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Playful Activities for Picky Eaters 

CDC Foundation

June 5, 2023

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Using data from the National Survey of Children's Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new estimates that show: 

  • Almost half of kids ages 1–5 do not eat a vegetable every day, 
  • About a third of kids do not eat a fruit every day, and  
  • In the last week, more than half of kids drank at least one sugar-sweetened beverage. 

As a way to help parents and caregivers provide fruits, vegetables, and healthy drinks every day, the CDC Foundation has produced a series of playful activities for use during meal and snack time. 

Based on this research, it’s more important than ever to make sure our kids eat fruits and vegetables to support optimal growth and brain development. The toolkit shares playful and easy-to-implement activities to help families incorporate healthy options into their daily routine.  

Key Messages 

Why healthy eating is so important: 

  • Fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy diet that helps kids grow up healthy and strong. 
  • Eating a healthy diet helps children get the nutrients they need for their growing bodies and developing brains. 
  • Fruits and vegetables are a great source of the vitamins and minerals kids need to support optimal growth and brain development. 
  • Experts recommend kids eat fruits and vegetables each day and avoid sugary drinks like fruit drinks, lemonade, and soda. 
  • Eating a nutritious diet that includes fruits and vegetables can help kids build healthy habits that will last a lifetime. 

Tips for how to help kids eat healthy: 

  • Offer fruits and vegetables as snacks and include them in meals every day.  
  • Make it easy for your kids to choose healthy options by keeping fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables on hand at home and have milk and other healthy drinks readily available.  
  • Help your kids learn to eat a variety of healthy foods. Kids may need to try foods up to 10 times before knowing if they like it or not. Try preparing fruits and vegetables in lots of different ways to find out what way your child likes best. 
  • Lead the way by being a role model: eat and prepare healthy meals and snacks with your kids, include fruits and vegetables with every meal, and avoid sugary drinks. 
  • Try offering a few bites of new food first.  
  • Try freezing small bites of different foods. You can use these later and avoid throwing a lot of food away. 
  • Wait a couple of days before offering the food again.  
  • Pack healthy snacks and meals before you go. 
  • Select 100% fruit juice instead of fruit drinks.  Fruit drinks have added sugar.



Encourage your kids to try different kinds of fruits and vegetables. 

Choose One

Have conversations about new foods. Ask kids what they think about foods they tried (for example, “Is it thumbs up, thumbs down, or in-between?”) and honor their answers. 

Eye Spy

Keep fresh fruit on the kitchen counter or someplace where your child can see it as a reminder for a healthy snack. 

Five Senses

Allow kids to touch and smell their food to spark interest and improve comfort with new foods. 

Funny Face

Make funny faces with the foods on your child’s plate. It might help your child get excited to eat it. 




For additional resources, check out the Playful Activities for Picky Eaters Toolkit. 


Guess What

Fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables (without added sugar or salt) are healthy. Cover up or remove the label from the packaging. Have your kids guess the fruit or vegetable. 

Simon Says

Lead by example. Try eating the food first to show them you like it. Then let them try it. 


Offer a rainbow of colors with different fruits and vegetables for snacks and meals. 

Tie Dye

Serve water instead of sugary drinks such as soda, fruit drinks, and sports drinks. You can add berries or slices of lemons, limes, or cucumbers to give the water more color and flavor. 

Tiny Chef

Involve kids in making healthy snacks and meals. Even the youngest can help by washing and sorting foods. Encourage your child to use three of their five senses (smell, touch, taste) as you prepare food. Prepare the same fruit or vegetable in different ways.