I know we all would love a quick fix when it comes to helping a picky eater! Feeding them meal after meal and snack after snack of the same foods gets tiring. Not to mention enduring the whining that can come along with it – even when favorites are served!
In reality, picky eating takes time to address. Using strategies consistently over a long period of time makes the biggest difference in raising a child that grows into a competent eater. We’re playing the long game!
That’s why I love books as a strategy to expose children to a wide variety of foods over a long period of time.
It might feel too simple to include some books about food and expect your picky eater to start trying new things, but books really do make a difference when used along with other proven strategies. Experiencing new foods from books can help with:
- Building comfort around new foods
- Creating positive associations with food
- Providing consistent and ongoing exposure to a variety of foods
Don’t waste your time trying to search for books for picky eaters on your own! Read on to find out how books help with these goals and the exact books to read.
Table of Contents
Using Books to Build Comfort with New Foods
When picky eaters learn to like new foods, they must go through a series of steps to build comfort around the food. They often take these steps slowly and even repeat steps many times before moving onto the next.
Of course, the end step is that they are comfortable eating new food (every picky eater parent’s dream). However, every step to get there is important and parents can be great facilitators of helping their child along the way.
The very first step in this process is simply looking at a food and being comfortable near it. If you have a very picky eater that runs from the room at the sight of a disliked food, you understand that this is a necessary first step.
A book is an excellent way to facilitate this! And the great news is, you don’t need a book about picky eating. You simply need a book about food!
Ideally we want a book that shares descriptive information about food, such as what it looks, smells, or tastes like. We also want the descriptive words to be neutral and objective, such as sour or crunchy, instead of words like yummy or yucky. Keep reading for some examples!
Building Positive Food Associations with Books
Another essential part of helping picky eaters is building and/or maintaining positive associations with food. Picky eaters often have a long history of stress around food and eating, and this impacts the way they eat today.
Early negative associations tied to feeding such as premature birth, reflux, tongue tie, etc. can still be impacting children long after they have resolved.
Often more recent challenges build on the negative associations. These include things like pressure to eat/take bites, anxiety around disliked foods, and an unhappy atmosphere around the table.
Addressing negative associations involves creating positive ones to replace them. It takes time and rewiring of the brain, but can be done. Books are a great help in this process.
There truly is zero expectation to eat when a child is exposed to food in a book, making the exposure a positive experience. Additionally, kids often see relatable characters in books that are able to eat a variety of foods and this helps them with their own growth mindset.
Books for picky eaters that help build positive associations with food can be specifically about picky eaters, but don’t necessarily have to be. The most important thing is to be cautious that the books don’t create the same stress a child is already feeling.
Look for books that are simply about children enjoying a variety of foods. If the book is specifically about a picky eater, look for ones where the character is willingly trying foods, sharing their thoughts about the food, and embodying a “can-do” attitude. Read on for specific examples!
Using Books to Provide Consistent Exposure
Because addressing picky eating takes time and frequent exposure, parent fatigue is a common challenge. Sometimes as parents we just want to serve our children the foods we know they will eat so everyone can relax at the end of a long day.
And that’s OK! Sometimes mental and emotional needs can and do take priority. Books can come to the rescue to fill in the gaps during these times! When we aren’t able to execute plans for food exposure and engagement, a book can offer that exposure in an easy way.
Books can also offer exposure to foods we might never otherwise serve, from various cultures or countries that are not our own. While the foods in these books might not be ones our child jumps to try, they still give a sense of what’s available and model that kids are capable of eating all types of foods.
Hopefully books are already a big part of your child’s daily activities, so why not make reading time even more valuable and include some about food and different cultures! The double benefit is a busy parent’s dream!
Picky Eater Children’s Books
Exploring Food with Descriptive Words
Where Does Broccoli Come From? A Book of Vegetables, by Arielle “Dani” Lebovitz – This book introduces 102 vegetables turned into silly characters. It shares descriptive words for each one, as well as how to pick, store, and eat them. Plus, there’s plenty of fun facts along the way.
This is a great book to pull out when your child encounters a new food in the kitchen or at the table, so you can talk about it and learn what it would be like to explore it with your senses (and maybe even start to).
There’s also a companion book about fruit, Where Do Bananas Come From? A Book of Fruits.
I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste It, Too!), by Rachel Isadora – Using your senses is a great way to explore and learn about food, making this book an excellent addition to a picky eater’s library. It takes the reader through all the things you can do with each of your senses.
It ends with using your senses to explore a pickle and has perfect descriptive words that your child can then apply to other foods they might be exploring. You can even make ties back to the book as you explore foods, remembering all the things they smelled, heard, saw, touched, and tasted!
Eating the Alphabet, Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z, by Lois Ehlert – This is an excellent addition to a younger child’s library as a way to learn to identify various fruits and vegetables. It has vibrant illustrations that catch any reader’s eye and can be used when your child encounters a new food in the kitchen or at the table.
It also has a glossary at the end of the book with fun facts, making it a perfect book to use to learn a bit about a food while you’re exploring it together at the dinner table. Facts like where food grows can be the perfect thing to take the pressure off, since it’s not about eating!
Mrs. Peanuckle’s Vegetable Alphabet, by Mrs. Peanuckle – Descriptive food words don’t get any better than this. Each page has a vegetable with perfectly objective and catchy words to describe it. It’s one of my favorite food picture books!
It’s also special because some of the vegetables are a bit different from other books, and can make a great discussion topic for kids. Read it before heading to the grocery store or farmers market and see if you can find a unique vegetable that you read about!
It also has a companion fruit book, Mrs. Peanuckle’s Fruit Alphabet AND a cooking one too, Mrs. Peanuckle’s Kitchen Alphabet. Both are as fun and unique as the vegetable alphabet book!
Picky Eater Books That Model Exploring with a Growth Mindset
Little Digger’s Big Garden, by Jill Woodward – Little Digger enjoys planting, caring for and harvesting his very own radishes with his truck friends. He’s also willing to give them a try and even though they aren’t quite his favorite, he uses great descriptive words to share why.
If you’ve got a truck loving kiddo, this book can serve as a great model for how to talk about food and might even inspire a little gardener (yet another strategy to help picky eaters)! It’s also a great reminder that you don’t have to eat everything to enjoy growing it or preparing it.
Pete the Cat and the Bad Banana, by James Dean – Pete the Cat likes bananas at the beginning of this book, but ends up eating one that’s not so great (and luckily he has a descriptive word about why it’s yucky). After this, no matter how his mom prepares bananas (a great example of how we might like foods prepared in different ways), he still doesn’t want to try it again.
But just like we’d like to model for picky eaters, he gives them another try. If you’ve ever had a picky eater struggle with the inconsistencies of fruit and vegetables (one day they’re sour/bitter, the next sweet), this book embodies the attitude that it’s worth it to try again.
I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato, by Lauren Child – This book confronts picky eating head on and calls the main character a “fussy eater.” However, it’s redeeming in that her brother (another relatable child), demonstrates how food doesn’t have to be scary and that we can explore them while using our imagination.
This is a strategy that you can have your child use at the table, and come up with their own names for food, building positive associations and using descriptive words all at the same time.
Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli, by Barbara Jean Hicks – After some silly shenanigans that surely will make kids laugh, we find out that monsters do in fact like broccoli, and it’s for a very specific reason.
This book demonstrates how engaging with food in fun ways can help to take steps toward tasting. When used to keep things light and build positive associations, it offers a great transition to exploration at the table.
Children’s Books About Food and Culture
Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao, by Kat Zhang – Introduce your child not only to bao, but also to the idea that sometimes things are hard (but not impossible). Watching Amy struggle with making bao, while it’s so easy for her family, is very relatable for a child that struggles with eating while it’s easy for others!
It’s the perfect combo of learning about food and a character modeling trying again.
Fry Bread, by Kevin Noble Maillard – This book about Native American fry bread has amazing descriptive words along with the process of making and eating it. It’s a great book to read and then talk about a recipe that might be important in your culture and perhaps make it too!
Bee-bim Bop!, by Linda Sue Park – With great rhyming, this book is such a fun read! It includes a large variety of foods that go into making bee-bim bop, which a child helps to prepare and even describes.
Round is a Tortilla, by Roseanne Thong – Combining shapes with learning about culture, this book mentions multiple foods! It even has a glossary to learn the Spanish words used. It’s a great springboard to finding various shapes of food in your own kitchen after you read it.
There are so many excellent books for picky eaters, that they can’t all be listed here. You can find my ever growing full list in the story book section of my Amazon store.
Picky Eater Children’s Books to Avoid
While there are many books helpful for picky eaters, there are also some that aren’t helpful, and are potentially even harmful. Here are some things to be on the lookout to avoid:
- Labeling foods as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, sometimes food or every day food, and anything similar
- We want to teach our children that food is food and single foods we eat do not define our health or us as people. We should feel good about eating all foods, including those that we have access to, are part of our cultures, fit in our budget, are part of celebrations and taste good!
- Sometimes books use the word “healthy” without a large emphasis on it. While not ideal, I tend to let this slide when it’s a small part of the book. As you read many books with food in it, you’ll learn what you’re comfortable with versus what feels like overt diet culture messaging.
- Requiring characters to take bites and try foods, or other pressure tactics
- Forcing kids to try foods creates stressful mealtimes, breaks trust between caregivers and children, and doesn’t teach body autonomy. Any tactic I would avoid when it comes to actually feeding kids is one I would also avoid reading about or making light of in a story.
- For more help with helping kids learn to like new foods without these common pressure tactics, check out the Mastering Mealtimes Membership.
- Calling a character a picky or fussy eater (or anything similar)
- We don’t want our kids to feel defined by what they do or don’t eat, and for this reason, it’s not a good idea to call a child a picky eater or read a book that does. The words we use in talking about our child become the way they seem themselves and this doesn’t promote a growth mindset.
- This is again a hard scenario to avoid, especially when it comes to books written about characters that do have limited preferences. In fact, one even made my recommended list. Just like diet culture messaging, you’ll learn what you’re comfortable with and what has enough positive qualities to make the cut in your library. It’s OK to read a book once and then talk about what’s not ideal about it too, since it’s not always possible to screen books in advance!
Some books for picky eaters that have messaging to avoid, include:
- The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food
- Gregory, the Terrible Eater
- Bread and Jam for Frances
- Green Eggs and Ham
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but if you check out some of these books (maybe from the library), they’ll help you better understand the messages we’re working to avoid sending to our children, especially picky eaters.
Cookbooks for Picky Eaters
Having picky eaters help in the kitchen is another great strategy that meets the same goals that reading about food does: building comfort around new foods, creating positive associations with food, and providing consistent and ongoing exposure to a variety of foods.
It gives an opportunity to take everything learned in books and use it with the food you’re preparing. With each engagement, a picky eater learns about the food, and that means, eventually tasting and eating it feels less scary and more possible!
Adventures in Veggieland, by Melanie Potock – This is my all time favorite recipe book for picky eaters. Each vegetable in the book has three recipes that logically build comfort for kids that are hesitant to try new foods.
It’s All in the Sauce, Bringing Your Uniqueness to the Table, by Kristen Kish – In this recipe book combined with a journal, your child can experiment in the kitchen and document their thoughts.
As they articulate their preferences in flavor, texture, temperature, etc., they can learn about what foods they might like to try next, based on what they’ve learned. They can also come up with their own concoctions, which can be a little less intimidating to try. It’s a great book for picky eaters that are in elementary school and beyond.
Kid Chef Junior Every Day, by Yaffi Lvova – Just as the title implies, this book has great recipes for everyday use, including weekday breakfasts, packed lunches, and fast dinners. It might be hard to imagine getting your picky eater into the kitchen to help during these times, so this book is a great tool to guide you in what’s possible.
It’s also a great book to let your child browse while helping you meal plan, since you’ll know whatever they pick will actually fit into your schedule!
Plant, Cook, Eat!: A Children’s Cookbook, by Joe Archer – Gardening is yet another strategy that can help picky eaters learn about foods and warm up to tasting them. This book combines the information you’ll need to grow various foods, with recipes to make them after your harvest.
Books for Parents of Picky Eaters
This ultimate list wouldn’t be complete without some resources for parents of picky eaters. While all the books so far are meant to help your picky eater directly learn about and engage with food, these books will help you as the parent!
Fearless Feeding, by Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen – So much of addressing picky eating is about how you parent around food – the what, when and where of serving it, your language, your relationship with your child, and your confidence while doing it all. This book covers great foundational feeding skills and topics that apply to all kids.
Stories of Extreme Picky Eating, by Jennifer Friedman – If you’re looking for stories of hope about what’s possible when picky eaters and parents get the help they need, this is the book for you. I see it every day when I work with families of picky eaters, and this book puts it all into words! Plus, it also includes great activities that you can do with your picky eater.
Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating, by Katja Rowell and Jenny McGlothlin – A well-rounded resource, this book covers strategies for specific challenges, exercises to try, and scripts for communication.
Conquer Picky Eating for Teens and Adults, by Jenny McGlothlin and Katja Rowell – Consistent with my belief that it’s never too late to address picky eating, this book offers strategies to take at the pace of your teen (or maybe even you, as an adult).
Don’t Underestimate Books for Picky Eaters
Remember, using books to help picky eaters directly and to help you build your knowledge is a strategy for the long term. There is no quick and easy fix to address picky eating, but every strategy helps! Hopefully this list gave you a place to start adding some books to your shelf!
For a full, organized library of proven strategies to help picky eaters, join the Mastering Mealtimes Membership. Monica’s thoughts sum it up best, “The program is well-organized, focuses on empowering parents with positivity, and includes science and experience.”
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Kim Slack is a Registered Dietitian, Quality Improvement Professional, Parent Coach and founder of On Your Table, LLC. She supports parents, so that they can support their children to learn to eat a varied diet. Kim has helped countless families have happier, calmer mealtimes and grow competent eaters. Kim also has 2 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her from her about page.