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Snoopy's avatar

How do you deal w/ a picky eater?

Asked by Snoopy (5778 points ) April 19th, 2009

I found this question but would like more ideas and input.

I have two preschoolers. The older child is the picky eater. He will fixate on a particular food item at a meal and refuse to eat it….

Is it OK to allow kids to “cherry pick” what they eat?

Do you require your kids to try everything?

I certainly do not agree w/ a “you must clear your plate” attitude nor will I make special/separate foods for one kid. I think that is a slippery slope.

I realize that he will not starve. My question is more about how to avoid mealtime battles.

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32 Answers

knitfroggy's avatar

I don’t force my kids to eat at mealtime and I have always said I’m not a shortorder cook…you eat what we are having or don’t eat at all. When they were smaller I’d fix them something different if we were having steaks that they couldn’t chew easily, etc. But now, if I’m making meatloaf and they don’t want it, then they don’t have to eat it, but they aren’t going to eat anything else either-chips or poptarts, etc.

I personally don’t think it’s a big deal if they only want to eat the mashed potatoes and not the chicken. If he is eating something, then don’t worry about it too much. Do you think maybe its just a power struggle type thing? My bestfriend’s son is a picky eater and from what I’ve seen of it he is just trying to see what he can get away with…unfortunately she plays into it and will battle with him three meals a day.

miasmom's avatar

I haven’t gotten to the picky eater stage yet, however, I do like Jerry Seinfeld’s wife’s philosophy. She purees veggies and adds them into the meals they like, mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, etc. But she also makes veggies on the side that they can eat if they choose. The recipes in her cookbook are all pretty healthy, even if it is mac and cheese, so I like that too.

I like @knitfroggy ‘s point of not being a short order cook, I am going to try my hardest to have them eat whatever we are eating, but at the same time, making some kid friendly options, like mashed potatoes.

Like I said, I’m not there yet, but these are some of my ideas and I’d be curious to hear what others say too!

skfinkel's avatar

I always let children eat what they wanted, and I also never minded boiling water for noodles (a favorite) if someone didn’t like what we were having for dinner. That meant that dinners were times of great conversations, and no fights about food. It didn’t matter if they tasted new things or not. It didn’t matter if they didn’t want to try something new. I may have had “picky eaters” when I think back on it, but I didn’t label it that at the time, and that worked for us. Lots of good memories of those days. And all my children grew up big and and strong and healthy, and they all seem to enjoy all kinds of food now.

Dutchess12's avatar

Takes two to battle! And what is there to fight over, anyway? I think it’s perfectly fine for a kid to “cherry pick” what they eat. The important thing is that the only foods in the house that they get to pick from are nutritious….I never had chips and candy and junk in the house. I didn’t have a problem with taking their particular tastes into consideration when cooking. I wouldn’t cook separately or anything, but, like, my daughter liked hamburger, but didn’t like spaghetti sauce, so I’d pull some cooked hamburger out for her and put it in a bowl, before I put the sauce on the rest of the hamburger…...as long as what they’re choosing is healthy enough I don’t think there is any problem.
I know this doesn’t apply to you, but I had a girl come over once, with her 2 year old son. He was walking around carrying a bag of some kind of corn puff something—like popcorn. The girl said, “That’s ALL he’ll eat!!!”
I felt like saying, “Um…does he go to the store and buy it and bring it home himself??” But I didn’t. What I did say was, “Well…what would happen if he didn’t have the corn puffs to eat?”
A couple of days later she called and kind of sheepishly said, “Well…I haven’t bought any more, and he was kind of mad at first, but now he’s eating other things.”

Blondesjon's avatar

Start feeding them their favorite foods with a slingshot.

Sloane2024's avatar

I think that cherry-picking is perfectly fine as long as, like others have stated above, it is from a selection of healthy foods, or from the meal already prepared. Although I was never a very picky eater as a kid, I was never forced to consume anything I didn’t want; my sister, however, is one of the pickiest people I’ve ever met, only opting for “safe” foods, such as mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, pizza, hotdogs, etc. Everything she was ever coaxed to eat, she hates, everything she was given the option of trying, she loves. It truly depends on the individual, but if the child is overly selective at a young age, continuing this habit throughout his teenage years, more than likely, he will always be rather choosy. If it’s one particular type of food your child isn’t eating, try preparing it differently, or tricking them into eating and loving it, only afterwards telling them the true content. You might also try letting them help cook that food. Chances are, they’ll be excited to eat a dish they’ve exerted some effort into.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

Family Fun magazine has lots of good kid-friendly recipes and food presentation ideas. I would not cook multiple meals, but if they didn’t want dinner, there was always the choice of oatmeal or yogurt and a banana or apple. A friend suggested that when they were playing, rather than asking what they wanted for a snack, to just put a a plate of cut fruit or veggies and cheese down beside them without a word, and walk away. It was always eaten within 20 minutes, without comment.

Dutchess12's avatar

@AlfredaPrufrock Most excellent! It’s the attention they get over the food that makes the “problems” worse. I used to have a daycare. My rules for lunches were stricter than they were for dinners without the daycare at night, but for purely financial reasons. The rule was, you didn’t have to eat anything you didn’t want to, but if you wanted seconds of anything you had to eat everything on your plate at that first serving, then you could have all you wanted of your choice after that. I took into consideration what foods the kids did and didn’t like—green beans for example. If a kid (like my daughter) didn’t like green beans I’d only put 1 or 2 beans for them to eat to fulfill the requirements.
Anyway, got this new kid in. He decided to play games at his first lunch in my daycare. He turned his nose up at all the food, saying, “I don’t want it!”—You could tell that he was fully expecting me to start badgering him to eat, or whatever his parents did. All I said was, “Are you sure?” The rest of the daycare perked up because there was one way to get around the “clean your plate to get at the good stuff” rule, and that was if a kid didn’t want their first serving of whatever—because if the food was untouched I’d put it up for grabs to the rest of the daycare and they’d get freebie “good” food!
Anyway, this kid said he was sure….I said, “Are you really, REALLY sure??”
He sniffs and said “Yes. I am sure.”
The daycare is getting happier and happier, and he’s starting to look around suspiciously…..
I said, “OK. No problem!” And the kids cheered as I took his untouched plate and put in in the middle of the table…the daycare kids were on it like a pack of wolves and it was GONE man! Instantly! You should have seen the look on that kid’s face!! (It makes me laugh to this day!) The kid yells, “Hey! That was MY food!”
“Well gee! You said you didn’t want it! Would you like to start over?” The daycare is looking at him all hopefully like, “Do it again! Do it again!”
He mumbled yeah, he wanted to start over. And…we never, ever had another problem. Lots of times he didn’t finish his first helping, but that was OK with me too.

Zen's avatar

Lucky here. Never had that problem with my kids. I do know that certain things are an aquired taste, and my mom always said that we had to at least try it – not eat it – but try it.

I think I love pretty much everything. My kids too, especially vegetables and fruit. Love steamed veggies: broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and potatoes in the steamer – 20–25 minutes – I don’t even add salt. I used to call them natural candies, and they loved them.

basp's avatar

Good luck with te picky eater. I didn’t have that problem with my children, I was just lucky.

sierragrl24's avatar

Put that brat in their place or they can go to bed with no dinner.

Snoopy's avatar

Thanks for the useful suggestions thus far.

The kids are offered great food and generally eat pretty well. This is a new phenomenon that we don’t want to progress too far, if avoidable.

I think we will be going w/ pretty much a combination of some of the above suggestions….many of which we have already been doing (e.g. no short order cooking, etc.).......

Darwin's avatar

We try to serve a selection of healthy foods, and folks can eat some of each, or only one if they want.

I, too, am not a short-order cook, but I will often ask folks for suggestions of what they would be willing to eat for dinner, or I might knowingly include someone’s favorite food in the meal to be sure there is something everyone will eat. I must admit, though, that when I cook on the grill I cook steak for myself and my husband, a hamburger for my son and chicken breast for my daughter. It isn’t any more bother and it avoids arguments.

Our other rules include if a food is something you have never eaten before you need to try it. We ask them to take two small bites just to be sure they don’t like it. The other reason is you might have been in a bad mood the first time so you need to take a second bite just to be certain you don’t like it.

Also, if someone else puts a huge serving of something on your plate, you just need to take two small bites. However, if a person serves themselves something they need to eat all of it – we had a problem with children make a huge mountain of a favorite food on their plates but then eating only a little of it, thus depriving others of it and wasting it.

And actually, we have discovered that my son, who is horribly picky and would like to live on nothing but McDonald’s chicken nuggets, can be talked into eating any number of things if he can put soy sauce, ketchup or mayonnaise on it.

Dutchess12's avatar

@Darwin LOL! My daughter told her 3 year old son the other morning that his syrup and waffles were ready. He says, “I DON’T WANT SYRUP ON MY WAFFLES! I WANT BAR B QUE SAUCE!!” How funny! I said, “Well, did you put bar b que sauce on them?” She said, “NO! That’s gross!” Well….it’s all in the eye of the beholder!

Darwin's avatar

@Dutchess12 I certainly don’t like BBQ sauce on my waffles but I can see how someone might. I do put ketchup on my scrambled eggs, however, and my major professor always drank beer when he ate chocolate cake.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

We have a structure for food with our kids…the youngest eats 5x a day every 4 hours and at this point it’s just breast milk and formula…the oldest eats at 8 am before daycare, then he eats twice in daycare and twice when he comes home after…the meals are always the same as in breakfast are always about cereals/kashas/fruits and milk/tea…dinners are always about vegetable mixes/kashas/protein (fish/chicken cutlets/stewed beef/salmon caviar) and home made juice/tea…the meal right before the 930 bedtime is always the same: cottage cheese with berries and yogurt mix…in terms of snacks he can choose home made croutons/ tostitos chips / or bubliki…if it’s a special occasion he can have a cookie or a hershey’s candy…otherwise, no junk food, no sugary drinks, only water…

there are certain things at each meal that are non-negotiables (meaning he HAS to eat at least those things) and that’s usually fruits and vegetables…and he can’t just refuse to eat…if he has a major tantrum, then he goes without the meal…this probably has happened once in his life…when he’s sick, the story is different…he’s allowed some flexibility in terms of refusing food and he’s usually only content with chicken broth and tea…

basically good nutrition, to me, is a no-nonsense issue…with a lot of things, i’m very open and it’s all flexible but not with food…so he’s never been obnoxious about it because we never even allowed misbehaviour about it

janbb's avatar

@skfinkel I can vouch for one of your son’s eating habits. It was always a pleasure to take Ben out for a meal at college or feed him something at my house. He was a prodigious and grateful eater so it obviously worked out fine!

My younger son was/is a picky eater and we’ve always worked around his eating habits. Usually tried to plan a meal so that there was something he could eat or gave him simple options like pb&j or soup. He has expanded his foods somewhat but still will eat virtually no fruits or veggies. He’s grown up very strong and healthy so as the doctor says “he’s doing something right.” It did bother me sometimes over the years but I didn’t want to make it a battle. I envy people whose kids eat very nutritious meals; we just had other fish (metaphorically) to fry.

Darwin's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – Careful about feeding your children caviar! My parents did that with me and so as a result I have very eclectic and sometimes expensive tastes. They had a friend in the restaurant business who would sell them caviar at cost so they would make me caviar and cream cheese sandwiches. Yum!

cak's avatar

The “core” part of our dinners, non-negotiable; however, I won’t ever force one of our kids to eat everything – I do ask that they try the food. I serve several vegetables, at least one fruit, a complex carbohydrate and a protein. Even on “junk” night, it’s truly not junk. I may just make things in a more interesting manner. (Fruit and Veggie Kabobs are a huge hit!)

I am adamant about not being a short order cook, but I will allow one them to fix something “small” to supplement, if I know that they really hate what I made for dinner. My daughter doesn’t eat anything made with hamburger (odd), so she will fix an alternative. Oatmeal, salad, noodles…something, but she eats the veggies and fruits. My son, he will fix a veggie pita and eat the veggies and fruit, offered at dinner. (he’s 6)

I think it’s important to teach them to eat a variety of things, but I won’t fight about it. I also think they need to understand the time that can go into fixing a meal, they need to be respectful and understand that if they don’t like the meal, they will need to be responsible for fixing something else, to go along with the sides. Sometimes, the ultimate plan works, they just eat what I fixed, instead! (evil plan works!)

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Darwin
yeah i know
i grew up on caviar too

RedPowerLady's avatar

I certainly do not agree w/ a “you must clear your plate” attitude nor will I make special/separate foods for one kid. I think that is a slippery slope

I just want to commend you on both of those choices.

I will tell you a bit about myself. I was a Horrible Nasty picky eater. I mean I was Bad!! One example (and just one) but if it was green I wouldn’t touch it. So my mother and father are divorced. At my mother’s house she would not make me finish my plate or eat what I didn’t like. At my father’s house (which I spent little time at) he wanted me to do both. I would spend a whole night (hours) crying into my food. I HATED it. And I will be honest. I simply Did Not Understand why he was doing that to me. Now as an adult I eat a Wide! variety of food. I also enjoy trying new things. It comes with time and very gradually. I would say that you are right in what you are doing. Every once in awhile it’s good to make a kid take one or two bites of something new but I wouldn’t go past that. I would be interested in learning the psychology behind picky eating.

How to avoid meal time battles? You know what I would say if the kid won’t eat it then tell them to make a PB & J. A preschooler can do it (if they aren’t quite there yet you could even do it yourself). They won’t like it but they can do it. That way they aren’t going hungry and they aren’t getting any special food cooked for them. And you aren’t putting them through the mental anguish of crying into their plates. Besides mental anguish it isn’t physically healthy either but I won’t get into that.

Dutchess12's avatar

@RedPowerLady Reminds me of when I had to go out of state for a week, and had to send my three-year-old son to a daycare during the day for a week (my husband stayed home and picked him up after daycare.) Now, my son was not a picky eater, not in the least, but I got back from my trip and one of the first nights back I fixed green beans. As I was dishing up dinner my son asked what was for dinner, and as I put the plate down in front of him I said, “Hamburger and greenbeans!”
Bless his heart and the little lisp he had then, he put up his little hand like, “Talk to the wall!” and adamantly said, “Don’t even menshun gween beans!!!”
I said, “What??? You LIKE green beans!!”
Well, turns out that the daycare lady he’d gone to for that one week had served green beans one lunch and my son wasn’t hungry, or whatever, and said he didn’t want them, thank you. She made him sit there for a couple of hours, staring at those green beans that he didn’t want, trying to FORCE him to eat them!!!! He won that battle, and she almost lost the war, because it was 3 months before he ever ate them again, and only when he finally felt like it…I just can’t imagine forcing a kid to sit at the table until they eat whatever the hell it is they’re “supposed” to eat….

RedPowerLady's avatar

@Dutchess12 That was a good story :) Thanx for sharing. Sounds exactly like what I went through. It is really a horrible experience for a child. I think there are ways to teach children not to waste without forcing them to eat what they can’t/don’t want to eat. It is so refreshing to hear from people who say I just can’t imagine forcing a kid to sit at the table until they eat whatever the hell it is they’re “supposed” to eat.

You know the opposite works as well. One day, as a child, I decided to try these peas. I used to Hate peas (because they were green mainly, haha). I tried them because everyone was talking them up so much. So I tried them and actually LOVED them. They were fresh cooked peas vs. the cheapest ones from the can that my mother typically served. From then on I liked peas and my mother learned to buy a different brand of canned ones, lol. So instead of being turned off by being forced to eat them, I tried them and loved them from then on.

Snoopy's avatar

Well….I too was forced to stare at my food for lengthy periods of time in an attempt to make me clean my plate. So, I know of what I speak.

I am happy to report that we have struck a happy medium. They are served what we eat. If they choose not to even try some portion of it- then fine….but no dessert, snacking, alternate food prep etc. to substitute for a hungry kid. They are able to eat plenty of healthy foods. We make sure that there is always something that they will like, so no worries nutritionally.

No more drama, all is peaceful at meal times.

Thanks all :)

Darwin's avatar

The one time my parents tried the bit of making me sit and stare at my food until I was willing to eat it I threw up all over the table.

The reason why I wasn’t eating was because I didn’t feel well. I tried to communicate that but I was only five and not a particularly good communicator. They thought I was saying that my stomach hurt so I wouldn’t have to eat my food. Instead, I had stomach flu. It amazes me now that they would think I was being stubborn, because I was the type of kid who ate just about everything except squash and asparagus. Now I even eat those things.

At any rate, they never did it again.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@Darwin that happened for me once as well (and even same problem with communicating – I was way too full in that circumstance), sadly it didn’t stop them, they just gave me less nasty food, lol

Dutchess12's avatar

@Snoopy “but no dessert, snacking, alternate food prep etc. to substitute for a hungry kid.” Excellent point….I was at a friends house once, when both our kids were “wittle.” The kid was whining that she was hungry so my friend just handed her and entire box of cheezit crackers, or something. The kid pigged out. 30 minutes later lunch was ready, and my friend got upset because her child didn’t want to eat. “She’s always playing games like this!!” She snapped….I said, “Hey. Um. You just handed her a box of crackers not 30 minutes ago. She’s not hungry now.” She said, (pause) ”...Oh. I didn’t think of that.”
Good rule. When a kid says they’re hungry, make sure the food is ready about an hour later and they won’t be all that picky! I think we, in America, think that when a kid says they’re hungry, we have to feed them that instant. I think not….

cak's avatar

@Dutchess12 lurve for wittle! And yes, @Snoopy has a fantastic point! I see what you saw, too. It amazes me when parents get upset, yet they’ve stuffed their child with junk and snacks. —eyeroll! My kids are very aware that is a huge no, in our house!

daisy's avatar

I am the parent of 3 kids who are now very health conscious adults. All 3 of them eat/exercise and have healthier lifestyles than I do today.

My goal was to make meal time an enjoyable time where we all sat down together as a family. This is how I handled it. I refused to become a ‘short order cook’. I also did not want meal time to become a battle ground and put my kids through trauma every time we ate. Having a kid crying over their plate for hours was unacceptable as I didn’t want to cause any eating disorders later in life.

When they were very young, I tried to make meals that were balanced, simple, without lots of strong spices, little green things or indistinguishable items in them. (I avoided things like brussel sprouts) Each kid had a small helping of everything on their plate. If I was introducing a new food item that they had never had before, I gave them one bite to try. I didn’t force the issue but turned taking a nibble of something new into something of a game. Since kids are somewhat competitive anyway, it was a thing of pride for the child who liked the new item. Of course, my husband and I made a big show of eating it and exclaiming how delicious it was. If anyone started whining or crying about wanting something else, I excused them from the table so the meal wasn’t ruined for all, and I calmly put plastic wrap over their plate and it went into the frig. There was no crying at the table, no force feeding, pleading, or bribing. This often diffused the problem immediately as the offending child soon saw that he/she got no attention and that they weren’t the center of attention. The rest of the family could enjoy the meal in peace and then enjoy dessert after the meal or ice cream later that evening. If the child who didn’t eat later said he was hungry, I offered to reheat their dinner. I did not offer cereal, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It was dinner, or nothing. I do not recall any of my kids going to bed hungry more than once or twice and often, all it took was seeing the ice cream or cookies after dinner to encourage them to gobble up their dinner.

I have many friends/relatives who let their kids cherry pick and many of them are adult cherry pickers.

daisy's avatar

PS. My kids are 2 yrs apart in age. When each child was old enough to eat baby food, I used a baby food grinder right at the table so that the ‘baby’ could eat ‘big people’ food. I lavished praise on the ‘baby’ for eating like a big kid and as each child was born, their siblings also made a big show of eating big people food as an example to the younger child and they all would praise the ‘baby’ for eating their food. This made the transition to eating for each child something natural and a thing of pride to be eating what the adults or their big brother or sister was eating.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

Eek, I was and am still a picky eater person so I’d let my kid go with it as long as they got a bit of all the food groups in. Better to have a picky healthy eater than stubborn hunger striker or food sneaker.

Ultramarine_Ocean's avatar

I don’t have any children or have dealt with such a thing but, I would try to tell them the importance of eating in a balanced way without scaring them into it.

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