Five ways to tackle picky eaters

If you’ve ever made a lovingly-crafted healthy evening meal only to have your ungrateful offspring turn their noses up and demand a packet of Pom Bears instead, then I feel your pain.

Kids can be a conservative lot. And getting them to try something new that isn’t a variation on processed sugar and trans fats can be tough. Especially when your kid is kicking off about eating “funny” bread at the pub, while other parents boast that theirs love olives and just can’t get enough of quinoa.

But there is hope, I promise. These tried and tested hacks below should help you get the little darlings to at least try a nibble of something new – and hopefully help them develop a deeper relationship with their food along the way.

Plus, I promise you, that boastful parent is just plain lying about the olives.

1. Create an emotional connection
As far as most kids are concerned, food is something that just appears as if by magic on their plates around 5pm. And that’s fine – few parents have the time to talk through the provenance of fish fingers, chips and peas while CBeebies blares in the background. However, kids are more likely to try a new food if they have some connection with it.

Maybe the meal features a herb that you grew together on the window-box, or contains an ingredient they’re learning about in school. This can create an interest, and that interest can inspire them to sample something new.


2. Talk about where food comes from

Kids love stories. And your local shop (or even better, farmers’ market) is packed full of them if you look closely enough.

While you shop speak to your kids about where the food is grown, how it’s grown and who grows it. For kids, brown bread can look unappetizing in a packet: but hearing how the local baker makes it can be enough to spark some connection.

Disclaimer: try not to lie. My parents told me that Popeye (Google him, under-35s) personally farmed our local store’s spinach. I was devastated when I discovered the truth.

3. Let them choose (within reason)

Next time you go to the shop, or do an online food order, tell your kids that they’re allowed to choose something new – as long as its healthy. First, they’ll probably respond with a chorus of groans as their dreams of ice-cream and crisps evaporate. But then they’ll go on a proper mission.

Kids can often surprise you when you leave the choice up to them. And if they select something themselves it makes them much more likely to try at least a forkful or so of it later.

4. Add new flavours into old favourites

If you’ve managed to keep your kids alive past weaning then you’ll probably have a repertoire of four or five meals they’ll eat without complaining. Well done – now try slipping in a few healthy variations under the radar.

The classic hack is blending sweet potato with normal potato in mash – or making a few sweet potato chips. If they’re already eating mince (or Quorn), try slipping in a few peas or carrots. Because they’re used to liking the base taste they’ve less chance of freaking out. Or at least, that’s the idea.


5. If in doubt, blitz it

Sometimes, you’re just too tired to put up a fight. And if there’s no way your children are going to go near onions, peppers or carrots for the moment then it’s time to get devious.

Fry a whole host of veg, and then use a food processor (or a fork) to blitz them into the kids’ favourite pasta sauce. The children then have no idea they’re actually eating something healthy – and you get to feel smug that some good stuff is going in. Congratulations, now it’s time to open that bottle of wine…


Matt Chittock

Matt Chittock

Matt Chittock is a freelance journalist, copywriter and fussy eater who's written about sustainability and food for The Guardian, Healthy Food Guide, The Soil Association and many other places.


  1. Stephanie Wyatt

    Warning: true parent brag – Both of my children love olives, goat cheese and lettuce! These are things our family eat so they know no different, but I love the idea of letting the kids choose one new healthy thing at the supermarket that they fancy trying. Looking forward to the next weekly shop! Thanks

  2. Laura Sorensen

    Although the article by Matt Chinook was mildly amusing the thing that struck me most was the impression that the children were largely in charge and decided what they would eat or not eat. This seems to be a worrying trend these days with parents openly admitting they are not in charge and often too tired to ‘take control’. My parents too were often very tired (both worked, my mum from home) but mum always provided 3 full meals a day on a meagre budget, which were healthy, filling and nutritious. We kids weren’t given a choice, we were encouraged to eat it all and if we didn’t eat the main course we did’t get the pudding and if we didn’t eat the food it would be taken away and served up later. Our family are still incredibly healthy with mum now 85 and dad 93 years old and we all abhor food waste!! I really appreciate how hard it was for them to make ends meet and how they couldn’t afford, on many levels, to have picky kids demanding what they would and wouldn’t eat and generally ruling the roost. Sad to think Matt has to resort to subterfuge to get his kids to eat peas and carrots!! Clearly I am someone who is aware of Popeye and all my contemporaries are of the same opinion regarding what power small children seem to have over their parents these days particularly in the area of food. A slightly worrying trend?

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