Family meals: Practical tips for combatting picky eating

May 27th, 2022 by

Side view of senior man raising toast to family at outdoor meal table in yardAs a society, we are often encouraged to overschedule our day-to-day lives and family time can easily be overlooked. Between busy jobs, and after-school activities, drive-through take-out is far more convenient than cooking at home. We get it! With half of American parents combatting picky eating in their children aged 1 to 10, there’s growing evidence that family meals can positively impact the growing number of selective eaters.

While family meals provide a daily opportunity for connection and relationship building, the kitchen table can be a space that offers chances for children to learn to try new foods, parents to model safe eating behaviors, and more!



One of the most important things we can do as parents and caretakers when helping a child struggling with picky eating is to create opportunities for autonomy during mealtime. But wait, how do we do that? The best way is by offering choices to your littles. Offering choices during mealtime does not mean overstimulating your child with an overabundance of variety, but rather, it means providing a choice between vegetable A and vegetable B. When we provide organic experiences that encourage autonomy, we are empowering our children to say, “Yes I want to eat this, because it was my decision!”

Another way to incorporate the power of choice into mealtime is by including both safety and stretch foods in your family meal. Safe foods are foods you know your child will eat, they enjoy and have a strong preference for. Stretch foods are foods you would like your child to try, foods they have not had a lot of exposure with and you are working on encouraging them to eat. When creating a dinner menu for your family, it helps to incorporate safety and stretch foods to provide opportunities for guaranteed eating and opportunities for kids to have new food exposures.



It can be hard to sit down and leave your phone to charge elsewhere, we understand that. If you are working on fostering a sense of community and struggling with a child who is refusing to try new foods or is having food regressions, being present and intentional at the dinner table can make a huge difference. Leave the toys and the iPad away from the dinner table. If the focus is to connect with your family, it’s going to be very difficult to do so when your child is expecting to zone out with Peppa Pig.

If screens are present at the table and you are relying on a baby to open their mouth and sneak in a spoonful here or there, while this may seem like a solution geared towards introducing a nutritious bite or two, this is ultimately a short term fix that degrades trust between you and your little one. Eliminate the screens for both children and adults and start talking! Encourage eating by sharing what you notice about the foods on the plate rather than pressuring your child to take a bite.

Try this: “I really love the color red of this bell pepper. When I take a bite it feels crunchy and makes a cool sound!”

Not this: “I worked so hard on this meal, can you please take a bite? It was your favorite last week, can’t you just take one bite?” *This puts unnecessary stress on your child and while we know how hard it is to just sit back and wait, it is so important to feign indifference instead of adding commentary that adds stress.

Struggling to eliminate screen time at the table? Find some great resources here!



The family meal offers numerous opportunities for adults to model eating for littles at the table. For us, the process of learning to eat is often an afterthought. But for those with young children, you quickly discover how learning to eat solids is so much more than opening your mouth and swallowing. We as adults want to ensure our children eat safely, and modeling what to do if a child bites off a piece of food that is too big, or how to move food around the mouth to build an oral map, is so important! When we are at the table as a family, we can model social skills, manners, and the step-by-step actions of eating.

We can also model life skills when we invite our children to help prepare meals. Whenever we can provide opportunities for independence and autonomy, we are facilitating experiences that empower our children to make choices when it comes to what they eat, when they eat, and how much! While it may seem scary to let go of this control, often this provides a more positive association with mealtime and fosters confidence in our kiddos!

Looking for more tips and tricks on helping your picky eater at the dinner table? Start here!


At Nanny Authority, we have highly skilled nannies who are ready to help make mealtime smoother for you and your family. Reach out today to meet some of our fantastic nannies and family assistants by emailing us at or calling us today!