A Mom’s Guide to Picky Eaters

Picky eaters. My gosh, I feel like every family has one. Or two. As moms, we get concerned when our children’s diets revolve around the “beige”, yes? The chicken nuggets, the mac ‘n cheese, the pasta, and the bread. Will they EVER eat anything of color? The answer is most will, at some point. But it definitely takes intentionality with showing them the rainbow, as well as a ton of patience.

We were thrilled to chat with Dr. Amber Hairfield, board-certified pediatrician with UTMB Health about all things picky eating, what we should expect in certain stages from an eating standpoint, when we should be concerned about our children’s nutrition, tips for handling picky eating, plus navigating the holiday season. It’s a must-watch for anyone dealing with this on the daily. 

As always, we highly encourage you to consult your pediatrician with specific nutrition and “picky eater” concerns, but we wanted to provide you with high-level resources for your journey!

Curating Healthy Eating Habits: A Guide for Age Stages

Newborn Eating:

  • Breast milk or formula {2-3 oz every 3-4 hrs}
  • Vitamin D

4 – 6 Month Old Infant Guide:

  • Consider waiting until 6 months for breastfeeding babies
  • Do not put cereal in bottle
  • Baby needs good head/trunk control; start with bland cereal fortified with iron
  • Start introduction of peanut protein

6 – 12 Month Old Baby Guide:

  • Breast milk/formula
  • Anemia screen at check up
  • Start introducing variety of vegetables, fruit, and proteins
  • Non-sweet *So key! Don’t introduce sweetness too early
  • Follow baby regarding textures and chunks and how they respond accordingly
  • Allow baby involvement
  • Avoid honey for risk of botulism
  • Try things over and over again {and over and over and over again}
  • Tongue thrusting is normal
  • Give them a spoon for each hand if they try to grab it
  • Baby-led weaning – okay with caution
    • Avoid choking hazards
    • Follow the growth charts – if baby is not growing, they need help getting more calories in

1 – 4 years of Age Eating Guide

  • Transition to cow’s milk
  • Minimize sweets/juice
    • Avoid juice – offer the fruit {fiber and no added sugars}
  • Model eating behaviors
  • 3 meals and about 2 snacks
    • Avoid grazing
    • Variety – all the colors
  • Please know: Toddlers throw tantrums
    • Including over food
    • Don’t take it personally
    • Keep offering healthy foods

toddler making a yuck face at the food she's being offered

School – Aged Children Eating Guide

  • Get them involved
  • Model eating behaviors as a family
  • They will eat what is available. Starts at your grocery list; if it’s not available, they can’t eat it!
  • The family must “buy-in”; keep trying and offering!
  • Do not make a separate menu for individual palates.
  • Expectation of colors on plate – especially green!
    • Add salad to dinner
    • Start small/easy
    • Have your child assist with prep
    • Buy what’s in season
  • Busy schedules
    • Have healthy foods prepped {Bonus points to have your kids help}
      • Buy snack-size Ziplocks
      • Take a cooler to sporting events or activities to avoid the drive through lane
      • Purchase frozen fruits and vegetables
      • Dried fruits are a great source of a quick, portable snack, along with cheese sticks
      • Grab lean lunch meats and roll up with a slice of cheese
    • Stay hydrated
      • Thirst can be perceived as hunger {Applicable to adults as well}
    • I’m bored “hunger”!
      • Avoid snacking outside of mealtimes
      • Don’t mix snacks and TV {no food in the living room}

When to Be Concerned:

  • Always keep well check ups and ask your pediatrician about concerns
  • Weight too high
    • BMI > 85% is overweight
    • BMI > 95% is obese
  • Weight too low
    • BMI < 3%
  • Behavioral concerns
    • Textures
      • choking hazards
      • preferences

When/How to Intervene:

  • Talk to your pediatrician if you are having any concerns about picky eaters
  • How to intervene
    • Usually subtly without bringing extra attention at the appointment. Find a pediatrician you can trust

Resources to Help with Picky Eaters:

Connect with UTMB Health

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


Amber Hairfield, DO
Pediatric Primary Care
Directory, Pediatric Residency Program

Dr. Hairfield is an assistant professor of Pediatrics and a board-certified pediatrician who serves the community in UTMB clinics in the Bay Area and Galveston.


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Meagan Clanahan
Meagan is a Dallas native who has lived in the Katy area for over a decade. She kicked a soccer ball all the way to Louisiana to attend college at her family’s alma mater of LSU, where she promptly fell in love with a Texas Aggie in Baton Rouge for an internship. After swimming back to Texas following Hurricane Katrina, Matt and Meagan fell in love with the Houston area and now couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Following several years of infertility, their miracle twins Ryan and Quinn were born in June of 2010. She believes there is nothing better than a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio, a large Sonic Diet Coke, sushi take-out, Girls Nights Out, and a mindless book to curl up with. Besides playing chauffeur and catering to the whims of her children, Meagan also is the Co-Owner of Houston Moms Blog. You can keep up with Meagan at The Clanahan Fam and on Instagram @meaganclanahan!


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