18 answers

3 Year Old Picky Eater

My son, like all 3 year olds, has a very short list of things he likes to eat. His is probably shorter than most. (chicken nuggets, turkey and cheese, grilled cheese, pb & j, corn dogs) He won't eat any type of pasta, mac and cheese or even a hamburger. Most of the time what my dh and I eat is a one dish meal (spaghetti, chili, chicken fettucini, etc) I am not a vegetable eater, but am trying to change my ways. My question is how do I get my son to try new things? We usually fix him one of the things we know he likes to eat so that he does eat. We have also tried giving him only some of what we are eating and he refuses to eat. Should we give in and give him something to eat or just let him go to bed hungry? I've heard the idea of giving them something they do like and something they don't like, but I feel if I do that, he will eat the thing he does like and not eat the new item. I would like to find a happy medium.

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

My son is very picky, as well. My friend whose son had severe eating issues suggests trying one new food at a time. For instance, she started with broccoli, and they had it every day for lunch and dinner. He first had to hold it in his mouth for up to 30 seconds, then when he could do that he had to chew it. When he tolerated chewing it, then he graduated to swallowing. The next step was increasing the number of pieces he ate. My son already like broccoli, but he is now up to six slices of cooked carrots!! Yea! Next we will probably try a fruit he doesn't really like, then another vegetable. (I do try to fix one or two foods he does like at each mealtime to go with the new food.) Good luck!

Try Deceptively Delicous, by Jessica Seinfield. She has creative ways to add veggies to everything.

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My son who is now 7 years old, was a picky eater as well. One mistake I've made with him that I will not make with my future children is not exposing him to new things often enough. I just didn't want to deal with the fights and tantrums, but if I had started introducing him to new things when he was younger, it would have been a lot easier. I used to do the same thing you are doing, which is making my child a separate meal than what I was eating. Now I only make one meal, and I know he's gonna try to resist, so I bring him in the kitchen with me and he actually helps me cook (he loves it!) and he actually gets to see what goes into the food and takes pride in the finished product. It's worked wonders every time I've wanted him to try a new food. And if you are concerned about him not eating any veggies, I would try one of those cookbooks (or look for recipes online) for ways of sneaking veggies into certain foods that they will not notice. That will work in the meantime until you can get him to open up to trying new things.

I refuse to be a short order cook. I have a 5 and 2yo who eat salads, most vegetable, can tell you what is healthy/unhealthy, and know that if you don't eat what's put in front of you then I guess you're just going to be hungry. I also make sure they have milk with their meal or water. Both my husband and I try to make sure that we set good examples too. I hate peas but I make mixed vegetables and will let my girls see me eating the peas too. I tell them how much I don't like them but I will eat them because they are good for me and just mix them with other things to make them better to me. One thing I do is make it a game. We eat green trees, snow covered trees, etc. I also will make it a game. Big girls eat 5 trees. I bet you cant do that. My daughter picks up the excitement and will take the challenge and often eat more than I've asked. We also have the one bite rule. I don't care if you think you like it or not you have to take one bite and try it. I don't normally push how big of a bite. Needless to say my kids eat spicy orange beef, stir frys, vegetables, and other things most kids won't. having them help in the kitchen makes a difference too. I will let her help me pick some of what I cook. I also have given the 5yo her "shopping list" at the store to help me find what we need. I put pictures of the vegetables on a paper and hand it to her to find for me. Hope all this helps. Most of the time (not all) picky eaters develop because they are allowed the control and not just because they don't like how things taste.

My oldest has been a picky eater his whole life. So we didn't force it and let him he what he wanted and we had what we wanted. A little bit of a pain at dinner time, but no big deal. The problem comes in when you have baby #2, etc. So my littlest one will eat anything, but because his bigger brother gets something special, he needs something special. From a time standpoint, this is where the problem comes in - now I am making 3 separate meals for 4 people. I am going to take some of the suggestions you are getting to see if I can't just make one meal. Good luck!

B.,
I have a baby but I have older children too. I can tell you from experience that you better start NOW with vegetables and good stuff for him to eat or you WILL regret it later. My oldest eats really well. My middle eats really well. My youngest, I babied and didn't have time to cook as well when he was little so I let him eat ONLY what he wanted which were only a few things. To this day, my 2 oldest eat anything and everything and are super super thin. My youngest (of the boys) (16 yrs old) still is PICKY, picky, picky. He has trouble with his weight because of it and it is hard for him to go to someone elses house or out to eat with anyone because he won't eat anything, then if he does, he comes home starving.
My oldest boys' girlfriend is really picky and she won't eat with us ever. She will come over but won't eat. The only things that she likes are chicken fixed a certain way and pizza without sauce and I am not ordering her a pizza like that for one person.
So you can see that it really isn't good for them. You want him to eat. What I would do now if I had it all over to do again is, give him what he likes but I would keep frozen peas and things like that in the refrig or freezer and fix that along with what he likes with every single meal. He may not eat it so I wouldn't put alot on there but just put something on there at all times. Let him feed himself and chose to eat it. He really needs to see you eat it too. Anway, one of these days he will get curious enough to pick it up and taste and he may do that many times... but he will soon eat it, if you are lucky.
But... if I had it to do over I would do whatever I had to do to get him to eat everything.

Try Deceptively Delicous, by Jessica Seinfield. She has creative ways to add veggies to everything.

I have a 4 y.o. little girl who is pretty picky herself, and my 2 step nephews OMG!!! They only like processed foods! No regular old fried chicken and mashed potatoes. I can't afford to buy all that nasty processed food (that I WON'T eat) and all the real food. I have a rule, you have to try everything once before you can say you don't like it. I had my nephews this past weekend and made fried chicken strips, corn, peas, and Mac and cheese. I had to fight with one to eat his corn and Mac and cheese (and this is food they will eat with no complaints) he ate the chicken just fine. The other decided that he didn't like the chicken (it was seasoned with garlic powder, salt & pepper, and onion powder, things they aren't use to), so I asked him if he would like some ketchup. Gave him the ketchup and I heard not another word about how they didn't like what they were eating. It may sound harsh, but it's eat it or starve in my house. I have a limited budget. I wasn't raised on all that quick foods (like hamburger helper YUCK!!!, or processed chicken and beef patties) and I will not buy or eat them now. My child eats what is served now, it takes her a while sometimes but she does. It'll probably take a little while though. Good luck.

A little bit of what he likes, and a litle bit of what he needs. Eat that, then he can have more of what you likes. If he refuses to eat anything, then all he gets is water until he eat it. If he is as stuborn as my little man was at that age it might take a day or so of nothing but water. I know is sounds harsh but you have to do it only once. My son is seven and know if he wants more of what he likes just eat that very little bit of mixed veggies.

I'm probably much meaner than most. I have five kids so if we let them all be picky there would be nothing I could make for dinner than would satisfy everyone -- which would mean that I'd have to make 3 or more meals a night for everyone to be happy.

We started this when our sons were teeny. We would serve them what we were having and they were expected to eat it. If they didn't eat it, we would cover and refrigerate it (they wouldn't get something else) and it would be served again at the next meal.

I know that sounds harsh, but we also let the kids all have a short list of a couple of items each that they really don't have to eat (when we have cous cous, my son has something else or has his meal without it...if it were a main dish item, that child would have a sandwich instead of that item).

They've all tested it out to make sure we're serious and we've shown them through the years that we are and we get very little guff about food now.

Our kids are 17, 17, 16, 13 & 10 (bio, foster, bio, adopted, adopted).

B.,

Jessica Sienfeld has come out with a new cook book that you might be interested in. I saw this on the Oprah show not too long ago and everyone, including Oprah, was talking about how delicious the recipes were. The book, "Deceptively Delicious", gives recipes using vegetable purees. They are used in cooking certain dishes that basically "hide" the vegetables. One of the dishes is chicken nuggets...the chicken is first dipped in egg whites (less fattening) and then into a puree, such as broccoli and then cooked. One of the things they did on the show was to cook up a bunch of these recipes and serve them to a kindergarden and first grade class and the kids LOVED them! I haven't gotten the book yet, but I plan on trying it. There was even a doctor on the show talking about how for the first time, the next generation is going to have a shorter life span than their parents because of their eating habits. He said that so many parents are giving in to their kids and letting them eat whatever they want, which in turn, is leading to obesity in children that eventually leads to many health problems, including diabetes. Anyway, listening to all of that has made me really consider changing our eating habits and I plan on getting this book and trying out some of the recipes.

Good luck!

My oldest son was the same, and I finally stopped giving him what he would eat and gave him the same thing WE would eat. If he did not eat then he would not starve, he may make himself sick a few times but when you give in you only show that you are weaker than he is, and it gives him control. My son was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder with a Sensory Disorder and Autistic Tendencies. When it go to the point that his little brother was trying to do the same, our nutritionist told me I had to crack down and not give in to him. It took a lot of tears and getting over the fear of his starving to death to realize that when he did truely get hungry, He ate what was put in front of him. He is now 6 and eats ANYTHING you put on his plate. My husband was my biggest supporter because I alone was not strong enough. You have to band together with your husband and make a plan STICK TO IT!!!! There have been many times that he has had leftovers for breakfast in the morning just to get the point across that I am your parent and you will not control this family. When we finally got this across, we realized that most of his diagnosis was bogus, he was in control and he used it to every advantage he could.I know it is hard but if you need our help with this I would be more than willing to give you my number to help you. It will be very hard, and you will cry, but IF you stick to it, he will break and you will find that he will be much more healthy, and will grow quickly.

stop playing short order cook. cook one meal. that's what he gets. if he wakes up hungry or is hungry after dinner warm up his dinner plate. it'll be really rough going the first couple of days. prepare for a battle. but just like he learned you will cater to his whims, he will learn that you won't do it anymore.

If you get in the habit of making separate meals now, you'll be running a short-order kitchen before you know it.
Make one meal for all of you. Insist that he eat at least three bites of everything on his plate.
And you have to set an example by eating balanced meals. If you don't eat vegetables, why should he feel obligated to? If he doesn't eat it, cover his plate, put it in the fridge, then when he gets hungry later, warm it up and offer it to him again.

If you're allowing him between-meal sweets, cut them out. All sugar does is exacerbate eating issues. When he gets hungry between meals, (and at that age, they're burning so much energy that three meals a day doesn't meet their caloric needs), insist that snacks be healthy food - fresh fruit (not fruit rollups), real juice (not kool-aid or fruit-flavored stuff), whole grain (not pre-sweetened) cereal with milk or yogurt (my daughter loves granola cereal stirred into a cup of vanilla yogurt), etc.

I know that not everyone likes the same foods, but I was not going to have her fixate on three or four foods and eat nothing else. And it was always possible that she would like one of the new foods once she tried it.
When my daughter was old enough to learn how to fix her own simple meals, I gave her tho option of fixing her own dinner if she didn't want what I cooked, but I was not going to open a resaturant inmy own kitchen every night.

My step-daughter would only eat mac and cheese, cheese toast, and drink chocolate milk. In fact, there were a few weekends (WHOLE weekends) where she would not eat but 2 bites and drink chocolate milk the entire time. I am not exaggerating. It freaked me out, but my husband told me that both he and her mom talked to the pediatrician and he assured them that it's ok for her to just eat those few things and that she would grow out of it. Sure enough, she's almost 5 now and while she still loves her cheesetoast, mac and cheese, and chocolate milk, she will eat other things. We just learned not to make a big deal out of it and gave her major praise for trying something new. You can always tried what Calvin's dad (as in Calvin and Hobbes, the comic)did: just tell it its something totally crazy (in his instance, it was bat brains) and he went crazy for it. :)

Hi - I'm not sure if you've seen the Oprah episode with Jessica Seinfeld, but she has a recent cookbook out called Deceptively Delicious. In it, she talks about how she incorporates vegetable purees into her kids' favorite foods without them knowing. Her ideas are great, and I've bought the book but haven't tried it yet (we don't have a picky eater, but I sometimes don't fix enough vegetables so thought it would be easy to throw some into my "one dish" meals as well). Just a thought! Also, she encourages you to still keep vegetables present on their plates, and let them see you eat veggies too so they know they are not excused from eating them.

B.,

I'm anxious to see the responsive you get. My daughter who will be 3 in December is the same way. She want eat the corn dogs but will eat the mac and cheese. She only eat a bite or two of a chicken nugget. If it's any help your not in this alone. Oh but she loves her junk food, and milk.

My son is very picky, as well. My friend whose son had severe eating issues suggests trying one new food at a time. For instance, she started with broccoli, and they had it every day for lunch and dinner. He first had to hold it in his mouth for up to 30 seconds, then when he could do that he had to chew it. When he tolerated chewing it, then he graduated to swallowing. The next step was increasing the number of pieces he ate. My son already like broccoli, but he is now up to six slices of cooked carrots!! Yea! Next we will probably try a fruit he doesn't really like, then another vegetable. (I do try to fix one or two foods he does like at each mealtime to go with the new food.) Good luck!

Good Morning B.~

I never allowed my child to be picky and at age 8, she eats anything and everything pretty much. She has a few dislikes, like Jelly and onions. Now, my daughter loves to eat and help me cook.
My step-son, who is 10, is a very picky eater. His mom makes him whatever he wants, mostly canned chili, spagetti and meatballs, corndogs and stuff like that. When he is at my house, he eats what we eat...we don't let him get away with it. He cries and gets angry that we won't make him his own special meal, but he gets what we get. We are making this a success, after one year, he tries everything, and really enjoys alot of it...but it took us this long to make it work. I made meatloaf one night, and he fussed, cried, moaned and groaned...but you know what? He tried it, loved it, begs for me to make it when he's at our house and went home to his mom and asked her why she never makes it! He is also eating all sorts of vegitables, and sometimes they are what he eats first! You have to follow through! You have to stand strong. If he doesn't like it, make him sit with you through dinner time, while you are washing your dishes, and until you are ready to leave the kitchen. A trick that I also use, is that if he is still sitting there and refuses to eat, I will choose to make brownies or cookies, maybe even pudding...so he will eat so he can have dessert, but I wait until dinner is done to start making it, so he will have time to eat. I don't know if it will work with you, but it is working with us, and it is a success!!! IF you have any more questions, let me know, I will try to help! Good Luck! Stand strong!

I have always been an advocate of the you eat what I cook or you don't eat rule. My children are required to at least try what I have fixed and then if they don't like it they can fix a pb&j. However, I also try to fix several things, such as chicken, peas, corn, & baked potatoes. I know that my children will usually eat chicken depending on how it is fixed, they will both eat corn and potatoes, but they are not big fans of peas but they still have to eat 1 spoonful whenever I fix them.

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