How to Win a Food Battle With a Picky Eater in Ten Easy Steps

Got a picky eater? Check out these 10 easy parenting hacks to introduce new foods and expand that palate in no time!

Got a picky eater? Special guest Chef Gigi Gaggero, co-author of “Learning with Little Lulu Lemon” shares her tactics for winning the battles and introducing new foods into your child’s diet! Plus keep reading for one of her delicious healthy recipes! We’re turning this over Chef Gigi, so get ready to enjoy her fabulous parenting hacks! 

For many parents, loading healthy nutrition into your selective or picky eater’s diet will always be a source of a meal time battle. Because each child is unique, we all need to run our own battery of food testing on our child. For some kids, it’s all about sensory issues —which can make introducing new and nutritious foods extremely hard for parents. If that isn’t complicated enough, dealing with children who like repetition and routines each day, provides another interesting challenge. Oral sensitivity issues can also make this difficult situation worse.

Food Fights: How to Win the Battle Against Picky Eating

If you are a new parent- or a seasoned parent needing to make a nutritional change— please ask your doctor before starting any new food regiments. Make sure you identify why your child is selective. They could be experiencing pain or IBS issues, which is all the more reason to eat a healthier diet. Lose fast-food as quickly as you can. Try to stay dye-free and offer organic, minimally processed food replacements. Make this part of the whole families repertoire. Read labels. Cook at home any chance you have. Avoid highly processed foods at all costs.

Try to identify any food allergies. If children are reacting certain foods, pay close attention. Usually, if a child rejects a particular food— it’s because the body is speaking. It can happen for a myriad of reasons. Maybe your child is pressing his belly against the dinner table, which might signal a belly-ache. Whatever is causing these reactions, these foods should stay off the menu forever. Your child’s body will naturally attack food it identifies as harmful, causing symptoms such as nausea, stomach pain, intestinal integrity, shortness of breath, and hives. With food intolerance, the digestive system alone rejects the food, finding it difficult to digest properly. Follow the food cues.

So, how do we win a food fight battle? Think back on what your child repetitively eats. Identify that item. It could be a favorite fast food item you had bought before you realized it was time for a change. Begin to build other foods to look like it. The shape as well as the color. Example: Making homemade organic baked chicken tenderloins shorter and breaded in breadcrumbs to look like the fast food chicken nuggets you are trying to wean him off.  Take all the time you need. Make sure this process is moving at the speed your child is absorbing the change. Take each step a day at a time or once a week— on the same day each week. Always prepare your child and NEVER lie or be deceitful and sneaky about food— this approach can create more challenges for you down the road and not only about food but trust issues. If you are hiding food within the recipe – tell them, just select the right time—and that certainly is not before they eat it.

How to Introduce a New Food to a Selective or a Picky Eater

  1. Start a food journal. Inside the food journal, build a list containing two columns. In the first column list the foods that your child enjoys eating. Use the other column, to list a healthier alternative for each food listed in the first column. Keep another list on the dates the foods were offered.
  2. Remember, children are always watching and listening, even if you think they are not. Your family’s words and actions can make or break just about anything. Spread the message among the family members regarding your new food-fight strategy.
  3. Eat the desired new food while sitting next to your child. Make comments about how delicious the food tastes while you have you child’s attention and he is observing you eating and enjoying the new food. Remember- if you are not eating it, don’t expect your child to.
  4. Inflict Peer Pressure. Have a friend of the child, or a highly reinforcing person, eat the food next to the child and make positive comments. Again, make sure your child is actually paying close attention.
  5. During downtime or homework hour. Place a photo of the desired food into the mix of whatever the child is working on. Make the food photo like a visual, tactile flashcard. Not a photo from your phone. One photo flashcard for each new food. Use one at a time or a few depending on your child. You know your child’s tolerance levels best. Play a flashcard game. Look at the food picture, and talk about the new food. The food’s name, what it tastes like, and how delicious it is. Where it comes from, and who else eats it.
  6. When you have cycled through a few flashcard activities, add the actual real food to the flashcard line up. Just touch it, look at it, feel it and discuss how delicious it tastes. Talk about how people cook and eat the new food. Describe and identify textures.
  7. Once you have cycled through the flashcard game enough times, and the child has actually seen the new food, now is the time to place a small amount of the new food on a plate close by to the child’s plate during family meal times. Point to the new food and discuss it. Talk about how delicious it is, and allow the child to see you eat it, and enjoy it. Do not make the child touch or eat the food.
  8. Place a small amount of the new food on the child’s plate with his regular meal. Make sure this is a not a surprise and create a no pressure zone. Tell the child ahead of time that you are putting the new food on the plate using the name of the food. Tell your child they do not have to eat the new food, but they need to tolerate the food sitting on his plate during the mealtime.
  9. Place the same food item on the child’s plate and during mealtimes, tell the child he needs to touch the food. Tell the child they do not have to eat the food, it just needs to be touched with a finger once during the mealtime.
  10. Continue the process until your child tastes the food.  Remain patient. The process of adding a new repertoire of foods won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

By the end of a four, to eight month period, depending on your child —you might have them eating many foods from the new, healthy food list column you originally designed. This may include organic grass fed, nitrate free hamburger meats, new, healthier variations of chicken or fresh fish nuggets, lots of real fruits and vegetables in their natural form.

Each child is different. Be patient— in the long run, you and your family will find peace of mind that you will eventually be free from all the additional health issues associated the negative aspects of eating highly processed foods.

Little Lulu’s Lemon Basil Meatballs

These lemony, basil meatballs instantly became such a big hit with eaters that have slow-acting taste receptors. If your child is a fast-food chicken nugget eater. Try shaping these into the same chicken nugget shape.

Little Lulu's Lemon Basil Meatballs

  • 1/2 cup soft (breadcrumbs)
  • Zest from one lemon
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 lb. freshly ground chicken (light and dark meat or ground turkey)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne chili
  • 1/4 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 12 large fresh basil leaves
  • 1 small white onion (diced)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Lemon garlic sauce (recipe below)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350’F. In mini food processor add the lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, pepper, cayenne, parsley, basil, and onion. Process to a paste.
  2. In a large bowl, add ground chicken. Salt and pepper to taste. Add ingredients from food processor, add the egg and the GF breadcrumbs. Mix thoroughly with clean hands. Shape into 20, 1-1/2-inch meatballs.
  3. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, add the meatballs. Do not crowd the pan of they will steam and not brown well. Allow to brown, turning gently, until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes total. Transfer to a lined non- stick surface on a baking sheet. Place in preheated oven for an additional 10-minutes until cooked though. While meatballs are cooking hough in the oven make the Lemon Garlic sauce (see recipe below). Remove from oven with temperature reaches internal temp of 140’F and juices from the meatballs run clear. top with Lemon Garlic sauce. Serve with GF pasta or eat alone.
  4. Makes approximately 20 meatballs

Lemon Garlic Sauce


  • 1/2 stick of unsalted butter
  • Zest from 1/2 a lemon
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced to paste
  • Pinch of garlic salt
  • 4 large basil leaves ( chopped at the last minute before serving)
  • 2 springs flat leaf Italian parsley, leaves only
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • In a small skillet over low heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic, cook until fragrant. Add parsley, lemon juice, garlic salt and continue to cook over medium heat until warmed through. Mince the basil and parsley together at the very last minute, add to the sauce, swirl to release flavor. Adjust seasoning to your preference with additional salt and pepper. Spoon the topping over the meatballs. Serve immediately.

Makes approximately 1/2 cup

Chef Gigi Gaggero is recognized nationally as an expert in culinary education and has coached thousands of children and their families in how to shop, prep, cook and eat better. She is the co-author of “Learning with Little Lulu Lemon” and has been featured on Radio Disney and Bay Area local San Francisco television broadcast, on NBC and CBS. She’s currently publishing additional works including,”The Fun Filled Cooking Party Guide” for children’s parties – and “Food Fight, for Parents of Picky Eaters” is expected to become a pantry staple for parents! Follow Gigi for more recipes and helpful hints on Facebook or Twitter @Chefgigi.

8 thoughts on “How to Win a Food Battle With a Picky Eater in Ten Easy Steps”

  1. I’ve tried a few of these tips, and up to this point those few haven’t worked for me. But you’ve also provided a lot of tips I haven’t tried. I’ll definitely have to put these to the test.

  2. Wow this all sounds spot on! I’ve been lucky and only had 1 so far out of 7 that are picky. He’s 13 now and I’ve kind of just let him win that battle. I hope he’s the only one otherwise this tips will come in mighty handy!

  3. I had a picky eater when my son was little. It took some serious work but we managed to get him to be a very adventurous eater after a few years and now at 16 he eats anything that I put in front of him. Except zucchini. He still hates that!

  4. Living with a picky eater can be tough. My little one has such a small palate, she likes what she likes and that is it. I agree with adding small bits of new foods, this works for me.

  5. I wish I had seen these tips when my son was younger! I’ll be sure to share your post with my friends though. It can be so frustrating to try and deal with the pickiness all the time.

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