how not to raise a fussy eater

by Diane Lofshult on Feb 02, 2009

Food for Thought

Is dinner a showdown every night with your kids? Do they balk at anything colored green (e.g., icky vegetables) or brown (e.g., whole-wheat bread that tastes like “cardboard”)? Before you confront your next battle, you might want to consider that moms may be the cause of all the fuss at the table.

“Moms?” you say? From as early as pregnancy, mothers are the main source of food for their broods, so how could they not have an influence on their kids’ taste? Science has shown that flavorful compounds from a mother’s diet can cross the placenta into amniotic fluid, which the fetus feasts on while developing. Moms also pass along nutrients when breastfeeding, which can also affect the child’s future food preferences. Plus, picky eating is about more than just how food tastes: it is also about what food looks like to kids.

So how can parents not create a finicky eater? The easiest way is to purée veggies and hide them in foods your kids like. While such sneaky behavior may improve your child’s diet in the short term, there are other things you can do to foster long-term behavioral changes, say experts.

  • Stick With the Program. Persistence can pay off; kids generally need to try a new food at least 10 times before they will accept it. Most parents throw in the towel after about four attempts.

  • Never force food on kids. When introducing a new food, serve only a small amount. And be patient if they want to spit it out—kids need time to get comfortable with certain foods.

  • Let Them Eat (Fake) Cake. Although most kids prefer sweet and salty foods, there are things you can do to accommodate their tastes and still serve nutritious meals. Instead of cookies, give them carrots when they want something sweet. Or purée cauliflower, which looks a lot like mashed potatoes to kids.

  • Offer Only One Menu at a Meal. Resist the urge to make separate foods for your kids, as this will only foster finicky behavior. Instead, make dinner a combination of at least one thing each child likes to eat. This way, no one feels left out, and they may even try something new that their big brother or sister likes best!

  • Don’t Make PromisesYou Can’t Keep. Never bribe children to eat healthy food by promising dessert for their efforts. This will only fuel their notion that asparagus looks like Yoda from Star Wars.

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About the Author

Diane Lofshult

Diane Lofshult IDEA Author/Presenter

Diane Lofshult is an award-winning freelance author who specializes in nutrition and weight management topics. She is the founder of In Other Words, an editorial consulting firm based in Solana Beach, California. Reach her at