Nutrition tips

Mira Jarrar: Useful advice to deal with picky eaters

Mira Jarrar: Useful advice to deal with picky eaters
Published : May 09 , 2016
Latest Update : June 23 , 2021

By: Mira Jarrar – Jamie Oliver’s food revolution ambassador in Jordan, and the owner of Mira’s Young Chefs’ project.

I don’t like fish! I don’t want to eat! I want a bag of chips! I don’t like eggplant! Our picky children fascinate us from time to time with some of these phrases; therefore I will share with you some of the tips from my personal experience as a mother and from my experience with the Young Chefs.

I found these tips really effective with dealing with these situations. My mother and father love vegetables and fruits and healthy food, and because my children are attached to their grandparents and very close to them, they grew up accustomed to eating various types of healthy food.

When children see this variety and see how everyone is snatching the food and eating it, they will definitely want to try it. And so, making eating various types of food a habit in the household is highly preferred:

  • Buying fruits and vegetables and serving them at home is a fun experience for children.

    an experience that will help them get used to their presence at home and will help them to know their names. Taking children to the market to buy their favorite types and for them to challenge themselves in trying new ones will add an element of excitement to eating various types of food.

My father used to help me in picking the children up from the nursery after attending noon prayers at the mosque. At this time, there happens to be many merchants outside the mosque selling all kinds of delicious fruits and vegetables for excellent prices. My father used to challenge my children and let them guess what types of vegetables he got:   Heart shaped fruit …. Heart healthy too … What is it? … Strawberry!   Throw my outer … cook my inner … Eat my outer …. Throw my inner … What is it? … Corn J   The vegetables make healthy and strong! This made my youngest check his muscles after every mixed vegetable meal!   We also used to wash the vegetables and organize them on the table in a pretty manner, and then my father starts playing farmers market: where he is the farmer selling his produce and my children are the buyers! Who will by broccoli for one Dinar? Don’t miss the chance! A box of pomelo for two dinars! Who wants to buy?  

  • Letting children participate in preparing meals is one of the best ways to encourage them to eat food they aren’t used to.

    The child, like an adult, likes to prepare what he eats with his own hands, because this builds his self confidence. Moreover, the child likes to eat the piece that he made in particular. My mother used to insert a tooth pick through the zucchini that my son stuffed even if it wasn’t perfectly made, and he used to wait for this piece in particular to appear on the plate!

My youngest son’s kindergarten teacher used to ask him all the time what he will be having for lunch that day. He used to surprise her with types of food even some grownups don’t like, such as cauliflower and pumpkin. My son used to pass by his grandmother before he went to school. It was the time she started preparing food, and he used to help her with that most of the time. Many of the Young Chefs in my cooking lessons don’t like lettuce or cabbage, but at the end of the lesson they eat the salad! Yes, they eat it to the utter surprise of their parents. How and why? Because the child washed the lettuce and dried it with the fun drying machine, and then cut it with the knife! Yes, we have to teach our children how to hold the knife (but of course by using the rights tools and with very close supervision) just like we teach them how to read and write, because this will prepare them for a healthy lifestyle.  

  • Be a role model for your children and don’t criticize the types of food that you don’t like in an aggressive manner in front of them.

    Taro for example is not one of my favorite foods, but when I cook it I tell them that I eat it even if it’s not one of my favorite foods. A great advice from my grandmother to my husband and myself says: “whatever your husband brings you cook, and whatever your wife cooks you eat”.


  • Don’t pass absolute judgments and make them a constant trait in your children.

    For example “my child doesn’t like cooked apple”, or “my son doesn’t eat eggplants”! At the same time, don’t force your child to eat something he doesn’t like, however do cook it from time to time so he can get used to it.

I had a pizza lesson once, and at the end of the lesson while we were eating what we prepared, one of the mother approached us immediately and took out all the olives from her son’s slice and said: “my son doesn’t like olives”! I was surprised, because her son wasn’t complaining and he was eating the olives on the pizza. Sometimes, we are the ones who encourage picky eating.  

  • Give some meals funny and strange names and link them with real stories.

    for example: “emergency salad!” or “Veggies in a pita treat without chicken or meat!”, and make food look funny and good, and use cool techniques in cutting and peeling. There’s a wide variety of methods that can be learnt through watching videos over the internet.


  • Introduce new types of food along with tried and approved ones.

    When I invented “Veggies in a pita treat without chicken or meat!” the day we celebrated Food Revolution Day in 2015, I introduced grilled zucchini and eggplants with corn! Everyone likes corn, therefore children ate zucchini and eggplants while the mothers watched with amazement! And they ask for this sandwich at their homes. (let’s not forget that the children are the ones who cut the veggies)


  • Do tell real stories about people who didn’t like one type of food and now they eat it.

    Or read to them stories you can find in bookshops on people who stopped eating fast food and processed products and why they did that. Talk to them about the disadvantages of processed and colored food. There are many videos that talk about that, especially those broadcasted by Chef Jamie Oliver.

Do tell your children this saying that had an effect my young son “if you don’t plan for your health, then you are definitely planning for your illness”. After hearing that, he decided to buy a box of strawberries instead of a bag of potato chips.  

  • Don’t lose hope, and try over and over again and say to your children “give this another chance.

    Don’t pass an ultimate judgment on eggplants. Grilled eggplants in Mutabbal taste differently than when fried, and it’s different from its taste poached in a pomegranate, and it’s different from its taste in Makdoos. Have a bite! If you don’t like it, just throw it away.. nothing will happen to you”


  • Don’t keep chips, soda and sweets in your pantry at home.

    This is what I personally did at home. If one of my children wants one of these things, he will have to make an effort and go to the shop to get it. Keep in your pantry and in your refrigerator healthy food, fruit, veggies, bread sticks, low sugar homemade cakes and cookies and nuts.


  • Start taking your children grocery shopping with you while they are young.

    Point out some types of food and let them know that they are harmful, full of fat, full of sugar, or contains artificial colorings and that’s why we don’t buy them. Also point out healthy food and explain that it’s better because it’s fresh or natural and that they don’t cause diseases related to malnutrition.


  • it’s important to maintain a daily routine and schedule in having meals and snacks.

    This is really important in reducing rejection of certain types of food and in eating unhealthy meals.


  • Don’t chase your child around for hours at end with a plate to feed him.

    This is a bad habit. Make your child’s meal small to prevent this from happening.


  • Children who plant with their hands tend to eat more of what they planted.

    So why don’t you start a small kitchen garden and live this lovely experience with your children.


  • Make your husband and your children get used to eating food together.

    Or at least you have your meal with your children. Sharing food improves appetite, and since you are their role model they will follow your eating habits.

My middle son Ahmad used to sit with his grandfather when eating, and he used to organize his plate just like his grandfather would do and he would imitate the way his grandfather ate his food. For example, his grandfather used to eat radish with spinach, and green olives with lentil soup, and Ahmad used to do the same thing. His grandfather used to eat molukhieyh with bread like a dip, and Ahmad used to imitate him even if this meant having to take him for a bath immediately! Yes, let your child eat with people and with his hands, even if his clothes and the table got messy, and some food fell on the floor. Don’t let meals become a time of screaming, coercion and pressure, because this will not make things work. And in case your child refused to have his meal, continue with yours and enjoy it, and describe to your child how you, or your aunt or uncle love this dish and how healthy it is.

  • Finally, look for alternatives.

    If your child doesn’t like milk, offer him yoghurt instead.

These are some of the tips that I found to be useful through dealing with my children and the Young Chefs, and through watching how they interacted with food and their reactions to it. Try it and remember that your effort will translate into a healthy life style that your children will enjoy now and in the future.


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