How to Change Picky Eaters

By Lindsay Hornell, B.S.W, B.A., and Emily Koeppel, B.A., Graduate Research Assistants
Department of Human Development and Family Studies
Colorado State University

How to Change Picky Eaters

One of the biggest struggles that grandparents face while raising their grandchildren is dealing with picky eaters. It can be exhausting and expensive to have to make separate meals for your grandchildren just so they will eat dinner. It can also feel discouraging if your grandchildren do not want to eat any healthy foods. There are several things grandparents can do to encourage grandchildren to expand their tastes and enjoy a wide variety of foods.

  • One of the most important things grandparents can do for grandchildren is to be a good role model. When you eat a wide variety of healthy food, it encourages your grandchildren to try what you are trying. Grandchildren are not going to eat anything that you do not like.
  • Although it's tempting, do not make separate meals for grandchildren to cater to their wants. Make sure your grandchildren are eating the same thing that you are for dinner.
  • Going along with that, make sure to eat dinners as family when possible. Eating around the table all together can encourage children to eat things they would not want to eat by themselves.
  • Make sure to prepare a wide variety of vegetables and do not just stick to the basic broccoli, carrots, and green beans. Experiment with salads, cabbage, brussel sprouts, peppers, avocados, kale, radishes, etc. The wider variety of vegetables that children try, the more likely they will like them and appreciate the choices they have.
  • If you have free space in your yard, grow a garden with your grandchildren. If you do not use pesticides, encourage your grandchildren to try all of the fruits and vegetables as you pick them. Also, have your grandchildren help you incorporate your homegrown produce into meals, so they are more willing to try different recipes. If you do not have a garden, many cities and towns have community gardens that are available and you and your grandchildren can grow vegetables there.
  • Encourage your grandchildren to help you prepare meals. Have them wash the vegetables for you, measure out spices, and stir or mash foods.
  • If your grandchildren are hesitant to eat fruits and vegetables, provide healthy dips to make them more appetizing. Some examples include hummus for vegetables and yogurt for fruit. Try this easy yogurt dip recipe next time you're trying to get your picky eater to enjoy fruit.
  • At mealtime, offer children choices of different things. For example, you can ask your grandchild, "Would you like cooked carrots or raw carrots tonight?" Letting children make these decisions allows them to feel as though they have some control over what they are eating.
  • Keep in mind that it can take children up to 10-15 times trying a new food before they know if they like it. Even if your grandchildren say they do not like something, keep trying new foods with them over and over again instead of giving up on a new food.

When trying to change picky eaters, there are some things you want to try and avoid:

  • Do not force your grandchildren to eat; this makes mealtime a bad experience for both you and your grandchildren.
  • Although it can be easier, do not make deals with your grandchildren. For example, avoid saying, "Just two more bites and then you can be done". Making deals with grandchildren or rewarding them for finishing food will encourage them to only do things for rewards.

With these helpful tips, mealtime can change from a struggle to a fun experience for both you and your grandchildren.

Information for this article was provided in part by Zero to Three.