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Tips to Expand the Picky Eater’s Palate

This post is sponsored by Hidden Valley Ranch, all content and opinions are my own.

I have told Logan’s picky eating story dozens of times over. And for as many times as I’ve told a piece of the story, I have received emails from a handful of mothers sighing in relief that they are not the only ones going through this incredible challenge. I know their relief because I have felt it myself as a mother.

Aside from expressing their relief that someone understands the struggle they are going through everyone inevitably asks: How did you get to here from there? What can I do to best help my child eat?

I don’t have all the answers, but I will tell you our family’s tips for expanding the picky eater’s palate. And for those of you who are struggling with the same issues or have been there in the past I ask that you please share in the comments what has helped your child.

Introduce New Foods as a Part of Something they Already Eat

I am not talking about hiding foods (unless that works for you), but rather swapping out ingredients here and there to change the flavors just slightly of foods that your child will already eat.

Muffins with a Food Processor - Cuisinart

The food category (i.e. pasta, muffin, pancake) is something the child is already comfortable with and this will help them get used adapting to flavor differences if foods that are already in their diet. There’s no need to be secretive about it. We openly discuss these changes in our home.

A few examples:

  • Use different fruits (or even vegetables) in a smoothie recipes.
  • Add grated fruits or vegetables to muffin recipes (i.e. pear, carrot, zucchini, apple)
  • Swap regular pasta for whole wheat pasta.
  • Experiment with baking with whole grains instead of all-purpose flour.
  • Add different spices, zests, or seasonings to already well received recipes.
  • Try new cheeses or mix-ins in Macaroni and Cheese.

Take Baby Steps with a “Focus Food”

The process is slow, and that is ok! In the past we have picked 1 – 2 new foods per month (with Logan’s input) that we were going to focus on with our end goal being that at the end of the month he would be regularly eating these things without protest.

First, we introduced the food and just required it to be on the plate without tantrums. After a few successes we required a tasting of one or two bites, and so on. Each time the bite number was increased until at the end of the month a serving was eaten with little or no complaints.

recipe for strawberry and meyer lemons

For a long time this was our main method for expanding Logan’s palate and getting him to eat new foods. This tactic proved especially useful when he was younger, because we were not as easily able to have discussions regarding the “why” parts of why eating well is important – something he understands much better now.

Create Mealtime Rules with Your Family

I’ve learned that creating mealtime rules with my family makes my expectations about how, when, and what we eat to be perfectly clear to them.

After reading French Kids Eat Everything, we had a discussion about mealtime rules.We decided as a family that we would make mealtime that much more important by setting a nice table and eating together as often as we could (obviously things are a little crazy right now with moving, so we aren’t always perfect here). We almost always followed this already for dinner, but we decided that it was important to us to make breakfast and lunch more important.

We decided that at those meals, it was not inappropriate to require a tasting of a new food. I’m not talking about eating a whole serving, but rather to taste a good sized bite or two. This works much better for Logan than Madeline in part because he is more mature about the situation.

Just since restarting this journey with a handful of new tactics a few weeks ago, Logan has already added 3 new foods to his repertoire: couscous, rice, and pasta. This isn’t to say that he loves to eat these items or eats large servings, but he can be counted on to eat as many bites as he is old. It makes me feel better than he is eating more of what I am serving for dinner.

We also decided on a “no snacks except fruits or vegetables” policy. This has helped tremendously with the kids being properly hungry at meal times and that much more willing to taste foods because their body is actually hungry.

Introduce New Foods Using the Child’s Personal Interest

Right now Logan is obsessed with all things geography related. He is hungry for knowledge and experiences that relate towards different cultures. This easily works to my advantage! Pasta is Italian, rice is Japanese, couscous is North African…and the list goes on!

caprese pasta recipe

We just had a conversation the other night about printing off a world map and writing in a food for the countries Logan is interested in that we could make and taste. We had fun brainstorming ideas and discussing what foods grow where in the USA and what foods are traditionally eaten in different cultures.

Logan is fascinated to learn these things which allows him to lower the guard he has put up against new foods just enough to try it. And after all, trying it is the first step. Research has shown that it can take up to 10 times of trying a new food before a child knows if he or she even likes the food.

Do you have a picky eater? How do you help them add new foods to their diet?

More on Picky Eaters:

Coconut Cream Cheese Pastry Bites
Pasta with White Beans, Tomatoes, and Sausage


Thursday 20th of September 2012

We made Chocolate Zucchini Cake (made with lots of Zucchini, greek yogurt & cut-back on the sugar). Our son seen chocolate cake (he's 2.5 years old) and wanted some, He loved it ! Didn't even know there was lots and lots of Zucchini in it. :) Wasn't intentionally trying to hide the vegetable from him, we made it because we like it. Just so happens, he does too ! Mind you, he will not touch Zucchini on it's own(no matter what the cooking method). Just thought I would add this in the comments, in case anyone is looking for additional ideas to get their children consuming vegetables such as Zucchini. -Amber


Tuesday 29th of May 2012

Great advice. I will definitely try those with my older kids, but what about a 19 month old?

Aimee @ Simple Bites

Monday 28th of May 2012

What a powerful post, Katie!

I'm hugely admiring your “no snacks except fruits or vegetables” guideline. That is amazing! I'm thinking we should adopt that for the summer -why on earth not, when everything is in season?

Thanks for the inspiration.


Monday 28th of May 2012

Great reading - i have a 3 months old and just now looking into foods and how do i make sure i don't created a picky eater. Since i am Swedish i am going along my roots and they say you should feed your child when you eat, so they see that you are eating too and not child eating by him/her self, also do NOT start with sweet foods, you start with root vegetables only and then later one you start with the fruit since they are sweet. But you never know. . .


Wednesday 23rd of May 2012

I do both sneaking and talking about new foods with my 2 year old. I only sneak foods that won't be noticed so she doesn't feel cheated though. (sweet potato in smoothies for example) We also talk about and encourage healthy foods at meal times. My daughter is very strong willed and forcing food doesn't work, it just becomes a power struggle. I try to give her as many choices as possible (ie: what kind of veggie/fruit do you want with lunch today?) and that seems to help. Cutting back on the snacks also helped us a lot too. Picky eating is such a tough thing to deal with, I am always looking for new ideas!