January 20, 2009

How to Deal With Picky Eaters

(OK, so I wouldn't eat it either.)
photo: Failblog

I am not a parent. And it has been many, many decades since I was a child.

So I really have no business even addressing the topic of kids who are picky eaters and how to handle them.

But of course that won't stop me! So, just a warning: this post may well offend some of you parents. I'm afraid I'm just an old fuddy-duddy and need some help in understanding the issues involved. Things seem to have changed quite a bit since I was a youngster.

In a nutrition column in the SF Chronicle, a reader recently asked expert Marion Nestle this question:

"I am very concerned about my 6-year-old grandson's diet. I don't believe he has ever eaten fruit or veggies or regular food. He loves chocolate and candy and frosting, and at dinner time has his special foods. His pediatrician says not to worry, but his parents are worried and afraid of making eating an issue. What to do?"

Before we get to the answer, and some actual helpful tips for the parents of picky eaters, can I just tell you how this question struck me? It was as though this poor grandparent had written:

"I am very concerned about my 6-year-old grandson's recreational activities. I don't think he's ever played with a ball or ridden a bike. He loves his assault rifles and bourbon and cocaine and hardcore porn magazines. His parole officer says not to worry, but his parents are worried and afraid to make his hobbies an issue. What to do?"

OK, so it's not quite the same thing... but does anyone else wonder if parental deference to kids' preferences sometimes goes too far?

Most Parents Do a Great Job!

I just want to note that most parents I know handle these issues really well. And I'm sure regular readers at Cranky Fitness are flexible and compassionate, while still managing to get their kids to eat something besides candy and frosting. (In fact, I hope some of you have advice from the trenches you can help us out with in the comments). It must be so frustrating to have a kid go through a phase where he or she hates most normal food. Dinnertime as battleground? I can see how that would be really unpleasant.

But WTF is Up With Kids Being Totally in Charge?

This is more than just a picky food issue. I am frequently surprised to see how parents and children interact these days--all that begging and pleading and whining and pouting! Seriously, parents, it's just not dignified when you do that.

When I was a kid, we also had discussions and negotiations--after all, I was part of the spoiled baby boomer generation. (Before that, I believe kids were supposed to be "seen and not heard.") However, when we discussed stuff with our parents, it was understood that parents had the final say. Kids were expected to understand reasonable adult explanations, like, "because I said so that's why," and not put up a fuss.

Here is some more historical perspective:

How Parents Dealt With Picky Eating In the Really Olden Days:

This is before my time, but I'm pretty sure that kids in the olden days who did not want to eat what was offered did not eat, period. If kids took it too far and accidentally perished, the parents simply made more kids.

Candy and sweets must not have even existed, because kids got all excited when they got one crappy little orange in their Christmas stocking.

Oh, yeah, and parents used to make kids drink cod liver oil for no reason at all except, apparently, sadism.

How Picky Eating Was Dealt With In My Generation:

It varied from family to family, but I don't think my experience was unusual:

Junky foods like ice cream and potato chips and hamburgers and candy were treats, not staples. They were often used as rewards and could be taken away if we were bratty. As kids, trying to demand any of these foods would have been useless, unless our goal was to spend the rest of the day exiled to our rooms.

Dinners were eaten as a family and we all ate the same thing. Kids had to try at least a small portion of everything on our plate or we wouldn't get dessert. No matter how vile a vegetable was, we generally managed to choke down a few bites in order to get something sweet afterward.

Note: these mealtime tactics are now considered akin to child abuse, as they are supposed to give kids eating disorders and traumatize them etc. Oddly enough, these primitive methods worked pretty well for me. Having choked down vegetables repeatedly for all the wrong reasons, I got used to the way they tasted and then even grew to like them. (By contrast, the Lobster grew up in a household where no one much liked vegetables, so she didn't have to eat them. And guess what? She still hates most of them to this day.)

What The Experts Are Now Saying You Should Do

Between the Chronicle "fussy eater" article above, a USDA page on preschool picky eaters and a Mayo Clinic list of tips for children's nutrition, here is a big ol' list of suggestions. Some of these seem really smart! Others, well, I'll be curious to see what actual parents think of them.

  • Model healthy eating habits by eating healthy food yourself.
  • By the time kids are 2 years old, they generally can and should eat what adults eat.
  • With small kids, you can cut or mash the foods, serve smaller portions and don't add sugar or salt.
  • Involve kids in shopping and cooking. "Take the foods home and let kids peel fruit, pare vegetables, mix, mash and measure. Let them taste everything. Teach kids to cook."
  • Kids do not need sodas or candy. You can postpone these indefinitely or reserve them for occasional treats.
  • Once babies can handle solid foods, you can offer a new food once a week. If the child tolerates it, move on to the next.
  • A child's willingness to accept an unfamiliar food depends on how frequently the food is offered. You might have to offer a food at 20 meals before a child will taste it.
  • Start by presenting tiny portions of everything served at family meals, give the child time to play with and taste the foods, and remove anything not eaten after a short while.
  • Have plenty of healthful foods available - and offer nothing else. Do not make substitutions.
  • Try to make meals a stress-free time. Talk about fun and happy things.
  • Offer ultimatums choices. Rather than ask "Do you want broccoli for dinner?" ask “Which would you like for dinner: broccoli or cauliflower?”
  • Offer a variety of foods and let your child choose how much of these foods to eat.
  • Offer the same foods for the whole family. Don’t make a different meal for your preschooler. Your child will be okay even if they don’t eat a meal now and then.
  • Respect your child's hunger — or lack of hunger. If your child isn't hungry, don't force a meal or snack.
  • Stay calm. If your child senses that you're unhappy with his or her eating habits, it may become a battle of wills. Threats and punishments only reinforce the power struggle.
  • No juice or snacks for at least one hour before meals.
  • Don't expect too much. A few bites may be all it takes for your child to feel full.
  • Limit liquid calories. If your child fills up on milk or juice, he or she may have no room for meals or snacks.
  • Don't force your child to clean his or her plate.
  • Don't mention taste. Talk about a food's color, shape, aroma and texture — not whether it tastes good.
  • Eat breakfast for dinner. Who says cereal or pancakes are only for breakfast? The distinction between breakfast, lunch and dinner foods may be lost on your child.
  • Make it fun. Serve broccoli and other veggies with a favorite dip or sauce. (Really, this is supposed to be fun for kids? Now using the veggies to catapult the dip against the wall--that sounds like fun!) Or, cut foods into various shapes with cookie cutters.
  • Be sneaky. Add chopped broccoli or green peppers to spaghetti sauce, top cereal with fruit slices, or mix grated zucchini and carrots into casseroles and soups.
  • If your child doesn't like ingredients thrown together,"unmix" the food. Place sandwich fixings outside the bread, or serve the ingredients of a salad, casserole or stir-fry separately.
  • Be consistent: serve meals and snacks at about the same time every day, and "close" the kitchen at other times.
  • Consult your child's doctor if you're concerned that picky eating is compromising your child's growth and development or if certain foods seem to make your child ill.
  • Minimize distractions. Turn off the television during meals, and don't allow books or toys at the table.
  • And finally, (and the suggestion I liked the least): Don't offer dessert as a reward. This sends the message that dessert is the best food.

Well, sorry Mayo clinic, but dessert IS the best food!!! If we could blame our adult love of sweets on our parents using them as bribes, isn't that a pretty easy problem to fix? Parents, from now on, just say: "Sweetie, you know you have to finish your tater tots or you won't get any broccoli after dinner." Voila, problem solved!

So obviously I have NO idea about how to deal with this issue in real life. Do you folks have any thoughts/opinions/war stories on the Picky Eater issue?


  1. I am such a picky, err, have a very selective palate.
    Always have.
    My mom? didnt give a...care.
    She neither deferred to my likes nor made me anything different when she served one of my myriad dislikes.

    I think that was a good thing as well. it may not have changed my tastes---but I can eat ANYTHING with the best of em (even the dreaded icky mayo) as long as there's a tall glass of water available.

    With the tornado Im just not taking I DONT LIKE IT (cue scrunched face) as an option.

    except with pickles because (waitforit) I dont like em much either.
    even with water.

  2. When I was growing up, my dad was all about the "Clean your plate or you don't get to leave the table" thing. I wouldn't recommend that, because to this day I feel guilty if I don't eat everything on my plate, even if I'm uncomfortably full.

    Have any of the parents here ever had to deal with a kid becoming vegetarian? When I was a kid, I developed a real distaste for meat, but thought I could eat nothing but french fries and ice cream and be set. My mom insisted on a lot of salad and eventually made me eat chicken (so gross :( ), but now that I'm older, I've been able to blend my vegetarianism with my meat-eating boyfriend's diet without a problem. It just requires rethinking the time-honored meal trifecta of meat, boiled vegetables, and starch, including exploring other cultures with more vegetarian-friendly (and tasty!) menus -- East Asian, Southeast Asian, African, Mexican, some South American, some Italian... basically everything but American food.

  3. I was always threatened with no pudding if I didn't make a decent attempt on my dinner. And we all had the same dinner - the choice was what was on your plate, or nothing.

    If I was hungry later I was offered bread and butter, and if I refused that and wanted sweets or something, well obviously I wasn't really hungry!

    I became adept at hiding sprouts under my knife and fork and saying I'd finished....

  4. "Eat your meat or you can't have any pudding! How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?!"

  5. I think if you combine an alarmist question (a six year old who has literally never had anything but frosting would probably not be alive) and an anecdotal response (my parents made me eat veggies! Kids these days!) you are doomed to a pessimistic view! Sure, there will always be some overindulgent parents, but I think the overall trend towards respecting kids as individuals is good and healthy.

    I have found, with my 2.5 year old son, that most eating issues are dealt with by letting go of artificial conventions (i.e., you must sit down and force food down your throat at 6PM whether you're hungry or not), and providing a variety of small, healthy meals throughout the day that allow him to eat when he's hungry. He feels in control, and he gets a good range of foods without it becoming a battle of wills. As he gets older, I feel the most important thing is, as the list said, modeling good eating behavior :-)

  6. As children during mealtime, we were often chained to the table with large leg irons and could only be free again when everyone on the line ate their share of the swill that came from the galley. Later we would return to the oars and pull with all our strength to the beat of the drum. This of course was referred to as diet and exercise.

    Today, our children sit on satin pillows and signal in the food bearers to peal their grapes and tuck in their napkin for the triple burgers and thick shakes. After the meal, they lock themselves in their rooms and get their movement from joystick or mouse, all while plotting world domination and the end of mankind. What could possibly be the problem?

  7. I grew up with the clean your plate rule. Mom says she's sorry now. I've let her off the hook. :)

    The other thing my mom did was lie straight out to us. Well mostly to my sister who hates seafood. While growing up my mom called tuna 'petunia' and she called fried squid 'onion rings' and my sister would eat it without question. Now, not so much. ;)

  8. No kids of my own, but I watch my husband interact with his kids about food. I've noticed that he presents them with everything, encourages them to eat whatever it is they're not eating and requires them to ask for treats of any kind (they're teenagers).

    Surprisingly, they'll at least eat half of whatever it is he's pushing, even if they claim to hate it. The 15 year old happened to recently insist that she used to like asparagus, but no longer does for unexplainable reasons .. but still ate some of it. Shocked me!

    I'd say his reluctance to let them blindly get away with claiming they don't like something has worked even if they do eat pop-tarts for breakfast here and there.

  9. My family did the clean your plate thing. Although we also served ourselves, so if we weren't hungry, we wouldn't take that much, understanding that we could always have seconds.

    And we were expected to eat at least one vegetable a meal.

  10. Great topic, Crabby! And interesting comments, too. I think I need a stronger cup of tea. I'm trying to figure out what exactly an 'artificial' convention is. (You're a fake convention, you are!)

  11. I don't have kids, but I was one of those who was made to sit at the dinner table after everyone else was finished, staring at my plate of carrots (or whatever) until I finished them. As I got a little older, and my mom realized I would eat raw veggies or salad without complaint, she would try to provide that option when she could. I never really learned to like the things that I disliked as a kid (even though my parents kept telling me that someday I would love carrots), but I was imprinted with the idea that eating your veggies is important. So once I was out on my own, I focused on eating the veggies I did like, or looked for ways to "hide" veggies in my meals.

    And I was also brought up with the idea that soft drinks, chips, candy, fast food, were once in a while treats, not every day food. Those things were not freely available to me.

    All in all, I think that was a pretty good way to grow up.

  12. I was raised like Tom!!

    Also, whoever asked that original question is asking for problems with the parents. They need to know when to mind their own business :-)

  13. I'm another who has to eat everything on her plate... and FAST, which was maybe the most screwed up part of the whole thing. And anything "good"... ok, junk... was such a forbidden treat that it became the most marvelous thing one could possibly aspire to. Setups for lifetime of lousy eating habits and food issues? You bet!

    I've tried to raise my son on the "you've gotta try it but you don't have to eat it" model, and that's worked pretty well. He still doesn't like salad or crunchy vegetables... but I didn't, either, and I grew to love them, so I figure that a willingness to keep trying new foods is far more important than the ability to choke everything on your plate down. I hope, anyway!

    And remarkably, the other thing he doesn't like is chocolate. We don't make him try this again and again! Clearly, he is a changeling...

  14. Gosh, the "spoiled" baby boomers seem to be the ones who were chained to the table until they finished their veggies! (Tom's comment totally cracked me up!)

    I don't have children, either, but my question, when I see children misbehaving/throwing temper tantrums in stores/refusing to eat anything but frosting and candy/etc. is this:

    Who is in charge?

    Drives me absolutely crazy when I hear parents say "I can't get my child to do insert complaint here" They are giving the child all the power. Since when are children in charge? Has the world turned into one giant NeverNeverLand?

    Oops, sorry. Rant over.

  15. Well the whole subject of children and eating is interesting and the research on it is absolutely intriguing... and I have just waded through thousands or research articles and put the finishing touches to a 76 000 word manuscript all ready and waiting to head off to a division of Random House that commissioned it.... Mom, Pass the Broccoli:
    How to provide your child with healthy eating habits for life! (Maybe I'll send it to you for a review when it's due out in - Cranky! But one of the fascinating tips Prof Leann Birch gives for very young kids, is to every now and again take the reverse approach and playfully serve children dessert and admonish them that they can't have vegetables until they've finished all their dessert. I tried it as an experiment with my 3-year old nephew, who giggled at the suggestion, lapped up his icecream and promptly tucked into his veg.

  16. We always had sugar free jello as dessert...it wasn't that bad for us and was my Mum's secret weapon for us to eat all our veggies...not necessarily all our food, but all our veggies. We could go to the store for a treat twice a week...that was all there was for junk food around. Except sunday - dessert on sunday rocked.

    Where my Mum (I think) went off track was always having a bedtime snack. And she was annoyed if we took too much of a condament (ketchup or mayo) and made us eat it with a spoon until it was gone - backfired...I love them more than I should! My Mum went back to nursing when I was 12 and I had to warm up whatever food she left for Dad & I supper - if I didn't like it, I had to make my own. Oddly enough, that was when I started to pack on my weight...noone around to monitor my eating or what I had. Dad has never watched what he eats...he's always struggled with his weight too(Mum never has). Dad never stopped us from too much snackery or late night food...he was as bad as I was!

    Took me well into my adult years to figure out proper eating habits. Never had an issue with veggies or treats...just didn't know when to stop! :)
    I think parents do their kids a disservice by using food as a negotiating tool. We were never made to eat food we were known to dislike, but had to try things at least once and eat all our veggies, with dessert being low cal, if offered. I have no kids yet, but I would expect the same of mine...

  17. Another childless one full of opinions. (I haven't had the chance to observe parents of small children up close for maybe twenty years now, too.) But I never understood picky eaters, and given my allergy history, always want to rule out food allergies first thing.
    When I was growing up, my parents' only food-pushing strategy was to say, "Are you sure you're not going to eat any more of that?" and [snarf] it was on their fork and gone. I grew up with people (not just my parents but all their relatives) who liked vegetables just as much as dessert. I shocked them by not liking rice or grits or cornbread, (I must be a changeling!) and every year or two they'd talk me into trying some, but I didn't like them until I was an adult.
    As for "spoiling your appetite?" I never understood that either. When I was four, a neighbor brought us a gallon of strawberries, which were left on the north-facing back porch to keep cool. I ate some every little while as I played outside, and by suppertime my mother was distressed to find they were all gone! Did it affect my appetite for supper? Not in the least.

    Long-winded Mary Anne in Kentucky

  18. Some great suggestions, and the "olden days" stories are cracking me up!

    But as I suspected, you Cranky Fitness parents all sound so reasonable, and seem to actually have much more practical approaches than the bewildered parents I hear about.

    Love the "dessert first" experiment, the "petunia" sandwiches, and all the other sneaky strategies.

    As to my pessimism, Erin--guilty as charged! As it happens, we know of some kids (friends of friends) who have this exact situation--there is a very small, list of junky foods they will eat and nothing else, and this food must be taken everywhere or the kid will throw a tantrum. So it may be rare, but I do know it exists.

    Loving these stories. Oh, and happy inauguration day, everyone! Anyone else psyched?

  19. It's definitely a balancing act. I completely agree that the child that refuses to eat anything but candy and frosting is just spoiled and has parents that don't know how to be in charge.

    I'm a young mother but I've never been enticed to parent the way much of my generation does, allowing the kid to be in control. I choose the battles with my girls and let them have their way on quite a lot, but they are older and know what they can get away with before mom charges in. I don't battle over food. In my house it's very simple, eat what I give you or don't eat at all. I am not a made to order cook. I don't make them finish, but they understand that if they say they're full and walk away, they better not ask for anything else. As for snacks, well they have full control over that. I keep a good variety of healthy stuff, like fruit and yogurt as well as the junk food and my kids, more often than not, choose the yogurt over the junk but not because of me.

  20. Mmmm.

    I'm a pretty easy going mom; my grandparents (who I lived with half the year for most of my life) were of the cleanplate crew (some starving kid in Africa would be very happy to have my nasty old fried chicken livers, and I would have been freaking DELIGHTED if they could have taken them!) and my parents were of the "as long as I don't see you, hear you, or have to talk to you, eat whatever you want."

    Yeah, my food issues are huge. And yet, I get over it.

    My daughter is pretty tame, really. She doesn't cry, scream, throw things... we don't enforce any "conventional" rules, either. On nights that I feel like making desserts, she gets one. She can eat what I put on her plate, or she can not eat it. That's fine. I don't make substitutions (it's hard enough finding something we can all eat, with me losing weight, the husband struggling to maintain weight - after losing 80 pounds, he kept losing there for a while - and the child being somewhat underweight.) She gets whatever she wants for breakfast and lunch, then eats whatever we eat for dinner. When we go out to a restaurant, she's allowed to pick her own meal, even if it is cheeseburger and french fries, because really, we don't go out very much.

    I've never made her eat something she didn't like, but I generally ask her to "at least try a bite". Sometimes she does, sometimes she doesn't. But if she's the one that's hungry, she'll eat. (Also, her tastes change like crazy, so one week she LOVES stir fry, and then next week she doesn't want it, so I don't believe any "I don't like this.")

  21. You're right. I was always picky but we either didn't have tons of junk in the house or else I was allowed to eat certain things on certain days/times, and I had to sit at the table until I'd eaten dinner etc. We rarely had dessert but if we did, I had to eat dinner before I was allowed dessert.

    Kids get way too spoiled and bratty these days.

  22. April said it. My daughter was always allowed (and able) to get herself a snack (slice of cheese, half a pbj sandwich, apple, whatever) but had to ask first. Ditto for dessert. I think the asking-first gives her an awareness of making the choice to eat, rather than just absent-mindedly grabbing something.

    My aunt is a short-order cook for my cousins' kids and they are waited on hand and foot in all sorts of other ways. She always marvelled at how "independent" and "polite" my daughter is. My daughter has never really complained about how she's been raised (altho' she's going on 15 now, so we'll see...;), but I'm sure it's been reinforcing for her to be praised so much by my aunt for just being herself.

    I really like the part about encouraging them as toddlers to be involved in the food preparation. I don't think it can be emphasized enough how important it is for people to be raised to interact with their food (and I'm vegetarian, so I don't mean catching the chicken first). Eating is just much more satisfying when it's a multisensory experience and a culmination of a series of actions (or rituals!).

  23. Oy. I totally agree with everything in this post.

    We have two picky eaters in our family. With one, almost every single one of those tips works like a charm. Our most effective tool? Hunger. It's amazing what you'll eat when you're actually hungry!

    And then there is the other picky eater. The picky eater who throws up when he sees a food at the table that is "unfamiliar." The picky eater who is so genuinely afraid of certain foods that he has gone days without eating. The picky eater, while not diagnosed, seems slightly autistic at times.

    We don't have sweets in the house and we use a similar system as it sounds like the crab had growing up. except without dessert, haha.

    The most success we've seen with picky eater #1 has been taking lots of advice from our pediatrician and many articles like the one listed. The most success we've seen with picky eater #2 has come with not listening to anyone. Go figure.

  24. Sometimes you just need to be patient. My son is notoriously picky, and my daughter is somewhat picky. But we're very lucky in that they both like a number of healthy foods. So, we give them the healthy stuff they both like, let them have the not-so-healthy things as treats, and keep trying to serve them new things. Every once in a while, they'll eat the new stuff.
    (Of course, there have been times when we've felt like tearing our hair out, when we let them go hungry, cried, begged, threatened, etc.)
    But giving them EVERYTHING they want is just a recipe for disaster (sorry, couldn't resist).

  25. I am a pretty picky eater, I'm not a big veggie person at all, I like all my vegetables raw mainly which as a way for my parents to get me to eat my veggies since I didn't like them cooked they let me eat them raw. I don't know if that was good or not but at least I ate some veggies. However we NEVER had dessert or anything sweet in the house except maybe at the holidays and so I became obsessed with them when I could get my own sweets, I snuck them in my room into drawers etc. Not a healthy relationship with food so you can definitely go to extremes. Nowadays I will try something, for example I now like asparagus which I never did before, I don't like zucchini however my mother will make lasagna and substitute thin sliced zucchini for the noodles and I will eat it. So whatever way I suppose. I keep trying veggies and little by little I get more I enjoy.

  26. I tried that thing about NOT forcing your kid to eat something - just offer it to them 120 times and they'll eventually eat it - it sooooo does not work. My oldest will not choose a vegetable even if the other choice is something disgusting.

    With my youngest, just last night she went to bed without anything to eat because she refused to eat what the rest of the family was eating (did I mention she's three?). She is a very picky eater and I'm sick of it, so I put my foot down the last few days and much to her surprise, she hasn't died. She has however, eaten very big breakfasts lately...wonder why? ;)

  27. I grew up in a household where the attitude was: if you don't like it, there's the cereal.

    We make the kids try what we've made. If they still don't like it, they know where the peanut butter and jelly are... but they've got to do it themselves!

  28. My brother has TONS of allergies so in my house my mom got tired of making 3 different meals: 1 for her and dad, 1 for devon and 1 for picky me. When I was 7 she posted the food pyramid on our fridge and told me if I didn't like what the house was having I had to make something that included all the items from the bottom of the pyramid. I learned to cook because I still didnt like what she was making.

  29. We eat dinner in courses (not as pretentious as it sounds..usually on the couch w/tv or computers; or standing up in the kitchen; but at least we are together).

    Found we had to because little kids fill up so fast, they'd fill up on a chicken nugget or 2 goldfish crackers, and then have no motivation to eat the healthy stuff.

    First we do large portion of veggies and we don't serve the good stuff until the veggies are eaten. There is no power struggle because it's how it's always done here. I don't make veggies they don't like so it's always the stuff they'll eat: brocolli, cauli., green beans, cucumbers, carrots, etc....

    Then comes the meat or protien portion...then, if they are still hungry, the carby type food: pasta, bread, biscuits, or something like that (it's last cause that's what these kids like best).

    It sounds weird, but it works and the kids always end up eating large portion of veggies.

    the key: No plates full of everything and filling up on only what is most tasty...

  30. my family was normal - we ate dinner together - meals all had vegetables along with the main course. but did i eat them? no. do i still not eat them? yep.

    picky eater since the womb, i think. i was once give the line "eat it or you'll sit there until you eat it."

    battle of wills, and i was there for 3 days. i STILL hate ham, i thought it looked like my mother's thigh.

    as an adult, i'm trying (i really am) but i've been so programmed - by myself, i'll admit it - that everything is either too squishy or too crunchy or too sweet or too salty.

    if it weren't for carrots, i don't think there'd be a vegetable that would cross my lips ever.

  31. my family was normal - we ate dinner together - meals all had vegetables along with the main course. but did i eat them? no. do i still not eat them? yep.

    picky eater since the womb, i think. i was once give the line "eat it or you'll sit there until you eat it."

    battle of wills, and i was there for 3 days. i STILL hate ham, i thought it looked like my mother's thigh.

    as an adult, i'm trying (i really am) but i've been so programmed - by myself, i'll admit it - that everything is either too squishy or too crunchy or too sweet or too salty.

    if it weren't for carrots, i don't think there'd be a vegetable that would cross my lips ever.

  32. Awesome! My mom and dad had us eat together every night, and we never got 'whatever we wanted' (but they would make both peas and corn because I liked peas and my sisters liked corn...)- dessert and really sugar, at all, was a 'treat.' And I turned out pretty good...

    Thanks for setting us straight!

  33. We try to have meal time be a happy medium with our 6-year-old. For the most part, we all eat the same thing. I am a vegetarian, so sometimes my husband cooks meat and then both he and the munchkin eat it. Our son must try (one bite) of everything on his plate, but he doesn't get dessert unless he eats it all. Junk food is a treat, except for the peppermint patty or whatever for dessert. He changes his mind as to what he likes and doesn't on almost a daily basis, so we just ignore him when he says he doesn't like x food. :)

  34. Dinner time was family time when I was growing up (until we were old enough to have jobs that required us to work after school, through dinner.)
    My parents were pretty strict - you must try a little bit of everything. If you still don't like it after your "no-thank-you-bite" you can make yourself a bowl of cereal or a sandwich. You had to make it yourself. My parents made one meal and one meal only.
    We only had dessert if it was someone's birthday or a special occasion.
    Chips, candy and soda were treats. Cookies were for school lunches only.
    If you didn't eat your dinner, you weren't allowed a snack in the evening (though we rarely actually ate a snack in the evening; I would have a cup of herbal tea once I was old enough to realize I liked it.)

  35. Maybe it's been said, I didn't read all of the comments, but who wants to eat a black raspberry jam that tastes like grandma?!?!

  36. I know I'm supposed to comment about picky eaters - and heaven help me I have two of them - but I have to say how interesting it was reading thru everyone's comments. I was surprised to see so many homes where there are vegetarians and meat-eaters having meals together. That's how it is in my home and I thought we were weird. Cool!

  37. I think I'm totally weird, because I was THE PICKIEST eater as a kid. I can probably count on one hand the foods that I was willing to eat. Pasta with butter and parmesan cheese, lemon yogurt, and chicken noodle soup are the main things I remember - I can't really remember eating much else until I was 12 or so. Even a lot of kids' favorite foods were on my won't eat list. I wouldn't touch any form of cooked tomato, including as pasta sauce or on pizza. I also wouldn't touch peanut butter or PB&J sandwiches. Even all our family and friends knew that I was the picky eater (though I don't think my parents ever brought special food just for me - I think I just waited till I got home to eat). My mom never made me clean my plate, never asked me to eat anything I didn't want, and totally spoiled me by making whatever I wanted to order.

    Today, I'll try almost anything, and I absolutely love a lot of things that are typically the bane of picky eaters. Brussel sprouts? Delicious. Kale-banana smoothie? My favorite breakfast. And I feel horribly guilty if I leave a morsel of food on my plate, even going far enough to be upset and eat it myself if my boyfriend leaves food on his plate. I have no idea how this change happened.

    I absolutely LOVE SeaBreeze's mom's solution of posting the food pyramid and allowing her kids to eat whatever as long as it included all those things. I think when I have kids some day, that will be my approach.

  38. I don't force my kiddos .........but they get a little of everything. I think the exposure of seeing a variety at each meal is good for them. I try to use fruit as dessert since some of the kiddos lack in the veggie dept.

  39. This will be a long comment sorry, but I would like to give some info on something many people aren't aware of. I was an extremely picky eater as a child, and still am somewhat. But I now know that for me there is a biological reason behind it, which I believe may also apply to other children who are fussy.
    Some people have a genetic predisposition to be what's called a supertaster. This is where you taste some foods, mostly bitter ones, with much greater intensity than non-supertasters. There is some info on Wikipedia about this or if you google 'supertaster' you can find some research on it. It usually means that you won't like things like dark green vegies (broccoli, spinach etc), coffee, strong alcohol tastes, and chilli, anything very bitter. I can't have any of these things to this day because the taste is so strong to me. And believe me, during uni I tried every possible way to learn to like coffee, but no go. I can only take tiny amounts of chilli because to me it tastes as strong as a much larger amount would to a normal taster.
    I think that fact that some foods really did taste foul to me meant that I learned not to trust my parents when they offered me new foods and said 'you might like it'. I ended up refusing to even try many foods because they had no idea that I really couldn't eat some foods, I wasn't just being a brat.
    I now eat a lot more foods and will at least try new ones, but I'm still fairly picky. This won't be the problem for all kids of course, but some parents may find it does apply to their kids. If they understand this it might make things a bit easier for them. Apologies again for the huge post, but I hope this is helpful to someone.

  40. I have a 2.5 year old and like ErinK I offer a large variety and pretty much always keep a plate out for him so he has things to graze on.

    For my 10 year old I ask that he at least try a bite of foods he doesn't want to eat, even if he has tried them and decided he didn't like them before. Because tastes can change. I give him lots of information about how to eat healthy so that he can make good choices and a lot of times he does.

    I keep both kids well supplied with the fruits and veggies that they do like and keep offering new stuff. Snacks are available upon request. I may insist they eat something healthy before I say Yes to the snack or I may put one cookie on a plate along with some healthy stuff and it all gets eaten.

    I was surprised how many people mentioned they eat dinner together as a family. That is one ritual that never caught on at our house. Erratic schedules for one. And we all like different foods. And only I seem to like my cooking. :)

  41. I dont' think being a picky eater is a terrible thing, but that goes WAY beyond picky to indulgent and harmful.
    I like some of the tips - offer 2 things and let them pick. No one veggie (e.g., carrots) is indespensible, but there needs to be veggies and fruits. No matter what!
    I never had to eat everything, but I was told to take a bite of everything. And I did. And, I never had desert if I didn't eat dinner. Give me a break. I have an eating disorder, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the threat of not getting desert. There are so many other things that influence it.

  42. Crabby,

    I am cautiously optimistic about Obama (only "cautiously" because I'm jaded about all politicians), but delighted that he won and that we no longer have to endure GWB. Brush in Texas, prepare to be cleared (more often than during 20 gazillion vacations, I mean)!

    OK, I don't have kids. But as far as the "picky eater" stuff goes:

    I think it would be fairly simple to spot a "legitimately" picky eater (someone with food allergies/sensitivities, a super-taster, or whatever), from a tyrannical kid who's just manipulating his/her parents.

    Here's the clue: how do said kids behave in other situations? Is it, "I want this," and "I want that" when their parents take them to the store? Do they let out piercing screams and run around like maniacs at a restaurant and cry when the waitress asks them to stop ? I've actually seen this happen--wanna know what the parents did? Yelled at the waitress! (Who was guilty of saying to the out of control tykes, in a calm and sweet voice, "Listen sweeties, please stop running, I don't want you to hurt yourself.")

    Now please, don't get me wrong--there are MANY MANY WONDERFUL KIDS AND PARENTS! My sister and niece are among these ranks. But there are a not insignificant number of (American) kids whose parents raise them to believe they are the center of the universe, and they needn't be concerned with others. Of course, it's not the children's fault, and it's actually tragic. Being the center of your own universe sets you up for either a shallow life, a lonely life, or a hell of a wake-up call.

    When I was a kid, my parents were the bosses. They were not unkind, and they would listen (most of the time), but the buck stopped with them. Food, stuff, clothes, curfews, whatever. They were strict compared to most of my friend's parents, and I didn't like it at all at the time, but now I'm so grateful.

    So, thanks for indulging me in this opinionated and long winded comment!

  43. Emma? How dare you leave a long, intelligent, and insightful comment on this blog? You trying to make the rest of us look bad or what? ;)

    Nola, you're doing better than I am. I can't stand my cooking :(

    Diana - good point: eating disorders may or may not be connected to picky eating

    Ruth - a restaurant near my house has a sign: "Unattended children will be given a cup of espresso and a free puppy." Of course, this assumes the children would consume the espresso. Maybe they put chocolate on top :)

  44. i grew up on cold cereal because i wouldnt eat anything else. i turned out fine. except for the eating disorder, lol, but thats gone now.

    Kelly Turner

  45. Emma is so right about the super-tasters. In my case though combine it with some food allergies and an indulgent father. Mom always said it was because he never made me eat my mashed peas as a baby ;)

    I have unfortunately seen the result of a teen who had such severe allergies as a child, that his parents had trouble feeding him. At 16, he is now over some of them, but will not eat so many things and is probably pushing 300 lbs at 6' tall. His mother has given up by this time and makes a separate meal for him still.

  46. hehe that fail is TOO much!

    I'm a pretty picky eater now in that I want to be the one to prepare it, but I remember as a kid only HATING a few things (I didn't like chili so on those nights I just ate rice that they ate with chili). And me and my sister would "swap" stuff all the time - green beans (love) for corn (hate), peaches (love) for cherries (hate), etc. I don't remember getting a lot of special treatment or anything... and honestly don't think I should have. My mom picked my clothes, decided if my hair would be up or down or braided, and fed me - i wore what she picked and ate what she gave me. I didn't know there was an option, and was therefore happy with her decisions! :)

  47. Sorry Merry, won't happen again!

    Seriously, I drove my parent nuts when I was little. They didn't cave in to me by making separate meals, but I was very stubborn, so sometimes I just didn't eat anything (didn't do me any harm). It took years before I became reasonable about trying new foods.

    My parents did the best they could, but because they had no way of knowing that food tasted so strong to me, they couldn't understand my reaction. It meant that my eating habits became very hard to deal with and restricted the rest of the family to bland foods. The only veggie I would eat was carrot and Dad couldn't indulge his love of curries. They have since forgiven me, I think Mum was relieved to find out I wasn't just being a horrible child.

    If other people have kids with similar behaviour it's worth reading up a little bit about supertasters, it might help people deal with it.

  48. What a day for me to end up out of the house all day and unable to get to read until night!

    Anyway, today being Rid the World of Fad Diets and Gimmicks Day, I wanted to compliment you on your daily attempts to do just that. You promote doing things sensibly, which I like.

    To address the issue at hand, I would like to offer what might be a rather crazy solution to many people. I have seen this work, however, so I will throw it out there as an option.

    I work with a person who is a certified Neurodevelopmental Therapist (NDT). I found her after I was told that my daughter had so many developmental problems that the best I could hope for was that she would live in a group home someday. She is now in a college prep private school and has sold some of her artwork, so I believe this therapy works.

    According to the NDT, people who are picky eaters have trouble with the trigeminal nerve sending signals to the brain correctly. This means they do not taste things the way the rest of us do. To work with my daughter and her extremely limited diet back then, I would prepare a sugar water solution, a lemon water solution, and a salt water solution, and leave them in the refrigerator.

    About 4 times a day I would pour a tiny amount of each solution into a separate shallow bowl and put a cotton swab in each one. I would then swab my daughter's tongue. I would swab the salt across the front, lemon across the sides, and sweet across the front, alternating between the 3 in that order, over and over for about a minute. This is supposed to normalize how the nerve carries the impulse to the brain and how the brain interprets it. In my daughter's case, she now eats a normal, varied diet and loves vegetables.

    I am not an NDT myself, so I can't prescribe this treatment, but it certainly can't hurt. Anyone interested in finding out more about the Neurodevelopmental model can check out the International Christian Association of Neurodevelopmentalists at icando.org.


  49. A childless lurker emerges from the shadows...

    Crabby, I love your blog, but your post got me a twenty minute lecture from my mom this evening. You see, much to my detriment, in my adult phase, there is absolutely NOTHING I don't like a least a little bit now (steak tartare? YAY! tomato beet salad? woo hoo! fried pickles with chocolate sauce? umm... maybe a few bites), so I called Mom to see if I always was such a foodie.

    Two hundred and fifty miles away, I could hear the agonized moans without benefit of the receiver. To quote: "I SPENT 40 MINUTES ONE NIGHT SEPARATING YOUR PEAS, CORN, AND CARROTS FROM EACH OTHER SO YOU WOULD EAT THEM!!!!!" Evidently, I would eat anything as long it was self contained and did not touch any other ingredient on the plate.

    While I made the mistake of actually asking why she didn't just cook them separately, the fifteen minute rant gave me the time to think that while I was picky, my mom had taken the time to ask WHY I wouldn't eat certain things, and took simple steps to remedy them.

    What's the point of my lengthy comment? Erm... I forget. But, anyway, thank you, Crabby, for my trip down memory lane, and thank you, Mommy, for all the little plastic divided plates you bought for me.

    Oh yeah, try the fried chocolate pickles sometime. Fried sweet salty chocolate goodness.


  50. Such great stories, tips, and information! Thanks everyone. I'd never heard of ndt, for example. And I didn't know the whole supertaster thing could be so extreme.

    And Felyne, so sorry for the lectures you had to endure, but that was pretty darn funny. Hooray for plastic divided plates! But, um, fried chocolate pickles????

  51. I've seen friends who feed their children something separate from what the family is eating, which only creates more picky habits. We have always given our kids what we eat. The only time I substitute is if we are having super spicy or salty (as in high sodium)foods. Otherwise if I make spinach and lemon chicken, they eat that. My girls both eat very well. They try everything at least once without much complaint. We also do not keep junk in the house, eat a lot of fruits and veggies each day, and try to teach them about food being a fuel for the body, which my four year old really understands now! She will ask, "Will carrots make me run fast?" and if we say yes she eats them lol!

    Xenia, that's like this show Charlie and Lola, she made up stuff about broccoli I think it was! They were trees. I used that with my oldest once and she totally went for it :0)

  52. Ellyn Satter came up with a 'division of responsibility' in child feeding years ago. It was that parents have the responsibility for determining the what, where and when a child eats and the child determines the whether and how much. Translated: the parent says what kind of food is in the house, where kids can eat and the times for eating (mealtimes vs constant snacking, for ex). The child determines if she or he is hungry (or not) and if she/he is, then how much it takes to be satisfied. Ellyn has a lot of good stuff to say about feeding well (nutritionally) while allowing for children's individual tastes, too. Google her - she's got some great books on child feeding.

  53. I really wish my mom had stuck to her guns and made me learn to like vegtables. As an adult, I'm forcing myself to learn to like them (at 27 years old) and it's hell. I look at my aunts kids and they pile on the veggies because she made them eat them as toddlers and now they love them.

    It's sad that I'm jealous of eight and twelve year olds.

  54. If the boy doesn't want to eat anything other than junk, sugar, and frosting, they've already made food an issue.

    Those suggestions were pretty good, though I'd avoid offering many choices unless you want to become a short order cook.

    The best method is to model good eating for them. They eat what you eat,or what they see you eat. There's some food they don't see me eat-- like the after-the-kids'-bedtime-snack!

    My kids have to take a bite of everything on their plate and because we don't let them get away with pickiness, they're not too picky. My 2 and 4 year-olds eat spinach, lettuce, beans, and a lot of other stuff. Broccoli doesn't go over well with one of them; purely Sandra Boynton's fault with her book "Hey Wake Up!" "...Toast and juice and broccoli stew. EW! For the bunny, not for you. Oh! Phew..."

    Now, I was a picky child and am getting over it. My mother gave me whatever would keep me quiet and out of her hair. I think this happens a lot these days. Give em junk and plop them down in front of the TV or computer. Sad.

  55. my mother is a picky eater (keep in mind the women is 58 and i 20), i have to force her to eat the vegetables in her tv dinner, hahaha! usually i end up mixing them together with the main food when she leaves the room or gets up for something, sometimes she'll eat them then, other times she'll eat around them and let the dog do the rest.

    I have no idea how i grew up liking fruits and vegetables when my mom despises most of them so vehemently.

    Haha, even when i make something (that i think is good) or get her to try a new fruit or vegetable she'll still make THE FACE, you know that one, the this-is-the-worst-thing-i've-ever-tasted-in-my-life-please-someone-chop-off-my-tongue-off face!

    I had her try some pomegranate and she made THE FACE, some kiwi THE FACE, bell pepper THE FACE, radish THE FACE.

    No wonder she's so short! she's such a drama queen.

  56. Having grown up in tougher times, if I wanted to be a picky eater I could be, but there was not going to be anything else put on the table for me, so I ate it. It will be interesting to see a lot of the newly spoilt people when they are in the same boat.


Thanks for commenting, Cranky Fitness readers are the BEST!

Subscribe to comments via RSS

(Note: Older Comment Threads Are Moderated)