How to motivate picky eaters in your family


By: Katrina

I know I am not alone when I say my kids are picky eaters as I’m sure many parents have to go through what I do. There are ways to motivate children to eat, so all is not lost. As long as you are willing to work with your kids to introduce them to good foods, you might just surprise yourself when they eat foods you never dreamed they would.

I wish my children would eat more and want to eat healthier foods rather than processed foods which I try very hard not to purchase. I am almost 5 years into motherhood and every day and I find myself trying to find multiple ways to encourage them to eat better or ways to hide the good stuff in our meals.

It is a constant struggle but something that is very important to me and obviously their well-being. I realize now that everything takes time so little by little I invest the time to teach my children about food. My daughter is the less picky of my two but still has her moments and recently I was told that our doctor would like to see my son put on a few pounds. It’s not a big concern but he is in the lower weight range for his age.


I want a snack! How many times have you heard this? I have heard this too many times that I am learning to completely block out this phrase in my head! It’s not easy creating snacks for fussy eaters but there are ways to get them to reach out and try something new.

Since birth my son has been a grazer. Even when nursing and bottle feeding he would normally only feed for a few minutes then take a break then want to eat again only a few minutes later. Currently he likes to snack more than he wants to eat any meals I make throughout the day. When he pushes away a meal that I have made and 5 minutes later says I want a snack, I get a bit irritated but know that I need to work harder to get him to understand. When you work hard to create a nice homemade meal and your child only wants a snack it can get depressing, but don’t lose all hope.

Create a food tray

There are a few things I refuse to purchase now such as fruit snacks. If I have fruit snacks in the house that is the only thing my daughter wants to eat. Sugary snacks are not exactly nourishing, so I have told her that I will no longer be buying them. It may be hard to do but sometimes keeping the kids away from processed foods and snacks that are not healthy for them is probably the smarter way to go. Instead I now make up a tray consisting of healthy foods such as nuts and raisins, cheese and crackers, veggies and dip and various fruits.

Since my children are such picky eaters I leave this out for them to help themselves, which seems to work out well because they do eat it. I am very cautious about how much cheese and dip I put in the tray so it’s not sitting out for too long. The premise behind making the food tray is at least if they choose to refuse my meals they are having much healthier snacks. Keeping the food tray out in the open and letting them help themselves encourages them to make smart food choices and hopefully forget the bad ones.


How do you fit healthy eating into a budget?

It was on Mr. CBB’s nightly ‘What’s for Dinner’ post on Facebook where I was first introduced to using lentil beans in my meals. Not only did I learn how good lentils are for you, but also how they can be used as an alternative to meat or as a filler to stretch a meal, thus stretching your grocery budget. I recently purchased a 2kg bag of red lentils on sale for $2.49. A 2kg bag can make a lot of meals. Mr. CBB has shared some excellent lentil recipes that won’t break my budget and I have also experimented with some of my own.

If you are looking for an easy meatless meal try his Lentil Sloppy Joe recipe which I have made many times with green lentils. I’ve also added lentils as a filler with ground chicken or turkey so I would have leftovers for work the next day. Pretty much anything I make with ground meat I often will entirely replace with lentils or add in to stretch the meal. Lentils are also low in fat and calories, gluten-free and have a low glycemic index making them suitable for a diabetic diet.

Nutritional Benefits of lentils

Lentils are loaded with nutrition including

  • Protein, including the essential amino acids isoleucine and lysine
  • Dietary fibre, with green lentils being higher in fibre than red.
  • Folate
  • Manganese
  • Vitamin B1
  • Iron
  • Potassium, one serving of lentils has more potassium than a banana

Hiding vegetables in food

For Christmas last year my mom kindly gave me a food processor, and what a great addition it has been to my kitchen. If I am making spaghetti I grind up fresh carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, celery…really anything I have around and add it to the sauce. Recently Mr. CBB made chickpea chocolate chip cookies with coconut and flax which I can’t wait to try and test out on my kids. I’m sure they won’t be able to tell the difference. Encouraging my kids to learn healthy eating habits is important but as we all know it can be a challenge. Simply by hiding ingredients that my picky eating kids would not typically eat at least I know they are still getting the nutrition even if they don’t know it.

Making meals fun

I have to thank good friends of mine who turned eating salad into a magic trick for the kids. I have used this many more times at home with my fussy eaters and it works like a charm. I will say something like ‘Try and show me that you can make three of the cucumbers disappear’ If he does he gets praise and then I encourage him to make the whole bowl disappear. He has been very proud of himself and yesterday while not even around food he told me how much he now likes lettuce and cucumbers. That’s 2 points for mom even if I had to create a magic trick to score the points. If I ask the kids what they would like to have for dinner my daughter now requests salad more often.


Involve the kids in preparing the meals

Cooking with your kids is a great way to get their creative juices flowing. Letting your child(ren) help make the meals may encourage them to eat because they are excited to eat something that they created. I believe adults are the same way. Any time I create a new recipe in the kitchen I can’t wait to dig in because I’m proud of what I made with my own two hands.

My son is the official ‘mixer’ in our house, from scrambled eggs to pancakes or muffins he’s the man with the muscles. My daughter really enjoys ripping up the lettuce so that is her role when we are making a salad. I hope to eventually graduate them to different levels of food prep as they get older. Keeping the cooking game process interesting and changing it up also motivates them. If they feel they are doing the same thing over and over the excitement might just quickly fade.

Teaching children to grocery shop

Grocery shopping with the kids is something I intentionally avoided for a couple of years. Being a single mom I would usually shop on the days I worked and already had a babysitter. This way I could avoid the mid-aisle tantrums because I said no to Fruit Loops, that darn Toucan Sam on the front gets them every time. Feeding fussy eaters is only fuelled when they see foods in the grocery store that they want but can’t have. There has to be an educational aspect to the food shopping process so my goal is to provide this to them. One day I hope to take it a step further and teach my kids to save while grocery shopping to teach them about money and budgets.

Now, I bring them with me and take the time to let them have a say in some of the products that we purchase. I do still stick to my grocery list, but I give them some options. An example would be asking them if they would prefer red or green grapes for fruits or Shreddies or Cheerios for a cereal. By giving them a choice it allows them to be involved in the decision-making process which means they may actually want to eat it.

Dealing with picky eaters is something that most or almost all parents deal with at some point. Being creative and finding ways to involve your kids in the meal planning and preparation is not only fun for them but a great way for them to learn some kitchen skills as they grow up which they can carry on with them in life.

What else can you recommend to get picky eaters to eat better?

katrina cbb

Post Contribution: 

Katrina is regular contributor for Canadian Budget Binder and is as passionate about personal finance as she is gardening. Katrina is a horticulture graduate with over 10 years experience with landscaping and greenhouse production.

Her goal is to share her knowledge and experiences blogging about gardening and her continued passion for personal finance in hopes of motivating others. While being a single mom of two and an in-store marketing representative  for major retail shops she also runs her own Landscaping Services in Southwestern Ontario.


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  1. Reminds me of my younger days when my parents use to involve me in meal planning, grocery shopping and inspiring me to eat variety of food including vegetables. I continue the same now. Good article Kat

    • That’s great that your parents did that for you. Clearly it meant something if you remember it and you continue to do the same today. Thanks for sharing.

    • Katrina B says:

      Thanks Sam! I am hoping that will be the case for my kids as well. I love vegetables and they are slowly starting to like more and more 🙂

  2. Although we haven’t gotten our little 2-year old involved in preparing meals (I think it way take wayyyyy too long), she’s a pretty good helper when it comes to baking. Luckily she hasn’t been too much of a picky eater (I think we conditioned her at birth, by giving her as many different foods early on). She loves lentils and our homemade hummus (and I can barely handle all the garlic)!! Who would have known? But we definitely need to hide more vegetables now, as she’s beginning to pick up some picky eating habits seeing her cousins. Great article!

    • That’s a good point about conditioning them when they are young.

    • Katrina B says:

      I can understand not having your 2 year old in the kitchen, sometimes it is definitely quicker to do it on your own! As my kids get older I hope they will continue to like helping me in the kitchen, I also make sure I watch what I say about food around the kids so I don’t turn them off of something just because I don’t enjoy it. I absolutely despise bananas but the kids love them!

  3. I already have to take my kiddies with me grocery shopping…going to try to get them involved more than just being excited to ride in the cart! And I’ll have to bust out my food processor….we’ve been doing the V8 thing to sneak in veggies, but it’s definitely not as beneficial as the real thing.

    • Bust out your food processor!! I love mine although it’s blinkin heavy that KitchenAid. You must try the chickpea cookies then!

    • Katrina B says:

      It also helps to keep my kids occupied and distracted from all the other things that they ‘need’ in the store. Have you tried adding veggies into a smoothie? That is something I am going to try and do more, I can imagine the sodium content in V8 is probably pretty high?

  4. I have started making vegetarian pizza instead of a pizza full of meat and salami, it is still pizza so everyone loves it, even the kids ask for more. You can disguise so many vegetables into pizza, quiche, omelettes, etc.

  5. All great tips here, Katrina. Trying new and different things also helps. We make the kids try a food about a dozen or two times before they’re allowed to say “I don’t like it”. Also, like you mentioned, involving them in meal planning really helps. We grow a garden too, and that has helped them to like veggies more, as home grown veggies are so much tastier than store bought. We also try and alternate healthy and not-so-healthy meals, so they’re not eating too much processed foods. If we’ve had pizza for lunch, then it’s a great salad for dinner. I think it really is a long process to get them to eat healthy, but worth all of the work in the end.

    • Katrina B says:

      I agree Laurie, my daughter is starting to self-motivate herself too saying she wants to be as big as Poppy (grandpa) who she adores, and I remind her that Poppy eats his vegetables! Trying new things more than once is a great idea too! I don’t know how many times my kids have disliked something then loved it the next time we had it!

  6. Katrina, congrats on offering such healthy snacks! Have you tried sneaking veggies into smoothies? A bit kale and/or spinach can hide well with blended fruit. When our kids didn’t like a particular item at a meal, we required them to take 3 bites. If they still didn’t like it after that they didn’t have to eat it. Those 3 bites on items that we served often usually led to them actually liking the food eventually. Some even became favorites! My niece used to like to eat frozen vegetables while they were still frozen–but not when they were cooked. Frozen peas and frozen corn were her favorites.

    • Katrina B says:

      Hi Maggie, I need to start making smoothies and hiding some more veggie goodness in them! Thanks for the reminder 🙂 My son is all about numbers lately and even if he doesn’t want to eat something if I ask him to take 3 bites he usually tries to negotiate a different number with me and he usually goes higher! Silly kid, I only asked you to eat 3 but if you want 5 go for it!

  7. Christine Weadick says:

    My grandson can be a fussy one too. My daughter keeps things like raisins and yogurt in the fridge as well as fresh fruit for him to eat while she makes dinner after work. He likes cucumbers too, and has since he was small. She will peel and cut off a chunk and he scarfs it in no time. The only meat there is chicken so that’s alone will eat but he gets a lot of veggies and such as she ate vegetarian for years. He needs to have a snack while she is making dinner as if he gets too hungry he stuffs his mouth and then gags on it.. That tends to not turn out well, usually he’s crying then because he just gagged and up chucked plus he’s still hungry!!!! So there are healthy snacks to have while he waits for his dinner. Dessert first if necessary but it works for them. And that is the bottom line with kids…..

  8. Justin @ The Family Finances says:

    Ha, my family was super duper picky growing up. My father and two of my sisters developed some crazy weird attitudes toward food and are still super picky to this day. I’m not too picky and enjoy trying new things. My wife and I have lucked out a ton with our little boy. He’s a little over two years old, and he’ll eat almost anything we put in front of him. He loves every vegetable and fruit we’ve ever given him. I’m hoping it continues this way and crossing my fingers.

  9. Mary F Campbell says:

    My sister’s kids were picky eaters… she still does the fruit and veggie platter every time one of the kids (21-28 now) come home and they still scarf it back and eat very light at dinner.

    Good for you for teaching not only the healthy foods but for them to eat when hungry rather than “because it’s time” or “I am bored”.

    My nieces & nephew are all extremely healthy and athletic & carried the healthy eating into adulthood. My niece just competed in an international weightlifting competition in Russia, my nephew starts as the University of Calgary first string goalie this semester and my eldest niece has just left on vacation to do some hiking in Peru.

    Your efforts are so important Katrina… keep up the good work!

    • Katrina B says:

      Sounds like you have some hard working, active and adventurous family members Mary! Good nutrition I’m sure was a big contributor for them all!

  10. Excellent ideas Katrina, I’m sure it will be of help to other Mothers of young kids. I despaired of getting my son to eat meat until his cousin 2 years older told him (truthfully) he had been hospitalised for malnutrition due to his refusal to eat things that were good for him and spent some time on intravenous! That day he tried a pork chop and the stage was set. Now the same son could happily live on a meat diet. Vegetables were solved when he started dating and girlfriends served foods he had resisted for years! It still makes me chuckle to see him order a salad or wedding soup!!! For a grandchild with autism, all vegetables go down well with a bit of ranch dressing. For each family, there are tricks that are effective. I also hid all manner of things in spaghetti sauce or soft curry. When they didn’t want eggs, one went in their porridge!

    • Katrina B says:

      Eggs in porridge! I would never have thought to do that Mary, you are brilliant! Eggs are one thing I usually don’t have to struggle with to get the kids to eat.

  11. These are some great options Katrina! We deal with this in our family, but we have found that by involving them in things like our gardening they get excited about eating the end result. I think a big key is to involve them and make it creative.

    • Katrina B says:

      I love involving the kids with the gardening not only because it encourages them to want to eat but because they want to do what mommy loves!

  12. Brian @ Luke1428 says:

    This is every parent’s challenge! I involve my kids in the grocery shopping and let them help cook meals (or at least watch in the kitchen). Seems to help on some level. I think leaving out a snack tray is a great idea. I’m going to try that one.

    • Katrina B says:

      And what a challenge it can be somedays! Come back and let us know how the snack tray works out for you

  13. This is every parents challenge! I involve our kids in the grocery shopping and let them cook meals (or at least be in the kitchen and watch). Seems to help on some levels. I think leaving out a snack tray is a great suggestion. I’m going to try that one.

  14. Thanks for this post! I have to try some of these ideas with my own picky eater!

  15. Hungry Monkey is a really great (and hilarious) book about the science of picky eating.

  16. Cynthia says:

    I really enjoyed this article. Thanks for the post. I can identify on so many levels.

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