Parenting 101: How to help your picky eater eat better

how to help your picky eater eat better

Consider this a parenting 101 course on how to help your picky eater eat better but I’ve got to warn you ahead:

*Long post alert*

Years before I became a parent, I’d take a look at my sister bending over her little boy every night at the dinning table, doing acrobatic stunts while chanting, singing plus praying …”ini-love…bobo-love…eat in Jesus name…you must eat in Jesus name”…and inwardly chuckle.

It was always entertaining for me as much as it was frustrating for my poor sister.

Why would a toddler choose to not eat and condemn their sweating parent to the rigors of enrolling in the school of speaking in tongues just to get them to take in enough nutritive lumps of hot amala or beans as the case may be?

I’d look at her and haughtily mutter to myself how I am never going to be ‘that’ kind of parent who sings and chants and prays before getting a child to eat.

My children would eat oh. Very well sef. Without any fuss. And they would be chubby and cuddly too like Ini-bobo. I would teach them from the womb how to chow down mounds of rice plus mountain high lumps of solids.

I bet she’ll laugh heartily if she sees me with D1 now.

Or she might just be kind enough to offer me some wisdom-induced tips on how to match the current I’m-not-eating-that-yucky-food-even-if-you-stand-on-your-head song with current captivating acrobatic moves.

Forget that I’m a mean parent who wouldn’t dance when that song is played and would rather choose to slug it out in my own stern way.

Remember those old elbow-wrestling game and staring competitions? We mentally try that as well.

Let me first tell you about D1.

He is my 6-soon-to-be-7yrs-in-two-weeks darling with the weight of a 4yr old! Yes, you read that right.

He weighs less than his 4-soon-to-be-5yr old chop-chop younger brother. Yet D1 had only been admitted at the hospital (for upper respiratory infection) just once, when he was a year old.

So when the worry levels shoot past the tolerance limit, I tend to go with hubby’s position of..”leave the young boy alone, nothing is wrong with him…he’s fine”…

But still..women…being women would hardly leave a young boy alone…like that. I tell you even though he’s healthy, the worry indicators are almost always consistently on red. So much that I had considered giving him some form of dietary supplements / appetite mawu-mawu stimulants a couple of times.

If I hear.

I hear most children are picky eaters and if they do not like a food, they just won’t eat it.

But what if they do not like every food or they like only one food and then lots and lots of junks, fizzy drinks, etc like my 7yr old?

How do you make a picky eater eat better / well?

For my boy, the first option a la award-winning, lip-smacking meal is unarguably chips+ sausage / grilled chicken

The second manageable-in-the-absence-of first-choice = plantain + stew + grilled chicken

Last option = rice+grilled chicken.

Every other option is Yacky…yucky.

When it comes to fruits, orange…orange…orange and some more orange.

Can you gauge my frustration level yet?

And I’m ‘that’ kind of mother who wouldn’t go to the length of giving in to these barely-there choices so my current fairly-working coping techniques are:

(First level) Cajoling, rationalizing and subtle emotional blackmailing..

(Second level) ‘Reward’ for the first to finish eating…

(Third level) Menacingly stern looks and threats…

Last and highest level: Light tapping / time-outs  in the dark room / study, alone…yes, I have become ‘that’ kind of parent.

But often than not…on the bright and lucky days, we stop at level 3.

And..don’t ask about the success rate, yet. Those are just techniques, the magical tips are still further down.

I tell you, the struggle is real and tiring and I would gladly purchase a magic wand that could make things happen my way.

I’m not giving up, just yet. You know what they say about it not being over until it’s over. And it’s only going to be over when I get him to imbibe an healthy eating habit that would shoot him to an appreciably healthy weight. My goal is to raise (all-round) healthy and balanced kids…so help me God (amen).

It appears that whatever I do, his weight just wouldn’t bulge but I’d keep trying and also speaking with a couple of medical personnel who are parents too…but until I get hold of the magical secret ingredient, you may want to try the following tips I got from Mayo peradventure you also have a picky eater.


  • Create more varieties of healthy foods (like below) to pick from...hian…if s/he doesn’t like one, chances are s/he’d get others from the array to suite his/her palate every time.

food spread

*thinking…maybe if my meals look as colorful and inviting as above…who knows?*

This tip is just right to be implemented prior to the actual preparation of the meals. For me, the chore of meal preparations take a sweaty while and I do not think I’m favorably disposed to fully preparing different kinds of healthy food options and have them pick just one, say out of five. What would happen to the remaining 4 meals or my sweaty efforts?

I believe a 7yr old boy’s habits are nearly fully formed and I also always have this at the back of mind that if I am not firm enough to resist caving in to his whims, everytime, it may become extremely difficult to ‘extricate’ myself or I may make it difficult for him to be disciplined regarding meals / healthy eating which is one of the major objectives here.

Again, I may be wrong. My orientation is also totally different from his. My sweet mum would always retort…nkan ti eyan ba ni lo nfun omo e, mi o nii jale fun e…(trans: I won’t rob the bank for you…one gives whatever s/he has available to their kids). And this has helped me in adapting to any situation, food-wise.


  • Involve them in the food preparation process and they may develop a healthy interest in what is been served…enough to eat and eat well.

This works, fairly well for us. I know it gives my boy a sense of hulk-size importance when he stays with me in the kitchen (especially if lil bro is absent) and he’s involved in minor but overblown tasks in the kitchen. He even taunts lil bro that he’s the ‘one and only mummy’s helper’!

  • Allow them choose what would be prepared for the family, sometimes.

My boys usually ask in the car…’mummy, what are we having for dinner?…I discovered that they are happier anytime I respond by saying…what do you want us to eat…instead of voicing out what I already have in mind. I always end up cunningly evading or modifying whatever they come up with…

  • Be creative with the spread on offer.

Nobody is too big for finger foods / fruits. I do not make use of cookie cutters but I try to chop up fruits into shapes and make everyone eat together…from the same platter. Two days ago, we had carrots, bananas and watermelon which they both enjoyed with hubby while I made dinner. And they finished it all. Or almost. D1 left out the carrots but had some of the other two which is a great improvement considering that he out-rightly said he wasn’t having any fruits at first.

  • Set a good example for them by also eating healthy
  • Minimize distractions.

D1 has the habit of choosing mealtimes to download all the gists from school. How somebody peed on himself while awaiting his turn to make use of the rest-room. Or how somebody called somebody naughty. Could be exasperating and it was all I could do not to shut him up, everytime. A 7yr old should know better, right? Now, the escape non-yelling route is…remember your table manners…let’s talk about it after dinner, okay?

I have also found out (first-hand) that it is not often a great idea to eat in front of the TV set. If you can, turn off the TV set…turn down the volume of the radio and everything else and simply focus on eating.

I’ve had to remind D1 several times that you do not watch TV with the mouth…look at things with your eyes while utilizing your mouth for eating as appropriate.

  • Make meal times fun
  • Respect your child’s appetite or lack of.

I must admit, this one is a bit hard. It is understandable if the child is normally a normal eater…pun intended but when a child does not eat enough and I still have to respect his lack of appetite…hmm. Like, mummy, I want to fast throughout today because I don’t like all the food in this house…and I’m like, okay, I respect that…for 30 minutes, before trying again.

  • Do not force-feed or force your child to eat against his wish / will.

Yeah, as difficult as it may be in practice, it is not advisable to force a child to eat. I’ve tried this a couple of times in the past and D2 threw up everything, all over himself and my rug…not once…not twice. Another downside to forcing a child to eat is that meal-times may become dreadful to them and that would be counter-productive now, wouldn’t it?

Did I hear you say, as long as they take in the required nutrients, it’s fine? Well…sometimes but not always.

Final Non-tip: I sometimes go moral / religious on them just to stir up enough guilt to goad them into quietude / acceptance. Like…

”…do you know how many little boys are out there, cold on the streets with no home or food in their tummies trying to get ordinary garri to eat? I think you should be grateful to God for providing this Semolina + fish and also to mummy for making the food even though she was very tired”.

*Semolina: Wheat pudding mostly eaten with soup*

Don’t laugh now. I tell you it works. When D2 whines now, D1 would retort:

”instead of crying, gratitude is what you should do…mummy, is that not true?”

And mummy would nod in agreement trying to hiding a triumphant smile at the same time.

Doing gratitude works, almost always.

So, there you have it. (no money-back guarantee though…lol).

Do you also have a picky (non-) eater?

How do you get them to tow the path of discipline when it comes to healthy eating?

Do you have any magical tips in addition to the above?

I’d be more than glad to read your comments.


PS: Sorry about the length of the post, would try harder to always shorten subsequent posts.








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Biola Leye

Wife, mother, writer, leader, entrepreneur and lover of all things good.

8 thoughts on “Parenting 101: How to help your picky eater eat better

  • January 15, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    I laughed so hard reading your post.
    As a child , I was a really picky eater ( thank God for mercies)
    Because I towed that path and came out very ok, I try not to get agitated when my children go through that phase of refusing foods.
    It’s just a phase!
    But it isn’t easy for us mothers to sit still and not worry.
    As I type this , I’m so grateful to God for creating mothers.
    The tips you put down just about covers it, put off the tv during mealtimes, involve them in preparation of meals, allow them to sometimes decide what they will eat.
    They will come out of this phase very soon and you will be the one begging them to slow down the consumption of food. Lol
    Cheers dear.

    • January 15, 2016 at 8:27 pm

      *drum rolling…dancing mode activated*…you know you’re the first to drop a comment since I ‘moved’ here…I’ve got a ‘small’ gift for you, sis. Kindly drop me a mail with your preferred delivery address …

      Now to the main gist, you know you are right…mothers would always win the gold medal (without lifting a finger) for the greatest worriers on planet earth. You can’t blame us now, can you? It’s really pretty hard to just sit still and watch cross-legged, hoping they snap out of this phase and become real ‘choppers’. But again, agitating achieves nothing and worrying does not make them desire food any more than it makes my natural hair touch my waist. Lol.

      I’m so praying he comes out of this soon. Very soon.

  • January 18, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    Great post – my daughter is only 16 months old but we are already dealing with a picky eater :). Hoping to combat that as early on as possible!!

  • January 18, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    First, HAPPY NEW YEAR to you my fellow sistah.
    What blogger is doing to us, …….. is not good oo. (Iya Ibadan accent).

    CHEI! Where will I start from talking on this eating palava?! I also used all that levels you mentioned. Petting, bribing, singing and threatening, sometimes small spanking sef when at my wits end!
    Only jegunje, they want! Then agbo Jedi-Jedi is the next port of calling. Ahahaha.

    Well, jokes apart sha, it is not funny o! Some children will come out looking under nourished! I was giving my first daughter Caprigold (I hope the spelling is right) to make her eat! How she was able to stop being a picky eater, I just don’t know! Maybe seeing other children eating in school probably helped. I was glad o jare!

  • January 19, 2016 at 9:43 pm

    I have a very selective eater. His appetite is minimal and the few things he really enjoys do not include vegetables. He hates smoothies so I can hide goodness in those.

    So I don’t panic. He will eat one day. If he survives the day on crackers and pickles and eats 4 chicken legs for supper. Awesome. If I get him to eat 3 cucumber slices, bonus. I won’t fight about food. I won’t Bens over backwards. His belly will tell him to eat.

    My husband was forced to eat food (backed by moral/cultural arguments) and was forced to eat the vomited food. His ability to be adventurous with new dishes or textures is minimal. It’s because of that I am very hands off with being strict with food.

    P.s. have you had his iron levels checked? That can be a cause of low appetite.

  • January 19, 2016 at 10:45 pm

    Kids are so strange with their eating habits. My daughter would eat anything and everything when she was first starting to eat solid foods and was a fairly good eater until recently. Lately, she’s starting to “hate” things that she used to beg for and there are days when she really doesn’t eat much of anything at all. It can be SO frustrating! However, I know this too shall pass. We just keep offering whatever we are serving and encouraging her to try it. I figure the more we fight it, the longer it will take for her to outgrow it. Allowing them to help in the kitchen works wonders as well!

    Thank you for sharing with us at #mommymeetupmondays!

  • January 19, 2016 at 11:04 pm

    Some days I feel like my oldest son eats everything but food. He is constantly putting things in his mouth. I think this is a battle many mothers face and we can almost always be guaranteed that the way we thought it would be before kids is never the way it is after kids. The way we adapt sure is amazing, though isn’t it? Great tips on helping picky eaters. Thank you for sharing at #MommyMeetUpMondays

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