Picky eaters. What do you do? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 14 Old 05-25-2012, 01:00 PM - Thread Starter
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My four-year-old is a very picky eater and his tastes seem to change each day. I know that at preschool he eats most things and there are some healthy things that he likes. His brother, who is six, eats absolutely everything.


So, very often at dinner time he simply refuses to eat as he says he doesn't like whatever it is. Then, he demands what he wants and gets cross as I won't prepare it. Often he'll end up eating some snack, like nuts, cheese, cereal or something.


What do you do with a fussy eater? Do you cater to their tastes? Just let them eat a snack and be done with it? Do you think he's likely to stay this fussy, or has anyone noticed big changes as their kids grow?

Happy mama to DS1 (2006), DS2 (2007) & DD (2012)

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#2 of 14 Old 05-25-2012, 01:16 PM
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Unless there is an underlying issue our policy is - this is your dinner and you eat it. You don't have to finish it but you do need to eat/try some. If you do not eat it now you will eat it at snack time. If you do not eat it at snack time it will be the next thing you eat, no matter when that time comes. Now, there are a few things neither of my kids like and I do accommodate them. If I make chili they often have grilled cheese. My dd does not like marinara sauce on her spaghetti, etc. I accommodate small requests like that. If I am serving something they don't like, say it was broccoli, I only put one piece on their plates. I often serve very small portions because I hate the waste. My daughter gets 8-10 pieces of cereal in her bowl in the morning because that is all she eats. I'm fine with that and she is allowed a healthy snack later like a piece of fruit. She isn't a big morning eater and I'm fine with that.

I also shop with my kids and get foods that they request. They help me cook when they show interest. I think that helps too.

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#3 of 14 Old 05-25-2012, 04:56 PM
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I basically have the same policy.  I make it and serve it, that's my only responsibility.  If he or she chooses not to eat it, that's fine.  But, I won't make something else.  There's always at least one thing that they should like.  


When they grow up and cook the family dinner, they can choose what to fix.  Until then, we have what I buy and fix.


I DO take everyone into consideration when i'm cooking.  My daughter hates meat, so I make a vegetable dish she likes....my husband hates vegetables, so that works in everyone's favor.


When I make chicken casserole, I put broccoli at one end, but not the other, chicken in the other end, but not the broccoli end.  That way, everyone's happy.

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#4 of 14 Old 05-25-2012, 05:43 PM
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If he eats most things at preschool, I'd just make sure the meals I make involve some foods he is known to like. Then I'd keep low key and let him eat or not eat, saying this is what we have for dinner. I wouldn't cajole him to eat or give him much attention about it. 


Now if I thought he had sensory issues, I'd certainly accomodate that. But from your description, it sounds like he is mostly just being picky, possibly because he isn't going through a growth spurt and doesn't need as much food or because he's just trying to see if he can get a better deal.


My own ds does have some sensory issues. He'd stop eating because food was too messy and got on his lips or fingers, not because he was full. He had a gag reflex and couldn't eat foods with certain textures. He'd freak if ketchup got on his lips. So I did and do prepare foods in certain ways for him. I'll totally do crazy things like peel each individual segment of orange because my ds will happily eat nothing but cheese and crackers, chicken nuggets, or mac n cheese. So I do prepare the few fruits and vegetables that he will eat in ways that he can tolerate, basically without peels and cut up. And he will be reasonable and eat them. 

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#5 of 14 Old 05-25-2012, 05:52 PM
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I serve my DD what the family is having for dinner and give her a chance to eat it. She at least has to try it.

If she refuses, I try to convince her to eat it by making a game of it.

If she still refuses, I get her something that I know she will eat, like chunks of avocado or peanut butter sandwich.


She is only 3 yrs old though.

And she has recently started preschool and doesn't eat there. They try serving her lunch and she wont eat it. And then ends up eating only fruit and/or crackers all day.

I was always thinking/ was told that she will probably eat at school/daycare because the other kids are eating it. She refuses it almost every day though.

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#6 of 14 Old 05-25-2012, 06:17 PM
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When I had a very picky foster child, I told her there were 2 choices for each meal: what I cook, or peanut butter & jelly sandwich. After a few months, she got tired of the PB&J and started trying other things. I also had an unlimited bowl of fruit, so I felt she was getting some variety of nutrition. Not ideal, but it kept the dinner table from becoming a war zone.

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#7 of 14 Old 05-25-2012, 06:31 PM
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I have always offered food and let my dd choose to eat or not. If she didn't eat I didn't offer dessert but I would allow her to have an alternative food from the same food group later in the evening. I also made sure to serve dinner about three hours after the last snack at the earliest. I found that if she was slightly hungry but not to a miserable point she ate better than she did if she was full from a snack and only needing a little food to fill up.
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#8 of 14 Old 05-26-2012, 09:14 AM
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I read a book once about survival and they said "the difference between a food you like and a food you don't like is 24 hours." In other words, if you're hungry enough, you'll eat -- people that are lost in the woods eat bugs and things, right? And another thing I read said that if you put a food on a kid's plate enough times (I think it was 10 times) they'll try it after a while. All kids eat the foods that are popular in their culture, whether it's spicy foods, rice, lentils, whatever .. because they simply keep having it put on their plate over and over.


Based on those two principles -- if they're hungry, they'll eat it, and if they see it on their plate regularly, eventually they'll eat it, we made this plan for our picky eater daughter.


She didn't HAVE to eat anything.  However, she had to have a piece on her plate of everything I made, and she could not have an alternative meal. If she refused to eat what I made, fine, but she could not have any snacks or anything later. And I'd tell her -- when you get hungry enough, you'll eat the good food I made you.  Eventually she would eat the food I made, and now as an adult she  calls me and asks me how to make the things she used to refuse to eat. And, as a bonus, she's a normal weight person in an obese family. I believe that is because we just didn't make an issue of food. Here's the rules -- simple -- eat or not, it's up to you. 


It worked for us.


Also, don't get fooled by amounts. I'm a pediatric nurse, and I can tell you that kids need less food than their parents think they do. They will not deliberately starve themselves, unless there is some pathology going on. So if the kid drinks milk, eats one or two peas and a bite of chicken, and they're done, so be it. That may actually be all they need.


Just try not to let meal time be a battleground. Set out the food, serve the children small helpings, and try to not pay attention to what they are eating. Focus on chatting with one another and making the meal enjoyable. Meal times are not just for eating, it's also an important time to socialize as a family. 

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#9 of 14 Old 05-26-2012, 11:59 AM
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I was a picky eater as a kid.  My own DD is FAR more adventurous and easy going about food than I was.  I remember really having a hard time with foods I didn't like as a kid and it would prompt massive anxiety when I was forced to eat it (my parents did the sit at the table until you've eaten it routine).  I would have been fine with the choice of if you don't like it, don't eat it but there is nothing else--I can deal with being hungry until the next meal.  But forcing me to choke it down made a really bad impression on me and I knew I didn't want to do that to my child. DD is not picky but if I've made something she doesn't care for, she will often just fill up on the side dish that she likes and we let her know when the next meal or snack is scheduled.  We also always offer fruit for dessert after dinner so it really doesn't bother me if she fills up on that because she didn't like the main course. 

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#10 of 14 Old 05-26-2012, 12:10 PM
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ds1 makes his own food if he doesnt want what im having and i ask ds2 what he wants and make that.  we kind of all eat at different times because we arent all hungry at the same time

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#11 of 14 Old 05-26-2012, 01:03 PM
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I won't force my kids to eat something they hate, but we do have a "This is what we're having, you eat it or you don't" policy. We have such food abundance in this country that it's hard to remember what it's like to not have all these choices...but that doesn't mean my kids can pick any one of a hundred items to eat. I buy it, I cook it, I serve it. Period. When you're hungry enough, you'll eat it.


I do allow my kids to choose which green vegetable we're having most nights though. I always have frozen veggies like broccoli and peas and green beans. 

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#12 of 14 Old 05-26-2012, 09:05 PM
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I've worked with families to support their picky eaters for years. My advice is similar to many who have already responded. From what you write it sounds more like he is choosing meal times to exercise his desire for independence rather than having a difficult time with food. This is very typical during the preschool years. The solution: make 1 meal. He chooses whether or not to eat it. If he chooses not to eat, respect his choice and remind him when the next time you will be serving a meal or snack. He'll experience the natural consequence of his actions (i.e. he'll get hungry). Most likely he'll try this a few times, realize that you're serious, and then come to the table and eat what you serve from then on.  

Oh, and changing his mind about what he likes from day-to-day is totally normal, age-appropriate behaviour.

Kristen Yarker, MSc, Dietitian


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#13 of 14 Old 05-26-2012, 10:48 PM
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I have 4 kids.  I have basically an eat it or don't policy.  No forcing or sit there till you try it.  Encouragement to try all things, but not bribery.  They know that after dinner most of the time they get milk before bed and that's it.  (*sometimes* a snack or dessert if we ate early or somebody just feels like it, but not often enough that they can count on it as an alternative to fill up on.)  I've found my kids eat WAY better when allowed to be hungry.  By that I mean I can bring ANYTHING to a park and they will usually eat it.  If they've been out playing all afternoon, they have a lot less objections to my menu choices.  Rainy days, they might watch more TV and snack more, they don't eat as well at mealtime.  I DON'T serve fruit regularly after meals because my kids would gladly fill up on that rather than *food* for the most part, and while fruit is healthy, I don't believe it is healthy for them to eat mostly or only fruit.  That said, we typically have a few choices of fruit available and it is the go-to snack between breakfast and lunch especially.  I do not serve an alternative.  They have plenty of opportunities to eat during the day, and many times where the choices are theirs alone.


I respect well-known dislikes.  I insist they come to the table, sit down, and see what's being served.  From there, it's up to them.  They have eaten meals that consisted of rice with soy sauce and water, followed by milk at bedtime.  They're happy, healthy kids.  :)  


and yes I agree, we have a major food abundance issue.  We should be happy we are even able to discuss providing options for our children.

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#14 of 14 Old 05-29-2012, 05:48 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for all the replies. Some great suggestions and it's really interesting to hear everyone else's experiences. I'm trying out a few things and it seems to be going better.


So, I'm being a bit more creative with the food to ensure that it's just one dinner but that it is definitely attractive to everyone. If he doesn't want to eat, no problem, but there's nothing else on offer.


Also, I realise that they really do snack a lot (if we're out and about, this tends to be something bread-y to curb the hunger). Also, DP always gives in to requests for treats. So, we've talked about that and agreed a common stance! I think that a lack of hunger may well have a lot to do with it.

Happy mama to DS1 (2006), DS2 (2007) & DD (2012)

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