9 Helpful Strategies for Cooking for Picky Eaters

updated Sep 30, 2020
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If you’ve ever had a picky eater in the family, you know first-hand just how frustrating mealtime can be. Figuring out how to get around those food aversions and make mealtime an enjoyable experience can prove trickier than walking a tightrope.

It turns out that many of you are all too familiar with this. Here are your nine most helpful strategies for cooking for picky eaters.

1. Leave sauces and other toppings on the side.

Are you serving a meal with a sauce or topping that might not be a hit for everyone at the table? Try leaving sauces and toppings on the side, so everyone can add the amount they like — or none at all.

I have a picky eater who doesn’t like most vegetables and all sauces. I leave sauce on the side or cut a portion out to leave plain. – Ellen V

2. Persist with serving different foods.

Try and try again, and you just might succeed. That’s the approach some of you have taken.

Sometimes persisting with serving different foods has helped. I don’t force anyone to eat something they absolutely hate, but do push them to try foods again, because sometimes they discover they don’t hate certain foods after all. – QcAllison

3. Stand firm with the meal that’s served.

Many of you were raised with this approach and have taken it yourselves now. There’s one meal that’s served, with no special accommodations, and people can eat or not.

I refuse to be a short-order cook if there is no real allergy or intolerance involved. My solution is simple: You don’t eat the meal in front of you, you’re not eating again until the next meal. – TheOneMouse

4. Get picky eaters involved in cooking.

Getting picky eaters involved in cooking can make a difference in what they’re willing to eat. It can be anything from shopping for groceries to prepping food to spending time at the stove. Knowing where food comes from and how it’s prepared makes it more interesting.

Now she’s involved in what we cook for meals and that actually makes her interested. Especially when we roast a chicken or turkey. She’s fascinated by it. – TheOneMouse

As a former picky eater and a mom, my tip to help with the picky people is to involve them in the prep. Sometimes having control over how a thing is prepared will help a person try new things or give it a second chance. It may just be a seasoning or texture thing. – Angela!

5. Enforce a try-everything-once rule.

Forcing someone to eat something probably isn’t a winning strategy. Instead, get them to simply try things once. They don’t have to like it, or even eat it all; it’s all about trying new things.

Try telling them it’s okay to not like something, but that they have to try it once and figure it out themselves. – food-lover

6. If they’re still hungry after trying everything, offer a very simple second option.

What’s important is that your picky eaters are at least trying the food in front of them. There’s no need to make a second meal, but there’s flexibility in the form on a simple sandwich or bowl of cereal.

I was a picky eater as a child, and I’m really glad my parents didn’t try very hard to accommodate me. They cooked what they cooked, we were asked to try everything, and if we didn’t finish and were still hungry we were allowed to make ourselves a sandwich. Once I started cooking for myself, I started eating way more things. – hitch

If my kids are still hungry then they can make themselves cereal and milk after everyone is finished eating. – The Glamorous Housewife

I decided the table was not the place to have battles and allowed the kids to make themselves cereal after dinner if they wished. Realizing they had options helped improve dinner time immensely. – Baseball mom

7. Make sure there’s at least one thing everyone at the table will like.

Everyone in the family might not like every single item on the dinner table, but make sure there’s at least one thing that will meet everyone’s tastes.

I make sure there is at least one thing each family member will like at each meal. – The Glamorous Housewife

We are a family and we care about enjoying a delicious meal together. I am not a short-order cook, but I do prepare something all three of us will enjoy. She has a few vegetables she enjoys, so I usually make her peas or green beans with dinner. – at12345

8. Make a one-dish exception.

Let them have the choice to take a pass at one single dish.

My mom allowed us all to have one “don’t like that dish, don’t have to eat it.”
One dish. If she made that dish, you could eat leftovers of whatever else she had fixed or make your own meal instead. – MonW

9. Modify foods they already like to eat.

Making small changes to foods your picky eater already enjoys is a smart way to expand what they eat.

I started slow, modifying things he already liked, like using ground turkey instead of beef in burgers. I figured out tastes that he liked and introduced him to new foods with those flavors (teriyaki sauce was a big hit). But then the hard work came down to finding the tastiest way to cook something he thought he didn’t like. It turned out he didn’t like chicken because what he had was always dry. I got him to eat cauliflower and asparagus by roasting them. From there, he started to develop new tastes and that made it easier to push him to eat more interesting things. – Zerinia