10 Strategies for Feeding a Fussy Foodie

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Are you stressed by your kids’ refusal to eat your famous meatloaf? Have meals become battles you can’t win? You’re not alone. A recent study by Nancy Zucker of Duke University suggests that at least 20% of parents of young children struggle with picky eaters (1). In addition, new research in Britain finds that heredity is to blame for 46% of occurrences of pickiness and 58% of refusals to experience new food (2).

Picky eaters can fall into 2 different groups: one not willing to try new or unfamiliar foods (neophobic) and the other unwilling to eat a variety of familiar foods (picky eating). Below are some tips for both types, in order to help you all enjoy family meals again:

  1. Start with savory, not sweet foods. A child’s palate adapts to the first foods offered. Provide a variety of different tastes and textures when introducing solid food.
  2. Keep meal time positive. Kids can sense anxiety, so try to remain calm and positive when serving meals.
  3. Don’t coerce or force your child into eating. This may make your child tense or upset and fussy traits may be exacerbated.
  4. Be encouraging. Try not to say things like, “you probably won’t like this”. This may set up a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  5. Offer one bite of a new food, but don’t force your child to eat the whole plate.  A child may refuse a new food due to fear of disliking texture, taste, or smell. Just start with one bite.
  6. Be a role model. Make meals fun with a variety of foods. Smile when you eat different foods and your child’s curiosity may overcome his/her anxiety about possibly disliking the food.
  7. Offer nutrient-dense foods cut into interesting shapes and sizes. Kids may be more likely to try a crinkle carrot or melon ball over traditional shapes of fruits and vegetables.
  8. Give some praise for trying new foods.  Kids need positive reinforcement to build confidence in overcoming neophobia.
  9. Don’t reward eating with more eating (i.e. desserts). Kids will see eating foods they dislike as a means to an end when dessert is offered. They may not even taste or experience the food. Offering treats as reinforcement may also influence emotional eating.
  10. Be patient. It can take 10-15 trials of a new food before a child prefers it. Don’t give up!


  1. Zucker, Nancy, et. al. Psychological and Psychosocial Impairment in Preschoolers With Selective Eating.  Pediatrics September 2015, VOLUME 136 / ISSUE 3
  2. Andrea D. Smith, et. al. Food fussiness and food neophobia share a common etiology in early childhood.  Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.  October 14, 2016. 10.1111/jcpp.12647

By Lisa C. Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

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