How to tackle picky eaters with 6 top tips for parents

It can often feel challenging for parents when their children are picky eaters.

If your little ones refuse anything but chips or pasta – and reject the majority of foods you put in front of them– how can you expand their palate to ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need?

“Picky eating is very common and, while stressful for parents, is a normal part of growing up,” says registered nutritionist Claire Baseley. Hard as it may be, the best approach is to be patient and positive, she advises.

One way to get your children interested in food is to involve them in cooking. “Even toddlers can put dry pasta in a pan or help to wash vegetables,” says Claire. “The more children engage with food preparation, the more likely they are to try the food once it’s on their plate.”

Another good idea is to make your child feel more empowered by giving them a controlled choice of food at mealtimes. “Ask your child which two of the three vegetables on offer they’d like. You know all the options are healthy, but this way they are more likely to at least try what’s available,” says Claire.

From being tiny babies, children learn by example, observing how their parents and siblings interact with food.

“Babies need to see and hear their family eating healthy food and learn that eating is an enjoyable activity,” says Judy Bartkowiak, a children’s coach and neurolinguistic programming (NLP) trainer. “If they see those they love pushing food around and sounding as if they don’t enjoy it (by arguing over the dinner table, for example) they will sense that eating could be something unpleasant.”

Vegetables are essential to a child’s healthy growth but aren’t high on the list of most children’s favourite foods, never mind those who are fussy eaters. So how do you get your child to eat them?

“Start slowly. Add grated vegetables into their favourite sauces, or encourage them to try ‘just one bite’”, advises registered nutritional therapist Janet Padfield. “Or make them appealing by sprinkling on edible glitter or putting an edible smiley face on top. And most of all, practice what you preach by eating healthily yourself.”

6 top tips for persuading your child to eat the food on their plate: 

1. Arrange set mealtimes and eat with your children where possible so they learn by example.

2. Your child’s health begins before conception so start eating a healthy diet as soon as you decide to start a family.

3. Don’t force your child to eat a meal if they are tired or upset. Give them a small, healthy snack such as a banana or peanut butter on toast.

4. Let them choose meals to cook at home and encourage them to try new dishes on holiday.

5. Even if you’re on a tight budget, there are plenty of recipes on the internet for quick, healthy meals. Food writer and campaigner Jack Munroe is a good example.

6. If your child really won’t eat anything at all, take them to see your GP, who will be able to explore underlying reasons such as food intolerances or psychological problems.