Picky Eaters Guest Post: Picky Teens and Tweens – What’s a Mom to Do?

The following post is from Janice Newell Bissex, MS, RD and Liz Weiss, MS, RD from Meal Makeover Moms’ Kitchen and is the fourth guest post in the Breaking Picky Eaters series. Thanks so much to both of you for sharing!

Picky toddlers and preschoolers are nothing out of the ordinary. But what do you do if your finicky eaters never outgrew their pickiness? How many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bowls of plain pasta with butter can a mom possibly make, and is it even possible to get teens and tweens to grab for nutrient-rich fruits and veggies instead of the all-too-common pizza and chips?

We recently recorded a podcast show on The Science of Picky Eating and wrote a blog post to go with it. After the show went live, a listener asked the following question:

“My children are still picky at the ages of 16 and 13. I read this blog and listened to the podcast and probably made all the mistakes listed. I was a very picky eater as a child and it looks like my children inherited the same behavior. I’m ready to make changes but it seems the ones mentioned are for younger children. I am interested in anyone’s experience with teenage picky eaters.” — Terry

Janice and her tween, Leah, plan the weekly menu together. They look through cookbooks (including our newest book, No Whine with Dinner), food magazines, and online recipe sites. Feel free to use our free 7-Day Meal Planner to keep track of your favorites.

We posted Terry’s question on our Facebook page, and the tips for getting picky teens to be more adventurous came flooding in. Here are just a few of the clever ideas that have worked wonders for families:

  • Menu Plan: Assign your teens one night each week when they’re responsible for planning and preparing the family meal.  When teens “own” the meal, they’re more likely to try it. Give your teens a budget, and let them keep any spare change. For inspiration, try theme nights such as Mexican, Italian, Thai, or Locally-Grown and provide some healthy guidelines.
  • Recipe Makeovers: Take baby steps to better nutrition by giving pizza, tacos, chicken fingers, mac ‘n cheese, French fries, and other teen faves a healthy makeover. Hooked on French fries? Make a batch of sweet potato fries instead. Making mac ‘n cheese seven nights a week? Cook up your own using whole wheat blend pasta and a low-fat cheese sauce.

Liz’s 15-year-old son, Josh, doesn’t like avocados but he loves guacamole. Last summer, he made guacamole from scratch and even learned how to remove the pit with a chef’s knife. Close supervision recommended!

  • Ninja Teens: When preschool and grade school kids help out in the kitchen, they’re often given simple tasks like mixing up batters or whisking together dry ingredients. Invite your teens into the kitchen for some more challenging culinary lessons to really whet their appetite. Teach them how to hold and handle a chef’s knife, offer some lessons on cooking in a pressure cooker, or roll up your sleeves and make a mess making meatballs. Get them comfy in the kitchen so they get comfy trying new foods.

Twelve-year-old brother, Simon (right), gobbles up Josh’s guacamole creation, and his friend tries it too!

  • Positive Peer Pressure: Rely on external motivators (AKA peer pressure) to encourage your teens to go outside their culinary comfort zone. Invite friends over for dinner once a week, or sign your teen up for a cooking class with a few friends. When they see other kids eating a new food they may be more inclined to give it a try.

Janice Newell Bissex, MS, RD and Liz Weiss, MS, RD are The Meal Makeover Moms, and together, they’re on a mission to help busy families eat a healthy and delicious diet. Their latest cookbook, No Whine with Dinner (M3 Press, 2011) features 150 healthy, kid-tested, mom-approved recipes and 50 amazing secrets for getting picky eaters to try new foods … especially vegetables. For credible nutrition advice and easy, affordable family recipes, visit their award-winning blog, Meal Makeover Moms’ Kitchen or listen to their weekly radio podcast, Cooking with the Moms.

Never miss a recipe! Have them delivered right to your RSS feed or to your inbox as an email!


  1. Great tips and info… any parent can apply these!

  2. I just adore the Meal Makeover Moms! These are fantastic tips! xo

  3. I am so blessed to have a teen and a tween who will try just about anything. They might not like everything (who does?) but we regularly enjoy a pretty varied menu ranging from traditional American fare to Thai, Indian, and even Egyptian dishes.

    But, when they were little they both went thru picky phases and it was techniques like these that got us through.

  4. I love Liz and Janice – such a great post and good tips for the upcoming years!

  5. Great post with some great tips! I have a house of picky eaters and it’s been long journey and still is. Post like this really help me.

  6. What great tips for older kids. It makes me look forward to my children being able to do even more with me to cook and bake.

  7. Maryetta Zoumis says:

    I couldn’t have asked for a much better blog. You are available to provide excellent assistance, going straight to the point for simple understanding of your site visitors. You’re surely a terrific specialist in this arena. Thank you for remaining there guys like me. Nobel Calling Cards

  8. My stepson is 13 and weighs over 250 lbs. The closest thing to a vegtable he will eat is french fries and potato chips. He doesn’t want his food to touch (prefers everything on a seperate plate) and he wont even use the same fork. He is very intelligent but he has absolutely zero social skills. If I ask him a simple yes or no question he starts pulling his hair and stammers. One day he will like something the next he won’t. He loves steak but won’t eat hamburger. If you try to get him to take one bite of something he starts gagging before he ever gets close to the fork or spoon. Please help.

    • You have quite a challenge. I hope that you will get your stepson evaluated by a professional for sensory integration disorder or autism spectrum disorder. These are scary terms, but they are a spectrum- maybe he just has a ‘touch’ of it, and then you will get TOOLS and possibly therapies to help him! Good luck.

  9. I like your tips. Let’s see if I can motivate my daughter to eat differents foods. There are books in he library that can help with meal planning. Good luck everyone!

  10. I’m 15 and a really fussy eater. But I want to go on a diet as I think I’m fat. (Even though my doctor has said I am not) can you give me ideas of what to change in my foods and drink etc?….

  11. Laura gause says:

    having issues with teenagers eating really hard to get her to eat!

  12. Steven Cronson says:

    For kids in the spectrum this is so nice of a site, but a joke, right? Teen vegetables is pizza with ham on it. Will eat cantaloupe a few times a year not a. Month. Seems to eat better when was at summer day camp. Cheese sticks , Cheerios, hamburger with Nothing else on it, corned beef, simple muffins veggie: ketchup! Would spit out most other foods. When young if we went to a Chinese restaurant would sit at another table or Under it with American Fast Fat food. We have eaten salads in front of this picky eater at least two times per week. Mother ate salads daily during pregnancy. Maybe that is why makes faces when we eat salads. Oh likes goldfish which Mrs Obama put a seal of approval on.

  13. I’m 14 and I’m really picky. All I eat is protein bars, yogurt,and applesauce. I’m a vegetarian. I will eat Apples and watermelon but not very often. I want to try different foods because I hate being picked on for my food. I want to try new foods I just don’t know what to try and I’m scared to try them.

Speak Your Mind