9 answers

Help! My Child Is an Extremely Picky Eater!

My 4 year old son is a SUPER picky eater. He won't eat anything new - sometimes he won't eat something we know he likes if it looks different than usual. I really need help with his newest issue - taking a bite of food & then not swallowing it. He will sit there with his mouth closed & then run to the bathroom to spit it out. We try to either ignore him or tell him to swallow and then take a drink but it is getting out of hand. Has anyone had this problem with their own children? If so, what did you do?

What can I do next?

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I think that as long as you continually introduce new foods...just having it on his plate, he will eventually try it. It's more important that he eats so I just make the few things that I know my kids will eat. And mine drink a ton of milk so I don't worry too much about it as this age (mine are 3 and a 1/2 and 2). He'll get there...and if he only eats a few things for the next few years, is it really that big of a deal in the long run?

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I think that as long as you continually introduce new foods...just having it on his plate, he will eventually try it. It's more important that he eats so I just make the few things that I know my kids will eat. And mine drink a ton of milk so I don't worry too much about it as this age (mine are 3 and a 1/2 and 2). He'll get there...and if he only eats a few things for the next few years, is it really that big of a deal in the long run?

Hi H.,

Sorry that you are having this issue. My son did something similar when he was around 2 or 3. I have to agree with Tania's post about taking the power away from him. The one thing you can not force a child to do is swallow food. They know this so it is completely a battle of wills. I bet if you just ignore him, the behavior will stop. He will not starve himself and when he sees that it does not get a rise out of you, it won't have any appeal to him anymore. If he says he doesn't want to eat what you are serving, tell him that is fine. Let him know that is his choice but don't give him anything else. I promise he won't go hungry. It may take a few days but he will eventually stop his game but you have to stick to your guns and do NOT give him any attention over it. Trust me, I tried everything with my first son so thankfully when my youngest tried this I just said, okay don't eat and he never did it again. Good luck! This too shall pass!


here is an idea it worked with my son he used to be picky on what was front of him. For you if you see him heading to the bathroom to spit out take his plate away, give him only few times to do that, if he really wants his food he will come back to if not, this may sound displeasing to some people for that last time he does that just take his plate away completly, and let him go to bed without dinner, after a night of not eating he will be hungry, it worked with my son gl and now my son is almost 5 n eats anything.

This is a tough one! I just read an article in Parents Magazine (Oct. 2009 issue) called Teach Healthy Eating at Home. It was really good and too much to explain through email, but you should read that and see what you think. It is about a doctor who has studied children's eating habits and how he gets his children to eat healthy at home and try new things. It sounds like his ideas would work but he has been doing it since his kids were babies. It might take a little longer with older kiddos.

As for taking a bite of food, keeping it in his mouth and spitting it out in the bathroom, something needs to be done about this soon because not only is it disrespectful, it is dangerous for him to run with food in his mouth. It sounds like you have tried ignoring him but you may need to get more firm with him and have some serious consequences when he behaves like this. I know you probably want to keep dinner a calm, family bonding time but it is not really calm when your son does something like that. You and your spouse should decide on a consequence such as time out and how you are going to speak to your son when he does this and use teamwork to nip this in the bud. Good luck! It may take some time but try to stand strong.

Be firm, mom! Kids need to learn to eat what's put in front of them or they don't eat. I'm not a short-order cook. In my house if my kids give up their meal, they give up all snacks for the day as well. They won't starve, they'll learn pretty quickly that they have to eat or they'll be hungry later and won't get a snack. You're in charge, give him some consequences.

Welcome to my world! I have a 3-1/2 year old boy which I can count on one hand things that he'll eat. And let's not forget-it needs to be in the 'correct' form. He'll eat chicken if it is breaded, e.g. chicken nuggets. However, he refuses to eat regular chicken. When it comes to sweet potatoes, which he likes a lot, he forgets that he likes them and half the time won't it them. I chalk it up to age. I have a cousin who only ate hot dogs for two years! I found the best thing is to not fight them because the more you push food the stronger they get in their resolve not to eat it. I do put things on his plate regardless however if he doesn't eat them, oh well. My parents come from the age of no choices and think that I'm not doing my job because of his eating habits. Well, their tactic doesn't really work. If you force it they can develop a nasty food issue. Either they eat too much or too little. If you are concerned like any parent of a picky eater that he is not getting the nutrition he needs-supplement. I found ths wonderful chewable tablets called Juice Plus. He loves his "crunchies", that's what I call them. They have two blends that one provides the fruit and the other the vegetable daily doses. Go to ebay for them and try it out. The company itself tries to charge you more money than ebay. I also have him on a multivitamin and child flavor zinc tablets. I know that sounds like a lot but we do what we must. All of my friends and familys children went through this phase and they did what I am doing now. I hope this helps. Please let me know about your progress.

My daughter, who was originally a good eater, has gotten extremely picky with many foods that I know she has liked in the past. She's 6, but for the last couple of years we've instituted the "no thank you bite." She doesn't have to clean her plate, but she must have at least one decent-sized bite. If she doesn't like it, she may say, "no thank you" after this bite, and she does not have to eat the rest. I read somewhere that this will help kids get used to flavors and textures, and hopefully somewhere along the line she will decide it's not so bad. It also limits the forced eating situations (though we do at times need to really urge her and reinforce the rule in order to ensure she does take that one bite). We do not excuse from the table or serve desert if the kids don't eat at least one bite of each thing (I also have a 4 year old, but he's a better eater). And the kids must eat what we are eating--no substitute meals. I just try to serve things with good nutritional value, as everything I read says kids won't starve, and when they are truly hungry, they'll eat, as long as it's available. Good luck!

My friend's son used to keep food in his mouth like that too and he was a picky eater. Don't allow him to run off during mealtime. Everyone sits at the table and should be respectful. You may have to check his mouth after every bite (that's what my friend did). She also stopped catering to him. If he doesn't eat it for lunch, save it for a snack if he's hungry later. Don't allow him to fill up on snacks he likes so he won't eat dinner. We have a rule that you have to try new foods. You don't have to like them,but you have to try them. We encourage our kids to not eat off kids menus at restaurants which usually have poor choices. I'd rather they order the shrimp cocktail (appetizer for the same price)and expand their palates and eat real foods. If we eat Italian- they eat Italian (not burgers),if we eat Chinese, they eat Chinese (not chicken nuggets), etc. Sounds like you need to start with some new mealtime rules. Everyone stays at the table, check his mouth, if you don't eat it now,it'll be saved for later, and everyone eats the same thing for meals. Good luck, it's not easy, but worth it!

Hi H.,
I once read a very interesting article by a family therapist about this issue. He suggested the mother's child was getting too involved in the battle of wills, and the child was taking over family mealtime.

He recommended that by dis-empowering the child, everyone's needs could be met. He said to start leaving a variety of healthy foods available to the child in easy access throughout the day, but don't let your child see you are paying attention to what or how much they eat (they will never starve themselves). At the same time, the child is not invited to sit at the dinner table with family: this keeps them from controlling mealtime dramas.

He said this both strengthens the family structure and parent autonomy, and gets nourishing foods in your kid.

Made sense to me. Maybe it's worth a shot???

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