4 Year Old Is a PICKY EATER!

Updated on January 05, 2011
L.C. asks from Boulder, CO
9 answers

HI! I know this question has probably been asked a ton and the one thing I know is that kids ARE picky eaters but I have a few specifics that I'd like some light shed on.

Background - I live with my boyfriend and his 4 year old daughter. I'm not the primary rule maker or discipliner and I give my boyfriend the final say. A lot of the time I think he's being too easy on her for the food issue but since he's the one who talks to the doctor and is the parent, I try to heed to his word. I also don't want to contradict him, especially in front of the little girl. We do talk when she's not around tho.

There are two things w/ food that bother me: 1). is that I worry she's not getting a balanced diet. (main one) and 2). that she mirrors his eating habits.

She has a pretty short repertoire of healthy foods she eats. They are: pasta (red sauce and Mac only but sometimes white and green sauce but not always), beans (black, pinto), corn, edamame, carrots, eggs, apples, canned peaches/orange/pineapple, rice, hot dogs (both tofu and regular since we're mostly veg. but she's reverting to only the tofu ones now), chicken nuggets (tofu and reg), cheese pizza. This list isn't exhaustive as I have seen her eat other fruits and a few other things but not regularly. She's not in the habit of eating breakfast at home since she gets something at daycare (dunno what though) and she likes cereal but doesn't like cereal and milk. And only likes the really sugary ones.

I'm concerned of her not getting enough protein and especially not a lot of iron since she doesn't eat much meat or greens. Also, as she's getting older, we are going out or to friends' houses more for dinners and sometimes there's nothing there she can eat. Unfortunately, sometimes we don't have time to pack/cook her anything beforehand. How long do we have to keep packing her her own dinner when we go out, anyway?

My boyfriend's been trying some strategies like offering her dessert (she usually would rather forgo the dessert than try/eat stuff), telling her if she's full then she can't eat anything else till breakfast, and telling her that it makes him sad. I've been trying to talk to her about how not eating food people cook for you is rude and that if she doesn't eat food she's not going to be grow as big and she might get sick. Sometimes she's a little sad she can't have dessert, but otherwise it doesn't seem to make an impact. She's usually good about not asking for other food after but still that means that some nights she really does go to bed without dinner.

She's going to be 5 soon and will start kindergarten in the fall. This means we'll have to make sure she has breakfast and maybe even pack a lunch. But if she won't eat cereal or sandwiches what are we going to do (she does eat oatmeal which is good)? We can't feed her tofu meat all the time b/c the effect of soy on children's health still hasn't been all figured out. The doctor at her 3 year old appointment supposedly said that her diet was OK but I'm still nervous. My boyfriend tells me that I don't need to be, but what can I do? Also, I'm worried about her eating so many fruit cups (it's ruined her taste for fresh peaches, pears and oranges) @ ~1/day. They have close to 0 nutritional value as there's little fruit and more juice/syrup stuff and have added sugar. She also eats yogurt but, again, will only eat the Yoplait or other stuff that's high in sugar.

Anyway, this is getting really long. Please ask questions if I haven't clarified this enough and any tips, experiences or advice would be useful! I can't really do the eating discipline but I can at least pass stuff to my boyfriend and he does listen to me occasionally. ;-) Thanks!

(As a sidenote: she's already been invited to sleepovers and stuff (tho she hasn't gone) which makes me nervous that she won't be able to eat food at friends' houses. Is it weird to worry about her being rude by picking apart meals to get only the things out she likes or by saying "eeeewww" to foods or by not eating other ppl's cooking?)

Edit: she won't do Pediasure (but we haven't tried in a long time. Could we convince her now that the chocolate is just chocolate milk?) but will do multi-vites, but only the gummies . Though we found some all-natural sugar vites which supposedly aren't so bad. But we are bad about giving them every day. I am thinking one right before dinner ever night? Also, she doesn't like her food to touch. Which I get, but it is just nerve-wracking with a kid who's already so picky.

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answers from Denver on

My 5 year old is picky too. What drives me crazy is that he'll eat something and like it and when I fix it another time he won't even try it. Soooo frustrating! I do not make anything extra for him. What I fix for dinner is what's for dinner. Sometimes he won't eat at all, (he lives, but boy is he hungry for breakfast!) and other times after dinner he'll spy fruit on the counter where I keep it, (apples, bananas and oranges) and will ask if he can have one to which I say yes. If she doesn't eat, that's fine but the next meal is breakfast.

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answers from Springfield on

I don't think she sounds picky at all. She eats more than the 4 year olds I know. My friends and I just know to expect kids to be picky, so we ask the other moms about it before planning meals if they are coming over. Then we always have backups just in case. My nieces almost always want pbj, but we also have chicken nuggets and pizza in the freezer.

I think the important thing is to do your best but really try not to stress. If you stress or put pressure on her, it could really cause her to associate food with stress. Try to encourage her to take one bite of something new, but don't worry too much. She'll try it when she's ready. Just keep offering.

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answers from New York on

She sounds like a normal 4 yr old. I would just start making dinner every night for the whole family and that is it. If she doesn't eat then too bad. Just make sure there is at least one thing you know she will eat.

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answers from Dallas on

Kids are picky eaters, but there are pediasure, or multivitamins she can take, that will make up for what she is lacking. what i notice about kids though, watch her change over a year or so, when she starts school, i dont know if she is in day care or not, but when she is around other kids, and sees them eating something she normally wouldnt, she might try it. I wouldnt stress over it, get her a good multi vitamin, or the drinks, and she should be good. Or, make her eat certain food, nad dont let her get up.... Yo Gabba Gabba got my kids eating different things. with songs like. Party in my Tummy, and Try it, youll like it. sing it to her, make it fun. Good luck

Ps. im pretty sure the parents of the girl who invited her to sleep over wont think she is rude, just a little kid.



answers from Boston on

She eats more of a range than you realize, better than my DD!



answers from Denver on

HI Lindsey,

Sounds as if a lot is going on and its not all about food.

Yes she is a picky eater, but she is also trying to take control by only eating what she wants.
You could come up with different food options available, such as only the fresh fruit (cut up for her) rather than giving into her wish for more sugary fruit. Same with yogurt: if you were to purchase Plain yogurt, mix a teaspoon or 2 of honey and a couple tablespoons of chopped fresh or fresh frozen fruits in it. AND IF DAD LIKES IT, she may too.

Convincing her that Chocolate is Chocolate milk----not recommended as it is not. Also she is getting some basics, maybe try adding some vanilla extract, almond extract or cinnamon to milk to make it more appealing.

Also since she likes sugar too much, only bring dark chocolate (even semi-sweet chips) into the house. And then make some treats with her----hence increasing the bond between the 2 of you.

There are many foods that you could make which she wouldn't know is healthy because it tastes soo good. For instance Homemade Biscuits with CHUNKY Preserves, whereby you mix a little bit of fresh or fresh frozen (and thawed) into a small amount of preserves and then spread the chunkiness upon the biscuit or WW/WG toast.

There are many other food options available as well.

I have many ideas for you, thus if you would like to contact me directly----please do. I am up in Evergreen.

R./The Muffin Lady



answers from Orlando on

someone just turned me on to this cookbook, it called The Sneaky Chef. Check it out.



answers from Boise on

If i was serving vegetables, biscuits, and meat for dinner, I would serve only the vegetable first to the child who would not eat them (my carb addict).. He did not get his carbs until the vegetable was eaten. This worked for us. He also had a time limit to eat. Otherwise he would sit there 3 hours avoiding eating and everyone else was already gone. So we set a timer for him, and the veggies must be eaten by a certain time or he gets 2 more, or he has to do the dishes, or he doesnt get to watch TV after dinner.

Also, for a child who isnt used to having to eat veggies, start slow. Maybe one or two slices for veggie. try that for a week or two before adding more to the plate.

Dont serve canned drinks like pediasure . They usually have way to much junk in them also, like more sugar!

If you must, you can add whey protien powder to milks or pancakes to get more protien into her. Choose a good quality brand (maybe ask on here) because some have too many fillers and cause issues for people.

You are wise to be concerned about meat for her. Children cannot make the conversion from beta carotene to retinol for their vit A needs. They must get it from animal fat.



answers from Miami on

My 4 year old eats pretty similarly to yours including the veg. stuff too except I think yours gets more veggies. Honestly, I'm not sure what's going to happen next year when she starts kindergarten either! I'm hoping peer pressure works its magic in that area. But I can tell you that when we go to friend's houses I tell them not to do anything to go out of their way for her. She can try what we're being served or not eat. She may surprise you and try something at someone's house if there are no alternatives. My daughter eats toast and I find most people have bread and butter if we're really desperate. But really, I don't encourage catering to my daughter when we're at other people's houses.

I get pretty frustrated at home so our rule is to eat what we eat for dinner or she can have a peanut butter sandwich. I don't cook twice. Mostly, we're just trying not to make a big deal about it other than praising her when she tries new foods. We tell her she doesn't have to like it, we just want her to try it. One other strategy you can try is getting her involved in making food with you. She might be more inclined to try new things. Sometimes we've gotten lucky that way.

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