Two Picky Eaters, One Dinner Strategy

Editor’s Note: With the arrival of Clara, I’m taking a short maternity blogging break. I’m excited to welcome several guest writers, beginning today with my friend Annie of PhD in Parenting. Welcome, Annie!

My kids both have a list of foods they’ll eat and foods they won’t eat. Pretty normal, right? The problem, however, is that I can count the foods they’ll both eat on one hand.

She won’t eat meat (except sometimes burgers or bacon), hates most sauces, isn’t a big fan of starches, and doesn’t like anything mashed or pureed. He won’t eat any legume or fruit or vegetable (except potatoes) unless it has been pureed or cooked into something else that masks its texture. What is left that they both like? Not much more than eggs, pancakes with maple syrup, cheese, bread and chocolate.

Cooking a meal that both kids like can be extremely challenging. While the advice to just keep trying and just get them to taste one bite has its place, that approach can also wear on you after a while. It isn’t a lot of fun hearing “I don’t like it” day-in and day-out.

So at our house, I like to balance putting new foods on the table with some strategies for pleasing everyone and providing balanced nutrition without cooking separate meals for each family member. Here’s how I do it.

1. Multiple Side-Dishes

I’ll often plan a main course and two or three side-dishes, so that each child will have something that they like and the adults get a balanced mix of a few different things. One of my favourite meals is homemade beef and spinach sliders (the beef masks the spinach) served with a salad and sweet potato wedges.

My daughter will (usually) have a slider and some salad. My son will have a slider and sweet potato wedges. My partner and I have sliders, salad and sweet potato wedges.

2. Staged Preparation

My partner and I love a nice curry or stir fry, but the kids don’t. Instead of making a separate meal for them, I take out ingredients they like at different stages of preparation, so that they have a meal they like out of the same ingredients I’m using for our meal.

If I’m making beef and broccoli, I’ll put some raw broccoli aside for my daughter, who likes her vegetables crunchy. I’ll stir fry the beef first, then put it aside and take some out for my son, before tossing the broccoli into the wok. If I’m making pasta with roasted vegetables and tomato sauce, I’ll put some vegetables aside before roasting for my daughter and I’ll puree some of the roasted vegetables into the sauce to hide the texture from my son.

3. Quick Stand-Ins

I always have a variety of quick stand-ins in my fridge and cupboard to help balance out a meal. Things like apple sauce, hard boiled eggs, chick peas, or nuts are great quick stand-ins to fill a nutritional gap.

I always have a variety of different chopped up vegetables in my fridge and can toss a few in a bowl and put that on the table too.Β  Some healthy bread is always great too as a filler if one of my picky eaters isn’t likely to fill upon what is being served.

4. Make Your Own

Having a make-your-own sandwich lunch or a make-your-own pizza dinner is a great way to get the kids involved in food preparation and also ensure that everyone finds something that they like. I like to mix it up and include a mix of more traditional safe ingredients and some fun or new ones that they may consider trying.

An alternative is a mini-buffet with lots of different options for finger foods or smaller portions — this is especially great on “clean out the fridge” weekends, when we’re trying to get rid of small amounts of many different foods.

5. Catch Up at Dessert

No one can resist a great dessert. If your kids aren’t getting balanced nutrition at dinner time, you can catch up by enticing their sweet tooth. Black bean brownies, apple berry crisp, or zucchini cupcakes are delicious ways to sneak in some extra protein, fruits or vegetables.

Use One Strategy or Use Several

Using these different strategies have become second nature for me. Sometimes (like when I make breakfast for dinner), I don’t need any of them at all, but other times, I may rely on several of them to get a meal off without a hitch.

Today at lunch, we had grilled cheese (a bit hit with everyone), along with Casear salad, chopped up vegetables, and a side of apple sauce for my son.

Ultimately, I aim for a balance of easy, limited complaining, and nutritious. Some days their meal looks like a meal and other days it is just a bunch of random but somewhat balanced foods on a plate.

Got a tip or a comment? Share them below!

About Annie

Annie, aka @phdinparenting, is always looking for (and sometimes believes she has found) the 25th hour in the day as she balances running a business, having a family, and carrying on numerous conversations ranging from important to trivial on every social media site out there. Annie writes about parenting, feminism, social justice and the intersection between them on the PhD in Parenting blog.

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  1. Wow. First of all, love those cute little plates the children are eating from. Fun!

    But wow. What a lot of work. I am a bit surprised by articles like this. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I don’t know many people around here who would go to such ends to make something their children like, by taking out stuff here and adding stuff there. And I wonder how I feel about it. Honestly, I think by giving in to what children say they do and don’t want to eat in that extent, that you are not doing them a favour. That way they’ll never grow out of being picky eaters and they’ll never learn to enjoy truely balanced meals with everything in it. I think.

    Really, I am not trying to hurt your feelings or being overly critical. Just thinking out loud and sharing my thoughts about this. I hope that’s ok.

    I can imagine you got sick of hearing about all the things they don’t like at diner. I would too. That is why it’s not allowed around here. Ofcourse they can say what they like and what they don’t like, but mom or dad has cooked with love for the family, so everyone can show some appreciation for that. And they do that by eating a little of everything, at least try some bites from food they don’t like, because who knows they did get used to it more now, and by not complaining and whining at the table. Our children are 7, 5 and 3 and I can tell you it works like a charm here.
    Do they eat everything? No, probably not. But they taste it all, eat (and like) most of what we cook and they don’t complain. The meal is a social, positive moment in our day.

    Ofcourse I understand that it works differently in every family and I don’t want to judge anyone. But no, this would not be my way of dealing with this. I would not think it would be the best for the kids.

    • I agree with you, Karin. And I’m grateful you wrote this comment – mine probably wouldn’t have been as thoughtful and kind.

      We have a zero tolerance in our house for picky eating. I try to be sensitive to the things my 8yo son doesn’t enjoy, but if the spaghetti sauce has mushrooms in it, he is welcome to pick them out himself. I’m constantly amazed at the lengths some people will go to feed their kids.

      Mine eats the crust and likes it. Period.

      • Stephanie says

        Ah, yes. The best strategy to get kids to eat is to force them to eat food they don’t like. That never creates any problems later on in life.

        Do you make food for dinner that you dislike? Why not? Oh, because you don’t like to eat food you don’t like? Imagine that….

        • I make food I slightly dislike. Not because I want to but because we like to experiment and sometimes the taste doesn’t come out as hoped. I’d rather eat food I love but we are very against waste and like looking for new tastes we love. We don’t expect the kids to eat it all because it takes practice to eat things you dislike a little but honestly I think it’s a good skill. It leads to less waste and fewer awkward situations such as if someone you visit makes you a meal and you don’t like it at all…
          We do expect the kids to eat enough so that if they don’t like it they can tell us what they don’t like (maybe a small modification will make the dish okay) and so that we know they don’t dislike it because of a preconceived idea that they wouldn’t like it.

          • Correction: You don’t (set out to) MAKE food you “slightly dislike” you try new recipes, they may not turn out and you eat them anyway. See the difference? To make someone eat something you know they don’t like and to not respect someone’s decision to not like something seems mean to me. I wish my child wasn’t as picky as she is, but I remember I was picky as a kid and now I eat most everything. So they really do grow out of it…if they’re meant to. Some people never do. I don’t see what the big deal is. I loved these tips, by the way. It seems I do most of them just naturally because they are common sense ways to make it work. Sometimes people just need these things broken down for them, I guess…or a fresh perspective.

          • oh, and I guess after reading Annie’s reply, maybe I wouldn’t say my kid is a “picky” eating (no gagging, though I’ve never tested her) just “finicky”…I’ve cajoled and made deals (“try it and you can have pineapple for dessert”) but never forced…I really don’t understand how you force someone to eat something they don’t want and they whole “then they don’t get anything else” bit just seems cruel, too…

        • Ha! I’m with you on that. I have tried everything with
          my 4 year old. If he doesn’t want to eat something, he will
          let himself starve, then his blood sugar gets lows until
          bedtime snack. Not worth it to me. I make him something
          healthy that he likes, and keep getting him to try a bite
          of something new every few days. Baby steps, I believe. Would
          you like it if I gave you a giant plate of sweetbreads and told you
          to eat it? Probably not. So why torture a child and make
          Mealtimes stressful. My dad did that to me as a child and it’s
          Not fun. My son will eat a larger variety, as he ages. Right now they just don’t have the concept to understand the logic like adults do!!!

    • It isn’t a lot of work at all. None of the strategies that I shared here take more than 30 seconds. It isn’t as if I’m using all of them at every meal for every child. I just use one of these strategies, as required, to ensure that everyone gets a balanced meal.

      Personally, I think that people who object to “giving in” to picky eaters have probably never really dealt with one. Everyone is finicky to some extent and has things that they like and don’t like. I don’t love mushrooms, but if I’m a guest somewhere and that is what is served, I will politely eat it.

      One of my kids is an extreme picky eater. He will literally gag on things that he doesn’t like and will throw up the rest of his meal if he is forced into trying something that he doesn’t like. He will opt to not eat at all rather than eat something that makes him gag.

      My other child is a finicky eater. Where it is easy to accommodate her tastes (e.g. putting some raw veggies aside before cooking them), I do. But for the most part if I say “just eat it” or at least “just try it”, she will.

      I’ve found ways to accommodate everyone’s tastes without cooking separate meals for everyone. It works for us because everyone gets balanced nutrition, our meals are pleasant, and we treat each other with respect. If you’ve found a way to make meals social and positive while also having your kids eat what you cook and not complain, then that is great. But I’ve tried that too and it doesn’t work in our house.

      • I think Annie’s comment about her son, who will throw something up if he is forced to eat it, is interesting. Ultimately, when I have kids, I want for them to have a relatively healthy relationship with food…I don’t think insisting that they eat something that they hate, that their body will reject (for whatever reason) will help that. Similarly, requiring that a child eat everything off their plate doesn’t help to establish a sense of when one is sated.

        I also don’t see this as bending over backwards to serve your kid. It’s applying a useful strategy for what I’ve come to understand as something that can be a really stressful time in a parent’s day.

      • I am pretty no-nonsense about meal time, but I didn’t find anything super time-consuming or pandering about your ideas, Annie. Especially the one about serving up plates at different stages. That takes NO time and is really just a matter of pulling out a couple of spoonfuls of rice or noodles before you’ve added the sauce, for example. I remember being so grossed out by sauces of any sort as a little kid…it just does not feel like a big deal for me to serve up the same basic meal the other kids are getting, minus the sauce or seasonings. And I’m an adventurous eater now, even though my mom never “made” me eat sauce. My taste buds have changed on their own.

        Most of my meals have several side dishes anyway, so that’s never been a problem. The only thing we don’t actively do is play catch-up at dessert.

        Really, compared to articles I often read about cooking entire separate meals for children, I’m surprised people think this one is over the top!

      • Thanks, Annie. I also think there is a place for urging children to try new foods, or to eat a little bit of everything for politeness, etc. But I think perhaps people who weren’t picky eaters themselves don’t understand what it can be like.

        I was like your son — I couldn’t stand most textures, or strong tastes or smells. I would gag or vomit after eating certain foods. It wasn’t because I thought it was fun to annoy my parents. It’s because those foods were disgusting. I’ve read that children literally have different palates, and what tastes good to adults may not taste good to kids. (Obviously, we’ve all experienced growing up and suddenly enjoying the foods we once disliked.)

      • Wow, you weren’t kidding about the judgmental comments. I totally agree about people being smug about not putting up with picky eaters not really knowing what a picky eater is. I myself am a bit of a picky eater – I have big issues with texture and, no matter how polite I try to be, I cannot swallow a mushroom. Staged preparation is a big part of my meal prep, as are most of your other suggestions, and my kids have always liked a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. My daughter is actually quite self-conscious about what she calls her ‘difficult taste buds’ so insisting that she choke down stuff she hates or starve? Yeah, no thanks.

      • You know I never would have believed in sever picky eaters before I had kids, I had nannied for years and came across maybe the odd child who was picky, but it was always easy to manange for food wise, with simple tweeks and such. Then I had my daughter… my daughter is severely picky!! Her personality is one who approaches any thing new with major caution and takes a while to warm up to things. As a kid myself I don’t remember having a choice in what I ate and if I didn’t eat it then, it was waiting for me at the next meal. THat was common parenting back then, do I agree with it, nah, I think it is a bit severe, but we did eat. I ate in fear I guess. Some days I wonder if I were to be much more strict with our meals would it help?? I don’t know, but what we do, is I serve things seperate so a meal would have a meat dish and a variety of vegies and potaotes or rice, she eats what we eat and if not then she waits till the next snack or meal. I am betting my dollars that she will change once this stage is over as when she was starting out solids she ate everything, ti just broke to pieces once she reached those fabulous years of two’s!! The age of starting the independence!! lol!! For some I may be too relaxed and easy going, but for us it works, I know my child and what works for them and what does and doesn’t. As most parents do of their own kids. πŸ™‚

        • I don’t see the “you have to try it to be polite” angle, personally. I don’t allow my child to say anything is “yucky” but, why would a child have to try something just to be polite? I am a vegetarian. It’s not because I would die if I eat meat or am allergic or whatever, and I eat only certain foods, eschewing other unhealthy non-meat choices. I don’t have to eat something I don’t think it right for me just to be “polite” so why should a child? Do you also make them kiss older relatives or do other things that make them uncomfortable just to be “polite”? It does not make logical sense to me.

    • I agree with this comment! We tell our children to eat a few bites of everything. What I have found is that the more a child gets introduced to it eventually it will turn to a like. I don’t make a huge issue at the dinner table. Kids sometimes grow into tastes. But I do not cook for my children. They eat a small portion of everything. That is how it is for our family and it works. I have seen their taste buds growing and changing. I would not want to stagnate that change by always cooking to their desires.

      Thanks for the post. Interesting discussion!

    • Well said, and I whole-heartedly agree!

      • Steph (The Cheapskate Cook) says

        These are really interesting comment, and I think the same points come up at most posts about picky eaters.
        I always thought I would have zero-tolerance for pickiness in my kids, but I’ve found that it hasn’t been one of my hot spots. I have a 2 year old who is pretty picky, but for the most part he still eats a good variety of food. I mean, he won’t touch potatoes or green beans, but he eats plain yogurt and drinks fresh carrot-orange-ginger juice like it’s going out of style. As he gets older I’m making him try more things and learn to be obedient. But I also like him to enjoy his food.
        However. If I had 3-4 kids and they were older, I think I would be more strict. I want my kids to enjoy their food but I need to enjoy cooking for them too.
        I wrote about this on The Cheapskate Cook, and someone mentioned they used to be strict – until they realized their child was allergic to those foods.
        I think most moms know their kids best and as long as everyone is happy and healthy with what their system is, it’s okay to be accomodating sometimes and strict other times.

    • I have to agree to a point. I just don’t have the time for this; I’m not a short-order cook. I appreciate everyone has things they like and dislike, so I won’t continually, deliberately serve meals that have the disliked foods. But if they are there (eg. Mushrooms – I love them, the kids not so much) they can avoid them, but they must at least have a bite.

  2. i have two picky eaters, and these sound just like the strategies i use to help them eat good stuff. when my 5-year-old was a picky toddler and getting pickier by the day, i obsessed mightily over what he ate and didn’t eat. i heard stories of two-year-olds who loved their brussels sprouts, and i felt like a huge failure. but these days, i’ve decided not to worry so much about what they eat … i have bigger fish to fry (so to speak).

    i was a picky eater as a child, and i have grown up happy and healthy and have grown to love pretty much every kind of food. i trust that my kids will, too, and until then, they’re not going to starve — so applesauce and hard-boiled eggs it is.

  3. Love it! My kids are NOT picky eaters. They eat (almost) anything, but they do have their quirks. My daughter will eat any vegetable as long as it’s raw. My son won’t eat any vegetable unless it’s cooked. We’ve had raw spinach leaves for dessert, though. I kid you notβ€”I say this is what we have for dessert, and I think they latch on to the word “dessert”, despite the dish. Haha!

    I, too, use the strategy of “picking apart” dinners, because my kids are less likely to finish a plate of stir-fry than they are to finish all of the ingredients laid out separately on their plates. And as parents, we’ve been serving these kids day in and day out for years. So, at least to me, it doesn’t feel like much work. I’m not cooking double the amount of things. I’m just making accommodations with whatever that night’s meal happens to be.

    I also have a nine-month-old who is refusing purees and will only eat “grown-up food” as my son calls it. So, I already have to separate cooked veggies out for her, dice things, etc.

    Thanks for the strategies!

  4. I have four children, two of which were very picky. They are mostly grown now, so I have the benefit of hind-sight. I think you are doing a great job handling your children the way you are! I think others who have commented are also doing a great job. My son, who is now 23, developed into a well-balanced eater when it became more important to make a good impression on a girlfriend (in high school) than to say he didn’t like something and refuse to eat it. Scout camp also helped him. Not even he could live off apples for an entire week! My youngest son, age 15, is also a picky eater. But he now eats a wide variety of vegetables and fruit. He doesn’t always enjoy them, but he will eat his servings because we have long talked about being healthy. I think eventually he will come to truly enjoy all the things we ask him to eat.

    Every child is different. So is every family. In the end, we will all die of something and even picky eaters lead long and healthy lives. I guess what I am trying to say to young mothers is that if your children are still picky despite your best and on-going efforts, don’t give up but also remember to relax a bit. Meal time should be as calm and pleasant and enjoyable and healthy for the entire family as you can reasonable make it. Things do get better, but it may take a lot of time.

    • Steph (The Cheapskate Cook) says

      Love this comment! Thanks for giving us some hindsight perspective. It can be scary raising a child and wondering if you’re being too loose or too strict.

  5. My daughter isn’t too picky which I’m grateful for. I try to provide a nice variety of food (with plenty of things I know my daughter likes) at each meal, but what’s on the table is what you get. That said, my daughter also likes a lot of her food “picked apart” and I try to be sensitive to that. For instance, the other night she ate a corn tortilla, cheese and spinach leaves all separately but didn’t like the finished enchilada.

  6. Thanks for the great tips! I think people who say they “don’t tolerate picky eaters” have never actually HAD a truly picky eater! It sounds like you’re doing a great job of making sure your kids have a balanced diet and a peaceful mealtime. And breakfast for dinner, that sounds familiar! The only surefire hit in our house too! πŸ™‚

  7. Diane Balch says

    I never indulged my kid’s pickiness. I always made sure there was at least one thing in a meal they liked, but that is all I do. Instead I make sure they are hungry. Hunger makes everything taste good. No snacking before meals and I have them help cook. Both of my kids who are now 10 and 12 eat and they eat most foods and can cook a meal from scratch.

    • so this is where I had to jump in. I have a child who, I kid you not, *NEVER FELT HUNGRY*. Literally until he was 13 years old and we started working with a naturopath (after working with allergists, GI, and endocrine) never, ever, ever, experienced hunger. He was/is far underweight and stature, not to mention rather particular about what he eats and has several food sensitivities. Everything I ever thought I knew about how I wanted to parent regarding food has been challenged and frequently tossed aside during the parenting of this child. Fortunately what we are doing now seems to be making a difference and we are seeing both an uptick in appetite and in growth so I am hopeful that we may be turning a corner.

      I was also one of those children and adults that would gag at most foods except a very short list. My mother would not let me bring my lunch to school because she thought that exposing me to a variety of foods would encourage me to eat them (as in hunger makes everything taste good). Instead I lived on a small carton of chocolate milk and a roll every day at lunch for 7 years until we (the students) were allowed access to vending. In my case it seems to have been totally related to an intolerance to gluten. When, as a result of adult allergy testing, I eliminated gluten from my diet all the other foods started to taste and feel (texture) good – it was like some televangelist miracle.

      There are so many factors at play here that I highly doubt any parent can take but a small portion of credit or blame for their child’s palate.

      • Diane Balch says

        I am describing an average child, not a child with a medical problem. I’m very sorry you had to go through what you did with your child, but your case is unusual. Hunger for most of us is a motivator to be receptive to variety in food.

        • The reason we have been through so many dr.s is that he does not seem to have a diagnosable medical problem, other than some food sensitivities which really don’t have any bearing on this particular discussion. The challenge we ran into with him was when his lack of calorie consumption impacted his growth (i.e. failure to thrive). He is a common variation of the archtypical “picky eater” who will simply not eat, seemingly lacking the internal drive to do so at a level higher than many (falling into the self-reinforcing circle of less eating/less hungry). I was of the variation who would choose hunger over gagging/vomiting. Based on the experiences shared during these types of conversation both on and off line I would not consider my experience unusual, though perhaps the impact was heightened.

          Regardless, we, as parents, do not live in the bodies of our children and it seems incredibly problematic to presume that we can make judgements regarding their embodied experiences – are they ill? allergic? experiencing sensory concerns? asserting their autonomy? The younger the child, the less ability they have to convey their experiences to others, but even into adulthood I could not give anyone a better reason for not eating something than “I don’t like that/I don’t like the texture.” Good heavens entire disciplines are built around the complexity of describing our embodied/material/artificial experiences in the world.

          I don’t have the time/energy/resources to create the favorite meal for each of my children at any given time and as a parent have certainly thrown my share of tantrums over wasted food (the healthy stuff is expensive!) But to characterize the efforts of parents to create a consensual, respectful, workable solution to family meal time as “indulgence” and the solution is simply “make sure they are hungry” conveys a judgement rooted in an assumption of influence many of us have realized we simply don’t have.

          • Diane Balch says

            We are coming from different parenting philosophies. I am stating an approach that I used quite successfully with my own children and is toted in Pamela Druckerman’s book: Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. We are both entitled to our opinions on how to deal with picky eating.

    • Hmmm… my sister and I were never allowed to snack, we came to the table hungry, and I STILL gagged on a wide variety of foods. I choked them down because the rule was I had to finish what was on my plate before I could leave the table. There were certain nights I pretty much threw up right after dinner. I learned to hide the most gaggable food inside other pieces of food, washing it down with huge gulps of milk, which helped somewhat. Guess how pleasant dinner time was for me?

      My mother, in hindsight, now regrets that she and my father forced food upon us the way they did. It created an innate hatred of certain foods that even now I cannot eat at the age of 40. I am fairly certain that it was a factor in the eating disorder I had for a while.

      • Diane Balch says

        My kids do not have to clear their plates or eat everything on their plate. If they have to try what is for dinner but they do not have to eat it. They are more open to eating new things when they are hungry that was my point.

  8. I like the idea of separating out certain components of a meal to make it truly family-friendly. We do this when my husband and I want spicy meals, we just edit out a small portion for the kids then go for the crushed red pepper!
    My go to items are hummus on bread, fresh fruit, cheese and beans when I have them cooked. Dinner tends to be challenging when we wait till Daddy gets home so I try to offer veggies as snacks leading up to dinner so if they are filling up it’s on something healthy.
    I’m going to check out black bean brownies now…

  9. I am absolutely flabbergasted by the responses on this site to this article. I think this is a very informative and useful article that I will probably take some tools away from.

    I have a child with a behavioural diagnosis, and I would love any of the mothers who have responded to this article to do what you are saying is necessary and have my child eat. My child has a fear of food, and when he was younger we felt pressured by the opinions and arguments of other parents and made attempts to utilize the processes these parents swear work!

    The end result… My child refused to eat for up to 3 to 5 days.

    Yes, you read that correctly, my 3 year old child would not eat ANYTHING for 3 to 5 days in a row because he would not try, touch, or look at anything that was not on his acceptable list of food. In the end after watching him become lethargic, we would rush him to the doctor, who even told us to do what we needed to do to get the necessary nutrients into him.

    That was our oldest. Since that time we have had 2 more children, and it is difficult to hold different standards on them compared to their older brother. How do you explain to one child you have to eat what you are given, but your brother gets to pick his meal.

    Trust me it does not work!

    Why other mothers have to sit back and project their opinions of perfection on other parents making them feel useless, less productive, and poor quality is beyond be.

    That crust of perfection that you portray to the world is not a true reflection of what is underneath.. I am sure if we pried, we could find you do things that other parents would squirm at the though of.

    Thank you Annie, you have opened my mind to some other things I can try to get my kids to eat healthier, and in the end healthy kids are my priority, not meeting the far fetched expectations of the commenters on this blog!

    • Thank you too for understanding and chiming in. My son is like yours — he would sooner not eat than eat things that will make him gag. My daughter, with some cajoling will eat most things that are put on her plate. But ultimately, with a list of 30 second strategies like these, I can make almost everyone happy, almost all of the time, without extra work for me.

    • I don’t think it’s other parents trying to “project their opinions of perfections” on you; most parents don’t have children with eating issues like your son. Many times, picky eating is a control issue and this is how these parents are choosing to deal with it.

  10. I’m not a parent, but I remember being a kid and don’t understand why it’s considered a good thing to force / insist / encourage your kids to eat stuff they’ve tried and don’t like. I was not picky eater, but I remember being made absolutely miserable by being forced to eat certain foods at school. It’s might surprise some adults how much that can colour a child’s week or their recollections of 7 years at an otherwise good school.

    In contrast, my brother was a picky eater – he’s extremely taste / texture sensitive, (even as an adult he can taste the difference between organic/non milk, e.g.) but as he hates to make a fuss, he just wouldn’t say and would try to cope. I remember him throwing up food he quite literally couldn’t stomach (note: no allergies or anything like that) or not eating for extended periods (e.g. at all on a whole weekend sleepover) and got very angry with people (teachers / parents of friends / etc) who wouldn’t feed him food he could eat. Particularly when we were eating what they liked!

    I think this is a really clever strategy, and might suggest it to my partner who usually does the cooking in our shared-house of 5 not-picky-but-still-have-preferences adults!

  11. My brother and I were both fairly picky as kids. My horizons have definitely broadened, but his never did. His wife eventually gave up the cooking and he does it, because it was so hard to find things that he would eat! Definite proof that no matter what you do, some people are just picky. A friend of mine recently posted this to her FB page. She practically disects her food before she eats it.

    I don’t think anything Annie listed here is too out there. I do a lot of it too. I don’t make special meals, but I also don’t cook anything too unusual. My kids know that what i made is what is for dinner. But I don’t cajole them to eat one bite of everything either. Having grown up with some pretty serious body issues, I will NOT make the dinner table into a battle ground. They eat it or they don’t and that’s it. Some days they barely eat anything and other days they eat like crazy.

    The other day we had Panko breaded chicken fingers, salad, corn and couscous. I cooked a couple of pieces of chicken plain for my son, who does not like the breading, and neither kid ate the dipping sauce I made to go with it. My daughter got salad but I didn’t put any tomatoes in hers, and my son got carrots only. And he doesn’t like couscous, so I made a side of rice for him. It didn’t take any longer at all and everyone was happy.

  12. Thanks Annie for these strategies!
    We have 1 finicky eater and 1 who will eat anything placed before her. I have learned that our meal times are much happier and healthier by doing customizing for my older daughter. For example, when we enjoy a special black bean-quinoa dish with peppers, I separate out a small portion of black beans for her to eat. Easy-peasy. If I don’t do that, she won’t eat.

    I always have cashews, almonds, apples, cranberries and carrots available for snacks. Usually my kids get their own snacks when they are hungry (at 2 and 3.5 years).

    One of the hardest things for me to deal with is the reactions of family to the differences in the girls’ eating styles. They are constantly praising the one who eats everything and shaming the picky eater. I feel that each person should have the right to choose what they eat and try to not to place too much emphasis on food.

  13. I have a family of six, and although my kids aren’t overly picky they all have their likes and dislikes and it’s very hard to find a meal everyone LOVES. I use a lot of these same strategies, especially the multiple side dishes and the supply of stand-ins. Everyone gets a little of everything on their plate, and other than foods they really really loathe, I expect them to try them. Kids are people too, and I think *everyone* has foods they don’t like. You could serve me fish every day of the week and I will never, ever like it. I never force them to eat anything they absolutely hate, but those few foods aside they are expected to nicely, politely try everything. If they try it and don’t like it, no big deal.

    I keep frozen veggies on hand at all times, and don’t mind warming up a small dish of something else to round out a meal. Older kids are expected to that themselves though. I find younger kids prefer raw veggies, and I have no problem setting some aside for them while I’m preparing my meals or slicing up an extra bell pepper to compliment their dinner. I try to strike the balance between making sure there’s something for everyone and not cooking multiple meals every day.

    My biggest rules for picky eating are:

    [1] Don’t say you don’t like something until you try it
    [2] Always be polite. Even if you don’t like it, someone went to a lot of effort to prepare your meal and it’s rude to call it ‘gross’ or ‘yucky’. It’s also offensive to those around you who are enjoying it.

    I’m much more interested in having kids who are open to trying new things and will respectfully decline something they don’t like than getting into a war over 3 bites of broccoli. We eat a very healthy diet and a few uneaten bites of this or that at dinner isn’t going to make or break their nutritional balance for the day.

  14. As someone who was nicknamed “Mikey” as a kid (because I truly would eat anything, as the old commercial put it), and whose partner is also not remotely picky, we were flabbergasted when our son showed very explicit texture preferences and little interest in solid foods his first year. Mashed potatoes? Forget it. Cheerioes? No way! Avocado? Are you kidding? My first instinct was to push harder–to just get a spoonful into his mouth, so he’d know what he was missing–and when I did, I felt like a jerk. He’d cry, gag, and become very upset if we even approached the high chair for a day or two. My approach was a huge mistake, and I realized it pretty quickly. I think I made the aversion to solids worse.

    Then I tried to just put what I’d planned on his tray and assume he’d eat it if he got hungry enough; he instead rejected almost everything and became an even more voracious nurser, literally wearing me out to the point of sickness. He’s in the 97th percentile for height and was living almost exclusively on breastmilk until about 14 or 15 months, so he nursed a TON. Talk about changing my mind about this subject!

    So the kinds of things you talk about here, Annie, are both related to our strategies and great insight for this mom of a toddler. We tried an enormous variety of foods until we had a little repertoire of “winners” that were also healthy, and I made sure we found a “winner” in every category (so beans, tomatoes, cheese, pastas, and most fruits are winners for us, for example. Thank goodness for beans!). I still offer him the things he’s rejected in the past, and sometimes he’ll bite (literally!). Lots of times, he won’t. Usually, his dinner has 2-3 things he loves, 1-2 he doesn’t, and closely resembles our dinner (I start with our meal and then add either a “sure thing” or a “wanna try this?” food to it, depending upon what’s already there).

    I truly appreciate the practical advice in the article and will have to think about the “add in, take out” approach as his tastes grow along with him. Appreciate the share!

  15. Sorry, it may or may not be extra work. To me, it seemed like a little too much catering, but if it works for you, I do not have a problem. I enjoyed reading and appreciate the article and people’s responses. We are lucky to live in a community that has so many choices. These seem like quality problems to have when a major portion of our population doesn’t have enough clean water and food to eat, let alone a healthy variety. Thanks.

  16. The idea that “picky eaters” will never evolve into “well-rounded eaters” is total bologna. My sister and I were extremely picky eaters, even as teenagers. As an adult, I will try anything edible at least once. Age and life experience has allowed my desires and tolerances to grow. In fact, I have found that after giving birth to my son, my tastes have changed greatly. Taste bud preference is science, not something you force on someone. While I feel that it is my job as a parent to guide my son and set healthy parameters for him, I respect him enough as a human being to let him make choices for himself within those guidelines.

    • I agree, Leigh. It can go either way. Some picky eaters grow out of it and others do not. My brother-in-law went through a year of only eating fish sticks, toast, and lemonade. Refused EVERYTHING else. My brother was one of those kids on the “white diet”. My brother-in-law is now a gourmet cook and loves just about everything. My brother still doesn’t eat well.

  17. I have to chime in and say that I find this a very useful article. Before I had kids, I was going to be like those mothers who’ve commented and not give into my kids about meals. Well, my child is also one who will throw up if he’s made to eat certain foods. Guess what? When I mulled the problem over, I realized that there are foods that make me gag! I’m not a picky eater, but I certainly don’t want anyone forcing me to eat those things I hate. So, certain mothers will think I cater to my child when I take the broccoli from the stir fry before I add the sauce, but I’m okay with that. My child eats healthy and dinner is pleasant.

  18. I was an extremely picky eater as a child and am now an adult who will eat almost everything, save one thing — baked sweet potatoes. I hated them as a child and my ex-step-dad would force us to eat everything on our plate. Not great, especially when he filled our plates. I was a teeny little 9 year old and he put a huge baked sweet potato on my plate. I refused to eat more than a few bites and he wouldn’t let me leave til it was done. Finally I shoved it in my mouth and made myself throw up all over the table. I left the house and went to live at my grandparents for a few weeks.
    No surprise, I cannot eat them to this day but thankfully it is my only food hangup. My mother realized that it was better for me to take a few bites and move on, instead of forcing me. And she got rid of her husband too πŸ™‚

    My youngest does not like big chunks of mushrooms but if I chop them really finely, he will eat them in food. Yes it takes me a bit longer to prepare but at least he will eat.

  19. I can tell whether I’m going to like something by smelling it. I don’t need to taste it. In fact smell is largely how we taste things (though obviously texture is something we experience by putting it in our mouths, but usually texture is evident from a food’s appearance). As an adult, I find some foods extremely repellent, the the point that just the smell of them makes me gag. I do not desire to taste these items & I find it easy to imagine that a child might feel the same way about some foods.

    I think it’s reasonable to honor people’s judgements about what they will put in their mouth. I don’t have particularly picky eaters; my kids are teens now & eat plenty of varied foods, but I always respect anyone’s refusal to eat something, regardless of the person’s age.

  20. What we need to remember is that there is no ONE right way. The right way to handle meals and pickiness is whatever works for your family and keeps your kids healthy and growing. Annie has found what works for her family. Those of us who make what we make and the kids either eat it or don’t have found what works for our family. Neither of us is right or wrong.

    I make one meal, no variations (for the most part). My 3-year-old will eat anything as long as it’s not a raw leaf (cooked are fine), so salads are out. But, since hubby and I like salads, I’ll make a “no leaf” salad for him, with all the other veggies. No big deal. But other than that, our rule is that he doesn’t have to eat anything, but if he is hungry, he eats what is served (My only exception to this rule is if dinner comes out spicier than expected and it’s legitimately too spicy for him). He’s never chosen not to eat. And we rarely have dessert. so that eliminates the “How much do I have to eat to get dessert?” negotiations. He simply eats until he is full. If he cleans his plate and is still hungry, he gets fruit.

    My 10-month-old wasn’t big on purees, but will eat anything he can feed himself, with a preference for “real food” (whatever we’re eating, cut into small pieces). Loved he winter vegetable gratin with mustard and garlic cream sauce I made the other day. Veggies from soups. The curried spinach-chickpea patties I found at Costco. As long a he can pick it up and eat it himself, he happily eats!

    • Christie {Pepper Lynn} says

      I completely agree that the main goal here should be healthy and growing children. I’m sure this struggle evolves as the kids get older, but right now I have a 23 month old girl, and I will do just about anything to get her to eat her vegetables. As she gets older, we may become more strict and start implementing rules like she has to at least have a bite of everything or something to that effect, but for right now, my main concern is her health. I just want her to eat wholesome foods, and if in this season that means she gets special accomodation, I’m okay with that.

  21. Thank you for this informative article – I found the tips to be simple and helpful! I am not a parent but am studying occupational therapy with an interest in pediatrics. Picky eating can definitely be a behavioral problem, but there is an abundance of research that correlates “picky eating” as actually a potential sign for sensory issues. Many children are more sensitive to certain types of sensory input which can cause an activity such as eating (different tastes, textures, etc.) to be VERY unpleasant. Adults have sensory issues as well – think about textures, sounds, smells, and tastes that you don’t care for. As adults, we’ve learned to adapt and to regulate our sensory systems so that we can better handle the unpleasant sensations, however kids are not yet well equipped to regulate their bodies and sensory systems, thus sometimes they react in only the best ways they know how.

    Generally, people are not aware of possible sensory processing disorders (not an actual disorder, just a term used to describe issues related to sensory processing) unless their children experiences it. Having severe sensory issues can be very disruptive to a child’s life, so having simple tips such as what was suggested in this article can really help make everyone’s life easier. For those who would like to learn more about picky eating in relation to sensory issues, please visit the following websites:

    • Thanks for that article, Cat. That pretty well describes my son. We have chosen not to seek a diagnosis for a couple of reasons, but I do recognize that he has some sensory things going on and I do what I can to work with him and guide him.

    • Yes, it’s definitely sensory-related in my 2 girls, and we’ve started our youngest in occupational therapy for her sensory issues in general. Total life-changer! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Cat! The world needs a lot more pediatric OTs – I may go back to school for it at some point myself. I really can’t glow enough about it. πŸ™‚

      My eldest (now 8) was also a gagger/vomiter as a baby and toddler and has definite preferences. My youngest (now 4) has always had a hearty appetite volume-wise but totally different food preferences – and she also got very picky around age 3. Neither of them will now eat a darn thing at dinner, except for once or twice a week when they hoover up whatever strikes their fancy. But, they have both grown 100% true to their growth curves – my eldest since age 3, and my youngest her whole life (eldest did have slow growth due to her sensory/food issues for a couple of years). Eldest is consistently 40th percentile and youngest is 75th percentile. We did all the “right” things when they were babies – at one point eldest would eat raw onion right off the chopping board! – but as time evolved the pickiness set in.

      I love your ideas Annie but we are too lazy even for your slight accommodations πŸ™‚ , and I know they are growing fine and getting a balanced diet viewed over the week (rather than meal by meal or day by day). So, there is one meal cooked and they can eat as little or as much of it as they like, and we don’t pressure them to eat more than they want. Yeah, they sometimes act unpleasantly at meals but they are kids – it’s to be expected (and gently corrected).

      The analogy that comes to me is – if, instead of a family, we were 4 friends going out to eat at a restaurant, would we all order the same thing? Absolutely not – guaranteed. Usually when 4 friends go out to eat they will order 4 different things and nobody looks askance at anyone else at the table for that. It’s a given that as adults, we each have our own food preferences and they can be very different from someone else’s. Why would be expect it to be different with children?

      A really great book is “My Child Won’t Eat!” by pediatrician Carlos Gonzales – nice perspective on the issue, and reassurance for parents of picky eaters.

  22. I love all these comments. Everyone has strategies that they employ to give their kids healthy foods.
    We have 3 children, 25, 22, and 19 years old. They are very healthy, non-picky eaters NOW. At various stages they were picky eaters when they were young.
    My strategies:
    –About 30 min before supper, I put out a plate of veggies (usually whatever I was serving for dinner)on a platter. A combo of raw and steamed of whatever we were eating that night. They were hungry, and all of them ate this pre-dinner snack. Made me much more relaxed at dinnertime knowing that already had their veggies.
    –I made one meal, and one meal only. Now, most of the meals were ones that they could pick and choose what parts they ate. That was fine with me, but their was NO complaining allowed. No one was forced to eat their dinner, and if they chose not to eat it, so be it.
    –If they didn’t eat their dinner, they went to bed hungry. No evening snack.
    –All of my kids loved breakfast…eggs, pancakes, cereal, etc. If they didn’t eat their dinner, they ate a big breakfast. I never worried about them skipping a meal.
    –They all now eat just about EVERYTHING. Tofu, chicken, fish, beef, lots of vegetables, beans, whole wheat pasta,..very VERY eclectic meals. They all love to cook and enjoy eating. One’s a vegetarian; one is married to a chef and have cook offs with each other for fun. They all love getting cooking/food prep presents for birthdays and holidays.
    –One other strategy that works that I just thought of is to invite friends over who love something that your child doesn’t. It was how I got my kids to eat broccoli πŸ™‚

    • I also love putting out vegetables ahead of the meal. My daughter will usually eat a ton of them and may not eat much of the rest of the dinner at all (which I’m fine with if she filled up on raw vegetables!). I also pick at them as I’m preparing the meal, which helps me to get my target servings of vegetables too.

      My son (with the texture issues) won’t eat the raw vegetables, but he is welcome to have a bowl of applesauce while waiting for dinner to be ready if he wants.

  23. I agree that Make Your Own is one of the best ways to get kids involved. Mine is still a toddler at two years old but so far he’s on the opposite end of picky eating; he’ll eat anything. I’m hoping I can keep this up because I imagine I would tear my hair out with having to do extra work with a picky eater. He pretty knows that what’s in front of him are his options.

  24. Thanks for these tips! My 3 1/2 year old is quite picky has always been slender. I still sometimes struggle with feeding strategies, consider requiring a certain number of bites, etc, but keep coming back to nutritionist/dietitian Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility. Because my daughter enjoying family meals & having a healthy relationship with and enjoying food is more important to me than having food battles. I also “deconstruct” our meals to accommodate my daughter, especially since my husband & I like to eat spicy foods. My daughter wasn’t always picky, things seemed to change at about age 1 1/2. I found your article encouraging!

  25. It’s a hard one to balance. On the one hand I’m glad that I was forced to eat certain foods. There were no green vegetables that I liked until I consistantly had to have a piece with each meal over a long period of time. There are some things that you just need to let go of though. Like I have a real texture issue with soft food. Eating mashed potatoes actually makes me feel physically sick, my parents recognized that that was a real issue that probably wouldn’t go away so they didn’t force it. Whereas children wanting only sweet food is pretty normal and they need to try other things before that will change. As previous posters have said though, sometimes you have to eat things you like and it does you good. When I went away to camps I just had to eat what was put in front of me and it did broaden my taste.

  26. We had spaghetti for dinner this evening. I like it with a chunky, sausage and veggie-filled tomato sauce, and my partner prefers it with just Parmesan cheese.

    If I’m not going to force her to eat the sauce, why would we force our daughter to?

    I used to serve our daughter her spaghetti with sauce, but she started stealing Mommy’s, so now she just has it with “sprinkle cheese.”

    If she’s around when I’m cooking the sauce, though, she’ll eat her weight in bites of (precooked, “loop”) sausage that I pull out of the pan. The very same sausage she says “No thanks” to at the table. Go figure.

  27. Thanks for these tips, Annie. My 2 yr old is going through an extremely picky stage. He is on a very limited diet due to a metabolic disorder (VLCADD). Strategies that worked for me as a child (missing meals) are not an option for him & could land him in the hospital. Thankfully, he drinks his formula without issue (Monogen), so if he flat out refuses to eat, he will take a bottle.

    I was a ridiculously picky eater as a child and now eat almost anything that’s put in front of me, so I’m hopeful it will get easier.

  28. Great article. Picky eating is always a controversial topic that gets the comments flowing!
    I’m a dietitian and I’ve worked for years with families to transform picky eaters into food-confident kids.
    What so many people have commented on is totally true. Picky eating is partly developmental stage, partly personality within a context of family dynamics, and partly tricky tastebuds. Picky eating can also be a result of several medical or behavioural conditions. Children with these medical/behavioural conditions will very often require specialized strategies/techniques.
    For kids without medical/behavioural conditions I recommend a number of strategies that have proven to work for my clients (and in the scientific literature). Many of the strategies that I recommend you have listed in your article such as deconstructed dishes (what you call ‘staged preparation’) and planning meals that include foods from 2 – 4 food groups and include both familiar and challenging foods (you’ve given great ways to make this happen in ‘multiple side dishes’, ‘staged preparation’, ‘quick stand-ins’). Of course, kids always love expressing their independence with ‘make your own’ meals.
    Regarding the discussion in people’s comments about making kids try 1 bite. This will work for more adventurous kids who aren’t in a defiant mood and who have less tricky tastebuds. But for others, this will only make them dig in their heels and less likely to eat it. In general I recommend not having a “1 bite” rule but a rule that 1 small piece needs to be on each kids’ plate. They have the choice to try it or not. But it’s there if today they’re feeling brave enough to try it.

  29. Thanks for sharing these tips – there are quite a few in here we’ll have to try.
    Regarding picky eating and “catering” to kids – From my own experience as a parent, I’ve been amazed at the different eating personalities of my two kids. They both grew up in the same house, were served the same foods, and yet their taste, relative pickiness, willingness to try new things, and food “temperament” couldn’t be more different. Basically I have one extremely selective eater (won’t label him “picky”), and one omnivore who will literally declare “I don’t think I like this” WHILE continuing to devour the food. For my selective one, I’ve discovered that it really is a texture thing for him – he does not like cooked or mushy foods. So instead of trying to prepare a whole separate dinner, I’ll use Strategy #2, as above, and give him the “raw” version of things. He will happily crunch away on just about any fresh/crispy vegetable or fruit. And over time, he has truly come around on several foods and I believe that he will grow out of this eventually. Worth noting: My brother was an incredibly picky eater while we were growing up; now he is a chef who will literally eat anything. : )
    p.s. Thanks to Cat for citing the Jolly Tomato article on picky eating vs. sensory disorders.

  30. Great advice, me and my wife generally find some middle ground with our food, since she eats kosher and i eat well – I’m pretty much a carnivore, I like the advice on balancing with chick peas and other legumes, we tend to use it ourselves a lot, I will keep your advice in mind, especially now that our daughter will soon be starting to eat solids πŸ™‚ Ps we run a site calledSpecial Offers Malta so if anyone is looking to holiday in Malta, check out the great offers to help you plan your holiday.

  31. Highly recommend the book “bringing up bebe” about the picky eating thing. Sometimes it’s a matter of the child responding to the parent’s attitude and response. They get a reaction out of the parent when they reject the food. It also can be a sign of other things like allergies to the pesticide residue on the food or other irritating chemicals and residues.

    Lots to consider and lots of strategies to try. πŸ˜€

  32. Thanks for your tips Annie now i know how to handle the foods of my child. They are like others child they are picky eater. they won’t eat vegetable this was may big problem since they are 2 yrs.old. I will practice all the strategy for my child to eat almost anything that’s put in front of them, I’m hopeful it will get easier for everyone.

  33. Thank you for this post, Annie! I’ve learned something from both the post and the comments. I would gladly deconstruct meals for my toddler if I could just figure out which part(s) he will eat. I also realized that he has some sensory issues too! Off to do more research….

  34. As a child I like fried eggs (over medium) and omelettes but couldn’t stand mushrooms or scrambled eggs. My dad forced me to eat scrambled eggs whenever they were prepared EVEN THOUGH I gagged every time. It created such a problem that I started having that response with all eggs. I stopped eating all eggs because the nauseous feeling was so bad.

    As an adult in my mid twenties, I realized it was a mental reaction and started forcing myself to eat just one bite of fried eggs (since they had been my favorite as a child). That first bite was so awful I didn’t think I could keep it down. It took 5 or 6 years to gradually desensitize myself but an now happily eat eggs fried, omelettes AND scrambled! (they need to be on the dryer side with cheese and other stuff).

    It’s sad that I had to go through that because of my dad’s stubbornness and, “she eats what we eat or she doesn’t eat” attitude. (happened when we switched from whole to non-fat milk also)

    There were several nutritional gaps in my diet because of this. Thankfully, my mom would try to make things I would eat and buy food that I could prepare for myself as I got older. (but living off of Minute Rice and popcorn isn’t the healthiest for a teen girl).

    Thank you so much for these tips! So far, my 19 month old is not super picky although he has his days. I want to help him develop a healthy attitude about food/eating.

    A strategy I have is to cook up big batches of things I know he likes so he has multiple choices all week (without a lot of daily work/frustration for me) – usually sausage, rice, broccoli and rice noodles. Oh, and ALWAYS having peanut butter and applesauce on hand!

  35. Kim Pongpaet says

    While the article is interesting it’s a little disturbing. I was raised that mom wasn’t a short order cook. She poured time, energy and love into all her meals. When a meal hit the table that was it. No bickering, whining and tantrum throwing. Period. Parents today spend too much energy creating picky eaters in this exact manner. I’d also like to add that while as a kid I didn’t always like everything I had to eat, it made my appreciation for food as an adult immeasurable. Food for thought…

  36. I was a picky eater growing up and my mother would consistently make me special dinners because I didn’t like what the family would eat (usually quick, unhealthy, convenient foods) . Once I got older and actually tried the foods I refused to eat, I realized that I have been missing out! Now that I have kids of my own and healthy eating is a big part of my life, I make them try a couple bits of everything. For the most part, the things they argue about trying are becoming some of there favorites! I also like sneaking in extra goodness in things they truly enjoy like smoothies. And when I make chili or spaghetti sauce I have no problem taking a couple extra minutes to blend it knowing that they kids are not fans of the chunks.

  37. Momof2girls says

    Wow, I am shocked at some of the comments. First, I grew up in a family of 5, 7 total including parents, my mom cooked liked this ALL THE TIME, making various sides with one main meal. And she had twins and another set of kids that were less than a year apart! We would get like a meat (say a pork chop), with sliced tomatoes, steamed broccoli, beans, noodles, leftovers, corn, and we got to choose from that. Summer was great, we got all fresh veggies. The only thing I won’t eat is canned asparagus, that was on our table a lot. She didn’t make extravagant dishes, she wasn’t Martha Stewart, nothing from the latest cooking magazine or tv show, no casseroles or crock pots. She steamed/boiled/sauteed a couple of different veggies – gosh we even have microwaves now, she didn’t even have that. My husbands mom cooks the same way, maybe it’s a generational thing? I am 41, and am not a picky eater. I never ate a lot in one sitting, so if I didn’t eat at dinner because I wasn’t hungry, I had to make myself something later. And eating when I wanted, when I was hungry has seem to helped me, I don’t over eat, I eat every 2-3 hours. I have never had a weight issue eating this way.

    I had a child who did not eat until she was about 2 1/2. Yes, my child ate Nothing but breastmilk until she was 2 1/2. Even eating clinics (which by the way, this is what they suggest too) could not get her to eat. Now she is 5, I pretty much follow what has been mentioned here – which is what was suggested by the feeding therapist – and my child has never been picky. Oh, she doesn’t like meat too much, but who cares – she didn’t eat for 2 1/2 years, So we are pretty much lenient on what she eats. Does she rule dinner? No, I make what I want. At least now if she doesn’t want it, she is old enough to make her own sandwich, but 99% of the time, at age 5, she tries everything I put on her plate, without a fuss and she is not a picky eater. So no, making options available does not cause a picky eater and she is quite polite in public, trying something once and never making a fuss about not liking it.

  38. I’m a little shocked at the some of the negative responses.
    I think most of your strategies offer healthy alternatives at the very least. None of them involve making the food less healthy by smothering them in creamy sauces or coating them in cheese. If my son asks for something healthy that isn’t on the table, I usually don’t mind making a little extra effort (he loves green peas, and it takes a few seconds to zap some frozen ones in the microwave). I do believe in reintroducing foods that weren’t popular before, because sometimes he’ll refuse a new food one day and the next week, he’ll want to try it. Pureeing vegetables in sauces is perfectly fine in my books too. Sometimes texture, and not taste, is the biggest obstacle with kids.
    I’m hoping my son will keep his varied palate (he’s under 2), but there are no guarantees. I like reading posts like these because it gives me strategies to keep in my back pocket, just in case πŸ™‚

  39. No judgement here. Everyone needs to find what works for you. Sometimes there is a place for someone to make a nice comment to an exhausted mother who is run ragged by the demands of her little one. However, there are so many of us who can manage quite nicely without people being intrusive in our lives. Annie is not worm out from her activities and needing a break so we do not need to advise her how to do anything better. I do not parent my children the same way but my children are not like her child. πŸ™‚ One tactic I used on my children is refusing to “share” my special treats with them. I did this with beets and brussel sprouts specifically. I made them ONLY for me. I refused for months to allow them to have ANY. Then, I only allowed them to have one, even if they asked for another on the basis that they were special for mommy only. Eventually, they were allowed to have more “since they had grown up some”. This got them into the habit of thinking these things were special and it worked like a charm.
    I do have a retching gagger here too but mostly we avoid giving her those things which bother her and we do just fine. Weird how they will eat cooked spinach but not other cooked greens.
    I also wanted to suggest yoghurt as an add-in when you are adding something (my kids would eat yoghurt when they were off their their feed or ill). If your child enjoys it, it is a great way to get calcium in, just watch the amount of sugar per serving.

  40. Sare Davies says

    There’s a really good book called Child of Mine which is all about feeding you child (with love and respect) . As the mum of a picky, seemingly unhungry child this book was a life saver. The take home message was to divide responsibility for eating. We parents decide the what, when and where, our children decide the how much and whether (as in whether they’ll eat at all!). The other take home message was that most ‘normal’ children will eat a balanced diet, perhaps not daily but over the week/month etc. It has made a massive difference to my stress over my daughter’s eating to be able to step back and allow her to take charge of her eating, trusting her to know what her body needs. This all happens in the context of me providing healthy/balanced choices, of course πŸ™‚

  41. Thanks for the interesting post and discussion. I’m so curious about the cross cultural aspect of picky eating. I read somewhere that it is uniquely American that we expect that children will eat so differently to adults (I wish I could recall the source…). I just wonder if that’s true, and how other cultures deal with their picky eaters assuming they must exist.

  42. Hello! This was very interesting to read! I get crap from my MIL often because I will make things differently for my boys. For example, they hate lasagna so I always make a side of noodles for them. Also, the baby hates sauce, so I don’t make him eat it (I didn’t eat sauce until I was in my late 20’s…). Hubby and I also really like spicy foods, so when we make things like stir fry, we take theirs out before adding any sauce to it. I also have 1 that loves broccoli and cauliflower raw and the other cooked, so whenever I make them, I also leave some raw. Now if it is something new, I always make them TRY it. The same goes with some things. I know they HATE tomatoes (as did I until I was 15), but when we have a salad night, I always make them eat one. I tell them all the time that our taste buds change. Both of my boys also have problems with some foods touching. For example, for the smallest, I have to separate his chicken noodle soup into piles with the broth in one cup.
    I’ve been told that I am encouraging their pickiness, but I am doing what I feel is best for my family. Like me, my oldest has a texture issue. Somethings make me gag, therefore I am not going to force my kids to eat somethings when I know he feels the same. Would it be quicker to NOT make piles of chicken, carrots, celery and noodles and a cup of broth? Yes. Is it easier? Actually yes. Because if I don’t the he gets very upset, which then disrupts dinner. Am I ruining them? No. My mom did the same for me and I consider myself a well-rounded adult who eats many different things. One of the favorite things I learned from my mom is to pick my battles. I choose to separate or give my boys something else to eat rather than have fights and meltdowns. What works for one family will not necessarily work for another! πŸ˜€

  43. Hmmmm…. nothing whets the appetite such as the lovely aroma of Judgment. Holy cannoli — you weren’t kidding about the comments!

    In my family, my 6 yo son is considered our “picky eater”. I cook primarily Indian, Thai and other East Asian — but really not much in the way of White People Food. However, my son prefers White People Food and sadly for him, he was born into a multi-cultural situation since my husband is from India. Poor boy was punk’d.

    So. We like to eat spicy things full of strong, complex flavors and my 4.5 yo daughter gobbles this food up along with us. Realistically, in a typical, 100% White Meat family, my son would be considered normal. Too bad for him. πŸ™‚


    Four people live in my home. FOUR. Not two! This is not some culinary dictatorship I am attempting to build in my home. I cook what I like to cook — whoever wants to dig in is more than welcome to do so. Whoever does not want to dig in is more than welcome to a quick serving of cereal, PB&J or something else healthy from the kitchen. Because guess what? I cook what *I* like, why should I expect my kids to like everything I cook? As an adult, I do not eat food I do not like. Period. Yes, I will try new foods and I encourage my kids to do the same. But I am not going to force them to eat food. That’s ridiculous.

    Furthermore, when I invite guests into my home, I take their tastes and food needs into consideration. Sure as hell, I am going to do the same for my own children. Good grief!

  44. I have to give it to the OP – putting that much thought and prep into ensuring a happy mealtime must take the strength and patience that many of us don’t have (given the comments), myself included.

    I was lucky enough to get my claws into my stepdaughter when she was nearly four, but when I met her, she turned her nose up at ANYTHING that wasn’t microwavable or didn’t have a heavy dose of sugar in it. Given that my own mother fed us out of frozen boxes or hamburger helper, that simply was not going to fly in my household.

    I put my foot down first with her father and asked him what he wanted his daughter to get from mealtime. He answered, “Healthy meals that fill her up and give her the energy to make it through the day.” Clearly, what her mother was feeding her wasn’t what he wanted either.

    I instituted the ‘no thank you’ bite that night. She has to TRY everything on her plate, and if she still didn’t care for it, she didn’t have to eat it. But there was nothing else, either – no cereal, no PB&J, no nothing. It took ONE night. One night of me standing my ground with this pintsized little drama queen hollaring and carrying on, until she realized I wasn’t going to back down.

    The next night, she did her ‘no thank you’ bite and didn’t complain. The third night, she ate everything on her plate. Funny thing about kids…. They eat when they’re hungry. Your kids will not starve if you don’t play into their pickiness. You wouldn’t let them go to bed at midnight because they’re whining all night that their bedtime is too early, so don’t let them play drama queen when mealtime comes around.

    It’s a pain for all of a week, but I promise, your kids will get over the pickiness. And then you can start asking them what they would like to have on a given night – Monday is Munchkin Night, and she (now nearly eight) gets to pick what’s for dinner that night. Usually, it’s pancakes with maple syrup, lmao πŸ˜€

    No judgment here – each family has their own way. But, in support of moms with picky eaters, if you stand your ground, theirs will give way.

  45. Growing up, my parents did everything they possibly could to ensure that we were not picky eaters – certainly everything that the most judgmental of your commenters would suggest. We grew our own organic vegetables and fruits, and my sister and I helped to raise them, to pick them, and to prepare them. My mother flash-froze all of the vegetables she could and put them in our gigantic freezer so that we always had the best possible veggies year-round. My mom had us helping out during dinner preparation as early as possible. My parents only bought their meat and eggs from local farmers. My mom was a good cook and cooked every meal for us. We ate almost all of our meals together as a family, because my father was a part-time professor and home a lot. My mother made one meal and one meal only. We indulged in very few sweets and no snacking – eating was for mealtimes only. Everything was primed for my sister and I to be adventurous and healthy eaters.

    However… I was picky from the moment I started eating food. There was a wide variety of our home-grown vegetables that I could not stand to eat, including broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, and the most detestable beet. My mother made her own spaghetti sauce, but the sauce contained tomato skins that rolled up into little spikes that stuck in my throat and made me gag. Lots of things made me gag, either by the smell or by the taste or texture, or a combination of all three. Many vegetables that I liked raw I detested cooked, especially carrots, whose sweetness became unbearable. I once begged my mother to just serve me the carrots raw instead of cooked, arguing that they were more healthy for me raw, and less work for her since she didn’t have to chop so many. My mother’s response was “You’ll eat what I cook.” I spent many meals in misery, choking down food and gagging on it. A few times I actually threw up (the detestable beets). The thing was, I ate plenty of the vegetables that I liked – heck, I would go into the garden and eat raw tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, etc. But it didn’t matter – whatever was on the plate was my dinner, and I couldn’t leave until I ate it.

    I don’t blame my mom for doing this, although I do question the fact that she herself had been forced to eat things she hated as a child and as a result, would not cook the things she detested (liver and fish, among other things). Why couldn’t she have understood that she was perpetrating the same on me? Would it have been so difficult to simply not serve me beets, seeing as they made me gag? But she had the idea that children should not rule the dinner table. She says now that in hindsight, what she did was not right. There were ways of accommodating me without totally ‘giving in’ to my likes and dislikes, which were not whimsical. Standing her ground at mealtime produced a child who was miserable at mealtimes, who sneaked all of the sugary, fatty foods she could get her hands on whenever she could, who ate nothing but pizza and doughnuts as a freshman in high school because she was no longer controlled by her mom. I don’t know if it had anything to do with me developing an eating disorder, but my relationship with food was certainly fraught enough that it might have nudged it along. It took me a long time to develop a more healthy relationship with food.

    I am not saying that standing your ground with picky eaters will result in your child having problems with food, or an eating disorder. But the idea that it’s a control issue isn’t necessarily the case. Certainly, it wasn’t a control issue with me until my mother made it into one. There were – and still are – certain foods that I cannot tolerate.

    Now that I have children of my own, I have to admit that I find it hard because they are both naturally picky eaters (and yes, like my mom, I serve organic fresh veggies, I cook well, I try new things, etc. etc. etc.). Sometimes I forget and revert back to the whole “You’ll eat what I cook” thing. But most of the time I remember how awful dinner was for me, and I am more generous with my own children. They both love and eat fruit, which has tons of vitamins. They both like certain vegetables but hate others. One of them refuses to eat most meat products and prefers carbohydrates over anything else. I don’t feed them a ton of sweets, but they get more than I ever did as a child, and consequently they don’t seem to feel starved for sweets like I did. They don’t eat a lot of variety, but plain pasta with butter never hurt anyone so long as you’re getting some other things. I make fruit and yogurt smoothies for them, in which I hide a variety of things they wouldn’t otherwise eat (spinach, sweet potatoes, cauliflower), both to get extra veggies in them and to get them a bit used to the taste. So far they like them and it makes me feel better. I don’t serve things I know they hate because it’s just ridiculous for me and completely rude to them to discount their feelings. I don’t let them say things like “yuck” or “this is disgusting,” but if they truly don’t like something after taking a bite, they don’t have to eat it. They can have an extra piece of bread or more of what they do like.

    The dinners where I am more relaxed and generous in nature with my kids are the dinners where the evening is just nicer for everyone. My kids are healthy, and their relationship with food is – so far – much better than mine was. That’s totally worth being considered a ‘parental wimp’ by some judgmental people.

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