it can fill up their tummies, leaving little room for nourishing foods and calcium-rich milk.

6. Don’t Give Up

A finicky eater may need to be introduced to a food 10 to 15 times before even tasting it. After offering them a new food a couple of times, ask them to take a bite or two. Patience pays off here.

Got a picky or formerly picky eater under your roof? I’d love to hear your success stories, so please share in the comments section.

6 Tips for Picky Kids



05.02.2012 at9:13 AM #


Thanks for the review! We read Elizabeth Pantley’s book about sleep (_No Cry Sleep Solution_) years ago when we were struggling with getting kids to sleep through the night; it’s nice to see she’s tackled another parenting topic.

We do have a picky eater turned tolerant eater in our house. Our five-year-old David (second oldest, with a seven year old brother and twin three year old brothers) was picky from his very first bite of solid food when he was four months old. While his older brother and his younger brothers eagerly ate avocado, tofu, or whatever else I mashed up when they were first taking solid foods, David wanted only rice cereal mixed with breastmilk or other VERY bland foods, and everything else dribbled out of his mouth! He progressed to other foods, but they tended all to be very low-calorie and low-fat–lots of raw vegetables (red peppers were and are a favorite, apples, pears, cucumbers, etc.) and carbohydrates (bread products including Naan, pita, bagels, etc. and pastas). He ate no meat, which we would be totally fine with, except that he also ate no cheese, no cottage cheese, no tofu, no beans–basically he was ingesting very little protein or food with many calories. We were not too concerned until he was about 18 months and he started losing weight, even though he was already very slim and small. His pediatrician said that he had a great diet for an adult who was trying to lose weight–heavy in fruits and vegetables, and very low calorie and low fat–but since he was already very low on the growth chart and getting lower, she enlisted an occupational therapist and a speech therapist to assess him. They spent two hours in our home playing and talking to him, and they produced a very detailed report afterwards, full of all sorts of interesting bits of information about his development. The part about his eating? They said the combination of his being cautious and stubborn were likely the cause of his food aversions and that he had no physical or developmental problems contributing to his food issues. They referred us to a nutritionist who basically gave us the same message as the Elizabeth Pantley book (which we had been doing already), but additionally, she told us that we needed to use tough love. Because I was concerned about his weight, I was always including at least one of the foods he liked in a meal, and she told me not to do that consistently anymore, since he was happily staying within his narrow repertoire of foods without ever branching out. I love to cook, and so she told me to cook normal, adult meals, and if he doesn’t want to eat, have him take one bite of each part of the meal, and don’t give him anything else for the meal (and yes, those single bites often resulted in LOOOONG struggles at the table). BUT she also suggested BACON for breakfast EVERYDAY as a way to get a few calories in him and as a way to introduce him to meat! And it worked! It was the “gateway meat” for him, and after about a year of tough love and quite a few meals of single bites, he now eats a wide range of foods, although he still always eats the vegetables/fruit first, the carbohydrates second, and the protein last–and reluctantly. We have continued the one-bite-of-everything-on-your-plate rule in our house, and so he has grown to enjoy (or at least tolerate) a huge number of foods he formerly would not touch. He still is quite small (5 years old and about 38 pounds), but he is very healthy and athletic.

I do think that each kid is different, and so different things will work. Because he is very stubborn, 10-15 introductions to a new food was no where close to enough for him to actually try it. Case in point–each day when I pack our kids’ lunches, I throw in a string cheese/cheese stick. Even though I tend to avoid packaged foods for lunches, this is one exception I make because it’s healthy and if they don’t eat it and it’s unopened, I can put it back in one of their lunches the next day because they seem never to spoil (?!). David has been going to preschool for three years now, and EVERY DAY for THREE YEARS his cheese came home unopened. About a month or two ago, I just about fell over when I opened his lunch and his cheese was open and there was a small bite taken out of it. I asked him who ate his cheese, and he said, “I did. I wanted to make you proud of me for trying it.” I asked him if he liked it, and he said, “yeah, sort of.” So about once/week since then, he will have a single bite taken out of his cheese stick. Small steps, but progress nonetheless!

Sorry for the length of this entry! Thank you for your blog!

05.02.2012 at9:13 AM #

Katie Morford

Hi Michelle. Nice to hear from you. I so appreciate you sharing that with us. Every mom knows that every child is unique and there isn’t a one size fits all answer to every challenge. Your story sounds very challenging but good for you for your patience and persistence. Kudos. x, Katie

05.06.2012 at11:41 PM #


hi there! Stumbled onto your page and was wondering: Do you think this book could address picky eating due to autism? My nephew is a 5 year old autistic boy and they tend to fixate on certain foods. He lives on chicken nuggets and french fries. His parents are reluctant to try new foods with him because they dont want it to be a struggle. I can occasionally get him to smell new foods, and he has started eating actual chicken, but he is not willing to leave the chicken nuggets and fries behind. Thanks!

05.06.2012 at11:41 PM #

Katie Morford

Hi Shannon. That sounds really challenging…I know food aversions and sensitivities are very common amongst kids with autism. The book doesn’t address autism specifically, but the author’s slow, gentle approach doesn’t appear to have a downside. You might find the previous comments on this post from Michelle to be inspiring. Her child doesn’t have special needs, but getting him on board with new foods was a very, very slow process that seems to be making an impact over time. Best of luck!

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