Extension Corner: The curse of the picky eater: getting kids to try

Joan Martin, Nutritionist
CCE-Schuyler County

Most families have at least one. The stubborn kid who refuses to eat at all rather than eat something new or healthy.  The kid who thinks they can exist on chicken nuggets for weeks… and months… and years.  The kid whose idea of green food is Skittles (yep, that was mine). Need some help? Check out these ideas.

One tactic is to let young kids play with food. Give them veggies with bright colors and different textures. Healthy eating is also more fun when they can help. Little ones can wash and dry lettuce and broccoli and break them into small pieces. Older kids can learn safe chopping, grating, and peeling skills.

It may take several tries with a new food before a child will want to eat it. Try it as a snack, not at the dinner table:  that takes the pressure off. Start with a small piece and let your child handle and sniff it, or even lick it to see if they like it. If not, that is OK. Praise them and say, “You tried it, that’s great!” Introduce that food again a couple of months later.

Sometimes kids will like raw better than cooked, especially with crunchy veggies like celery, broccoli, or even beets! And do not let other family members be a negative influence by saying things like “I hate broccoli,” or “Eeww, beets.” Do not let them “YUCK someone else’s YUM.”

Veggies and fruit can be put in smoothies for fussy eaters. Here is a healthy and cheap recipe for Creamy Mac and Cheese. See what is in there? Don’t tell—they’ll never know!

Adding winter squash makes this Creamy Mac & Cheese recipe a healthier choice for kids.


Creamy Mac & Cheese

Winter squash brings great flavor to this healthier version of homemade mac and cheese!

Serving size: Serves 8, 1 cup per serving


  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • 12 ounces whole wheat macaroni
  • 1 (1½ pounds) butternut or acorn squash
  • ½ cup water
  • 6 ounces reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 (16-ounce) container nonfat cottage cheese
  • 1 cup nonfat milk
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ cup dry whole wheat breadcrumbs


9-inch square baking dish, box grater, colander, cutting board, fork, large pot, measuring cups, measuring spoons, microwave-safe bowl, mixing spoon, sharp knife


Preheat oven to 375 °F.

Coat 9-inch square baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook macaroni for 2 minutes less than package directions. Drain and set aside. Reserve pot for later.

While pasta cooks, cut squash in half and scoop out seeds. Cut into large chunks. Place in microwave-safe bowl with water. Cover with plastic wrap. Microwave on high until tender, about 10 minutes. Let cool.

While squash cooks and cools, grate cheddar cheese.

Peel cooled squash. Place in pot used to cook pasta. Mash with a fork. Add cottage cheese and milk. Stir until smooth. Add pasta, cheddar cheese, salt, and pepper. Stir until combined. Spread evenly in prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs.

Bake until breadcrumbs are browned, and edges are bubbling, about 45 minutes.

Source: Modified from a Cooking Matters recipe