Kids and Food: Let the Food Rules Guide, Not Rule

Over two years ago, I read the best book I could have to help prevent my children from becoming picky eaters: French Kids Eat Everything. It wasn’t exactly an area I was struggling with since my oldest was just 9 months old at the time. But it really made me think about the importance of healthy eating habits. There are too many parents who complain about their children being “picky.” In fact, I wonder how many of those parents just believe that all kids are inherently picky.

A picky eater can be turned into a food connoisseur before your very eyes if you implement healthy eating habits in your home. Find out all the ways you can make changes to your meals and start working on your picky child one small step at a time.© micromonkey / Dollar Photo Club

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For the most part, picky eating is a learned habit. It means that one (or many) of the food rules has been broken, whether the parents set that food rule or not. Yes, all children go through a picky eating phase, but it can be a lot smoother when your child knows the rules.

As I have written about the first 9 food rules from French Kids Eat Everything* over the last year, I have learned that some of these rules are easier to implement than others. We still don’t eat a real food diet. Every once in a while, our tablets or phones end up at the table while we’re eating. Sometimes we get frustrated and accidentally say, “If you eat your carrots, you can have this piece of bread.”

The easy rules for me are sticking to a strict snacking schedule, which has worked out wonderfully for us, and giving our girls variety. As for variety, we could still improve in that area.

The final rule from the food rules we have discussed this year is:

Rule #10 – Eating is joyful, not stressful. Treat the food rules as habits or routines rather than strict regulations; it’s fine to relax them once in a while.

That makes me feel so much better. I know that we have plenty of room to improve as a family, but at least we are doing our best. Our girls are not always the best eaters ever. They sometimes drop food on the ground, play with their food, or simply refuse to eat it (especially if bread or crackers are at the table!).

These food rules have gone above and beyond what I expected. They have made breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner so enjoyable. Honestly, I can’t think of the last time I dreaded sitting down at the dinner table to eat with my girls. There are some moments that are stressful in themselves, but I don’t like to focus on one meal at a time. I am focused on overall nutrition. If they eat well over the course of a week, then I know I am doing my job.

10 Ways to Help Your Picky Eater Become More Adventurous

If you can understand that picky eating is something a child learns, I think you will be more willing to try one or a few of these ideas to help your child overcome that habit. These ideas are all from the book, French Kids Eat Everything, and I have discussed them in more detail in separate posts. You can click on the link that leads to each post after I give a short blurb about it.

Lead By Example

Children look up to their parents, and this is especially true when it comes to eating. Are you a picky eater yourself? You may not think you are, but we all have certain foods that we avoid. You might eat all the food that you have in your house, but there are probably a whole slew of foods you just aren’t buying. You need to start by being the example to your child and eat nutritious foods with them.

Read more about my take on this topic in the post Great Eating Habits Start with YOU.

No Bribery

Don’t reward your child with dessert just because they ate some or all of their dinner. Pleading and begging your child to eat is not going to teach them how to eat healthy for life, and if you’re just following it with a bunch of sugar they will definitely get the wrong idea. They might eat well for that one meal, but then you have just taught them that you must offer dessert for them to eat dinner.

It kills me to hear parents say, “You do that one more time and you are going to bed without dinner.” Yikes. Telling your child that they need to behave in order to eat is not going to help them eat better. Food is important for survival so you can’t tell them that their behavior is connected with whether they will “survive” or not. Do not attach emotions to eating or this will affect your child’s view of food for life.

Find out more about this topic in the post Emotional Eating.

Cook One Meal

I think all one year olds can turn into demanding little people, and if we start to listen to their orders at that age, we’re in for life. Do yourself a favor and cook one meal for the family, not for individual tastes.

Read more about this topic in the post Short-Order Cooking.

Eat Together without Distractions

Family meals are where all the healthy eating habits you have been teaching your child come together. If you are eating as a family, but there are distractions, you are not using the important teaching moment that comes with that special time. If you aren’t eating as a family at all, start now. It’s so important for children to learn about food at the dinner table rather than at school or a friend’s house.

Get more in depth discussion about family meals in the post No Distractions.

Variety Is Key

I find it so easy to buy the same foods over and over, especially when our food budget is so tight. But the more your kids eat the same foods, the more they will scoff when something new is on their plate. Be willing to switch out potatoes for sweet potatoes, or bananas for pineapple. Start small and it won’t be such a scary thing for you or your kids.

You can read more about this topic in the post Eat Your Veggies.

Encourage Tasting New Foods

The more you offer variety, the more your child will become curious about what you are serving, and hopefully decide to try it. Getting your child to eat new foods is not easy, and it may take some time, but it often starts with just talking about the food itself. Let them smell it, touch it, and talk about it first. The tasting will follow.

It’s important to continue offering foods that your child has refused to try in the past. Keep putting it on their plate at different meals, and just see what happens after 5 or 6 times. It may surprise you.

Find out more about this topic in the post Taste Everything.

Limit Snacks

If you let your child decide when they will snack, feeding them actual meals will become a struggle. Try to limit snacks to once or twice a day, and be sure that the snacks are at least one hour before a meal if not more. We have one afternoon snack, and it fits perfectly between lunch and dinner. We have never had a problem with our daughters begging for something to eat in between meals.

Get my take on this topic in The Snacking Rule.

Enjoy Cooking and Eating

If you never enjoy the time when you have to prep dinner or dinner time itself, your kids will see that and become tense themselves. It’s important for parents to set the mood for this time.

Read more in the post Eat Slow.

Eliminate Processed Foods

One of the hardest parts for you might be eliminating the processed foods. A lot of processed foods are so convenient and give you more time to do other things. But if you reach for healthy alternatives instead, your kids will learn how to eat healthy.

Get my thoughts in Eat Real Food.

Treat Rules as Guidelines

The last rule is one that I briefly went over above. It’s imperative that you leave room for flexibility as you implement these healthy eating habits with your kids. You can’t expect perfection from them or yourself. Just don’t be too strict with the rules, and let them be broken on occasion (i.e. cake is good for birthdays, but not everyday).

Overall, make food fun, offer plenty of healthy variety, and don’t force feed.

What food rule does your family struggle with?

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I'm a mom of 3 on a journey to feed my family nourishing foods. Personally, I believe that you can feed your family healthy, delicious meals without spending a fortune or slaving away in the kitchen.


  1. I am a self-professed picky eater, and I really wish I wasn’t. In the last couple of years, I’ve been working on trying to become less picky. We aren’t parents yet, but I’ve already told my husband that when we have kids I want to be really intentional about helping our kids NOT to become picky eaters!

    Thanks for sharing these tips; I’ve got your post bookmarked for when we’ve got little eaters in our house!

    • Good for you, Katie! Not everyone wants to change, even to help their own children. I was really picky myself before I met my husband. I couldn’t touch onions, not even in salsa. Now, the only time I avoid onions is when they are raw. It took many, many years to get to this point, so I totally get it. I am sure your kids will be less picky than you because you started thinking about it before having any!

  2. I love this great view of food. It seems like this book (and your additions) are all about making eating a happy and healthy event. We’ve been so thankful to have non-picky eaters (for the most part). I hope they’ll stay that way through adulthood!

  3. This book has been on my to-read list for much too long. I need to check it out from the library.

  4. Just kept nodding my head as I read through your tips Charlee. We do all of these and I agree it has helped so much with our kids! They’re not picky, though some of them are more adventurous than the others. But that’s the thing, I’ll never label them as picky because that might convince me to stop offering them new food or assume they just won’t like it. We give them everything we eat and only cook one meal.

    • I’m so glad you pointed that out, Nina. We shouldn’t label our kids as picky, even in our heads, because it does make us forget to offer them new foods. I have been terrible at offering my oldest raw onions lately, because in the past she has always said she doesn’t like them. I gave her some yesterday with dinner, and she at least put them in her mouth. She wouldn’t swallow them, but it’s a start. I have to continue offering them to her and just let her explore this food that she has labeled as something she “doesn’t like.”

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