Yo, yo, yo! Let’s clarify one thing at the start here:

My kids are not perfect eaters!

They have been known to gag. And cry. Sometimes they even play dead to avoid eating the tomatoes barely visible in dinner’s pasta.


But thankfully, those moments are few and far between. And overall, my kids (ages 9, 7 5, 4, 1), while not perfect, are pretty darn good eaters…dare I say, they’ve actually become adventurous eaters.

Now by adventurous, I don’t mean that my kids are begging for marinated jellyfish and kimchi. Our available food is far less exotic than that. But what I do mean is they eat a wide variety of foods and for the most part, they eat everything I make for dinner; from Coconut Shrimp Curry to White Bean and Sausage, Kale and Tomato Ragout with a lot of vegetable sides (usually steamed veggies of some sort) and a plethora of quinoa and other grain dishes. Basically, any recipe you see here on this site? My kids will eat. Granted, not always with smiles and cheers, but they have come to expect new and varying foods at the dinner table and are very willing to try new things.

It is a work in progress and we have a long way to go, but I’d love to share with you 10 things we do in our home to encourage fearless, adventurous and healthful eating. Please understand this is not a “Do as I Do” post but more a “Hey, Maybe At Least One of These Will Be Slightly Useful” post. At the end, I’m also sharing my kids’ top 10 meal requests of all time. Think: no-fail kid food that is healthy and fun.

Let’s go!

#1: Make It Fun and Consistent

While we use dinnertime to try and create boys-with-manners (uh, this may or may not be a battle I feel like I’m losing most days), we also do a lot of talking and laughing and some of our favorite family memories have come from eating dinner together. I’d share them but honestly, they are the types of situations that are kind of like “you had to be there” moments and are probably only rib-clutching funny to us. Dinnertime is the first time we are coming back together as a family after going our separate, frantic ways in the morning and it’s where we connect again. You might wonder how this tip plays into the adventurous eating part, but I really believe that because the kids know dinnertime is a consistent expectation (not only are they expected to sit and eat as a family, they are expected to eat what mom (i.e. me) prepares for dinner) and because it’s fun, relaxed family time, the atmosphere is very non-threatening which means introducing new foods can be done in an environment that usually breeds success. I’ll talk about this in more detail in other tips below, but truly, dinnertime (not the making of, which I sometimes dread, but the eating of) is one of the funnest times of the day for our family. I believe in family dinnertime. It helps our family to continue liking each other, and I have no doubt that eating together nearly every single day has helped the kids be adventurous in their eating. Now, I do recognize that my kids are young and not over-involved in extra-curricular activities and also that Brian and I are lucky enough to have work hours that coincide to being home for dinner – I can see this structure changing based on those two factors but for now, it works for us and so we’re running with it.


#2: Eat a Variety {Colors & Food!}

The phrase “eat your colors” is repeated 53 times a day in our house. My boys are utterly obsessed with it even though we had to have a long talk about how fruit snacks and Jolly Ranchers don’t count. It has to be natural colors, boys, natural. Whenever we sit down to dinner (or really any meal), the eating cannot commence until colors are counted. The other night we were eating these black bean and sweet potato burritos along with honey lime fruit salad and steamed broccoli, and my boys were nearly apoplectic at all the colors. My 7-year old announced that he couldn’t wait to tell his friends the next day that we had eaten NINE colors at dinner. (I’m really hoping his friends weren’t like: “Dude, I’m so glad I’m not in your family.”) They’ve really, really gotten on board with this and it’s become a sort of competition to try and reach the all-time record for colors at dinner. Competition + My Boys = Major Success. To be honest, it has put pressure on me, as the main cook around these parts, to incorporate a variety of colors but I’m up for the challenge! Generally speaking, the more colorful a food (again, natural colors here), the more health benefits it has and there are some pretty darn adventurous, colorful foods out there: kale, sweet potatoes, all sorts of berries, roasted red peppers, jicama, kiwi, avocado…I mean the list goes on and on and on. Eat your colors! You’ll feel non-boring in seconds.

Aside from colors, one of my main goals is to serve our family a variety of foods. While we love the classics like any family (spaghetti, tacos, etc.), those beloved meals are interspersed with a plethora of new recipes and meals. I try to incorporate seafood a couple of times a month, meatless once a week or so (which allows us to experiment with a wide array of vegetables and legumes) and a variety of other meats thrown in there (pork, beef, chicken, etc.). Along with that, I like to change up the style of food: we eat a lot of Indian-inspired dishes as well as classic American, Italian-ish (read: pasta), and some Tex-Mex/Mexican-type food. When my kids get used to eating the same foods and flavors over and over, they aren’t as likely to want to try new things. So in order to spare me grief at dinnertime, my coping skill is to throw lots of fun and interesting flavors and foods at them all the time. They are extremely adaptable! What I’ve learned is that by doing this they a) don’t question new foods at all…sometimes I get the skeptical eyebrow lift but they have come to expect the unexpected and b) they kiss my feet when spaghetti does make it on the menu.

#3: Don’t Short Order Cook

Breakfast and dinner at our house goes like this: eat what I’m lovingly serving or don’t. It’s your choice, but you don’t get Option B. Or C. Or D. The only exception is little Cam who is a year old and who is still getting introduced to a lot of new foods. She kind of rules the table and gets whatever she pounds her fists and demands. But if you are three years old and older, you don’t get to put in an order for mealtime. I cook it. You eat it. If you think that is harsh, read the tips further down for some solace to your soul (I promise, no one is lacking for food around here). My boys would totally manipulate the situation and only eat the foods in their comfort zone if I let them push aside the dinner I fixed because they know I’ll fix them a cheese quesadilla instead. I understand this is not everyone’s philosophy but it works for us.

#4: One Slam Dunk Food

If #3 threw you into heart palpitations for its severity, have no fear. The boys’ (and sometimes Brian’s) saving grace is that I always make sure there is at least one food on the table they like. That is important to me and them because I feel like dinnertime should be a safe place (remember how I used the term “non-threatening” in tip #1?). So, even though I may have one “out there” dish to challenge everyone’s taste buds, there is also going to be a plate of apple slices or a side dish that is much-loved by everyone. Like I said, no one is going hungry around here. Also, along these lines (but not really), if it helps the kiddo to down that carrot (or cucumber or whatever) by dipping it, then dip it they do. Dipping food in ketchup or ranch or whatever is totally acceptable here – not to the point that things get grody – but dipping happens and there have been a lot of foods that I thought the kids would never eat that got inhaled because they were dipped in ranch. Believe it or not, the ranch slowly disappears over time leaving the kids continuing to eat whatever it was that started out smothered in dip.


#5: It’s All About The Bite

When dinner starts, I dish up a small portion (and I’m talking, pretty small) of all the food on the table for each boy. The older boys have started dishing up their own food with the understanding that they shouldn’t get too aggressive with portions to start, because in case they forgot, their momma hates wasted food. I start small and encourage the two older kids to start small because I don’t want them to be overwhelmed by a huge, heaping portion. They can always ask for more, right? The rule in our house is they have to take ONE bite of everything. Just one. If our windows are open, the neighbors probably hear a lot of “Let’s hear three cheers for Ty!” at which point the family shouts “Hip Hip Hooray” three times because Ty ate a big spoonful of beans or because he silently ate his entire dinner without complaining or because he was the first to try the new, slightly scary quinoa side dish I came up with (perhaps he should have gotten a double dose of Hip Hip Hooray for that one). One bite is all it takes. Sometimes (not always, but sometimes), I am pleasantly surprised when their I-Know-It-Will-Make-Me-Gag attitude actually turns into them asking for more. I attribute the success of that to the one bite rule. You might be asking, “what happens if they absolutely will not take a bite?” Oh, yes, I see that you have some stubborn souls just like we do. Well, when that happens, we tell them they can hide their bite in another food on the table or take a big drink of milk after they eat it or plug their nose or hum or whatever – giving them lots of options to help them get it down. We play the game of “take the bite before the timer goes off” to see if they can race against the clock. If all else fails, we tell them they can either put the bite in their mouth or we will do it for them and we’ve never had to go beyond that. They don’t want us feeding them. Really, a lot of it goes back to consistency – we’ve had this same expectation for so long that they don’t question it anymore. Even though it was a challenge to implement when we first started a long time ago, it is just part of the family dinner routine now.

#6: Monkey See, Monkey Do

This is a quick and simple tip: we don’t expect our kids to eat anything we aren’t willing to eat. If peas are being served as a side dish? Well, peas appear on all seven of our plates. Brian may not like me admitting this to the world, but he isn’t always jumping up and down with excitement about vegetables. In fact, he would go without if we didn’t have kids sitting around staring at him, but bless his heart, he always takes a scoop of whatever is on the table (sometimes after a discreet but hard kick to his shin from me) so that the boys can see their dad and mom eating exactly what they are eating. Interestingly enough, there have been times that dinner has been downright awful (think: pork chops so dry even I couldn’t swallow them) and clearly, if it’s nasty for mom and dad, no one is expected to eat it and there are cheers all around when gag-dinner is swept off the table replaced by PB&J. It’s a unified, group effort here. While I make no effort to hide my hypocritical tendencies elsewhere like hiding in the pantry scarfing chocolate chips while telling the kids no sweets are allowed right now, during dinner, we all eat the same stuff, like it or not.


#7: Dessert Is A Privilege

We are a sweets-loving family and I’m not ashamed to admit it. However, when it comes to dinner, everyone knows that dessert is a privilege. We reserve bigger desserts for Sunday dinners but because I am wired to want something a little sweet after dinner, there is usually a cookie from the freezer or at the very least, a couple of chocolate chips to enjoy after dinner. I know, we are so gourmet. Those treats, however big or small, are for the mommies and daddies and kids who ate their dinner. I really hate the philosophy of “clearing your plate” for what it teaches about overeating – but because the kids start with very small portions of dinner (see #5), to get dessert they have to eat the majority of what’s on their plate. Not all of it, but most of it. As in, give it their best effort. They are more than welcome to get down from the dinner table or forgo dessert after they’ve followed the “one bite rule,”, but to earn the dessert privilege, they have to eat their dinner. Pretty simple. We hardly have to even talk about this rule because it’s just generally accepted and there are very, very few nights when someone is willing to sacrifice the precious four chocolate chips up for grabs. See? They may look exactly like their dad but they have my chocolate-loving DNA.

#8: Don’t Drink Your Dinner

Drinks are definitely not the highlight of our every day dinners. I’ve found that serving juice or anything else out of the ordinary just makes for a lot of whiny kids that want to drink their calories instead of eat them. So it’s milk or water for us. Boring but functional.

#9: Kitchen Helpers Make Good Eaters

My kids love, love, love to help in the kitchen. And if your kids are anything like my kids, that sweet offer to help sometimes leaves me cringing because often it is the exact opposite of the kind of help I really need. However, I have found a very clear and scientific correlation between helping and eating. The meals my boys help cook? Well, they eat those foods 100 times more willingly than when they don’t help. Amazingly, a red bell pepper chopped by a 4-year olds hands (wielding a butter knife) tastes completely different than a red bell pepper chopped by a 35-year old mom wielding a santoku knife. Really. Plus, you better believe I allow all sorts of snitching when they are chopping up vegetables and ingredients. If it’s going to get them to try something they normally wouldn’t, well then I’m all over that. My 9-year old has taken a huge interest in cooking as of late and consults the cookbook he got for his birthday all the time. He’s made our family dinner a handful of times and I am shocked (seriously, jaw-dropping shocked) at some of the meals he’s made and how well he and his brothers eat them. The entire time they are slurping up the food, they are oohing and aahing about how good the spinach pesto is or how fabulously delicious the creamy peas and potatoes are and how I should definitely take a picture of it and post about how I’m not the only one who knows how to cook around here. I swear if I would have made those exact same meals, I would have had some very skeptical eaters on my hands. I’m a believer that my boys have become more adventurous eaters when I finally relaxed (another work in progress) and actually encouraged them to help cook meals.


#10: Repeat, Repeat and Repeat Again

I can’t emphasize this tip enough. If my boys weep and wail and plead for the earth to swallow them whole because of the dinner I made, then their pleading is all in vain because that meal will appear again. And again. And most likely again. They might not be crazy about it the first time, and quite honestly, there are some meals I’ve made that at least one or two of the boys still aren’t crazy about even after eating multiple times, but usually, after the same dinner has appeared for the 3rd time and they realize it isn’t going to eat them first, they will eat it without complaining and sometimes even ask for seconds at which point I usually fall off my chair. A few years ago, we were having such a problem with them eating two of the most basic foods on the planet: potatoes and beans (legumes). Seriously! What kids don’t like those foods? Ours. So I commenced The Great Bean and Potato Crusade. For an entire month, every dinner had either beans or potatoes in it. I thought I was going to die the first few nights. I mean seriously, the gagging and tears were painful. But do you know what? It.Totally.Worked. I am the proudest mom in the world because my kids do something most kids already do: they eat beans and potatoes without complaining. In fact, they don’t even bat an eye now when they appear on the dinner table and my 5-year old has declared himself the “potato king” because he loves potatoes so much (especially these skillet ones). If you would have told me and Brian a few years ago that this was possible, we would have laughed and probably wept. But the constant repetition made a huge difference. True, I personally didn’t want to look upon another potato or bean after that month was over and done with, but I’ll never tell my kids that.

Most, most, most of all, understand that change doesn’t happen overnight! Like I said at the beginning, we are still paving this trail for our family but I have seen such huge, tremendous growth in our kids’ taste buds and their sense of adventure about eating in the last few years. I am happy knowing that we can go just about anywhere and my kids aren’t going to throw a tantrum about what is being served for dinner (please no judging if I’m at your house next week and I’m proved wrong when my 7-year old decides he has a sudden aversion to carrots).

One final note is that while implementing all of these tips, our main goal is to be positive with the kids and encourage them to try new things. They have a huge sense of satisfaction when they see how many colors they are eating or being able to brag to their friends about the strange food they ate for dinner last night they can barely pronounce. Making it challenging and fun and trying new foods along with them has worked miracles for their sense of adventure. We are very up front with them about some of the foods that we each don’t like (Brian: pickles and beets and cabbage, me: Brussel sprouts and capers and Kalamata olives). I want them to know that it’s ok to not like something but they sure better be willing to step out of their comfort zone and try it a few times before they decide.


Now, by popular demand, I polled my boys and here are the top 10 meals they would eat every day if they could. If you are looking for some kid-pleasing fare, this should do it! As you can see, when it comes to weeknight meals, I keep our side dishes ultra-simple (embarrassingly simple, really) but it’s enough just to get dinner on the table, knowwhatImean?

Top 10 Meal Requests at My House:

Sweet and Sour Chicken (always served with steamed broccoli or peas, rice and some kind of fruit or green salad)
Creamy Alfredo Sauce (my boys would eat this every day if they could; to get in some nutrients, we always eat it with cut up fresh vegetables like red peppers, carrots, celery, cauliflower or some type of steamed vegetable like green beans, broccoli, peas, edamame, etc.)
Honey Lime Tilapia (again, with vegetables, fresh fruit and usually barley pilaf or rice pilaf)
Indian Butter Chicken (if I’m feeling like a rockstar, with naan made with whole wheat flour, and always with some kind of vegetable)
Ground Beef Stroganoff (yep, mushrooms and everything, although you could easily leave them out)
Cheesy Ham and Broccoli Quinoa Bites (served with cottage cheese and lots of fresh fruit)
Asian Lettuce Wraps (served with fresh fruits and vegetables and often cottage cheese or applesauce)
Spaghetti Pie (served with any of the above options: some kind of vegetable and often fruit, too)
The Best Tacos (along with lots of toppings, fresh vegetables, sometimes cornbread almost always made with whole wheat flour, fruit and often cottage cheese or yogurt)
Broccoli Beef (served with rice and fresh fruit)

I’m panicking because this list feels so incomplete – there are many more meals the boys crave and request like meatball subs, shrimp curry and shrimp penne. Enchiladas and sloppy joes. Tomato soup with grilled cheese. But I guess this will do for a start!

I hope these tips and meal suggestions will help you as you endeavor to raise adventurous eaters, too. Any tips to share? Great! I’d love to hear them.

102 Responses to 10 Tips to Raise and Encourage Adventurous Eaters

  1. Jen says:

    I had originally commented in 2013 when I was pregnant with my daughter and said how much I loved this post. I needed to follow up.

    Well, my kiddo is three now and I will 100% tell you that I’ve kept this post in the back of my brain ever since I first read it and have instituted almost ALL of your suggestions. Anddddddd, I’m happy to report that I have a (fairly) adventurous eater!!!! My child lovessss to eat in general, and she’s fairly open to trying new foods. She realizes that the “one bite” rule is that, a RULE, and it’s unbendable. And taking that first bite has led her to take more and more and doesn’t allow any of that “it looks yucky, I don’t want it” fear.

    I think the other big thing is having family dinners. I believe it helps a lot that, as you mentioned, children are more open to trying and eating different foods if they see Mom and Dad eating it too. They realize THIS is dinner, and that’s it. We prioritize our family dinner time and it’s so vital to our day.

    It pains me to hear other mothers post “all my child will eat is mac and cheese or chicken nuggets.” I always respond with “because they KNOW they can get mac and cheese or chicken nuggets!!!!! If they know it’s an option, of COURSE they will hold out for their favorite food!!!” It was just never an option for my child. other than daycare, she’s never even HAD a chicken nugget at my house, no matter how easy and convenient they are! I just didn’t want to get stuck in that trap (plus, I don’t eat that food, so why would I want my kid eating it?)

    YES, being a working mother and coming home to cook dinner daily is HARD. But it’s been a strong conviction of mine not to lean on those food crutches if I can possibly avoid it. (that being said- prepackaged pierogi and kielbasa and steamed broccoli is my go-to quick meal… not really all that much better than chicken nuggets and mac and cheese, LOL. But it’s not a CONSTANT option, that’s the point.)

    My daughter also loves helping me cook in the kitchen now that she’s a bit older, and it is SO GREAT. I used to resent the time I spent cooking in the kitchen while my husband ran around and played / distracted her so she wouldn’t be tugging at my legs. But now, kitchen time is SHARED time with my kiddo, even if she does have a short attention span. haha. But at least the time cooking in the kitchen doesn’t leave me isolated and let my husband have all the after-school fun. πŸ™‚

    Anyhow. I just wanted to give you a sincere THANK YOU. People marvel at how great an eater my child is (I once packed a container of sauteed onions and mushrooms for my 2 year old to bring to a baseball game. People were in AWE as they watched her gobble it up. haha) and I do think keeping your principals in mind are a MAJOR reason why. So. Thank you, Mel. Not only do I love pretty much every recipe I’ve ever tried on your site, but this little helpful family gem of information has been a big help as well.

    All new mothers need to take heed. I try to share this link in my Mommy group whenever I can. It’s great advice.

    (sorry for going on and on… I just wanted to share b/c I’m obviously very proud and it’s largely because of your advice!)

    • Mel says:

      Jen! I loved reading your comment so much. Honestly, it’s even more helpful than my original post because it’s another mom chiming in with real practical application of this. I’ve been thinking I want to do a Part Two of this post since it’s been so many years and my kids are older and I’ve learned new things; I’m grateful that this long-ago post has helped you. Your daughter is amazing! I wish I would have started that young with my first couple kids (it took me a while to figure a lot of these things out); my younger kids are much better eaters than my older. But overall, it’s so true that consistency is hard work is the key. You are awesome!

  2. Michelle says:

    This is an amazing well written post. We do some of these things but you have put them together in a well thought out plan. You have shared it with humour and honesty that I really appreciate and hope to share with my students.

  3. Arthur says:

    Thanks for sharing great tips. I really love cooking, it is not only preparing for a meal but also help me controlling work stress. My kids like eating these kind of foods very much. Actually, I found you making it a little difference from my way. I will try it.

  4. Connie says:

    Hi Mel,

    I read your comments about how your kids like to count the colors they eat, and I immediately thought of one of our family favorites: Chicken and Chorizo Paella.


    I have 3 boys aged 9,9 (twins) and 6. We make this paella at least once a week because it’s quick, it’s 1 pot, it’s healthy, and everyone will eat it (magic!)

    I think your family would enjoy it too, and I’d love to hear if you’ve got any tweaks! (Note: I substitute brown rice for white which adds to cooking time.)

    Thanks for all your recipes!

  5. Erin says:

    If anyone makes it all the way down to this comment, I have 4 kids, two of which are very young and impressionable. So when big brother or big sister says “ew! yuck! gross!” about dinner they won’t even try the one bite (yes we have a similar rule) so I had to make a new rule that what you say to friends applies to mommy’s dinner “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” my younger ones are much more adventurous if it hasn’t already been labeled as “disgusting” before it’s even been tried.

    • Jenny says:

      Ha, I had to reply to this comment because we had to start a similar rule a year ago for my then 5 year old because she would say “ewww, disgusting” at the start of every meal and then the 3 year old would copy her. Our kids gag on tomatoes and it’s the one food they don’t have to take a bite of but if they say “disgusting,” the consequence is that they have to eat a tomato… I’ve not had to actually use that rule once since starting it.

  6. Sara R. says:

    Hi Mel. I love, love, love this post as I have a picky 15-month old on my hands (our only child) and look forward to the day he is old enough I can start implementing these ideas! In the meantime, I have a question for you regarding the little ones. With the young ones who can’t understand these rules, do you always serve stuff you know they like (pieces of cheese, bread, yogurt, etc.) with every meal, or do you just serve them the meal and if they don’t eat it then you give them a sandwich or whole wheat toast, etc, so they don’t go hungry? My little guy really pretty much sticks to his typical toddler foods so when I have something different than that for dinner, he won’t eat any of it. That’s when I end up giving in and giving him bread and peanut butter or something so he doesn’t go hungry being so young. I was just wondering if that was your approach or if you just served up stuff you knew she liked with every new meal that you weren’t sure of? I guess I’m just wondering if I’ll start a bad habit either way (either he’ll just know that he will get something else if he doesn’t like what he was served, or he’ll just eat the stuff he likes and never eat the new stuff if I serve it all together)? I’m probably over-thinking this but thought I’d ask as meals are the most stressful time in my house. My little guy can be so picky and stubborn! Anyway, thanks again! I wish you were for hire so you could come stay with me for a week (ok, more like a month probably) and teach me how to cook and all your tips and tricks!

    • Mel says:

      Hi Sara! You are sweet and trust me, I’m the queen of overthinking. The queen! In fact my current 2 1/2 year old is giving me a run for my money. One day she’ll eat broccoli like nobody’s business and the next day, she is so stubborn she won’t even put it in her mouth. She’s a little older than your 15-month old – for her, I have been able to start negotiating (if you want a bite of yogurt, you need to take a bite of broccoli) and she’ll actually do it. For your son, I think the most important thing is to continue to offer him a variety of foods so he can see a variety. Some days he might eat it, other days maybe not but at least he knows it’s there. I’d probably do what you are doing and still give him something so he isn’t hungry but you’ll probably reach a point in time where you know that he’ll eat when he’s hungry and you can push more of the healthy stuff. It’s easy for me to say (especially as a stress ball myself) but don’t stress! He’ll grow and cognitively change so you can negotiate and he actually gets it. At that point, you can still give him bread and peanut butter but for every bite he gets of it, he can also take a bite of the other food you are offering. Good luck!

  7. Aneta says:

    Your children are adorable!!! they are very lucky to have a mommy like you πŸ™‚

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  9. Erin Walker says:

    Such a great post! I loved it, Mel! You are spot on, of course. (And I love your writing style – you’ve always been such an engaging writer!) Thanks for sharing!
    (And I love all the pictures! You have the cutest kids. And how on earth do you get such bright, sunny, gorgeous pictures? In the winter?!)

  10. Lauren says:

    Just recently stumbled upon your site and have already found so many recipes I can’t wait to try. I just had to say I’m a pediatric occupational therapist, and I often work with kids who have sensory issues related to feeding and many of your tips are exactly what I recommend to families as far as “re-thinking” their approach to eating. Love your blog!

  11. betsy says:

    this is one of the most helpful posts I’ve ever read, thank you!

  12. Trish says:

    Loved the post. Reminded me of a few things I can work on that I used to do a little better at. I am excited to try the “eating your colors” – it will take a little planning but mostly just creativity. Along those lines…I am looking for super simple meals that require very little or no cooking but are healthy & balanced (dinner is always on the go these days due to circumstance (child in hospital – long term)). Any ideas are welcome…we tend to eat waaay too many PB&Js.

  13. Wilda says:

    While I studied for my Bachelor’s degree, I took Nutrition and Child development classes. Nutrition has changed since then from 7 food groups to 4 groups. But one thing still stands out to me. “The least nutritious meal, is the uneaten meal.”

  14. Alyssa says:

    Can I tell you we were in a rut! My 4 year old was eating nothing, my 2 year old at, well like a 2 year old, and my 8 year old felt he had too much say in what he ate. I read this about a month ago, went out and bought some frozen treats from trader joes (plan to make more, but tiny ice cream cones at $.50 a pop will do for now), and laid down the ground rules. It’s been great! Seriously, great. My 4 year old will eat anything on his plate (all 4 pieces of veggies, etc) as long as he knows dessert is coming. I think he’s only missed dessert once in the last 3 weeks! Can’t wait till my 2 year old is old enough to understand and participate.
    I’d resisted this approach, partially because my 8 yr old was a pretty good eater and I wasn’t sure how I felt about the ‘bribes’. But now with 3, and realizing they get ‘bribed’ to do anything – prize boxes at school, etc, I say bring it on!
    Thanks for the clearly laid out ideas!
    OK, off to make your sweet potato fries (which 4 yr old had thirds of last time), and some roasted cauliflower.

  15. Eileen says:

    Pregnant with our first child, I read this post to my husband we both wholeheartedly agree. Thank you for giving us a solid food philosophy. ‘picky’ eaters that aren’t willing to even try food weren’t allowed in either of our houses, and we want to raise our daughter eating a variety of delicious and nutritious foods.

  16. Megan says:

    I love your philosophy…very similar to how I was raised, and let me tell you, I will still try just about anything once. Another thing my mom would tell us if we would say, for example, “but I don’t like cauliflower” was “well, maybe your tastebuds have changed since last time”, and she would tell us about how she used to not like this or that but now she does. The recognition that your tastebuds really could change is what helped me to keep trying things…and I think they really do change!

  17. Melanie says:

    What a refreshing view on childhood eating habits! It’s like you read my mind…and also added some great ideas I hadn’t thought of. You’re an inspiration & doing your children a huge favor! πŸ™‚

  18. Andrea says:

    I LOVE this post!!! I grew up in a home where my mom’s philosophy was, “You’ll eat it before it eats you!” LOL But I was never very picky; I enjoyed trying different veggies, and even if I didn’t like them, I ate them. Now my palate has grown so much. Hubby and I haven’t had any kids yet, but we agree with many of these tips. We give kids too many options today, and they tend to grow up to be adults who don’t eat vegetables or other things. Thank you for the list of items. I like the idea of making it fun! I am a special education teacher, and I know the importance of routine and consistency. The kids will give in before we do; it’s something we try to tell parents all the time! I can’t wait to share them with family and friends!

  19. Maria says:

    How did I miss this post back in May? I just came across it today when I saw it posted at the bottom of your recent post. Although I don’t have children, I thoroughly enjoyed your parenting process. Your consistency is spot on, and as a teacher, I know the importance of consistency. Your methods also parallel that of my friends who I think have some of the best, most effective parenting skills. Kudos to you for your efforts to raise your children with openness and also for sharing such wisdom with your readers. Now, I can’t wait to share this with my friends who struggle to get their kids to eat what’s on the table.

  20. Amanda says:

    I love your list! I printed it off and posted it to the fridge as a guide. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you my husband and I love it!

  21. Beth says:

    Thank you so much! I know there are a lot of people here giving you praise, but I thought I would add my sentiments. I just have one baby boy right now (6 months), and I’m already dreading the food fights. (I’ve seen many as of late with my sister-in-law’s family.) I am already committed to doing several of these things (cooking with my kids, not giving them a thousand options for each meal), but some of these are new to me. Thanks so much!

  22. Liv says:

    I was always an adventurous eater, ask my mother… she would make things and I’d always try it… they never had to threaten me… maybe it’s my rebellious spirit or the fact that I am always looking to push and challenge myself… I remember children, when I was growing up, who would only eat chicken nuggets and chips… ugh… it never appealed to me… I think it has a lot to do with personality as well as the media and of course parenting… I remember being about 2 and my mom would give me slices of red onion to eat… and apples… but she said I loved red onion, and it has never gone away. I am always the first to try anything and everything I can …

  23. Delishhh says:

    Great post. I also want to comment that i did the research that during pregnancy and breastfeeding mother should eat all kinds of flavors to get the child used to these flavors. I am already an big foodie person but i went beyond and ate a lot of different things during pregnancy and breastfeeding and i am totally convinced that is helped my child from the start, to this day there isn’t much she will not eat, and her favorite food if very close to the food that I ate the most of during pregnancy and breastfeeding which is a lot of spicy Thai food and lots of spinach and greens. I am a true believer now that it has to do with what i ate during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

  24. Stacie D. says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful post. I appreciate how much effort you put into feeding your children and sharing with us. Your tips are wonderful, and while we subscribe to many of them, you’ve given me some good ideas. Also some recipes I plan to try!

  25. Elizabeth Duncan says:

    Wonderful post! Thank you for sharing! I have a 2 1/2 year old and a 1 year old. These are very, very helpful ideas for teaching them going forward!

  26. Charlotte says:

    LOVE your brainwaves & those scrumptious faces!!-oh the lucky children to grow up in your home πŸ™‚ I always have this sad sympathy for picky eaters!–it’s like living a half life!

  27. Laura says:

    Like everyone else I also enjoyed this post! And I’ve been inspired to begin a Great Bean Crusade of my own. In an effort to serve more vegetarian meals I would love if my kids would learn to enjoy beans. I’ve already looked through your bean recipes and picked a few out for this week – wish me luck!

  28. Em says:

    Great ideas! I need to start implementing some of them. I especially like the “eat your colors”. And that picture at the top is to die for adorable.

  29. Laura says:

    This post came at such a great time for me… I am growing so weary of dealing with my crazy picky 8 year old! Some kids just really have issues with food/textures – I know this is true cause I have treated all my kids the same but only one is insanely difficult! πŸ™‚ We have tried almost all of your suggestions, but you have given me a few new ideas – little tweaks to how we do things. After reading this I declared to only cook one dinner tonight – your Taco Salad Dippers – and guess what – all the kids loved it! Yes, the same meal I’ve made a dozen times, but because they had no other choices they finally ate it. It’s a big deal!! I would love to see a post/collage of your kiddos top twenty favorite meals. Thanks so much!

  30. Katie says:

    Great post! We too follow a lot of these rules and have come a long way in the past year. It is baby steps like you suggested. One question…if after their “one bite” they refuse to eat (happens most often with my 4 year old) do they get any more options or seconds on sides or is that it? Mine don’t get another option cuz I know they won’t go hungry but wondering what you do. Thanks so much!

    • Mel says:

      Hi Katie – we kind of play it by ear. If they really don’t want to eat more of the “main dish” after the 1st bite, but they have willingly tried it with a really good attitude, then we let them scoop up more peas or pineapple or whatever we are serving as a side dish but if they want more of the side dish after that, they have to take more bites of the main dish. If they’ve whined and complained and made dinner miserable for all over the “one bite” then no deal on the seconds of sides. Make sense? And again, it kind of all depends on the night and what kind of mood Brian and I are in. πŸ™‚

  31. Cerissa says:

    I love the tips! Especially the short order one, ha! I made a commitment to myself that I would never get into that habit and I’m so glad I did. On another note, it is so fun to see pictures of your little girl. We just found out a couple weeks ago that we have a daughter on the way… after 4 boys ages 7 1/2, 6, 4, 2 1/2. Everyone is a little nervous about having a little female in the house, but we are excited too. Love seeing pictures of your family πŸ™‚ Thanks for everything!

  32. Jenny says:

    Thanks for such a practical & encouraging post. Sometimes food wars can be so frustrating! We do the “this is what’s for dinner” with no plan B C or D. It was hard at first but my 9, 7 and 5 year-old have learned to try new things. This is really important when you get invited to someone else’s house for dinner. Having your kids be the picker guest eaters is alot worse than at home….

  33. Heather says:

    I love this post but I wonder at what age these things start working… I have a 15 month old who is insanely picky. I can’t really force him to take one bite. He lacks the reasoning to understand most of these tactics. Any tips? Picky eating is becoming very frustrating!

    • Mel says:

      Heather – I agree – the young ages are tough because you can’t reason with a child who doesn’t understand the “take a bite of {this} before you get {this}.” So these 10 tips, like I mentioned in the post, only apply to my kids about ages 3 and up (although I start it pretty thoroughly when they are probably 2 1/2). Until then, I just offer lots and lots of different foods. I have a 13 month old right now and I want her to experience lots of different tastes and textures right now. I don’t force her to take bites (impossible and not appropriate at this age, I don’t think) but even as small as she is, there are other methods we’ve found that worked. For instance, she’s learned that if we say, “Cam! We’ll go yay!” while holding a bite of whatever in front of her, she almost always takes the bite and then we shout and holler and clap. She loves the attention and it gets almost anything in her mouth to taste at least once. If that doesn’t work, I let it slide. For her, I’ve had to let go my neurotic avoidance of messy high chair trays. Seriously, it stresses me and I hate cleaning up after a toddler who is learning to eat by themselves (i.e. throwing food everywhere). I’ve turned a blind eye and although I only put about 2-3 bites of things on her tray, I make sure it’s varied. For instance, if I have blueberries, avocados and cheese for her to eat, I put a bit of each one on her tray. I never just feed her an entire banana or string cheese or whatever it is; I make sure to offer it with other foods. It seems like once she’s in the groove of eating, she’s more likely to pick up whatever is on her tray, no matter what it is. I know each child is different, but that seems to work for her. Honestly, though, there are some nights where literally she eats cheese, pieces of whole wheat bread and yogurt. So much for eating her colors, right? I try not to stress about it and figure that I’m still making an effort to offer her lots of variety. Even when we hit nights like that where she only wants the classic toddler go-to foods, I step up my game and make sure to offer her different foods the next couple of days. As you can see, it’s definitely a day-by-day process. I do think that your 15-month will grow and develop, both in his willingness to try foods and also in his cognitive reasoning. Things will get a lot easier!

  34. Lauren Clegg says:

    Hi Mel,

    I have been reading your blog for a few months now and it has been my dinner go-to most of the time!! Thank you for sharing such yummy/easy meals!!

    I was wondering what to do about my 14 month old and wondered what you did for your kids this age. I’m worried that if she doesn’t like eggs, most veggies, beans, pretty much anything I make for my husband and I, it’s only going to get worse! I love your tip about consistency and heard that it sometimes takes kids up to 20 times before they will like a food so I keep trying but wondered what you do if they won’t eat what you make. Do you make a separate meal? How do you keep it mixed up for infants if they won’t eat what you make?! It seems like I consistently resort back to bread and butter or cheese or cream cheese, fruit, and string cheese or nuggets or whatever she won’t throw off her tray which isn’t much! Any tips for getting them to love veggies this early on?
    Also, do you have a steamer that you would recommend? That might help make getting veggies on the table easier!!

    Thanks again for sharing your wonderful tips! I will be referring back to this often as she gets older!

    • Mel says:

      Hey Lauren, I kind of addressed this to Heather (should have just combined both my responses!) but in answer to your specific question, yes, for my little Cam who is 13 months, if she absolutely refuses to eat anything we are eating for dinner then I make her a piece of whole wheat toast or a little sandwich or something else. I try to keep it whole grain and healthy but she needs calories and food and doesn’t understand the “eat it or go hungry” reasoning – nor should she since she is so young! Now, even though I make her something else, you better believe, I keep all the other foods (just one bite of each so her tray isn’t overloaded) on her high chair tray so that she still has the option to eat them. Funny enough, once she gets into the groove of eating, she’ll usually pick up the foods that she was so adamantly against and eat them, too, so I don’t take them completely off her tray (unless she is just throwing them off). Look at my response to Heather above because I also addressed how we give her incentives to eat (the cheering and such). She’s a sucker for attention. The other thing for Cam which has helped me feel better about her eating is that I still feed her once a day a pouch of mixed veggies and fruit. I call it her “power meal” and usually give it to her for lunch or dinner. I buy them on amazon – the organic pouches of fruits and veggies. I know people complain that the mixture is sweet because of fruit, but she is so good about eating broccoli and peas and beans plain that I’m not worried she only wants sweet stuff. As for a steamer, I use an old-fashioned steamer basket that I sit in a pan (do you know what I”m talking about)? It’s nothing fancy but it gets the job done!

      • Sara R. says:

        Thank you for all of these wonderful tips! I, too, have a somewhat picky 13-month-old (he wasn’t picky until just recently, however) and will definitely try some of these tactics to see if it helps. What brand of fruit and veggie pouches do you buy? Has your little Cam gotten better since she’s gotten older? Just wondering if there is hope for my little guy the older he gets! πŸ˜‰

        • Mel says:

          Hi Sara! Yes, Cam has definitely gotten better since she’s gotten older. In fact, Brian and I were just commenting to each other about what a good eater she is. Of course, she just entered the terrible two’s and gets stubborn about some things she gobbled up the day before so I try to have patience and realize she’ll probably love it again tomorrow. I definitely think there’s hope for your little dude! I’m a huge believer in continuing to offer a variety of foods and not give up when they turn up their nose. Cam gets dished up a very mini portion of everything on the table so she’s used to seeing green veggies and other foods – she hasn’t embraced broccoli yet but I know she will someday! I don’t buy the pouches anymore – she’s kind of outgrown them but I used to buy the Happy Baby/Tot brand. I tried to look for ones that had veggies in the top of the ingredient list. Good luck!

  35. Such an informative and interesting post for parents and non-parents with kids in their lives! This was a great read, Mel, and I’m sure so helpful to a lot of families. Thanks for sharing!

  36. Jennifer says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I couldn’t agree with it more! It’s funny because I just finished reading “French Kids Eat Everything” and then checked your blog and read this post. Great timing! So many similar ideas! My boys are pretty good eaters, but we’ve had a snacking problem (like, all day- they are major grazers) that I’m now trying to curb so that they are actually hungry and want to eat when we sit down for meals. I also recently started the “one bite” rule, which really works! Anyway, thank you for all these tips. I’m sure I will refer to it frequently. The one I struggle with the most is letting them “help” in the kitchen….(thank you for saying how hard that is for you, too!). Sometimes I really struggle with giving them specific tasks that they can do (they’re 4 & 2 with a third coming next month) without it making a lot more work for me (or a pretty big mess, wasted food, etc). If you have any more ideas of specific tasks you’ve given your kids during meal prep, I would really appreciate it! Again, thanks for such an awesome post!!

  37. Brittany says:

    This is the most wonderful article I have seen! (I’ve always wondered if the children of food bloggers willingly eat the sometimes exotic meals posted.) We already do a few of the things on the list but I’m anxious to try some of the others! Thanks for sharing!

  38. Great post! I especially like your Top Ten list! Thanks for sharing.

  39. Amy says:

    I just love this post so much! You are such an encouragement to me and so many others. Thanks for sharing – and for all your great ideas. πŸ™‚

  40. Ashlee says:

    I love and use all of these ideas! I’ve been around too many families where mom is a short order cook and vowed I wouldn’t do that. The only other rule we have is they have to eat their age in bites. My 5 yo has to eat 5 bites of dinner before she’s excused. Anyway great tips!

  41. Emily says:

    Love this post. I have 4 kids and do many of these things already. Ive found that as my kids get older, they are more adventurous eaters, they appreciate homemade foods more and dinner time is more pleasant…not all dinners though. We love your white sauce enchiladas, except the 3 yr old who gags the entire time…but she’ll come around eventually. I hate making lunch and wish we could just skip that meal or just make it into a large snack…which is usually how it turns out anyway. I will be trying more of these techniques.

  42. Christie says:

    Hi, Mel! This isn’t related to the content of your post or a question about a recipe. I just wanted to tell you how cute your kiddos are! The one of your daughter on today’s post made my heart melt. She’s ADORABLE! Thanks for all of the hard work you put into this site and for the great recipes. I would venture to guess that the majority of recipes I make come from you! THANK YOU (and my family’s tummies thank you, too!)! πŸ™‚

  43. Teresa R. says:

    This is a great post! My kids are grown now, but I used a lot of these tips when they were growing up. And they turned out to be healthy, and they love most all foods.
    Your children are adorable!

  44. Jennifer says:

    Mel- I’ve been following your blog for awhile but never commented before. I couldn’t resist this time because I LOVED this post. I have 3 kids, the oldest is 5. I’ve applied a lot of these same rules since they were born & they are much better eaters than the majority of my friends kids. I rarely have to battle with the oldest 2 because they have learned to eat what we give them & best of all are learning what’s healthy & will hopefully apply it when they are older. Thanks for sharing!!

  45. TrishInFL says:

    This article is the exact reason your blog is one of my favorites! It speaks to me, and gave me some great jumping off points. I love the counting colors idea, and will start that with my daughter tomorrow night! Thank you again for another perfect article!

  46. Keri says:

    Thanks for all the great advice. I’ve come to dread dinner time because of our extremely picky child. It has been a VERY LONG 4 years with him being such a bad eater. I already do some of the things you incorporate but I really like your approach and I’m going to try and implement more. Thank you for taking the time to write this out. I love your recipes and I find myself turning to your blog multiple times a week. I always know that I’m safe with recipes I find from here. Thanks again!!

  47. Kalie says:

    Such a wonderful post! You are a role model for me. Thanks!

  48. Jenni says:

    BRAVO! Thanks so much for your frank and encouraging post. I am a registered dietitian, and if I were practicing at this time I’d be handing this out to every parent that came in the clinic! I am going to pin it so the next time I run across an ailing parent in this area, I’ll hand this over. I love your colors idea and repeating the meal. Encouraged me to not give up so soon on a so-so accepted meal. THANKS!!!!

  49. junecutie says:

    I loved this post! It made me think of all the dinner table memories when my kids were small. (They are 35, 38, and 42 now.) My favorite trick was that the first time a new food was introduced, there was only enough for two, and it was only for grownups. (Too special for kids!) And we really yum yummed it up. The next time was a larger serving, and I ‘let’ them talk me into giving them a taste. The rest is history….. They always wanted the ‘grown-up’ food more than anything else.

  50. Shannon says:

    I loved this post! It made me feel better about the dinner rules we are implementing with our three year old daughter…they are all pretty much the same!

  51. Kathy says:

    I have four kids, and can not agree with you more.Their ages range from 13 to 18, and finally feel I can cook (almost) anything without moans, groans, or wasted food. It has been a long process. I’ll admit there were days when I swore I was going to quit trying to make interesting and healthy meals, and make hot dogs every night, just to teach everyone a lesson! But, of course, I did not give up.

    The other idea/tip, that I appreciate about your blog, is that you do not seem to label foods as good or bad. Sure there are good foods and bad foods. I know parents who claim (kind of annoyingly!) their kids only eat healthy/”good” food. When these kids are around “bad” food, they can not control themselves, usually in a sneaky, hiding from their parents kind of a way. In our house you will find both fresh fruit and veggies, and bags of chips. My kids don’t go crazy when there are chips around. I am glad that my children are older now and make pretty good food decisions on their own. And, I bet your kids will do the same. Again, thanks for your blog!

  52. MelanieL says:

    I really enjoyed this post! Great tips and your kids are adorable:)

  53. Patty says:

    I do similar things at my house and it shows. Like you I tell the kids they have to try it. I include they have to try it with a smile and if they truly don’t like it they don’t have to eat it. I have found that when kids eat the food with a smile they will actually like it where they didn’t when they are making a grumpy face. Parents who tell me they have picky kids might be surprised at how many of the kids like the food I have prepared for them when they are told to eat it with a smile.

    Now, I don’t ever tell the kids they have to eat everything – when I tell them “you don’t have to eat it all if you truly don’t like it” I am just letting them know I am not there to be the enemy. When they know they have an out they tend to be more willing to try it and not feel that it is a battle of wills. And no, that doesn’t mean I am a short order cook. Like you it just means they can eat the other items we are already eating.

  54. emily says:

    Hey Mel, thanks so much for the tips! We are a work in progress, too. Speaking of which, my kids are now out of school for the summer and I am finding myself stuck in a pb&j for lunch rut. What does lunch time look like for your family during the summer when everyone is home?

    • Mel says:

      Hi Emily – great question. Lunch is kind of its own separate beast. Breakfast is always hot (with maybe 1 day a week where cold cereal comes into play) and I rotate through a few of my breakfast staples like oatmeal pancake mix, blender pancakes (or waffles), steel cut oats (I start them the night before and let them sit overnight), scrambled eggs, etc. But for lunch, I’m encouraging my older kids to be independent. I don’t want a 15-year old who still needs their mom to make them a PB&J, right? So I make lunch for my three younger kids (ages 5, 4, 1) but my older boys (9, 7) make their own lunch with my supervision to make sure they aren’t just eating chips for lunch. But overall, lunch is simple at my house. I rarely, rarely make hot lunch; it’s usually sandwiches, wraps (they love sandwich fillings wrapped in whole wheat tortillas), grilled cheese, leftovers if we have them, you know, that kind of thing. Sometimes it’s even homemade “lunchables” – whole grain crackers with cut up meat and cheese. My rule for lunch, even with my older boys, is that there has to be a fruit or vegetable, some type of protein (peanut butter, turkey on sandwich) and then they can choose crackers or whatever to supplement. Sorry I’m not more help but we keep it kind of simple!

  55. EmilyF says:

    Great post! I have 4 kids, ages 9, 7, 4, and 22 months. Feeding my children has to be one of the greatest frustrations for me. My 7 yo in particular is incredibly picky. The thing is, I follow most of these philosophies and my husband and I are both very adventurous in eating. I am not as consistent as I’d like with dinner, but we do sit down together with a set table at least 3 times a week. A couple of years ago, I backed off on making my 7 yo take a bite because it was causing so much anxiety for her and problems in our relationship. Reading this makes me think I need to tighten up … but I am SO nervous!! Anyway, I appreciate all of your tips and the recipe ideas. And knowing they work for you is a vote of confidence!!

  56. Denise says:

    Loved this post. I happen to have a picky eater on my hands and I’m trying to improve his willingness to try new foods. Thanks for the great post!

  57. Manda says:

    I chuckled when you mentioned kimchi because we currently have a big jar in our fridge (my husband lived in Korea for 2 years) and my kids beg for bites of it straight out of the jar when my husband makes kimchi rice.

  58. Alyssa says:

    Thank you for this post! I need to use some of it with my boyfriend!

  59. Chelsie says:

    Thanks for the tips! It is impossible to get my 2 year old to eat anything. Not even chicken and potatoes some nights. I think I may have to use some of these tricks on myself though because I am probably the pickiest eater in the house. Hopefully I can broaden my horizons and help my son too.

  60. Rebecca says:

    Love it! And love that we follow lots of the same rules. They work! My 6 year old used to struggle with onions and only ate them cooked, but now requests onions on his hamburgers. Blows me away. He also loves his dads homemade onion rings. His 3 year old sister is another story, but we are working on it! She does love mushrooms on her salad, which her brother doesnt. I agree that it is a constant work in progress to raise well rounded healthy eaters.

  61. Shaynee says:

    Great post and one that we basically follow already except for a few differences. I wanted to tell you though to beware of your son who doesn’t like tomatoes. I never liked them because I swore they made my tummy hurt, but was told to eat them anyway. I never had any outwardly signs of bad stomach issues, so my mom made me eat them. Come to find out years later, I’m allergic to them!!! I can eat ketchup and tomato sauces, but anything using raw tomatoes? Forget it. It makes me really sad too, because tomatoes are in everything.

  62. Army of 7 says:

    Great post! With 5 kidlets in our family too {nearly the same age} we have those exact rules. I think part of the ease in having a large family, is the kid love sitting down to the table together. It’s a time to interact with each other.

    I laughed at the potato situation! We’re Hispanic & Asian, so all of us love spicy {sriracha} flavors but my kids won’t touch potatoes.

  63. Marcia says:

    Bravo! Too many people bend over backwards to get their kids to eat! #3 is my favorite, I always told my kids that this is what I made for dinner, what is on your plate are your choices, and you must try everything on it. They didn’t like everything, but they were always good eaters! We never had dinner “battles”, either they ate or they didn’t. If they didn’t, no dessert or snacks. Doing this when they were young, they didn’t even know that they weren’t suppose to like certain things. That came when they started eating with friends!

  64. Brinestone says:

    We do this almost exactly (I can’t get my husband to eat his vegetables all the time, and I haven’t figured out how to get my boys to love helping in the kitchen like yours apparently do, but otherwise . . . ). The one-bite rule is AWESOME because, like you said, the first try is the hardest, and often they find they like it. And if they don’t, by the second, or third, or tenth time they try one bite, they might decide it’s not that bad, or even that it’s tasty after all. Have you read, “How to Get Your Child to Eat (But Not Too Much)”? Your rules reminded me a lot of her principles, and they work. One I might add is to grow your own produce. Kids are curious about being able to eat something growing outside and might be willing to try things that are “weird” if they’re in your garden.

  65. Amanda says:

    Awesome advice Mel! Thank you for this. I’m also glad you included what foods you don’t like because the other day when I was browsing the index, I thought there must not be much you won’t eat!
    Oddly enough, after just reading this, my 21 month old pulled out peas to go with her zephyr pancakes this morning. (She also ate some blueberries) hahahaha.
    Thanks for being so helpful and sharing what works for you!

  66. Kim says:

    I teach a high school Child Development course and I am going to use this article in my class! Such practical and common-sense ideas and suggestions.

  67. Beth says:

    This is awesome, Mel! We follow many of the same rules, and our two girls (7 and almost 4) are fantastic eaters. My mom marvels that my girls will eat just about anything, and I’m so pleased about that. My dad marvels that they will eat so many things that HE won’t eat, such as peppers and salmon and brussels sprouts and squash! πŸ™‚

  68. Lisa Clark says:

    Thank you for this post! We have really been struggling with our oldest son, almost three, lately. Dinner time has become something that I dread because I cannot get him to eat what I cook. I will try these suggestions and see if they help. Thanks so much!

  69. [email protected] says:


  70. jen says:

    Thank you thank you thank you!!! I’ve got my first baby on the way and a CRAZY PICKY husband… I worry SO MUCH that my kids will take after their Dad and *I’m* the only one who cooks in my house (unless it’s on the grill, then that’s the Big Guy’s job.)

    Hopefully this list will really help us a ton… except for the one part… you think my kids would believe that their Dad is allergic to tomatoes, mushrooms, and onions?? B/c he WILL NOT eat them if they’re visible. So sad. SO SAD!!! lol

  71. Anne says:

    Thank you so much for this post! It comes just at the right time for me when I’ve started tackling my girls’ food issues yet again – they are possibly the least adventurous eaters in the world!! I’m feeling reassured in my approach, which seems quite similar to yours, and I’m picking up new tips as well πŸ™‚ Now if only you could sprinkle some magic fairy dust on me to make me a more enthusiastic cook, we’d be laughing πŸ˜‰ Thanks again, bookmarking your blog right now!

  72. Emilee says:

    Thank you for the list of suggestions. My four year old could eat the same food for each meal. I think I’m going to start with the tip about including variety. She loves to help cook, and I’ve considered letting her choose a meal a week that she’s in charge of helping with. We’re working our way to the “no thank you” bite (why my husband’s family called the one bite rule growing up). We’ve started with, no thank you but it’s going to be on your plate. No more tantrums about chicken touching her plate anymore, so now I guess it’s time to take a bite.

    • Mel says:

      Emilee – I think you are spot on with your progression – it’s all about baby steps! And I think it’s good to keep perspective that sometimes just getting through the chicken touching the plate without a tantrum is a success and then hopefully you can move on to other little steps upward.

  73. Megan Lang says:

    I am glad to know I am not the only mom out there that makes her kids sit at the table for dinner, even if they choose not to eat (although I also employ the ‘one-bite’ rule, even on my very particular husband). When I looked over the list of your kids fave meals, I was surprised that mac’n’cheese, and pizza were not on there. Those are 2 meals I have gotten from your site that both my kids are good about eating, and I have found ways to slip vegetables into them. I continue to experiment, though, with many of your recipes. Keep ’em coming!

    • Mel says:

      Hey Megan – mac and cheese and pizza are definitely favorites but surprisingly when I quizzed the boys on their top 10, they didn’t come up. However, I can almost guarantee that if I asked them the same list today, it would be completely different. πŸ™‚

  74. Kristi says:

    Thanks so much for this post! My daughter who is 11 is the pickiest eater out there, and it’s a constant struggle to get her to try anything new.

  75. Ursala says:

    YAY! So glad you posted this…and not just the recipes, but all the things you do to encourage your kids to eat. I was glad to see we follow most of your tips, but need to work on #2 and #9. I grew up hearing “eat your colors”, but don’t do such a good job these days with it. The only thing I can do right not to get him to eat veggies is to remind him of how he wants to be big and strong like Daddy. He realizes that eating his vegetables will help him get there, but vegetables are still a struggle. He will gag down a few bites and then flex his muscles because he is sure they have instantly worked. So, I love the game you’ve made of the veggie/fruit colors and will have to try that!

    I think it would be a GREAT idea if I included Gabriel in dinner prep. He may be more inclined to eat it. On that note I think I will let him help me prepare our weekly meal menu. Maybe if he can pick some of the meals he will also be more encouraged to eat them (NOTE: hot-dogs will not be on the list, but some of those recipes you shared will).

    I was also encouraged to know that your kids don’t always willingly or longingly eat their meals. Our rule is you eat what mommy makes or you don’t eat, and after being mortified last year when Daddy told Gabriel that it hurts mommy’s feelings when he doesn’t eat what I prepare – he doesn’t complain at ALL. However, body language and subtle facial expressions (and the amount of time it takes him to eat) says it all, and most of the time I can tell he doesn’t really like most of the meals I prepare, BUT at least he eats it. I just feel more like SUPER MOM when I find a meal that he scarfs down and repeats over and over “this is the BEST dinner.”

    We will keep trying, and maybe someday there will be more thumbs-up than gags! Thanks, Melanie!

  76. angela @ another bite please says:

    what a great post…i could not agree with you more. My boys are such wonderful eaters…they may not like everything but they always try a thank you bite…and most of the time they end up liking the dinner..if not i have their plate filled with the other sides from dinner I know they enjoy so they don’t ever think i am making them a seperate meal. my kitchen is not a take order kitchen. Fun pictures!!

  77. Sandy W says:

    Thanks for this great post. We don’t have kids, but, maybe my husband and I should use some of your tips to be more adventueous. I have a couple people in mind with kids that might benefit from your plan.

  78. Leslie says:

    Wow! I love these ideas. I’m a grandma so I don’t make the “rules” when the little ones are over, but I do encourage the ideas of letting them cook with me (who doesn’t like to cook with grandma?) and having fun at the dinner table. I’ve started a project for Christmas that I think will be a fun surprise. I’m compiling a cookbook of dishes made by each grandchild — his own little photo journal of dishes prepared, complete with handwritten recipes and illustrations. It’s fun for me to see their sketches of the ingredients and finished dishes, and I can only imagine that one day this will bring lots of laughter and knee slapping conversations — I hope. Thanks, Mel, for all your great ideas. I’m going to try the count-the-colors game this weekend.

  79. Becky says:

    Thanks for the round up of good ideas! I have 3 girls, 7,4, and 2. When the 7 year old made scrambled eggs the 4 year old gobbled them up, which she had never done for me! I’m going to incorporate the color thing…they love colors and crafts, so this would be great for them! I’ve been toying with #10 for a few months and wanting to declare a month being “the month of corn” seeing as I was appalled when none of my daughters would even try frozen corn at my in laws house. Corn! I can’t think of a more universal food, plus my life would be so much easier if I could quickly cook up corn to go with supper. It took my 4 year old 3 bites to eat 1 kernel of corn…sheesh!

    Yeah, June will be The Month of Corn. Maybe July can be The Month of Peas!

  80. Barbara says:

    Beautiful. Just beautiful. You are so positive and respectful that your children can’t help but love and appreciate your efforts, especially when they have grown and come to realize the gift you have given them of lovingly insisting on learning to do hard things, including eating foods that are out of their comfort zone. Your list is inspired and inspiring. We implemented many of these same ideas as our kids were growing and now that our 5th is 13, I am relieved to say that we have a family of adventurous eaters as well. Thank you for outlining these ideas so well! I’m a believer!

    • Mel says:

      For those that asked, the cookbook Jackson has (and seriously looks through almost every day) is the Williams-Sonoma Cookbook for Kids. A handful of the recipes are a bit hoity-toity in my opinion, especially to appeal to a kid wanting to cook it, but overall, I really like this one and definitely recommend (I know there are other kid cookbooks out there – when I got this for Jackson, I was trying to stay away from recipes that used a lot of prepackaged/processed ingredients so he learns to cook from scratch and this WS cookbook definitely fits the bill).

  81. Kelli says:

    Oh! This is PERFECT!!! I don’t have kids yet, but have always worried a little about how I will get them to eat good food – especially with all the “bad” choices out there! Thank you!!! I am saving this article for the future!!!!!

  82. Stefani says:

    Amen sister!!! We have the exact same rules at our house and our kids are pretty good eaters as well. The one bite rule at our house is called the “thank you bite”. It’s a “thank you” to the cook for making dinner. Some nights the kids struggle and sometimes they don’t. Thank you for posting this. I’m sure you will get some negative responses from some daring souls but I’m totally with you on this one!

  83. Mel, this is so great to read!

    My brother has 3 kids that are terrible eaters. I mean TERRIBLE. They eat bread, meat and drink sweet juice. It drives me bonkers. It has scared me from having kids.
    But, I know that when the Mr. and I have kids, I will be referring to your list! I dream of kids who eat well. And I’m going to make it happen (thanks to you!)

  84. Sheila says:

    Excellent, informative post! It is so heartwarming to know there are mothers out there concerned and dedicated to every aspect of their children’s upbringing. Obesity is a very serious problem in America. I loved that you addressed the issue of “cleaning up your plate” which encourages overeating at a young age. Not all of us need the same amount of food to be satisfied. Kudos to you for not replacing rejected prepared suppers with high fat non-nutritional foods! It was so encouraging to read how difficult getting your children to eat right can truly be. It “is” a daily challenge. Adorable pictures! Love your site!

  85. Amy P says:

    These tips are great. Or at least I think they sound very promising! Mine are currently 2 and 7 weeks, so I can begin to implement some with the 2yo now while she’s still young and malleable πŸ™‚ I also don’t make her eat everything on her plate much to my family’s chagrin (the rule at our house was finish it or it’s the next thing you eat – I had a lot of leftover porridge for dinner!) Thanks!

    • Amy P says:

      I’m back to comment with a 4yo and 2yo! They’re decent eaters, although I’ve noticed the 4yo’s tastes narrowing over the last year which is disappointing. Old favourites like bell peppers have fallen off the acceptable list. I try not to make a big deal of it, but I’m really hoping this is a phase and she’ll come back to eating (almost) everything with the help of consistency and repetition! Has anyone else noticed a phase around this age where they suddenly no longer liked things they used to love?

      • Mel says:

        Yes, yes, yes! My kids have all cycled through phases like that – even my older ones that I thought had solidified their likes and dislikes. I continue to offer those foods to my kids and if they are old enough, they have to take a nibble or bite at dinner but I try not to force the issue knowing they’ll probably come around easier and faster on their own terms.

  86. Hilary says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post!!! We use some of these methods in our home too, and others I’m going to try to incorporate- (especially the great bean and potato crusade- my children gag at the mere mention of potatoes or beans too!) I too am interested in the name of the cookbook your oldest uses if you get a chance πŸ™‚ again thank you for all the wealth of information-some of you kids’ “top tens” will be going on next weeks meal plan-

  87. Laura says:

    I loved this post! We use a lot of these same methods at our home. I was wondering if you would share the name of the cookbook that your 9-year old likes and uses. Thanks!

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