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Nutrition for Picky Eaters

Taste is something that we learn from the time our parents introduced us to our first solid foods to the foods we taste and explore in our adult life. No matter if the picky eater is a child or an adult, these next 7 tips are insightful and can help anyone start eating more fruit and vegetables.  


What are we trying to do here?



Help a picky eater enjoy a nutritionally balanced diet in a fun and interesting way. 



When our diet is nutritionally balanced, it includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and whole foods. Having the variety ensures that our body gets nourished with the different micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and trace elements) as well as the macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fats.) These nutritional elements work together to help our body to work as it should.  


7 Tips for Picky Eaters

If this is for you, take a read through and see what excites you, be patient and stay curious.  

If you are trying to help someone broaden their food horizons, be patient and stay curious. 


1) No pressure!

Pressure shuts us down and turns on the resistance. Nothing will pass these lips with force. We don’t want a fight. We want exploration, so take the pressure off. 


Examples of putting pressure:

  • Time – deadlines create instant resistance and sounds like, “finish this now.” 
  • Punishment – food should be a pleasure. Punishment sounds like, “eat this or else.” 
  • Shaming – making a person feel like they are a bad person. Shame sounds like, “how could you eat that? What’s wrong with you?” 
  • Comparing – the ultimate evil to us all which keeps us stuck, is being compared to someone else. It feels awful and sounds like, “well your brother, sister, friend eats it, why don’t you?” 
  • Force – making someone eat the “good” stuff first, before getting dessert.


What to try instead:

  • "Here is one new food. This is a tiny taste.” 
  • Do not focus at all on what they eat for a month. Let them choose, relax, and enjoy their food. Let it be okay, let them feel safe, then move onto another approach when you know more about why they don’t eat certain foods. 
  • Take the heat off, give them more of what they like more often before adding a bit of the new stuff. 



2) Bring in curiosity

Ask a lot of questions and stay curious without judgement. Your food story is different to their food story. They say, if you want to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, you must take yours off first! 


Examples of non-curiosity:

  • “I love broccoli. How could you not like it?” 
  • “I could eat salad all day, I don’t understand you.” 
  • “Just eat it.” 


What to try instead: 

Ask these questions (It helps to answer them yourself as well to get perspective.) 

  • What foods do you love? 
  • Why do you love them? 
  • Which foods do you hate? 
  • Why do you hate them? 
    • Check, is it the… temperature, texture, mouth feel, sight, smell or ??? 
    • What do you taste that doesn’t work for you? (Salty, sweet, sour, bitter, umami?) 

After some time asking questions, you may become armed with the information you need to start exploring new foods in a different way. 




3) We can learn to like new foods.

There is a theory, that says we learn to like new tastes and textures by introducing them one at a time, in small doses and being exposed to the same food day after day for about 20 days. 


Example of how our sense of taste develops: 

  • Living in the U.K. we enjoy a certain amount of food that is very culturally specific to our region and how we grew up e.g. bangers and mash, shepherds’ pie, Sunday roast, etc.  
  • When we try something from another culture, perhaps something like a seaweed soup or century old egg dish from Asia, our taste buds might be in shock and we reject the food. Sometimes it’s taste, sometimes it’s about how the food looks, sometimes it’s texture.  
  • I remember my first taste of sushi, I was properly grossed out, but after years of tasting, I now love sushi and enjoy it immensely.  


What to try instead: 

  • Choose one food, you want to add in, for example broccoli. 
  • Every day make that person’s favourite meals and add one teeny tiny piece of broccoli. A little tiny broccoli tree. Please don’t overcook it. Cook till it is bright green then take it off the heat. Mushy broccoli doesn’t make friends with anyone. 
  • Have them taste it every day. They don’t even have to eat or swallow it. Just taste. 
  • Do this for 20 days (having a deadline helps you and them to see the end of this crazy experiment.) 
  • Possibly, after this time, it could be that the person gets used to the taste. They probably won’t love it, but they won’t hate it either. Neutrality is a win. 
  • Of course, every person is unique, and this might not work, but try again with a different food at another time when there is no pressure. 



4) Consider allergies and intolerances.

I have read stories where people had an aversion to a food as a child and they were forced to eat it. Later in adult life, they discovered they had an intolerance to the food, and it was natural that they didn’t want to consume it! 


Example of aversions:

  • Children who don’t like milk, yoghurt, or ice cream. 
  • People who don’t like to eat fish. 
  • Those who cannot stand the sight or smell of eggs. 


What to try instead:

  • Keep track in a food diary of the types of foods and the reaction of the body when eaten. Check for headaches, changes in mood, tummy troubles, or digestive issues. 
  • If there is a true aversion, consider getting tested for allergies or food intolerances. 
  • Do some research. Is that food really a necessary part of the diet and can it be omitted if it is not required and the nutrition could come from elsewhere? Consult with your doctor or health professional to decide what’s right for you and your family. 



5) Reflect, is it really that bad?

Think about the picky eater’s health, are they thriving? Are they eating some fruit and vegetables? Do they have good, regular digestion? Are you striving for perfection or is there a real need to add more variety to the diet?


Examples of when there is a need for variety:

  • When someone only eats white foods. I knew a child who only ate white things. White bread, white potatoes, and white chicken. The child was thriving, but digestion was very slow and caused pain. 
  • When someone is eating only bread and butter with coffee for every meal. 
  • When someone eats only out of one food group, for example, they only eat grains (bread, rice, crackers and cereal with rice milk.)  


When someone “mono eats” for a long period of time, they could be missing out on some nutrition. But sometimes, it is not that bad. 


Examples of when it’s not that bad:

  • When your child eats raw carrots, but doesn’t want to eat them cooked. 
  • When you eat salad, but don’t want to eat spinach or broccoli. 
  • When you eat vegetables, but maybe don’t really enjoy eating fruit. 
  • When your child eats bread and pasta for days and then switches to only fruit for a week or two and then eats a tiny bit of meat and then goes back to bread. Also, okay. 


What to try instead:

  • Look at the bigger picture and see how balanced one eats over a month of meals. 
  • Do they prefer raw or cooked? 
  • Would they eat veggies smashed in a stew with meat and potatoes? 
  • Have you tried soups or smoothies where you can blend things and change the texture? 



6) Predictability

Many of us, like predictability and want our food to always taste the same. This sometimes is rooted in wanting a feeling of security. Think of McDonalds, they packaged their taste into something predictable available around the world and people love it. This helps us to unwind especially after a long day and let go of feelings. 


Examples of unpredictability

  • Always trying new recipes, which can be overwhelming. 
  • Not being consistent with eating times. 
  • Forcing a new vegetable in a big portion on the plate every day. 


What to try instead:

  • Choose one food, you want to add in. e.g. broccoli. 
  • Every day make that person’s favourite meals and add one teeny tiny piece of broccoli. A little tiny broccoli tree.  
  • Every day don’t say anything about the broccoli. No pressure, right. 
  • Let them be curious about it.  
  • Let them decide to eat it. 
  • Be patient.  



7. Environment

How do you eat? Is it a calm and clear space without noise and distractions? Is there clutter and a TV running continuously. Are the siblings grabbing at each other’s plate? Is there a dog or cat begging for food? Is the setting pleasant? 


Take a day to organise the eating area to be clear and calm where you can connect with others. The goal is to make mealtimes a time of connection and sharing. It just may allow everyone to relax into their food and enjoy each other’s company at the same time. 


Wrapping Up! What do you love?

That was a lot of information. Take in what you love and let go of the rest.  

If you have any doubts about not having a balanced diet, consult with your doctor or a health professional to decide what’s right for you and your family. 


More information on Balanced Nutrition 

NHS Eat Well Guide 


Cheers to curiosity and making eating a pleasure! 



Vanessa Gatelein 

Health Coach