This article shares 12 phrases that help picky eaters learn to comfortably and confidently eat new foods.
Language can have a big impact on what and how your child eats. But it can be hard to know what to say in the moment when you’re stressed and worried about your child’s eating.
The parents I work with in the Eating with Ease Program frequently worry that they’re saying the wrong thing to their child and that they could be making their child’s eating challenges worse. They want to learn phrases that help picky eaters.
Scripts can be helpful to help you manage tricky situations that arise with your extreme picky eater during mealtimes and ensure that your words support your child instead of potentially exacerbating their eating challenges.
Bookmark these phrases that help picky eaters learn to eat new foods with comfort and confidence.
12 Phrases That Help Picky Eaters Try New Food and Eat More Variety
It might feel like you’re always fighting the urge to ask your child to take a bite. You know a direct request can feel like pressure and backfire, but they never try new foods on their own. A helpful alternative to making requests is using the phrase “you can.” “You can” introduces your child to new options and shows them all that they are capable of doing with food. It’s a way to plant a seed and also empower them. Here are some examples:
“You can take a bite and spit it out.”
“You can try some when you’re ready.”
“You can move it off your plate with your napkin.”
Adding “yet” to the end of a sentence can be a powerful way to signal to your child that the possibility of liking new foods is possible. The word “yet” signals possibility and growth; they’re not there YET, but they can learn to get there. For example:
“You tried broccoli and you don’t like it yet.”
“It sounds like you aren’t ready for the grape to be on your plate yet.”
“What would you prefer?”
Because your child’s own motivation is so powerful when it comes to them engaging with new food, asking for your child’s input can be a good idea. Kids often feel better about food decisions they make than they do about the ones that we make for them.
Have you asked your child what food they might like to try? Or what would they like to see on the dinner menu this week? Or even if they’d rather the cheese shredded or cut.
I challenge you to see how you can spark your child’s natural curiosity and interest about new foods by asking for their opinion.
“I wonder” is one of the phrases that can help picky eaters. It is a helpful phrase to open up the conversation about food with your child in a gentle way. It can spark curiosity and create an invitation for your child to think about or engage with food in a new way.
Try using some of the “I wonder” examples below the next time you offer your child a new food.
What it would be like if we cut it smaller
If it tastes the same as it smells
What would happen if we squeezed it between our fingers
How it would feel if we licked it like a lion
What it would be like if we mixed with _______
Why this feels hard for you
“What do you think?”
Try phasing out the question “did you like it?” This phrase can reinforce your child’s gut reaction to declare that they do “not like” new things. Furthermore, it teaches them that they should know if they like a food immediately upon tasting it.
Instead of asking your child if they liked a new food, give them space to form their own reaction. If you do want to engage them, try asking an open-ended question like “what did you think?”.
Asking about what they think instead of if they like something can help your child become a confident taster who is open to trying new things and understands that learning to like new foods can take time.
“What would make this better for you?”
The next time your child refuses to eat a meal or expresses disgust at a food you’ve served instead of reinforcing that they don’t like it, begging them to eat it, or feeling stressed, sad, or frustrated, try asking them a simple question: “what would make this better for you?”
Beyond giving your child a sense of control, this question also encourages them to think about how they’re feeling and why.
Their answers might surprise you. Sometimes the food just needs to be moved to a different area on the plate. Sometimes a bit of a favorite dip would make it more palatable. Maybe it needs to be cut smaller. Or eaten with a spoon.
Asking for your child’s input gives them a chance to express their needs while also teaching coping strategies so they can learn how to feel more comfortable with uncomfortable foods in the future.
“Whoa that was a big reaction!” and “wow, that’s different taste”
“Ew! I don’t like that!”
How often are you hearing this after your child tries a new food? Comments like this are common among picky eaters after tasting something for the first time.
You can insert “yet” at the end of their declaration (“you don’t like it yet”). Or, you can reframe their reaction. Phrases like “woah, that was a big reaction” can validate a child’s intense feelings about a new food without reinforcing any negative conclusions they’ve already drawn about the food.
You can also try one of the three phrases below. Whichever phrase you choose, thinking of a script to use before your child does declare they “don’t like” a new food can help you react from a place of neutrality that leaves room for future progress and possibilities instead of a place of frustration.
“It takes time,” “you’re still learning,” and “it looks like you are still getting use to that”
These are three additional options to try when your child claims they don’t like a food after trying it for the first time.
Tasting and developing a preference for a new food takes time. Most kids need upwards of a dozen tastes before deciding that they actually like a new food. Most children with eating challenges need even more exposures.
These phrases teach your child not to draw premature conclusions about a new food, encourage them to keep tasting, and help them to be open to the possibility that they can learn to like something new.
“You can spit it out”
Feel like you’re doing everything right and they’re still not eating? Give them an out – “you can spit it out.”
Sometimes knowing that putting food in their mouth isn’t permanent, kids might be more likely to try.
Would you believe that this is one of my most effective strategies for kids in my Eating with Ease Program?
Often extreme picky eaters have a lot of anxiety around trying new foods. Letting kids know that they can always spit it out – that they don’t have to swallow something that they’re comfortable with – helps them feel more comfortable actually trying the food! I’m not suggesting we start a spitting fest, but I do support politely using a napkin as a crutch when necessary. Sometimes it’s the option that gets kids over the hump to finally trying a new food.
If that’s not working, try model eating the new food yourself. Still not working? Try having fun with food, playing and getting hands on ( see next phrase below…)
“We will be eating next at…”
Letting your child eat whenever they want is understandable when you’re worried about their intake and nutrition. Unfortunately, frequent snacking and a loose eating schedule can backfire. Kids are less likely to try new foods served at mealtime if they have been grazing on their favorite snacks.
Being consistent with meal timing helps with appetite regulation (so your child comes to the table hungry), provides clear expectations, and reduces anxiety.
So next time your child asks for a snack one hour before dinner, be prepared with a response that feels good to you, something like “I hear you are hungry, we will be eating next at……”. You can show your child a clock or set a timer if it helps them to better understand when the next meal will be offered.
“This is what we are having”
You’ve made a meal for your family. Your child sits down and requests something completely different. As hard as it is, get comfortable not offering a separate meal.
As long as you include at least one of your child’s preferred foods in the meal, you are setting your child up for success at mealtime.
Providing an alternative menu or short order cooking for your child can teach them that they never have to eat what you serve and can make it even more challenging to introduce new foods.
“Let’s see who can….”
Even though your picky eater may not be ready to eat a new food, they might be ready to engage with it in a different way.
Often, fun, positive interactions can help your child build the skill and confidence required to help them feel ready to eat.
Asking your child to engage in a certain way with food may not be as effective as making a suggestion they can’t resist: “let’s see who can build a tower, crunch louder, spell out their name…”
Did you enjoy this list of phrases that help picky eaters but still feel like you could use more guidance? Stories of Extreme Picky Eating: Children with Severe Food Aversions and the Solutions That Helped Them is for you. This book provides real life examples of how extreme picky eaters learned to expand their diets and eat new foods and includes a simple action plan so you can see the same results at home with your child.