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Prairie Fare: Be Patient with Picky Eaters

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service Nutrition Specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service Nutrition Specialist
Families play an important role when it comes to food and eating.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“My grandson is a picky eater. How can I help him be a better eater?” a woman asked me after I finished a recent nutrition presentation.

I shared a few ideas. Some were from experiences with my own kids.

I have two former picky eaters ages 9 and 12. Now they eat just about anything my husband and I prepare.

I thought about my current picky eater, my 4-year-old daughter. What did we do to turn the tide with her siblings?

I had a chance to observe an unusual situation the other day when my son asked to be excused from dinner. I was about to give my permission when my picky preschooler began lecturing him.

“You didn’t eat all your tomatoes and meat,” my 4-year-old noted to her big brother as she studied his plate of spaghetti.

“You have some noodles, too,” she added, pointing them out.

He looked at her and rolled his eyes. I’m sure he was biting his tongue.

“Don’t you want big muscles?” she lectured as she flexed her arm to emphasize the point.

I looked at her plate, which had plenty of untouched food.

I turned and grinned at my son.

He fidgeted, then sat back down and finished most of his food. My daughter smiled and nodded. Then she actually ate most of her food, including some green beans.

I didn’t say anything. I think I was in shock.

Families play an important role when it comes to food and eating. Families not only provide food for children, but they lay the groundwork for a child’s future eating patterns. Parents and siblings can be positive role models when they eat a variety of foods.

Forcing children to eat foods or to clean their plates can lead to power struggles and sometimes eating disorders or weight issues. In fact, eating disorders, excessive dieting among teens and overweight/obesity are increasing in the U.S.

Children, like adults, need to learn how to recognize when they’re hungry and when they’re full.

Try these tips to help guide children to healthy eating habits for a lifetime.

  • Encourage children to help select and prepare food. At the grocery store, consider having the child help choose foods, such as a different type or form of vegetable. In the kitchen, find age-appropriate tasks. For example, a young child could wash fruits and vegetables or help set the table.
  • Consider growing a garden or a container garden this summer. A child who helps grow vegetables is more likely to eat them.
  • Keep a routine. Serve meals and snacks at a consistent time.
  • Forget the clean plate club, even if you grew up with the tradition. Encourage children to slow down their eating at the dinner table and recognize when they’re full.
  • Turn off the TV and don’t answer the phone during meals. Keep mealtimes a pleasant time to catch up with each other.
  • Be patient when offering new foods. Many children are “neophobic” (afraid of new things) when it comes to trying novel foods. Research shows that it may take seven to 15 exposures to a food before a child will accept it.
  • Offer only one new food at a time, along with foods your child likes.
  • Be a good role model. Studies have shown that if a teacher talks enthusiastically about foods and eats them with children, the child is more likely to eat them. The same theory applies at home. If you pass the broccoli without taking a scoop, most times, your child will skip the veggies, too.

For more information about nutrition, including lots of kid-friendly recipes, visit the NDSU Extension Service Web site at

Here’s a recipe from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Board. It’s on the table in about a half an hour. Consider inviting a young helper into your kitchen.

Beef, Bean and Corn Quesadillas

1 pound lean ground beef

Salt and pepper, if desired

1 c. prepared salsa

1/2 c. canned black beans, rinsed, drained

1/2 c. frozen corn, defrosted and drained well

8 small flour tortillas (6- to 7-inch diameter)

3/4 c. shredded, reduced-fat cheese

Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Brown the ground beef in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat eight to 10 minutes or until thoroughly cooked. Break it up into 3/4-inch crumbles. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Stir in the salsa, beans and corn. Cook and stir about five minutes or until thickened and heated through. Spray baking sheet with cooking spray. Arrange four tortillas on baking sheet, overlapping slightly if necessary. Sprinkle half of cheese evenly over tortillas. Spoon beef mixture evenly over cheese and top with remaining cheese and tortillas. Spray top tortillas with cooking spray. Bake at 400 degrees for 11 to 13 minutes or until quesadillas are lightly browned and the edges are crisp. Cut into wedges to serve.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 450 calories, 13 grams (g) of fat, 46 g of carbohydrate and 5 g of fiber.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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