Preschoolers: Making food fun for the picky eater

Making food fun can make eating more positive for picky eaters. Whether your child is a picky eater or not, all preschoolers like playful food!

First, know that picky eating is usually outgrown by school age. It is also common for 3 and 4 year-olds to go through periods where they suddenly begin to refuse certain foods. With time and patience, picky eating usually stops.

Here are some ways to encourage a picky eater:

  • Don’t overreact to picky eating. Do not call your child a picky eater.
  • Many children like to keep different foods from touching. If your child prefers foods separate, don’t mix foods together.
  • Keep servings small, especially for new foods. Let your child ask for more.
  • Offer choices. Ask your child to choose between two options. It is better to ask, “Do you want broccoli or peas?” than “Do you want broccoli?”
  • Provide the same foods to the whole family. Do not make special meals. It is okay for your preschooler to not eat a meal occasionally.
  • Let your preschooler help pick out foods; children like to try foods they helped choose.
  • Prepare the food a different way the next time.
  • Find safe ways for your preschooler to help you cook; children want to try food they helped make.

To make food fun:

  • Use cut-up fruits and vegetables to make silly faces or animal shapes on your child’s plate.
  • Use cookie cutters to give food fun shapes.
  • Allow your child to help invent new dishes for meals and snacks.
  • Ask your child to name a food he or she helped to create. Celebrate serving “Autumn’s Apple Slaw” or “Sally’s Spinach Salad” at a family meal.
  • Let your child build whole-grain cracker towers or make letters or words out of dry cereal pieces.
  • Instead of serving plain milk, yogurt or fruit, make fruit smoothies by blending yogurt and milk or juice with fresh or frozen fruit.

The Health and Nutrition programs of Michigan State University Extension may be a helpful resource that can also provide you with weekly nutrition classes and the support you need! For more information please visit the MSU Extension site.

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