Deal with picky eater in ECE

Finicky Eating 8 min

Tips for helping educators in early childhood services deal with picky eaters.

By DFC - PLC, Nutrition Team
Little girl who does not want to eat her meal
Little girl who does not want to eat her meal


  • Two tips to lay a solid foundation
  • Several tips on how to help children develop a sense of taste
  • Changes in appetite and tastes: a normal process

How to deal with picky eaters

Now is probably a good time to ask the question ‘What is typical eating for a young child? It’s not uncommon to see young children refuse to eat what they’re served whether the foods are new or familiar. Harness children’s curiosity, and encourage them to use their five senses to explore these foods. Here are a few ideas for dealing with picky eaters in a positive way!

Two core principles

  • Serve all children the same foods.
  • Encourage them to touch and smell the food without pressure. If they refuse to take a bite, let them simply enjoy themselves at the table.

Never force children to eat! Simply try again at another time.

A few tips to try

Before sitting at the table:

  • Prepare children for a new menu or less popular food: show them pictures of the dishes to be served or discuss them. For example, explain where the lesser-known foods come from.
  • Give children a heads-up that the snack or meal will be served in 10 to 15 minutes so they can get ready.
  • Host a cooking workshop with the new foods. If children have the opportunity to touch or cook with the food, they’ll be more likely to try it. Cooking gives them a strong sense of pride!
  • Reading a story about new foods or doing activities with them gives children the chance to explore! Every small step can encourage them to like different foods.

While eating:

  • Spark young children’s interest by exploring foods with them. Discuss their shape, colour and how they are grown or produced.
  • Lead by example by eating with the children. Be enthusiastic when you eat. Sit less adventurous eaters next to a friend who’s a good eater, setting a positive example and inspiring confidence.
  • Let children decide in what order and how they will eat.
  • Maintain a positive attitude even if they have not eaten. At the end of the meal or snack, remove the plates, without comment. Mention to the children that no other food will be served and when they will next be able to eat.
  • Help the children identify foods they know and love so that they know there is something on their plate that they like to eat. They will feel more relaxed and therefore more likely to try the other foods.
  • Don’t overlook the role that atmosphere plays. Creating a pleasant environment during meal and snack times is essential. After all, eating is also a social activity!
  • Watch out for distractions such as television or toys that can surpass children’s hunger and fullness signals.
  • Offer new or less popular foods on a regular basis. Start with small amounts.
  • Patience and perseverance! Children may like a food on the first try, but sometimes you have to introduce certain foods up to 15 times or even more before they will even try them.

What if a child eats less at one meal, but more during other meals and snacks?

  • There’s nothing to worry about! Children who are in a state of good health and normal development are able to eat according to their needs. By the age of two, children’s growth slows down and often their decreases as well. This is completely normal.

The quality of a child’s diet is not based on a single meal, but on the entire day or even week.

  • A child may refuse to eat a food one day, but eat it and enjoy it the next. Just like adults, children’s tastes are always changing!
  • If you or the parents are worried, do not hesitate to discuss what’s happening at the early childhood service and at home. Certainly the routine or context at home may influence eating behaviours in both settings during meals and snacks.

Don’t forget to make mealtime fun! Positive experiences and discoveries are the first steps toward healthy eating.


Table manners
Finicky eating