Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters

The SmartyPants Nutrition Science Team

If you’ve ever felt a little guilty about your child’s nutrition, you’re not alone. 

Every parent understands the challenge of planning well-rounded (and tasty) meals. Between packing lunches, school drop-offs, household chores and homework, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Picky eating behaviors are a normal part of a child’s development.1 Most children grow through periods where a specific food, or group of foods, seems downright disgusting. They might hate something they loved yesterday, or insist they’ve never liked sweet potatoes (even if you’ve been serving them sweet potatoes since they were old enough to eat solid foods). 

Picky eaters can throw a wrench in the best-laid dinner plans. But don’t give up just yet! We've got your back with helpful tips and tricks to help encourage your child to try new foods (and get those essential nutrients they might be missing). We’ll also offer guidance around vitamins for picky eaters and how to make sure your child gets enough of them. They’re backed by our Nutrition Science Team to help jumpstart your picky eater’s journey to getting everything they need to grow healthy and strong.

This page aims to give general tips and information for the average picky eater. We'd advise turning to your trusted medical advisor or pediatrician if you have any concerns about your child’s eating behaviors or diet to determine what’s best for your child. 

Common Questions

  • How Can You Tell if Your Child is a Picky Eater? Icon Plus Icon Minus

    Glad you asked! Not every child who shows an aversion to certain foods is a picky eater. Like us adults, some kids simply don’t like certain fruits, vegetables, grains, or other dishes and never will.

    But if a child eats only a limited number of foods and shows resistance to trying new foods, you might have a picky eater on your hands. 1 Picky eaters typically only eat from a few food groups and may require special or particular food preparations.2, 3 Not only that, they may eat the same foods for a few days before losing interest.4

    Extreme picky eaters are an entirely different category.5 They exhibit extreme negative reactions to new foods and avoid eating them altogether.6 They eat a very restricted variety of foods (less than 20) and are hyper-sensitive to appearance, taste, touch, and smell.7, 8 Extreme picky eaters may even cry at the mere sight of new food.9

  • Why Are Some Children Picky Eaters? Icon Plus Icon Minus

    Picky eating is very common among young children–and very normal. 

    Genetics play a role in picky eating behaviors and some research indicates these tendencies can run in families.9 Differences in sensory processing may also contribute to food aversions, with certain tastes, textures, and smells triggering discomfort.8

    Another reason some children are picky eaters is food neophobia. Fear of trying new foods is often associated with past negative experiences, like choking or getting sick after eating. Children with food neophobia may have a limited range of foods that they feel comfortable eating, which can make it challenging for parents to introduce new foods to their diet.6

    In some cases, picky eating may be a symptom of a more serious eating disorder called Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). Children with ARFID tend to lead restricted diets because of unpleasant encounters with certain foods. ARFID can lead to significant weight loss and malnutrition if left untreated. 6

    Finally, certain parenting practices can contribute to picky eating behaviors. For example, rewarding children for eating certain foods, or forcing them to eat, can create negative associations. 6

  • How Does Picky Eating Affect Growing and Health? Icon Plus Icon Minus

    Because picky eaters may selectively avoid foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals, there’s a chance they’re not getting everything they need for proper growth and development. 

    But this isn’t always the case. For example, a child who hates peanut butter but happily chows down on green vegetables, dark fruits, and healthy fats may still be eating a well-rounded diet. On the other hand, a child who flat-out refuses to eat peanut butter and other protein (like lentils, chicken, and fish) may be missing out on essential nutrients.

    Nutritional deficiencies can interfere with health. Depending on your children’s ages, they may need more of a certain vitamin or minerals than another. Iron deficiencies, for example, are common in children who avoid eating protein (as mentioned above). The amount of iron needed for good growth and development varies by age, so what’s right for a three-year-old girl may not be what’s right for an iron-deficient 13-year-old boy.

  • Do Multivitamins Help Picky Eaters? Icon Plus Icon Minus

    Children’s multivitamins can help fill in the “gaps” for picky eaters–that is, top up the vitamins and minerals they may be missing out on due to avoidant eating habits. Because many picky eating patterns are short-lived (a month of refusing broccoli or skipping oranges, for example) a multivitamin for kids can help stay the course for a balanced diet.

    However, including vitamins with meals won’t transform your picky eater into an open-minded foodie - nor are they a replacement for nutrient-rich foods. That takes time, patience, and diligence from parents who understand the whys and hows of picky eating. In some cases, a flavorful or gummy vitamin can be more palatable for finicky kids. It may even encourage them to try new foods if they understand the association between good nutrition and diet.

    At what age can a child take a multivitamin? Again, it depends on the child, and whether their eating habits and health indicate the need for a little assistance. We recommend talking to your pediatrician for guidance.

Tips for Picky Eaters

What are the Best Vitamins for Picky Eaters?

The short answer: it depends on your picky eater!

The long answer: the best vitamins for your picky eater depends on what your child is avoiding. Hates oranges and other citrus fruits? Vitamin C! Loathes milk, yogurt and other dairy? Calcium! To keep it simple, we’ve included a reference chart you can use to start a conversation with your child’s pediatrician about kids vitamins.


[1] Fraker C. Food Chaining: The Proven 6-Step Plan to Stop Picky Eating, Solve Feeding Problems, and Expand Your Child's Diet. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press; 2007.

[2] Boquin M, Smith-Simpson S, Donovan SM, Lee S-Y. Mealtime behaviors and food consumption of perceived picky and nonpicky eaters through home use Test. Journal of Food Science. 2014;79(12):S2523-S2532. doi:10.1111/1750-3841.12698

[3] Mascola AJ, Bryson SW, Agras WS. Picky eating during childhood: A longitudinal study to age 11years. Eating Behaviors. 2010;11(4):253-257. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2010.05.006

[4] Mascola AJ, Bryson SW, Agras WS. Picky eating during childhood: A longitudinal study to age 11years. Eating Behaviors. 2010;11(4):253-257. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2010.05.006

[5] Dovey TM, Staples PA, Gibson EL, Halford JCG. Food neophobia and ‘picky/fussy’ eating in children: A Review. Appetite. 2008;50(2-3):181-193. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2007.09.009

[6] Remmer S. The extreme picky eater: When a parent should worry. Sarah Remmer, RD. Published December 1, 2021. Accessed February 20, 2023.

[7] Nadon G, Feldman DE, Dunn W, Gisel E. Mealtime problems in children with autism spectrum disorder and their typically developing siblings: A comparison study. Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practice. 2011;15(1):98-113. doi:10.1177/1362361309348943

[8] Rozin P, Fallon A, Augustoni-Ziskind ML. The child's conception of food: The development of contamination sensitivity to "disgusting" substances. Developmental Psychology. 1985;21(6):1075-1079. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.21.6.1075

[9] Cooke LJ, Haworth CMA, Wardle J. Genetic and environmental influences on children's Food Neophobia. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007;86(2):428-433. doi:10.1093/ajcn/86.2.428

[10] Carruth BR, Ziegler PJ, Gordon A, Barr SI. Prevalence of picky eaters among infants and toddlers and their caregivers’ decisions about offering a new food. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2004;104:57-64. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2003.10.024

[11] Kerzner B, Milano K, MacLean WC, Berall G, Stuart S, Chatoor I. A practical approach to classifying and managing feeding difficulties. Pediatrics. 2015;135(2):344-353. doi:10.1542/peds.2014-1630

[12] Castle J. How to prevent picky eating. The Nourished Child. Published December 15, 2022. Accessed February 21, 2023.

[13] Fildes A, van Jaarsveld CHM, Wardle J, Cooke L. Parent-administered exposure to increase children's vegetable acceptance: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2014;114(6):881-888. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2013.07.040

[14] Leung AKC, Marchand V, Sauve RS. The ‘picky eater’: The toddler or preschooler who does not eat. Paediatrics & Child Health. 2012;17(8):455-457. doi:10.1093/pch/17.8.455

 [15] Zampollo F, Kniffin KM, Wansink B, Shimizu M. Food plating preferences of children: The importance of presentation on desire for Diversity. Acta Paediatrica. 2011;101(1):61-66. doi:10.1111/j.1651-2227.2011.02409.x

[16] Fisher JO, Mennella JA, Hughes SO, Liu Y, Mendoza PM, Patrick H. Offering “dip” promotes intake of a moderately-liked raw vegetable among preschoolers with genetic sensitivity to bitterness. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2012;112(2):235-245. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2011.08.032 

[17] Hughes SO, Power TG, Orlet Fisher J, Mueller S, Nicklas TA. Revisiting a neglected construct: Parenting styles in a child-feeding context. Appetite. 2005;44(1):83-92. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2004.08.007

[18]  Grulichova M, Kuruczova D, Svancara J, Pikhart H, Bienertova-Vasku J. Association of Picky Eating with Weight and Height-The European Longitudinal Study of Pregnancy and Childhood (ELSPAC-CZ). Nutrients. 2022 Jan 19;14(3):444. doi: 10.3390/nu14030444. PMID: 35276803; PMCID: PMC8839058.