Positive Strategies for Picky Eaters

  • Situation

    My life is a nightmare of feeding problems with my son. He will only eat potato chips or peanut butter packaged crackers. I’m worried about his health. If I offer something else and tell him he must eat it or he’ll get sick I have to deal with a full fledged tantrum! What can I do to stop this behavior?

  • Summary

    Difficulties with eating can be a complex issue for families. There is no easy answer and working with professionals who are versed in feeding disorders is important. Knowing the literature can help families understand these issues and can help in understanding interventions. There are some positive strategies families can begin exploring when there is an eating issue.

  • Definition

    Positive Strategies for Picky Eaters are strategies that may slowly shape a child to accept a more diverse variety of foods.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 3-5, 6-10
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Pre-requisites


  • Process

    1. First negate any possible medical issues by checking with your doctor.

    2. Try to have scheduled meals and snacks rather than allowing ‘grazing’ throughout the day. Children who ‘graze’ have a reduced appetite and may under meet nutritional needs.

    3. Make the mealtime a positive time keeping distractions such as TV, electronics  and toy play to a minimum.

    4. Explore providing a food that is similar to a food your child already accepts and likes. For example if your child likes the taste of potato chips provide another type of potato chip then move to another item that is crunchy and salty such as corn chips; or placing peanut butter on a cracker rather than providing the packaged peanut butter crackers.

    5. Place a new food on or near your child’s plate with no talk or expectation of trying the food. You may want to cut the item into small pieces and intermittently, quietly eat one or two pieces yourself.

    6. Explore taking an item the child likes and presenting it in a different way, for example if your child likes muffins cut the muffin in half when presenting it.

    7. Try ‘shaping’ by placing very small items within or on top of a food, for example place one sliver of cheese on top of a cracker if the child typically eats crackers. If accepted after a few days add a bit more.

    8. If you are concerned about nutrition do not hesitate to provide a vitamin supplement that is recommended by your doctor.

    9. Note that there are more intensive interventions such as Appetite Manipulation (limiting access to preferred foods). Such interventions should be conducted in settings with medical supervision.

  • Documents and Related Resources



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