How To Encourage Picky Eaters

How To Encourage Picky Eaters

Would you consider your child to be a picky eater? 

I know it’s tough. It’s especially frustrating when you KNOW what’s best for your child to eat, but they just won’t eat it. Mealtimes can become a source of shame and conflict. Lots of parents wonder…

  • Should I require them to eat one bite? 
  • Should I force them? 
  • Should I bribe them with rewards? 
  • Should I just let them eat what they want? 

Well, here’s a piece of data to guide you. 

Duke University conducted a nationwide survey of nearly 20,000 adults who self-identified as currently picky eaters (75% of whom were women and 89% white). The survey asked about people’s memories related to food growing up. 

The survey allowed for open-ended responses, so the researchers had to use artificial intelligence to make sense of the emotional words and analyze the combined memory of these thousands of people—pretty crazy and cool, right? 

Many people shared that the most helpful food strategies included a positive emotional context, like… 

➡️Using food to teach about the culture 

➡️Using food to teach about nutrition 

➡️Being flexible about food 

➡️Providing plenty of safe foods 

➡️Helping with food preparation 

➡️Presenting foods from specific food groups 

There was also a strong theme that having defined expectations and structure around food was more helpful than feeling “forced” or “asked” to eat something. 

The main takeaway from this study was that adults who struggled with picky eating as kids (even if they continued to be picky as adults) felt they benefited most from positive and supportive strategies around eating rather than negative or forceful strategies. 

Something to think about and keep in your back pocket tonight at dinner ❤️ 


Kim YK, Di Martino JM, Nicholas J et al. Parent strategies for expanding food variety: Reflections of 19,239 adults with symptoms of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. Int J Eat Disord. 2021. [link]

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