Encourage children to eat a variety of foods

Some children (and adults) are more choosy than others about foods.

Luella Morehouse

Do you have a child/grandchild who could be considered a picky (or selective) eater?

Some children (and adults) are more choosy than others about foods. Some will not touch a green vegetable if it shows up on their plates. Growing children need to consume a variety of healthful foods to meet their nutrition needs.

What’s a parent or caregiver to do?

  • Enjoy more family meals. Let them see you enjoying a variety of foods.

  • Serve the “new” food with a couple of familiar foods. Encourage your child to try one small bite, even a teaspoon.

  • Don’t give up. Having a child accept a new food often takes 10 or more exposures.

  • Involve your child in planning meals and preparing food. See and click on “Invite Kids in the Kitchen” for details.

  • At the store, show your child new fruits or vegetables. Let your child pick something new to try, such as an unusually shaped kohlrabi or colorful dragonfruit.

  • Start planning a container garden or in-ground garden plot. See for a variety of gardening resources. Children who help grow vegetables are more likely to eat them.

  • The just-released 2020 to 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide the latest nutrition advice for infants, toddlers, children and adolescents. Adults can benefit, too. Visit DietaryGuidelinesforAmericans2020 and see Chapters 2 and 3 for the latest details.

Mealtime Connection

Some children have not had practice trying different types of foods. Offering them the opportunity to try a tiny taste, or just allowing a single kernel of corn to remain on the child’s plate during the meal can be a big step. Chances are you have foods you are not fond of as an adult, too.


Falling in the habit of bribing and scolding children when they don’t want to eat what we are serving is easy to do. When adults eat and offer only nutritious foods, children will follow their lead.

If your child doesn’t like the smell of cooked broccoli, serve it raw. Many children will try the protein, the vegetable and a whole grain for dinner but not a hot dish/casserole made of the same mixture. Invite that child to help cook next time you make a hot dish to see exactly what goes into it.

Above all, try to keep mealtimes positive and friendly. People who are upset tend not to want to eat or even stay at the table. Try some of these fun conversation starters:

  • Take turns talking about a food you didn’t think you would like, but when you finally tried it, you really liked it.

  • Design a sandwich that has a protein, a vegetable, a fruit, a dairy and a whole grain.

  • Can you think of a dessert that has a protein, a vegetable, a fruit, a dairy and a whole grain?

  • Take turns talking about your favorite food smell. Talk about a food smell you don’t like. Talk about a food texture you enjoy. Talk about a food texture you don’t like.

  • Would you like to eat the same thing every day for every meal? If so, what would it be? If not, why not?

Older youth may wish to create their own favorite meal to make and serve to the family using MyPlate as a guide for nutrition and portions. Adults should try it all with a smile!
Article used with permission from Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist, NDSU Extension, The Family Table newsletter, Issue 39. For more information, contact the Stutsman County Extension office at 252-9030 or email .

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