I wrote the storybook Ollie – The Boy Who Became What He Ate to inspire mealtimes of parents and kids, as eating and food can be a delight but – also a drama! Why is it that kids can be such picky eaters?

I find this topic fascinating, not only is fussy eating nothing new… in fact it’s really old! It comes from centuries of human survival[1]!

We are all born with sweet and salty preferences, as those foods were generally high energy and nutrient rich. Whereas tastes that are bitter or sour (way back in cave days) were more likely to point to toxic or poisonous plants.

More amazing, genetics[2] plays a role in picky eating too (the TAS2R38 gene to be exact). This gene creates a preference for sweet flavors and a dislike for bitter foods. When these people are tested with solutions that ‘turn off’ these taste receptors, they enjoy foods that they previously disliked. Voila!

But – regardless of our development – we learn to like new tastes. So how do we make this magic happen for our little picky eaters?

1. Have your child arrive in the right frame of mind. It’s like the three little bears. They need to be not too hungry and not too full – it’s better when they are… just right. As a rule of thumb, regular meals and two snacks a day allow kids to have an even-keel energy.

2. About rewards… Although it’s tempting for everyone, research shows that using food as a reward tends to backfire. For example, making kids eat veggies to get a sweet dessert can create a life-long bias that sweets are “good” or veggies are “bad”. Best not to barter with food. Instead use non-food treats like a trip to the park or a sticker book.

3. Take it slow. Children eat slowly, so let them take their time. Foods served in small portions are less intimidating for a child than a heaped plate, so start small and offer second helpings[3].

4. Tastes change. Children’s tastes change – both for their favorite toys and their favorite foods. Keep on offering foods they’ve rejected as well as foods you know they’ll gobble up. Repeat servings of healthy food on their plate pays off by making it recognizable (10x or more to shows results!).

5. Good examples. Children who are fussy eaters have been known to clear their plates at nursery. See this as a positive trend, often supported by seeing a good eater who is sitting beside them and enjoy a food they haven’t tried. If you set an example[4] by eating the same food you serve them, it signals (just as it did in cave man times) that it’s safe to eat that food.

If you are concerned do visit your pediatrician.

Top Tip: Remember food as a reward or punishment tends to backfire.

Non-Food Reward Activity: Homemade Play Dough

As a kid, my mom and I would make homemade play dough and color it with food coloring. So cook up some fun in the kitchen this way!

Main Ingredients

  • 1 – cup of salt
  • 2 – cups of plain flour
  • 1 – tsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 – cup water and few drops of food coloring as desired

Mix salt and flour.

Slowly add a cup of water with coloring until the dough is the desired consistency.

Store in plastic bag to use again another day or use cookie cutters to cut shapes to air dry and hang as decorations.

I would love to see your children’s creations – or you could make your favorite Ollie-Pop character, like this one:

Please send us in your creations at the Ollie Club on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and win our monthly ‘Ollie Creator Prize’, a signed Ollie Storybook.

Printable coloring sheet: Ollie & Me: What’s on my plate?!
Click here to download pdf

Making every meal an adventure.

Messy fun! Sheena x


[1] [Fussy eating…Part of our evolution?]

[2] [Why Are You a Picky Eater? Blame Genes, Brains and Breast Milk]

[3] [The science of picky eaters: Why do children refuse to eat foods that we find tasty ?]

[4]  [Effects of Peer Models’ Food Choices and Eating Behaviors on Preschoolers’ Food Preferences]