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Picky Eating and Your Child’s Weight: Options to Try

young boy pouting; bowl of cereal on table in front of himAs a parent, you already know that your child should be eating plenty of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet. But what do you do if your child happens to be a “picky” or “finicky” eater and refuses to eat most of these healthy foods? The battles that ensue may be quite frustrating for both parents and children.


Picky Eating and Excessive Weight

If your child is gaining excessive weight or is already overweight or obese, you may find your child’s refusal to eat vegetables and fruits particularly frustrating. Because many vegetables are high in fiber, they require a longer time to consume and have fewer calories in a larger amount of food. Eating these foods helps to control hunger and maintain weight – or slow the rate of weight gain.

Children who are gaining excessive weight frequently feel very hungry. Being a picky eater and refusing to eat many vegetables may make healthy eating and weight control particularly challenging for these youngsters.


Using Taste Tests with Picky Eaters

One strategy that has been tested by research trials and found to help is to offer “taste tests” of vegetables to children to increase their taste preferences. This method involves doing the following:

1. Give your child samples of a number of raw vegetables to taste, such as:

  • baby carrots
  • cherry tomatoes
  •  cucumbers
  • green peppers.

If possible, do not provide any dip (e.g., ranch dressing). Even a very small bite, which could be spit out, is OK as long as your child is able to taste the food.

2. Once your child has tasted the vegetable, ask him/her to rate it as

  • ”yummy”
  • “ok”
  • “yucky.”

3. Pick vegetables your child rates “ok” as foods to try to improve his/her willingness to eat.

4. Offer one of the vegetables in the “ok” category to your child for 14 days in a row. #Each day give your child the vegetable and ask him/her to take at least one bite. The bite can be small.

5. Ask your child to tell you whether the food is:

  • ”yummy”
  • “ok”
  • “yucky.”

Over the course of the two weeks, many children will find that the vegetable they first thought was just “ok” now tastes “yummy.”


Be Positive

Handle your child’s food pickiness in a positive manner. Encourage your child to truthfully tell you his/her opinion about how the food tastes. Also, praise your child for being willing to try new foods and to expand eating choices!


What’s Next?

If your child enjoys the taste-test strategy, adopt it for additional vegetables to increase the number of vegetables in his/her regular diet. Some foods may always stay in the “yucky” category, but focus on those that move from “ok” or “yucky” to “yummy”.


Why This Method Works

Using this taste-test strategy gives children a fun way to safely try new foods that is under their control. Your child first chooses which foods to taste-test. He/she also has control over how much of the food to taste – a small bite or a larger portion. Improving your child’s taste preferences for a new vegetable provides new options for healthy meals and snacks that should help him/her feel less hungry and more satisfied.


Why Some Children Are Picky Eaters

Refusing to eat certain foods is believed to begin with fear of the new in young children. This is called food neophobia. Many young children avoid trying foods that are not familiar to them. Some children are more extreme than others in their avoidance of eating or even tasting unfamiliar foods. Picky eating may also relate to genetic causes such as being sensitive to the taste, texture and/or smell of certain foods, which one or both parents may also experience. Children who are older, even some adolescents, may continue to display considerable picky eating.


Key Points to Remember:

  • Allow your child to have some control over food choices by going grocery shopping together and allowing your child to pick out some new foods to try.
  • Take into account your child’s favorite foods when meal planning.
  • Offer your child a variety of fruits and vegetables with each meal.
  • Be positive! Threats and punishments rarely work.
  • Talk to your pediatrician if you continue to have concerns about your child’s eating habits.









Hope Through Research

Many research studies are underway to help us learn about overweight in children. Would you like to find out more about being part of this exciting research? Please visit the following links:


This children’s health content is brought to you with support from University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

For more information:

Go to the Kids’ Healthy Weight health topic.