dealing with a picky eater

Dealing With a Picky Eater: Does Your Child Refuse to Eat Anything?

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guest post by Melody Manwell.

It’s not just you mama. I know it feels like maybe you’re failing when your kid eats about 3 items, none are healthy, and dealing with a picky eater is so hard! That’s why Melody Manwell is here to shed some light on why your kid might be a picky eater and some awesome tips for dealing with a picky eater.


¨I don’t want that kind of mac and cheese! I only want THIS brand!¨ says the kid with his lip so far out you could step on it.

¨I will never eat broccoli and you can’t make me!¨ says the girl with her arms crossed, in battle stance, not going to give an inch.

¨WAAAAAA!¨ says your toddler as he throws yet another bowl of oatmeal on the ground simply because it wasn’t the one flavor he likes. And now it’s oozing all over the highchair, and down the floor.

If any of these sound familiar, know that you are not alone in dealing with a picky eater.

(FYI. Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning that at no additional cost to you, I make a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.)

Mothers all over the world are dealing with this same thing right now. Twenty to eighty percent of children with developmental delays have feeding difficulties, the number is 20 to 45 % for typically developing children- still too high! So, that means, almost half of all mothers are struggling with this same thing. But WHY?! Why are our kids so picky? You are trying to give them organic, pesticide free foods and all they want is McD’s and Kraft mac and cheese. The struggle is real.

For some of the kids, they really can’t help it. For starters, did you know preschoolers have taste buds even in their cheeks? Yep, they have extra taste buds. This, some say, was an evolutionary coping mechanism so they wouldn’t get themselves into trouble by randoming walking around eating things they shouldn’t in primitive societies. More taste sensitivity equals more ability to sense if something is harmful/poisonous. I would say that it was a protection mechanism by our loving Creator. Either way, it’s a fact. Little kids have more taste buds for bitterness which is why vegetables are so hideous to them. Let that sink in for a minute. You cannot change that fact. Ugh.

Food aversions- or neophobia- is hereditary. So, there’s that. To add to this problem, 30% of people in the US, in one study, had very low sensitivity to food tastes and smells- these are the ones who do not have any compassion for picky eaters at all. They literally have no idea what the rest of us are talking about. And some of these people are mothers to picky kids….that’s going to work well… Not.

Another 15% are highly sensitive to bitter taste, making them VERY picky. And a small percentage of these are so picky, they eat next to nothing and their caregivers are desperate to the point of taking drastic, violent action like stuffing their mouth full and plugging their nose so they have to eat it….not like I’ve ever been tempted to do that or anything…there’s nothing to see here! LOL.

I’m going to own up on something and come clean right at the beginning here… I have a picky kid. I have done some of the suggestions below, but I’m picky too, so… since I get where he’s coming from, and it’s not toooo bad…. I dealt with it to a point and have it at a level I am comfortable with and we are just leaving it there. I drew the line at him rejecting certain types of mac and cheese and having no fruits or veggies.

But…for the rest of it… I have too much sympathy for him! I know that some day his journey will be like mine and he will not be picky a eater either. But for now… hey, he’s eating some veggies and some fruits when I make him and in general eats kid friendly and some healthy choices…and I got him a great multi vitamin and a probiotic. We do what we have to do, just saying.

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So, now that that is off my chest, let’s talk about what we can do about it, to get things to a reasonable level. The easy way: children have to try a food 15 times before they will accept it in many cases…and their adult has given up long before that. Just a small taste is enough. So, keep trying and don’t give them a ton. For many kids, this may be enough. If this sounds impossible for your child, keep reading and try the harder way below.  To keep in mind: If there’s a huge problem with textures of food, this could signal a sensory processing disorder. Children who are picky also tend to be more anxious than other kids.

The reason developmentally delayed children (especially) and extremely picky kids experience pickiness at a higher rate is because it’s not only taste or texture with them or how the food looks, but also the change in routine, smells, any differences in general are overwhelming and this experience has MANY small changes. Isolating and making just one or two very tiny changes would be a better choice and you may find you have some success with it.

First, you would just place the food on the table, but not require them to eat it. It’s just there, nonthreatening, building familiarity. Do this several times over several different meals. Put it nearer to them by a little bit each time, but don’t say a word about it. You have changed the smell, the routine (a tiny bit) but nothing else.

Then, you can consider having another small change. Have them smell it and see it close up. Let them touch it and handle it. You have changed several things here, it may take time for these changes to be accepted. Only after all these ideas have been fully explored should you attempt to feed it to them. 

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Here’s another example from the resource listed below: first you will be changing out the brand of chicken nuggets or chips (presuming they like those), but it’s still the same food in every other way, and slowly moving from there to chicken nuggets with a different shape, then to a homemade one, then to chicken that is fried, then to chicken that is baked. That process may take over a year. But it will be worth it, because they NEED to be able to experience change in their eating, right? 

Oh, and you probably already know this, but I have to make it clear: forcing children to stay at the table, making them eat to get dessert, or just forcing it at all usually does not work and only increases the desirability of the forbidden food and their resolve to not be changed. Who likes to be forced to do anything?! Numerous studies have proven this to be true (that it does not help).

In one study from the early 1900’s, children in a hospital setting in Chicago were given very bland whole foods with no sugars and began to overcome their pickiness rather rapidly – eating unbelievable things like salmon, liver, then also eggs, plain oatmeal. The diet was extremely healthy, but in today’s day and age with sugar and processed foods everywhere, not to mention all the chemicals in our foods, I’m thinking this would require hiding a kid in a cave and never letting them see the outside world in order to implement it.  But I thought it was an interesting case study in any case. There is hope, it just depends on how far you are willing to go and how diligent you think you can be.

Remember above all else mama. It’s probably not your fault. You’re doing an awesome job. Dealing with a picky eater can be really frustrating, we know. Let us know how these tips helped, and share your own ideas in the comments below for dealing with a picky eater.

(Sources: The Disconnected Kids Nutrition Plan: Proven Strategies to Enhance Learning and Focus for Children with Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Neurological Disorders – Robert Melillo)

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Melody Manwell is an early childhood education teacher, writer, life coach and most importantly a mom to three beautiful children (although they aren’t so little anymore). They are 10, 14, and 17. She chose to do a research paper in college for a class all about picky eating, so this blog is sourced from that research paper and stuff she learned from the referenced book, later. She has a BS in Marketing and an AA in Early Childhood Education. And a doctoral degree in ¨Being A Mom” Given by the University of Hard Knocks.

What she mostly does, though, is teach and coach and homeschool and a million other mom things. Her children’s classes are virtual (and available to all kids 6 to 9 to try for free) to help kids who have self control problems, need help socially, are painfully shy, lack in resilience, need more patience, etc.  They cover a ton of stuff through the year!  The classes are fun, based in diversity and cultural learning and effective.

The same kind of concepts (in a different format) are also available to educators who work with toddlers and preschoolers as a curriculum. Because everything is coming against our kids today and we need to be very intentional in helping them establish a solid social and emotional health foundation. The website is  The children’s classes can be found here:  She is open to hosting other classes as demand increases. Contact her here at any time with questions:

She also has a free FB group for parents and each month we work on a different character trait, to build up and help our own children. It can be found here:  It’s becoming a true community, rarely seen today.

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