Tips for the parents of those picky eaters

Sandra R. Cain Extension director

Picky eating is very common among children. It usually means that they want to make some choices on their own. There is nothing wrong with picky eaters. They just need some extra care at mealtimes. Use these tips to help children learn to eat well.

Be a role model: If possible, the entire family should eat the same meal at the same time together. Children watch and learn from others. The children watch you eat beets and enjoy them, which may make them want to try the beets too.

Turn off all media: TVs, cell phones, video games, computers, and radios distract children during meals. Children who focus only on eating at mealtimes do much better in school than children distracted by media. Mealtime should be a time to interact with the family and enjoy eating together.

Make one meal: Parents should make the same meal for all family members including the picky eater. It may be helpful to include children in meal planning by allowing them to choose a healthy entrée for dinner such as veggie lasagna or a bean burrito. Stick to offering two possible healthy meal choices and prepare one meal for everyone in the family.

Provide praise: Try to keep mealtimes positive. Provide praise to the children when they eat well or try a new food. A high five, hug, or pat on the back works well. You could use a sticker chart to record the number of times children try a new food. Forcing or bribing the children to eat does not work well. Avoid using dessert as a reward for eating well. It gives dessert foods more value than mealtime foods and makes picky eating continue.

Make smart drink choice: Children can fill up their small tummies very easily with too many drinks and not be hungry. Milk or water is the best drink choice. However ,children only need around two cups of milk total per day. 100 percent fruit juice is fine once or twice a week served in a small half cup glass. Avoid serving soda, fruit drinks, punch, or other sweetened drinks to the children.

Talk about foo: Talk to the children about preparing healthy meals and setting the table. Explain to the children where food grows, how we cook it, and why it is healthy. Teaching children where their food comes from will spark their interest in trying the food.

Be patient: Picky eaters will take time to change their behavior. Continue to serve and eat healthy foods with the children. It takes children up to 10 times of trying a food before they decide they like it. Picky eaters are easily overwhelmed, so serve small portions and give children enough time to eat at mealtimes.

Source: N.C. Department of Health and Human Services


Easy Chicken Pot Pie

1 small onion, chopped

1 teaspoon canola oil

1 ½ cups skim milk, divided

½ cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

¾ teaspoon rubbed sage

1/8 teaspoon pepper

¼ cup all-purpose flour

4 cups cubed cooked chicken breast

1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and drained

1 ½ cups shredded, reduced-fat cheddar cheese

1 tube (11.3 ounces) refrigerated dinner rolls

In a large nonstick saucepan, sauté onion in oil until tender. Stir in ¾ cup milk, broth, sage and pepper. In a small bowl, combine flour and remaining milk until smooth. Stir gradually into onion mixture. Bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 1 – 2 minutes until thickened. Stir in the chicken, broccoli and cheese. Heat through.

Transfer to a 2 quart baking dish coated with nonstick spray. Separate rolls. Arrange over chicken mixture. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes until filling is bubbly and rolls are golden brown.

Sandra R. Cain is the Bladen County Extension director. She can be reached at

Sandra R. Cain Extension director R. Cain Extension director
Tips for the parents of those picky eaters
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