Rainbow table

Strategies for dealing with picky eaters

Most parents face the challenge of dealing with a picky eater at some point in their child’s life. As the mother of a 5-year-old who has gone through her own phases of selective eating, I understand the struggle. We know that children develop many of their food preferences before the age of 5.  What if we as parents and caregivers could help young children develop a taste for healthier foods right from the start?  What if our children would start asking for things like broccoli, asparagus, kale and hummus instead of French fries, chicken nuggets and snack cakes?  Does this sound too good to be true?  It’s not. This scenario is played out over and over in the local child care centers the Rainbow In My Tummy program works with to improve their food culture.

The Rainbow In My Tummy program trains early care and education centers and provides strategies to help improve the quality of food served and the eating habits of their children.  As program director, I am often asked by parents, “What if my child won’t eat that food?” followed by “My child doesn’t like [fill in the blank — usually it’s vegetable related]”. We often get a similar line of questioning from center staff who are implementing our nutrition program. The reality is that with proper introduction and adult modeling, young children will not only try healthy foods, but may even begin making healthy choices on their own.

Marissa Vignola, lead teacher at A-B Tech’s Early Education Center, says one of her strategies is to “call foods fun names, for example:  broccoli [can be] trees, kale [can be] leaves and carrots [can be] the snowman’s nose.  This makes eating more fun to the children and sparks their creativity.·”  Alex Nielson, child nutrition coordinator for YWCA of Asheville, recommends introducing unfamiliar foods before they are served. When we had butternut squash soup for the first time, all of the kids got to see a butternut squash whole and taste a plain piece of squash.  When we had the soup that day for lunch they asked for seconds!  It all comes down to presenting the new food with no pressure and making it a fun thing they can look forward to.”

Still feeling skeptical?  Are you thinking, “This may work with other kids, but you haven’t met mine?” Here are some tips from some local childcare centers that have worked with Rainbow In My Tummy. These experts have been on both sides of the table and have successfully introduced new foods while simultaneously supporting the development of healthy eaters.

Give these other strategies a try:

· Don’t’ give up too soon.  Offer new foods multiple times.  It takes 8-10 tries for some children to decide whether they like it or not.

· Don’t pressure or bribe a child. A child may begin to associate a particular taste with his body’s natural stress response. This may actually train a child to experience that food adversely for life.

· Offer a new food along side a familiar food.  It makes the new food seem less unusual.

· Involve your child in the decision-making process. At the grocery store, encourage children to select fruits and vegetables they would like to try.

· Include children in the food preparation process. Children can help wash fruits and vegetables and can even help you slice softer foods by using a butter knife. This not only gets children excited about eating these foods, but it also teaches children self-help skills and works on fine motor development.

So the next time your child says, “Oh no, I don’t eat that,” think back to these tips. With a little perseverance, patience and a positive attitude, your child can begin to develop a taste for healthy foods. 


Rainbow In My Tummy® is a nutrition-enrichment program created by Verner, Center for Early Learning, formerly Mountain Area Child and Family Center. Rainbow In My Tummy® works with early care and education centers to improve the quality of food served to young children and to cultivate a food culture that establishes a foundation for lifelong health. For more information, contact Rainbow In My Tummy® Director, Bronwen McCormick at 298-0808 or info@rainbowinmytummy.org

About Bronwen McCormick
Rainbow In My Tummy® is a nutrition-enrichment program created by Verner, an early care and education center. Rainbow In My Tummy® works with early are and education centers to improve the quality of food served to young children and to cultivate a food culture that establishes a foundation for lifelong health. Bronwen McCormick is the Rainbow In My Tummy® Director. For more information about the program, visit www.vernerearlylearning.org

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