7 ways to help picky eaters try new foods

Feeding picky eaters can be challenging. And picky eating isn’t limited to kids – adults can be picky eaters too.

Some picky eaters like to stick to the same types of foods every day and rarely go beyond their comfort zone. Others reject new foods automatically. Whatever their eating style, picky eaters often lack variety in their diet, which can affect them nutritionally.1

Luckily, there are ways to manage the pickier eaters in your family. While you probably won’t turn your picky eaters into foodies overnight, these 7 tips can help get them to at least try new dishes.

1. Don’t talk about what they did or didn’t eat

It’s natural to praise your picky eater for eating a couple of string beans after months of refusing them. But try to resist. Kids become less choosy after parents stop pressuring them to try new foods. They’re also less picky when parents don’t praise or comment about food at all. Too much excitement around new foods may create added pressure and anxiety.2

2. Mix in new foods with familiar ones

You might have to serve up a new food 10 times before your picky eater finds it acceptable.3 You can make the process more palatable though. Pair the new food with something your picky eater likes.4 For example, put broccoli in a cheesy sauce. Or try a smoothie, but blend in spinach or avocado. Afterward, you can gently reveal that they tried something new. That might open the door to them eating avocado or spinach in another dish down the line.

3. Have them lend a hand in the kitchen

When kids are involved in meal prep, they tend to be better eaters.5 They eat more fruits and vegetables and go for healthier foods. So, get your choosy kids involved in the whole process. Take them grocery shopping and let them select the vegetables for dinner that night. Or give them a few tasks around the kitchen. They can help put together the salad, for instance. Or stir the soup or stew.

4. Avoid serving meals right after snacks

Make sure you have a 2-hour window between snack times and mealtimes. That way, your picky eaters will come to the table with an appetite – and be more likely to try something new. Otherwise, they may be too full to be interested in exploring.

5. Eat together as a family

Family meals are a chance to serve up a variety of foods. Especially if some members of your family aren’t picky. These non-picky eaters can act as role models. Keep the mood at the table light. Don’t focus on what your picky eaters are doing. Just enjoy the family time.

6. Deconstruct your dishes

Some picky eaters don’t like it when their foods touch. Or they don’t like the texture of certain foods. Consider separating out the components of the meal. If it’s beef stew, for example, put it on separate plates: one with beef cubes, others with separate vegetables, from peas to potatoes to carrots, and a bowl of broth or gravy. Then have family members assemble their own stew. Pickier eaters can take only what they want.

7. Take baby steps

Maybe your picky eaters would actually like to eat more foods than they do. If so, let them list the foods they wish they liked. Then buy a couple of them and slowly expose picky eaters to the new foods. First, have them sit at the table and just smell the food. Then serve a tablespoon of the new food at any meal or snack time 3 times a week. After a while, your child may surprise you by taking a few bites – and maybe even liking it.6

Your picky eaters may never grow into adventurous eaters, and that’s perfectly okay. They don’t need to love sushi or curries. What’s important is that you’re helping them make progress and you’re enjoying meals together as a family.

This article is part of UnitedHealthcare’s 7-Day Healthy Eating Challenge. For an entire week, you'll find new ideas that encourage every member of your household to get involved. Eating nutritious meals – and teaching kids about the importance of healthy foods – is a key to overall health, both now and in years to come.

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