10 Tips to Turn Around Picky Eaters by Suzy McCleary

As a mother of a picky eater I know how frustrating and worrisome it is when your kids refuse to eat the healthy meals you prepare for them. My son Noah is a formerly picky eater (Yes! There is hope!). Being foodies, my husband and I expected our kids to love food as much as we did. Instead, mealtime became stressful as Noah refused eat to anything but a handful of foods.

It has taken us years to help Noah enjoy a more varied diet. It happened slowly, in baby steps, and at times I wondered if he’d ever enjoy dinner. But with a lot of patience, love, and persistence, he learned to enjoy healthy foods.  And if Noah can do it, any kid can! He still doesn’t love his vegetables but he’ll eat them now and he enjoys trying new things. I’ve been surprised by some of the foods he enjoys, like spicy salsa and falafels!

If you have a picky eater, I feel your pain! And you will get though it, too!  This guest blog post by acupuncturist and blogger, Suzy McCleary is very helpful in laying out the basics for dealing with your picky eater. By following these tips eventually you can take back mealtime and make exploring new foods easier and more fun for everyone.

Bon Appetit!

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Essential Food Fundamentals for Healthy Kids

by Suzy McCleary

Picky Eater

Dealing with a child who is a “fussy eater” can be an extremely frustrating time. 

As well as being concerned for the health of your child, you have spent valuable time and money preparing a meal, only to have your child turn their nose up at your efforts.  However, your child may not just be a fussy eater, they may actually have a poor appetite because of an imbalance in their digestive system.

What Causes Poor Appetite in Children?

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine there are 3 main causes of poor appetite in children:

  1. An inherent weakness of their digestive system

  2. Sluggish digestion, otherwise referred to as food accumulation

  3. Disrupted digestion in the aftermath of a viral or bacterial infection

The good news is that you hold most of your child’s health in your hands!

Here are some everyday tips to boost your child’s appetite & transform a fussy eater.

Tip #1: Create a Healthy Family Food Culture

A healthy relationship with food starts at home – kids’ attitudes towards food come from you! Kids learn by being a part of the family food culture, including growing food, seeing food being cooked, and being involved.  

Connect kids with the source of their food. Visit the local farmers markets. Provide children with a sense of responsibility in the kitchen.  Get them to set the table, or choose which vegetable will be served with dinner. Allow them to serve themselves.

Tip #2: Eat Together as a Family 

Surviving with Picky Kids

Meal times should be a happy & stress free time spent together as a family.

Remember one of life’s greatest joys is food. Healthy nutritious food is essential for building a strong and sound body. Ensuring a relaxed mealtime will ensure that your kids will receive the full nourishment of the meal. That means phones and TVs should be turned off!!

Don’t be afraid to play a game with food.  With toddlers, ask them how the food will arrive on a fork to their mouth.  Is it a helicopter or is it a fire truck?  Make the noise.  Food is to be enjoyed.

Tip #3: Eat Local & Seasonal Food


Where possible provide organic, real, and delicious food.  Remember Mother Nature provides us with what we need just at the right time of year.

Growing kids need plenty of water, complex carbohydrates, and good quality protein & fats, which are essential for optimal brain development, immune functioning, and hormone regulation. Good food keeps good genes turned on and keeps disease causing genes turned off.

Tip #4: Give the Opportunity To Taste

I will not eat my vegetables!

“They don’t have to like it.  Just taste it.”

Taste develops according between the ages of 6months and  3 years.

Give your child the opportunity to taste any food at least 15 times!


Tip #5: Maintain Moderation & Balance


Growing children need complex carbohydrates, good quality protein and fat. 

Kids who eat nutrient-dense foods in a wholesome and balanced way and don’t rely on carbohydrates and sugar to fill their needs are going to be healthy! Raw, cold fruit and vegetables with little fat, or rice cakes with cucumber and yogurt dip are often hard to digest and offer little nutrition for many children, especially in winter.


Tip #6: Allow Children to Respond to Their Feelings of Hunger & Fullness

Never force your child to eat!

Within reason, allow children to express that they feel full and have had enough.  Parents need to set boundaries.  When dinnertime is joyful and food is delicious, fussiness tends to leave the table.  Food should never be about deprivation or used as a treat.  You often find you only eat what you need if you take your time and really taste every mouthful.  It is important to remember that digestion starts in the mouth with the saliva.  Chewing every mouthful well helps ensure that the food that is eaten is better digested.

Tip #7: Reduce the Number of Snacks Your Child Eats

Avoid filling your child up on snacks an hour before mealtime.

It takes two to four hours for solid food to clear from the stomach. If there is a certain amount of food in the stomach before the meal, it will reduce the child’s interest in eating. A good suggestion is to give small snacks (e.g. a small apple or banana, or small tub of plain yoghurt, a boiled egg) between meals.


Tip #8: Encourage Children to Have More Outdoor Activity in the Sunlight.

Fun Friday PINS image

Ensure children enjoy a minimum of 3 hours of outside time, away from computers and television.

Appetite is stimulated by physical activity. Ride a bike, kick a ball, climb a tree.  Allow your child at least 20 minutes a day of play in the sunshine.


Tip #9: Treat Any Imbalance with Pediatric Massage 

Pediatric Tuina Massage Everyday Will Keep Your Kids Well

When in doubt, try massage!

Pediatric Tuina (Chinese Massage for Kids) can be very effective treatment for improving a child’s digestion.  Typically a child will regain their appetite within 1-2 weeks. Again, I recommend seeking a qualified Chinese Medicine Practitioner to ensure your child is correctly assessed and that you are correctly taught the techniques.



Tip #10:  Prevent Mealtime Mayhem 


About Suzy McCleary



Suzy McCleary is a registered Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine,
 acupuncturist, herbalist & pediatric specialist. As a former pediatric 
nurse, she has over 22 years experience in the care of children and their 
families. Suzy is the founder of Enhanced Health Acupuncture & Chinese 
Medicine and more recently AcuKids Pediatric Wellness Centre, specializing 
in the treatment of children’s allergies including food allergies, eczema 
and asthma. She is the author of https://barefootparenting.com.au, a blog providing parents 
essential information and tips on helping to keep kids healthy naturally.


Pitchford P. (2002)  3rd Ed.  Healing with Whole Foods.  Asian Traditions & Modern Nutrition.

Blereau, J. (2010) Wholefood for Children.

Rossi, E. (2011) Pediatrics in Chinese Medicine.

Flaws, B (1997) A Handbook if TCM Pediatrics.  A Practitioner’s Guide to the Care & Treatment of Common Childhood Diseases.


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  1. Great tips! I wish I had them back when the kids were younger. They were super picky eaters like their dad. I actually resorted to sneaking in vegetables into pasta, meatballs and other foods.


  1. […] Poor appetite in children is often mistaken for a child just being a picky eater.  Your child may refuse anything that may be healthy such as fruit & vegetables preferring high starchy processed & sugary foods.  This may be because they have a weakness or imbalance in their digestive system.  To read more on the causes of poor appetite & get some great tips including a chart to download to stick on the fridge go to kidsloveacupuncture.com […]

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