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Books to Help Your Picky Eater

At one point or another, every parent and caregiver will encounter the dreaded picky eater. While there are many approaches you can take to help your kiddo in the kitchen and at the table, the library can also be a tool! There are many books available to help your picky eater overcome their fear of trying new foods.

Picky eating behaviors can range from a quiet refusal at the dinner table to screaming tantrums because a green food is being served. Both these behaviors (and everything in between) can lead to stress and anxiety around mealtimes – for both parents AND children.

Causes of Picky Eating

Picky eating can come from both innate and learned origins. Children have a natural dislike for bitter foods, which is why getting them to eat vegetables can be so tricky! They also have a tendency to favor sweets. These are both thought to be ancestral traits from our days as hunter-gatherers. Combine these with a general dislike for new experiences and it is easy to see why young children often exhibit one or more picky eating behaviors at some point.

Children can also learn to become picky eaters. The use of pressure or rewards during meals can sometimes strengthen picky eating behaviors. And as parents and caregivers struggle to manage the issue they often stop serving the rejected foods and accidentally make the problem worse!

Repeated Exposure

Children need to be repeatedly exposed to foods in increase their familiarity, comfort, and ultimately accept them. Books can be a helpful (and less wasteful) part of this process. Using stories and images to expose children to new foods may help to reduce the number of taste exposures they need before accepting a new food. In addition to stories and images about foods, trying new foods can be another helpful theme to coax children out of their picky eating behaviors. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Daniel Tries a New Food follows the popular character, Daniel Tiger, as he creates and tries a new dessert with his mom. Next, they make a special new pasta that he is hesitant to try. Once he does, he discovers that he likes it! Seeing characters that we know and love bravely try new foods may encourage young children to do the same!

Lola is a picky eater and her big brother Charlie is tasked with getting her to eat vegetables. This silly book will have children giggling as Charlie works hard to convince a very stubborn Lola to eat her vegetables! His hard work and creativity pay off in the end.

Eating a variety of foods is as important as trying new foods! Young children often prefer to stick with their few favorite staple foods and struggle to branch out and try others. This classic story follows young Frances as she gets stuck in a “food rut” and only wants to eat bread with jam.

Truth be told, I adore any Mo Willems book and luckily this one fits our theme! This book will help to open up a discussion on trying new foods as you follow the two main characters discuss hot dogs. Duckling has never had one and has a lot of questions!

We cannot leave out this classic from Dr. Seuss! Our main character is pressured to try a new food and he adamantly refuses through most of this rhythmic and silly story. When he finally breaks down at the end and tries the new food – he LOVES it! Try making green scrambled eggs at home or dye boiled eggs to turn this booking reading into an activity.

These are just a few of my favorites. More food themed books can be found here. Using books to encourage new foods is not a substitution for serving them, but they can help to reduce the number of taste exposures needed before a child will accept a new food. Books and activities can help to change a child’s perception from “ewww, I don’t like broccoli!” to “oh, that’s broccoli. I know about broccoli. We read about it in the book!”.

Over time, as your picky eater becomes more familiar and comfortable around new or rejected foods – they may eventually start to eat them!

Jessica Barnes, PhD, RDN, LD

Dr. Jessica Barnes received her PhD in nutrition from Texas Woman's University. Her research focused on food preference development and creating materials to help preschoolers become familiar with healthy foods. She has worked with families and communities as a clinical and community Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.

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