Any Brilliant Food Ideas for Picky Eaters?

Despite my best intentions, I now have a picky eater on my hands. When Audrey first started solids, she’d eat almost anything. I could put kale, broccoli, zucchini, beans, or almost anything into her daily oatmeal. When I was trying to fatten her up, I was adding olive oil, brown rice powder, and other things to her porridge, and she didn’t seem to mind at all.

spoonfeeding a baby

Fast forward to 2009: Audrey is three and a half and surviving on just a few boring foods. Depressed by this thought, I decided to make a list of everything she will eat to help me make her dinners and lunches. (I really wish I had the kind of child who just ate what we ate for dinner. Alas, this is not happening. She is already so skinny that I feel like I have to offer her foods she does like, even if it means preparing separate meals.)

So here’s what Audrey will eat:

Somewhat substantial food:

black beans, refried beans, garbanzo beans
spaghetti with marinara sauce
peanut butter and jam sandwiches
cheese sticks or “cheese shreds” (grated cheese)
rice and bean dishes at Cuban, Indian, and Mexican restaurants
noodle dishes at Asian restaurants
eggs and veggie bacon

Other food:

almost all fruit
chips and salsa
pancakes, waffles, and most other bready items
carrot sticks

I think that about covers the extent of my daughter’s diet. Those of you who have more adventurous eaters, what are your secrets? If you’ve successfully transformed a picky eater into a good eater, I’m all ears! What are your tips for getting little kids to try new things?


  1. I wouldn’t consider your little one picky based on the list you provided! I know many babies that will only eat 1 or 2 foods (literally). My son is a fairly good eater although he has had a few phases where he was not into hardly anything.

    We just constantly offer new foods and if he likes it than great, if not, we try it again at another time. We try not to offer lots of sweets as we find they alter his preferences (ie. he wants sweets all the time afterwards).

    What if you made foods that looked some of the foods listed. Ie. You mentioned quesadillas (what about fajitas or tacos instead?). You could make them look the same. Or just change the ingredients on the inside each time (beef, chicken, vegetarian). You could try eating fettucini, angel hair pasta instead of spaghetti.

    We also add a lot of dips and sauces. Our son thinks it is fun to dip his veggies!

  2. I don’t think that’s a picky eater at all! My nephew ate only toast and chicken nuggets at that age, and my best friend’s son ate mac and cheese and chicken nuggets (and he was picky about what kind of those too!). It seems to be normal at that age to become rather picky and have a very limited diet. I think the best thing to do is to keep having her try different things and don’t try giving her something just because you’re sure she won’t eat it. You never know what might strike her fancy and when.
    I also agree with Natalie, trying little changes might get you places. One change each meal might morph her into a whole other food she wasn’t eating before. Then you get two foods for the one she used to eat!
    Good luck! I have watched this over and over and I know how hard it is on parents. I have a bun in the oven, and while I will eat most anything, my husband won’t and I’m fairly sure we’re going to go through this at some point! (or several points)

  3. I’m with the others…she sounds pretty good to me. If I were you I would just try to sneak veggies in there somewhere. I just started making my daughter grilled cheese and spinach sandwiches. I just throw a few spinach leaves on there and she doesn’t seem to notice. I also just made her a smoothie yesterday that included raw kale, you could not taste the kale at all and she loved it.

  4. Looks like she’s just missing veggies. Otherwise that looks like a decent eater to me too. One of my daughters favorite dishes is pasta with cheese and zucchini shredded into it. It sort of hides the vegetables and with the cheese it tastes great. So perhaps cut the veggies up real small and put them in things? What about soups purreed so she can’t tell what’s what? And since she’s older, how about cool names like xray vision carrots?

  5. We are going through the same thing at my house (my son just turned 3 in June). When he was 1 he would eat *anything* but now every month it seems he strikes another item off the list. Your list seems to be full of a variety of healthy foods, so that’s good. I’d recommend grating veggies really fine and adding them to the marinara sauce when she isn’t looking–that way she gets an extra boost from spaghetti (LOL my son will only eat fusilli, no other shape pasta is acceptable). I’ve also tried to let go of the “traditional dinner” idea–the other night his dinner was stir-fried tofu, whole wheat Ritz crackers, strawberries, and a glass of milk–all 4 found groups covered!

    The other thing I’ve noticed lately is if I let him hang out when I’m preparing dinner, he will sometimes try stuff. He stands on a milk crate so he can reach the counter and I’ll hand him a table knife and some of whatever I’m preparing for myself so he can “cut” it. I discovered this way that he likes raw zucchini! I think this way he feels like it’s his decision to try it, rather than having it offered to him directly. Maybe this approach will work for you.

    In my house, my husband and I often eat separate meals (he eats meat, I don’t) so preparing something different for the little one is just following the family way.

  6. #1 won’t arrive til April but I do have a couple of tips. I’ve been fighting seriously bad food aversions. Basically, if it involves any vegetative matter it makes me want to run for the restroom. What seems to work for me is “hiding” veggies in food like Jen suggests. You really don’t notice a few extra carrots in a casserole. As long as it doesn’t noticeably change the taste or texture of the dish, you should be ok. It may not teach her to like broccoli but it will get her proper nutrition until she does learn.

    Which brings me to my second point. I seem to recall learning in a Developmental Psychology class at some point that most kids have a biologically-programmed picky phase. It makes a lot of sense, actually. You’re just old enough to eat solid foods but you’re not experienced enough to know what you can eat safely so you’re best bet is to be really, really careful. So don’t feel like you did something wrong. The best thing you can do is keep offering her new foods or slightly different foods like Natalie suggests. She’ll try them when she’s ready.

  7. I was an extremely picky eater growing up. I could always tell when I wouldn’t like something just by looking at it. Now that I’m all grown up, I am willing to try just about anything. Like the others said, all kids go through a picky phase. Even if it lasts most of their childhood, it doesn’t mean they will be picky eaters for life or never learn to make good food choices.

  8. Thanks for all of these ideas! I have tried some of them in the past, but they are probably worth a second try. Unfortunately, it does not work to add something like spinach to a quesadilla. She will pick out the spinach without even attempting to eat it. Disguising veggies even further has had mixed results. (Maybe you’ve read my posts on strawberry spinach popcicles and beet chocolate cake!)

    It IS heartening to know that many of you don’t consider her a picky eater! Keep the ideas coming!

  9. Hey I just started a blog in August called I started the blog after realizing that feeding a toddler is no easy task. I have a 3 year old son that is a pretty good eater. He will try pretty much anything however, we are working on the vegetables. I have marinara recipe that has carrots and spinach in the sauce that seems to go over well. Best of luck on your feeding adventures and please feel free to try some of our recipes.

  10. Here’s the best advice I ever received to help picky eaters try new food. It worked wonders with my son. He was practically phobic about trying new foods.

    Choose one new food and cut a teeny tiny piece of it – about the size of a quarter of your little fingernail. Cut similar portions for the rest of the family. Start the meal with this on everyone’s plates and announce that this is “First Course.” Everyone has to eat it before we have what we normally eat.

    I thought this would never work but dutifully cut up a blueberry. He took one look at it and popped it in his mouth and then went on to the next course. No tears, no begging, nothing. I think when the food is so small, it’s not so scary for them and they get very little taste of it so they can deal with it. It really helped him get used to the concept of trying new foods and it definitely broadened the number of vegetables that he eats. He now eats huge amounts of salad (much to the envy of my other mom friends), sushi (he heard his Kindergarten teacher and raving about it and wondered what the big fuss was so asked to try it) and is usually happy to try a different food (not always – texture is a big thing for him).

    After that first night, we just kept up with the first course idea and introduced different foods. Some he liked and some he didn’t end up liking but at least he tried them. We’d keep on offering them for several times before giving up.

    But the size of the food is very important. Teeeny, teeny, tiny.

  11. Suzanne, that is brilliant! I am going to try it right away. Maybe I’ll get Audrey to eat green vegetables again for the first time in 1.5 years.

  12. Excellent blog post. I absolutely love this website. Keep it up!

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