Written By: Chiara Valderrama


You finally get to sit on the couch after a long day of work, taking care of the kids, and doing laundry. Relaxing at last! Then the thought comes to your mind: What am I preparing for dinner tomorrow? 

A little bit about the history of picky eating:

Picky eating is normal. Yes! It’s normal! It is believed that picky eating, which can get progressively worse from ages 2 to 6, is a normal survival trait that our ancestors benefited from in order to survive. It makes sense. Having fear of trying new foods saved many from being poisoned. Picky eating also occurs because children are exploring their freedom to make their own choices. It is an independence thing.

Ok, it was great back then. But what should I do today?

This is where the good news is. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are several strategies you use that can help picky eaters try new, nutritious foods!

Repeated exposures

Many studies have shown that toddlers need around eight to 15 exposures to a new food prior to accepting it. The key here is to remain positive and patient. Exposures can start gradually. If your kid cringes every time he or she even sees broccoli, don’t expect your child to be happy if it’s on their plate. You may want to try playing with broccoli first. Pretend they’re trees and play together with figurines. Once your child is comfortable with it, then you can try offering small portions of broccoli on their plate, next to foods you know they like. Be the role model; if your child has broccoli on his plate, you have broccoli on your plate as well. Enjoy it, model it for your kid!

Here are 5 ways you can expose your kid to new foods with play. Let the mess begin!

  1. Red pepper stamps, and broccoli brushes
  2. Grape sculptures
  3. Finger painting with yogurt
  4. Make the funniest face challenge
  5. Vegetable puzzle
Involving your kid in the kitchen

Research confirms that involving your kid in the preparation of foods greatly affects the variety of foods your child eats. A child is more likely to try a meal he has helped prepare. Makes sense, right? 

Involve your child in preparing the menu. If your child is small, make them choose between two healthy meals; if your child is bigger, ask him/her what he or she would add to the meal to make it more colorful. Involve your kid in making the grocery list and go grocery shopping together. And the most important thing, let your child prepare the food with you. It will not only help your child to try the food he/she prepares, but it is amazing for the development of fine motor skills, math skills, and, most importantly, it can be a great bonding experience. Here are some age-appropriate cooking activities:

Sneak it in! Make it fun!

Another great idea is to slightly vary a food that your child likes to add more nutrients. Does your kid like chicken nuggets? Great! Make crispy quinoa chicken nuggets. Does he/she like waffles? How about spinach waffles? (but call them alien waffles!). Is he/she a fan of brownies? Add in some black beans and applesauce! Like these, there are plenty of variations to commonly liked “toddler” foods you can implement. Some will work, and some will not. Stick with the ones that work for your child.

Although picky eating can be stressful for us caregivers, remind yourself it is normal and, in most cases, it shall pass. For now, be conscious that it can take multiple times (eight to 15) and a LOT of patience for kids to accept and try new foods. Start playing with the food in multiple, fun, and creative ways, and gradually start incorporating it in small amounts in your child’s meal. 

Don’t be discouraged if they reject it. Remember, it takes multiple exposures. Involve your kid in the kitchen, from planning the menu and grocery shopping, to cooking the meal. Take this time to bond and have fun with your kid as well. Finally, sneak in some healthy foods into your kid’s favorites. Sometimes it won’t work, but other times it will! Try and see.

Chiara Valderrama is a student at Florida International University, and a dietetic intern for Common Threads.