How to Plan a Meal for a Picky Eater: 3 Simple Steps to Mealtime Success

Posted by

Breanne Haeger, MOT, OTR/L

Time to read

2 minutes

Do you struggle with deciding what to feed your picky eater? Should you try something new or stick to a favorite food? It’s a lot to think about and we know how overwhelming it can be. 

We’re fans of keeping things simple. In the picky eating world, everything can feel complicated. And when things are complicated, they’re often not sustainable day-to-day. Life lifes and things happen, so we believe in quick guidelines that provide some clarity amidst the sometimes chaotic life of parenting. 

The structure below balances the two main concerns of picky eating 1) I want them to eat enough food. And 2) I want them to learn to eat new things. 

When you are deciding what to feed your child we recommend three types of food:

  1. A “For Sure” food. 

Something that they almost always eat. The trick here is to start with a relatively small amount of this food on their plate (you can always give them more if they ask!). This is our backup plan–if nothing else, they’ll get more of this food and leave with a full tummy.

  1. A “Sometimes” food. 

This is a food that they eat around 50% of the time. Ideally, once their “For Sure” food is gone, they’ll become interested in this food. We recommend putting a medium serving (not huge) on their plate for this one. We keep our expectations low and model food play/eating, as well as talk about the familiar qualities of this food. 

  1. A “What’s That?” food. 

This is a new food, or something that they rarely eat. It is unfamiliar and novel. We recommend putting a very small amount of this food on their plate, to not overwhelm your little one. This is a great food to focus on play using fingers and hands at first. You can also try essentially ignoring this food, removing all implicit pressure, and see if that creates more interest for your child.

Some quick tips and reminders:

  • Ideally we include multiple food groups to create a balanced meal, as much as is possible for your little one. 
  • Sometimes a meal will have one food and sometimes it will have 5, and that’s perfect! This is not a rule, this is just a guideline when you could use some structure and support.
  • Use your intuition! You know your child best. Some days they might not be ready for a “What’s That?” food, and other days they might do best with three “Sometimes” foods. This can be a flexible model. 
  • Place a note with the words “For Sure”, “Sometimes”, “What’s That?” on your refrigerator for a reminder when you’re stressed and could use some extra support!

We hope this simplifies some of the overwhelm and gives you some support when deciding what to feed your little one! Let us know if you give this structure a try!