How to deal with picky eater at school

Finicky Eating 8 min

Tips for helping school workers and parents deal with picky eaters.

By DFC - PLC, Nutrition Team
Boy who does not like his meal
Boy who does not like his meal


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

How to deal with picky eaters

All children can sometimes be picky. This can be described as typical eating. However, they are curious and should always be encouraged to try new foods or rediscover not-so-favourite ones.

Two important principles

  • Encourage them to touch and smell the food. And then to sample the food, without pressure. If they refuse to take a bite, let it go so that they can simply enjoy themselves with their friends.
  • Let children decide in what order and how much of the food in their lunch they will eat. If they haven’t eaten well and lunch will soon be over, let them know that they will have to wait until snack time to eat again.

Never force children to eat as it could cause them to become anxious and dislike whatever you are trying to make them eat. Simply try to encourage them again the next time it is offered. Maybe this time will be the one!

A few tips to try

  • Lead by example by eating with the children whenever possible.
  • Seat picky eaters next to good eaters.
  • During meal or snack times, spark children’s interest by exploring the foods in their lunches with them. Discuss their shape, colour and how they are grown or produced, etc. This kind of discussion can also take place during a special taste test activity.
  • Try to create a pleasant atmosphere during meal and snack times. Eating is also a social activity, so let the children chat freely as much as possible. Check out the “Fiche pour une ambiance agréable au repas” (French only) in the Boîte à outils of the Association québécoise pour la garde scolaire website.
  • Other activities you can do with your students to help them discover foods and develop healthy eating habits include cooking workshops, active games and creative projects. Check our website for other ideas. Teachers who attend our free workshop also receive a copy of “Création et récréation” (French guide), a collection of activities.

What role do parents play?

  • Do some children often have lunches packed with more than they can eat? Suggest that they discuss it with their parents. If it comes directly from their children, the message might be better received.
  • Use videos or download the fact sheets found in the Boîte à outils of the Association québécoise pour la garde scolaire website to help you communicate with parents (e.g., “Fiche sur le partage des responsabilités aux repas”).
  • A "Practical and User-Friendly Guide: Breakfasts + Snacks + Lunches" is also an inspiring tool for parents. Order copies free of charge.
  • Display children’s work at school, where parents can see it, or have them bring it home. That way their work can be used as a communication tool (e.g., a mural of nutritious snack or lunch ideas).
  • Direct families to websites designed for them: (French website), for instance, which provides tips and recipes for getting kids involved in meal preparation.

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 good health are able to gauge how much they need to eat to meet their needs.

The quality of a child’s diet is not based on a single meal, but over a period time.

  • If you or the parents are worried, do not hesitate to discuss what’s happening at school and at home. For example, the home situation may influence eating behaviours at school during meals and snacks. For example, if breakfast is eaten early, your students may be hungry sooner in the day. Also, family stressors are known to affect normal routines around meals.

But above all, make mealtime fun! Positive experiences and discoveries are the first steps toward developing healthy eating habits!


Multi level
Finicky eating
Table manners
Lunch time