Ask the Experts

Q: How Can I Get Healthy Meals In My Picky Eater?

Your child is a picky eater who won’t touch anything green, and this makes mealtimes incredibly stressful. Here, learn how to manage finicky ADHD tastes while also making sure your kid gets the vitamins and minerals he needs.

Q: “My 4-year-old son with ADHD is a very picky eater, refusing to eat vegetables or most sides at dinner. It’s becoming very frustrating for his mother because it’s a fight every day. He will eat burgers, fries, and other things not really good for him. I’ve been trying to figure out what to do by looking up information, but it quickly gets overwhelming. Any suggestions?” – Izrah2001

Hi Izrah2001:

Boy, did this question resonate with me. When my son was that age, it was incredibly difficult to get him to eat much of anything, let alone vegetables. Some days he would even announce in the early afternoon that he was not going to eat dinner. I learned the hard way that no cajoling or bribing was going to change his mind. Saying it was a struggle was an understatement! But he eventually grew out of it. (Now he’s a more adventurous eater than I am!) And I hope your son will do the same.

That said, here are a few tips I learned from my pediatrician on preparing healthy foods for kids, and a few I learned from a lot of trial and error. If you are really concerned then please seek advice from your pediatrician or a nutritionist. My pediatrician gave me three pieces of advice for my picky eater that were my gospel during those early years.

  • He advised me to look at what my son ate over the course of a week and not to focus on each meal or even each day. If the week overall had a decent amount (his word, not mine) of protein and dairy-rich foods, it was considered a win.
  • If my son liked a certain kind of food (in your son’s case it might be hamburgers), I tried to serve a variation of it at almost every meal. There’s no rule saying you can’t eat meatballs or hamburger sliders for breakfast. My son actually found this idea fun and entertaining and gobbled it up.

[Get This Free Guide to Delicious (and ADHD-Friendly!) Eating]

  • Don’t be afraid to hide the “good stuff.” In other words, if I was making hamburgers or meatballs, I would grind up spinach or carrots and add it to the meat mixture, the veggies were so fine he never knew he was actually eating them.

You can add practically anything to smoothies, shakes, chopped meat, pizza sauce, even brownies, and cakes. My all-time favorite is chocolate pudding made with avocados. Yes! We actually have a whole section on our Order Out Of Chaos website called Foods For Thoughts that will give you tons of ideas like these.

I know that not everyone agrees with the ‘hide it’ strategy. Just to be clear, I’m not saying you shouldn’t tell him what is in the smoothie if your son asks. But sometimes we eat with our eyes. So if your son doesn’t like what spinach looks like, but is fine with it in his smoothie, then you have a fighting chance!

Now here are a few tips of my own.

[Free Download Here: What to Eat (and Avoid) for Improved ADHD Symptoms]

  • And then try again. If your son refuses a certain food one time, make sure to bring it back out again a few days later. I found that Eli was more accepting of a new food when it had been presented to him several times.
  • Make food fun. Kids are never too young to help in the kitchen…or in the garden, for that matter. So enlist your son’s help chopping up veggies for dinner, mixing muffin batter, or planting cucumbers in your backyard garden. Even better? Let your son eat with his hands. Sometimes when we can touch or sniff our food, and therefore get more familiar with it, we’re more likely to choose those foods to eat!
  • Start super small. Sometimes when we want our children to try a new food, we tend to overload their plates. I found that if I gave Eli one pea or broccoli floret to try and said something such as , “It will only take you a second to eat this,” he was much less overwhelmed. I also would always pair a food he hadn’t tried or said he didn’t like with something he loved. There’s a reason why baked potatoes with cheese and broccoli were staples when my kids were growing up!
  • Stay cool. Lastly, you are absolutely correct. There is an overwhelming amount of advice out there to help kids become adventurous eaters. My best advice is to relax. Take it all in stride. Don’t lose your cool and especially don’t fight with your child about it. I’m sure you have other rules you would like your son to follow; pick your battles wisely. As long as your son is healthy (and the pediatrician says not to worry), then let it go. Trust me, he will eventually outgrow SOME of it. Did I fail to mention that my 21-year-old son will ONLY eat tomato soup at his friend Matt’s house?

Remember, you’re only responsible for providing the meals. It’s your child’s responsibility to decide what he eats.

Good luck!

[Read This Next: 9 Nutrition Tricks for Picky Eaters]

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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