3 Ways We're Tackling Picky Eating | Olive and Tate

3 Ways We're Tackling Picky Eating


Picky eating.

Honestly, I can't even find the words to describe how picky eating or having a picky eater has dominated our lives. We've tried it all: begged, bargained, tricked, pleaded, played into it and every single time we've lost. The pickiness wins out and the adults in our home end up looking a fool. It hasn't been fun. 

But, miraculously, we've recently turned a corner. And even though I'm a little nervous that typing those words immediately jinxed all of our progress, I'm gonna power through in the hopes that some of our tricks might just help one of you survive your next meal time. 

Just over a month ago, we went gluten free to determine if we had any food allergies (more on that later) and I was terrified that we were going to have a starving 5 year old on our hands with so many new foods and snacks to introduce. And let's be honest, I was dreading the whining, complaining and hysterics that were sure to come with every meal.



As it turns out, the switch inspired both my husband and I to come up with two strategies that have helped us introduce new foods and a stress free way to encourage our 5 year old to try new foods without major stress or emotion. 

While I'm not a doctor, nutritionist, feeding specialist or therapist (please re-read that), I am happy to share what has worked for us - it's just important to remember that this is what has worked for our family but we're no experts. We have also ensured that our babes are meeting all of their growth milestones and have discussed their nutrition with their pediatrician. In this post, I'm discussing children who are overall healthy and on their appropriate growth curve. 

3 Ways We're Tackling Picky Eating

1. Adult Attitude 

For me, the most important method to combat picky eating in our home was for the adults to change our overall attitude about the whole thing. Think about it: do you know an adult that is a super picky eater? Are they happy and thriving? Yep. Do they know what to order at a restaurant to be happy? I'm guessing so.

Some people just aren't adventurous eaters but that doesn't mean they lead a less than satisfying life. Here's a fun example: my husband doesn't eat ranch, mayo, sour cream or typically any type of sauce. Does that make for a complicated order at a restaurant? Sometimes, but it doesn't hamper his life. Yes, we want our kids to eat an array of foods for nutritional reasons but are we maybe forcing foods on them just because we think they should eat more variety? I know we were and we needed to chill out.


We decided that we would no longer discuss new foods, taking a certain amount of bites, make bargains for deserts or treats etc during meal times. Yes, that means I provide my kids with the same reasonable dinner of things I know they will eat. The adults eat something else, so I make two dinners. We already have two different dinner times between littles and adults because of my husband's work schedule, so it is what it is. 

Ultimately, we provide a kid dinner that includes things I know they like with, at most, one thing they tolerate/sometimes choose to eat, and it is then up to them to eat it. When they tell me they are done or full, I remind them that this is dinner and we won't be eating any more tonight so to be sure they are full. If they are indeed full, they may be excused. No fuss, no hysterics from any of us, very simple, very routine. 

So when do we introduce new foods? 

We only introduce new foods outside of meal times. I know it sounds rogue but it takes the pressure off of all of us. By the time dinner rolls around, we're all exhausted and not the best place of attitude or patience, so there's no need to make things miserable for all of us. Ideally, we intro new foods naturally at snack time, either in the morning or afternoon, but when they are rested and not starving or burned out from a big day. 


2. Taste Test

I created our Taste Test game when we made the move to gluten free and I needed to determine what the kids would eat quickly so I could continue to make lunches and snacks for summer camps and school. It turned out to be a hit and something we've kept up.

Here's the overall gist: I load up a cupcake tin with small bites of all kinds of foods including both new foods and a food or two I know they'll recognize. I tell my 5 year old ahead of time that we'll soon be doing a Taste Test and I've found some amazing tester items and I can't wait for him to see (in a very enthusiastic and excited tone of voice). As I've mentioned we don't introduce new foods during meal time so I usually do the Taste Test in the afternoon after rest. Sometimes I'll let him "sneak" out of rest a few minutes early to do a Taste Test so it feels even more like a treat. 

I encourage him to try a bite of every item so I "know what he likes and what he doesn't". By giving him permission to tell me that he doesn't care for something, he is more willing to try everything and give me a thumbs up or down. It feels like a game to him and ultimately gives  him control over what he's eating in future meals. If he sees a Taste Test item pop up in a future meal and seems resistant to it, I remind him that he tried it at the Taste Test. That usually helps him to dig in. 

Pro Tip: when loading up the cupcake tin, I make sure to do very small portion sizes - think one potato chip broken in half, etc. I have been shocked about what he's tried and liked during Taste Tests and I think a lot has to do with the food labels/wrappers being removed. He can read and recognizes branding across the room and will sometimes literally see an item in the package and say "I don't like that one!". With all of the foods on an equal playing field, we've gotten him to try and now love foods I never would have imagined he'd go for. A perfect example is the chocolate chip gluten free kid's Lara Bar, which frankly, I tasted and find to be super gross (just keeping it real). 


3. Try Tokens

My husband gets all of the credit for this one! He and Gray created a system called Try Tokens that has been instrumental in getting new foods into our rotation, especially when eating outside of our home. 

I'll be very clear here: Try Tokens are essentially a reward system that amounts to bribery but we don't care. We no longer battle over a certain amount of bites or what counts as "trying" something etc, so here we are. 

Here's the overall gist: Gray gets one Try Token every single time he tries a bite of a completely new food. He has the right to decline the option to earn a Try Token, it is 100% up to him. Once he accumulates 15 Try Tokens he may choose from a round up of activities as a reward. He most recently chose going to Carowinds as his first reward. Other options include a movie date with Mom and Dad, a trip to the Lego store, etc. 

If he tries a new food and then asks for another bite, he earns two additional Try Tokens. Again, it is 100% up to him to do this.

We established the Try Token rules in an environment outside of meal time (my husband and son were out running errands just the two of them). The rules are very clear: a bite consists of a thumb sized portion (Gray's thumb, so he can check it himself) and it must be swallowed. We had reached a point where our five year old was touching his tongue to a new food and then making himself gag because he "didn't like it" so we knew we needed to structure and re-frame the entire tasting process, and establishing the thumb sized bite has been game changer. 


We offer him chances at Try Tokens very casually - for example if we're out for pizza, we order him his chosen meal and then we might offer him a Try Token for a bite of celery from our appetizer. He can choose to accept or say "no thanks". If he declines, the adults move right along - no "Are you sure!? you might really like it! we think you should try it!" etc. No more pressure. If he's into it then cool, if not, no biggie. So far, he's tried chocolate hummus, red pepper, celery, Hippeas and many more on the Try Token system and we are thrilled. 

We repurposed a magnetic chore chart to keep track of the Try Tokens and Gray gets to add every earned Token to the tally himself, which he loves. When we are out at a reward activity, we make a huge deal about how proud we are of him and how we loved getting to do something so fun with him because of the Try Tokens he earned. 

Overall, the picky eating thing is a work in progress but I'm personally at peace with it. It isn't worth it to me to let a few bites of something that ton of adults don't care for (looking at you, steamed broccoli) derail the entire emotional climate of our home. If you're dealing with picky eaters, I feel your frustration and hope you've found a tip or two here that eases the stress!

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2 comments

  1. Aren’t picky eaters the worst!!! My kids are grown now but I had a old school strict pediatrician. You know the kind, bottles done by 1 year, no pacifier only in bed, etc. I didn’t know it at the time, but he helped me never battle with my kids. I cooked dinner and that’s it. They eat it or the don’t. No discussions, no options, just if they don’t eat, clear the meal and move on. I didn’t know any better I guess. He would say make say tuna fish and serve it in an ice cream cone for lunch. Make it more appealing. I can say my 3 kids eat everything and I have him to thank for that. Kids are tough and I’m sure in other areas I’ve struggled as no kid is easy, hello 5 year old in my bed, but I know the struggle is real with kids and food. I’ve seen friends reduced to tears. Oh, why are they so cute but so, so annoying!!! Good luck you’re doing an amazing job.

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  2. I absolutely love these tips and can totally relate to letting what you think you should be doing wind you up and make everyone feel crazy and anxious. Thank you for the great ideas.

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