In the mornings, I babysit my neighbor’s 10-month-old daughter. She is an active, happy and sweet baby. I love helping out my neighbor, and her baby is a delight.

My neighbor has a unique quality: She dislikes fruit and won’t touch it at all. As a mom, she has had to overcome her dislike of fruit somewhat because she wants her kids to eat it. Most of her kids do enjoy eating fruit, but her baby daughter is not so fond of it.

One morning I grated an apple for Yael* and placed it on her lips. She simply licked her lips and shook her head, unimpressed. The next day I tried to feed her a banana. She spit it out. This didn’t worry me too much because she was eating vegetables and meat and starches, and she was generally happy. I smiled as I thought how much my neighbor’s daughter was just like her mom. She even looks the most like her among the kids.

Dealing with Yael’s dislike of fruit, I found myself motivated to research finicky eaters and, with her mother’s permission, develop an effective method for exposing her to new foods. I learned some helpful things. Children often eat small amounts, behave inconsistently about what they eat, and are fickle about their likes and dislikes. A parent might interpret a child’s behavior as being finicky, but it could be normal eating behavior for a young child. In contrast, a child who eats only from a limited list of foods, insists on the same foods again and again, and gets upset when offered something that is not on the list is considered a finicky eater. 1

How could I prevent Yael from becoming a finicky eater? The first answer I got was not to pressure her into eating fruit. Some children are naturally sensitive to taste, texture and smell. These children often find certain foods upsetting in some way and will sometimes spit them out. When parents and caregivers pressure children to eat, they can make the children turn into finicky eaters. Children always do more and dare more when they feel control over a situation. If they are allowed to be calm and polite, but firm, about their food refusal, they will be able to gradually try new foods and even learn to like them.

After being offered a food 10 or 20 times, a child might start to like the food. This was my second answer. Don’t give up on presenting Yael with all types of fruits in a variety of presentations. Parents and caregivers who provide too few opportunities for children to learn to like new foods can also make children into finicky eaters.

So, for the few weeks after learning these tips, I presented Yael with different types of fruits: watermelon, persimmon, grapes, clementines, etc. Some she liked better than others. I didn’t really care how much she was eating, just that she was enjoying herself and trying new fruits. Then, one day, her mother brought her with an apple in her bag. I was not eager to prepare it for her because of her previous negative reactions to apples.

When her mom called to see how our morning was going, she said, “About the apple, yesterday I cut the apple into slices, and Yael enjoyed munching on them. Maybe she will like it today, too.” I happily peeled and sliced the apple, and Yael noshed away.

This incident reminded me of the mitzvah of bringing the first fruits from one’s crop to the kohen (priest) in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There is a Chassidic teaching that the mitzvah of first fruits represents renewal and new beginnings: “The main obligation of bringing the first fruits alludes to renewal, that a person needs to renew himself each time and to begin again every time.”2 Just as fruit grows anew every year and needs to be brought to the Temple anew every year, a person should always approach life with a renewed sense of purpose, starting again as though with a fresh slate.

I thought that this interpretation of the mitzvah of first fruits was extremely relevant to the approach I needed to take when trying to get Yael to eat fruit: to serve her fruit with enthusiasm and excitement, as if I had never served it to her before.

When exposing your child to new foods, every time is like the first time. A child might need a lot of exposure to different foods to learn to like them. And don’t be afraid or insulted if a child says no a number of times. You might just need to try again.

As parents, we may have to work on our own picky food habits along with our children. Our children will have positive attitudes and behaviors around food only if we do. So let’s not be afraid to serve different types of food and try out different kinds of food preparation. The time and effort we put in now can make an enormous difference for our children later on.

*Not her real name.