HELP With the Pickiest Eater in the World!!!

Updated on March 01, 2010
M.M. asks from Woodstock, GA
16 answers

Most people think I'm exagerating about this until they meet my 5 year old son or hear what he actually eats. For the past 4 1/2 years I have tried everything to get my son to eat. I'm not even striving for a lot here. It doesn't have to always be the healthiest thing on the shelf. Just eat something! He won't eat meat of any kind, no fruit except for bananas with LOTS of peanut butter, no veggies, no pasta, and the list goes on and on. Basically just peanut butter, cheese and yogurt. He is borderline anemic and takes liquid vitamins in his morning milk (because I can't get him to eat any.) After years of me stating my concerns/fears/frustrations, his doctor is finally concerned that he is not growing. Her suggestion was to just put it in front of him and he'll eat it when he gets hungry enough. That may work for some but I swear the kid never gets hungry and I can't stand to starve him. I have tried praise, rewards, ignoring, begging, punishment and, at my very worst ,yelling but none have worked. Please if anyone has any suggestions I am desperate! I want my child to be healthy and everyday my heart breaks looking at him not growing. He is a wonderful child with a giant heart but I can't seem to get through to him on this. I've read articles that this is a faze that he'll outgrow but, if anything, it seems to be getting worse. Thank you for taking the time to read my rant and maybe giving me a glimmer of hope.


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answers from San Antonio on

I agree that a second opinion is a great idea.

But also, you're the mom and you know you need to fix this now. He can't eat three things his whole life. My only suggestion - you said you can't stand to starve him - yet at the same time, you said you're desperate. My son is 22 months old. If he doesn't eat what I serve him, he doesn't eat. He's learned that and he hasn't refused many meals. I always put at least one thing on his plate that he knows he likes, and add the 'not-so-favorite' next to it. Also, sometimes he asks for Ketchup and I squirt him a bit so that he's happy and more likely to eat more.

Also - does he see someone else being really picky? And if he's never been denied his favorites, then he's learned that he can get his way if he throws a fit and you're perhaps enabling him. Sorry if that's not the case or if that sounds mean. But you're his mom. You're allowed to tell him no, he's a kid - so he's supposed to get mad and cry. You won't scar him for life making him eat some chicken. You'll scar him more by not fixing his diet now.

Good luck.

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answers from Cincinnati on

Please know that although it may feel like it, you are NOT alone. I would recommend that you seek out professional help (e.g. ask your pediatrician for an occupational therapy or speech therapy referral for feeding ** make sure the therapist has feeding experience). Next you should also consider seeing a pediatric behavioral psychologist that specializes in feeding issues. Unfortunately it will not be a quick or easy process to get him to expand his diet. For some kids feeding issues can be caused by medical issues (food allergies, food intolerances, GI issues, constipation, etc), sensory issues (food textures, food colors, smells, gagging) or oral motor issues (e.g. difficulty using tongue, lips, cheeks, etc to move food in the mouth thus the person can’t control it to safely swallow leading to a gag response).

Is there a children's hospital near you that has a "feeding team"/”feeding clinic” (doctor, speech therapist, occupational therapist, feeding psychologist, dietician/nutritionist)
? (not sure if this is close but here is some info on a feeding clinic in GA - -- I don't know anything about their program you may want to call and ask ). --- by the way feeding issues does NOT - repeat - does NOT mean he has autism - for some reason the local children’s hospital in GA has the feeding clinic linked with the Marcus center for autism (unsure why).

In the mean time (not to be disrespectful to your doctor) but I completely disagree that he will eat when he is hungry. I find that some kids (typically the ones I work with) who are severe picky eaters will not eat - even if they are hungry.

Here are some tips to try in the mean time:
1) Make sure you do NOT force feed him
2) Try your best not to feel overwhelmed/stressed during meal time (he will feed off your stress (i know easier said than done - I'm sure this is VERY stressful for you)
3) place a food that you are eating (that is safe for him) in front of him (without ANY expectation that he will eat it).
4) let him “play” in food and get messy – this allows him to learn the properties of food (smell, feeling, sight) – try art projects such as cutting apple dipping in paint and making a picture, take cool whip and smear on a plate and draw in it
5) offer foods he eats and try to expand within the same food area (e.g. if he eats banana and yogurt. You can also mix banana with the yogurt or have him dip it).
6) encourage him to touch new foods to cheek/lips (WITHOUT expecting him to eat it) – cheer/provide positive feedback when he does this. Then encourage him to lick it, then eventually bite it (this may take 10-20 exposures before he bites a new food) ** may need to wait for this step until you are able to have a feeding specialist support you

I hope that helps! Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Atlanta on

Try giving him Vemma Next. My kids love it and I gave it 2x a day to my child that was a picky eater! This is where I buy it from.

My friend has a son that sounds exactly like yours. She uses Vemma Next, too. She also took her son to a place here in Atlanta where they work with kids with food issues like these. Her son is 5 too. I'll ask her the name of the place and get back to you.



answers from Spartanburg on

Read Ellyn Satter's books- one was mentioned already. The one I would recommend to start with in your situation is Child of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense. She is very knowledgeable and practical. You will find many suggestions and help for you and your son. She deals with situations just as you described and she has sound advice that will be both helpful, and I think reassuring to you as well. Take care!



answers from Miami on

I feel for you. I know some kids hate certain textures and colors and like my daughter one food could not touch another. Sometimes it can be a sensitivity to foods. Have you tried milkshakes. Might also want to get a 2nd opinion from another doctor. Dont turn your back on your motherly instincts. If you are concerned definitely get a second opinion.



answers from Detroit on

Try making fruit and veggie smoothies. Google smoothies and you will get alot of info. My 15 yr old is very picky and by hiding stuff in a smoothie he doesnt even taste it and the fruit over powers the veggies. You can even add wheat germ to get other stuff he needs. One smoothie my kids like is mix a banana, grape nuts, non fat vanilla yogurt and orange juice or apple juice its a whole breakfast in one drink. If you have any questions just message me for more info. Good Luck


answers from Spokane on

This might not help you but when my nephews were little I lied to them and told them that certain foods were candy:)

To this day we joke about "candy raisins" and "candy tomatoes"

Have you tried the chocolate ensure? or anything like that to get him the extra nutrients?



answers from Atlanta on

I also recommend an evaluation by an occupational therapist at CHOA. The picky eating could be related to sensory issues. Check out this page for more background:



answers from Dallas on

I'd say get a 2nd opinion cause his pickiness sounds a little extreme (my son's the opposite so I don't have experience with this). It may be a sensory thing - there are a lot of things I don't like to eat because of texture, and I would think it's harder to articulate this when you're a kid. Try doing babyfood if he can handle the texture to get the food in him. Maybe involve him in the shopping for the food? Let him pick something, but he HAS to eat some of what he picks or he doesn't get to pick. Also, you might want to do the farmers market thing if you can. If he's willing to try foods, they often give samples. That might help. Good luck!



answers from Atlanta on

Hi M., As a child I went thru this and one of my kids has also. Our doctors both said as long as we were getting plenty of fluids so as not to dehydrate then the food was a secondary concern. Your son is getting protein from the peanut butter and calcium from the yougurt. When he starts another growth spurt then he may start showing more of an appetite. Boys develop slower than girls. I am sure you have heard that before, but it never hurts to remind yourself. If he were not eating anything I would be more concerned but he sounds like he is a happy little boy with a great mom. You may also want to check into pediasure shakes and drinks, they come in different flavors and he might like them. My son would only eat spam and macaroni for the first 5 years of his life. Now he is in high school and eats almost anything set in front of him. Kids are all different, but real moms are all the same.



answers from Cleveland on

M., I TOTALLY understand. My son (age 3) eats 5 things: cereal
(Cherrios), yogurt, graham crackers, goldfish, and sometimes muffins. I am not kidding-I cannot get him to eat any fruit or veggie, and I don't think he has ever eaten any kind of meat. However, he does like chocolate and ice cream(what kid doesn't), but of course I have to limit how much of that he eats.

For starters, he does have sensory issues and certain textures he just cannot tolerate in his mouth. He ate baby food until he was over two years old! His speech therapist worked with him to get him onto table food, but that has only gotten us this far!

Have you looked into the possibility that your son may have a sensory processing issue as well? I had never heard of it until his speech therapist explained why he would not eat anything that was not smooth in texture. Very bizarre, but it does make a lot of sense. She did succeed in getting my son to eat an apple, but of course that was "bribed" with a reward of chocolate. I think that method defeated the whole purpose of eating an apple, but at least I learned that he COULD eat an apple.

That said, I really believe that picky eaters are born and not always made like a lot of people will tell you. My son drinks a lot of milk and takes a mutivitamin with iron to make up for the nutrients that he is lacking from food. I also give him fish oil supplements for the omega 3 benefits. I try not to let it stress me out, but it does bother me everyday. I just want him to be healthy!

Best of luck with everything. If you ever need to chat, feel free to send me a message!



answers from Atlanta on

Hello~ I'm sure this if very frustrating and couldn't imagaine. What worked for our son; I had a plate that was divided into three sections. I would just fill it up with different things depending on what I coooked. You can't expect them to eat like we do, but give him at least one thing he enjoys. Examples; chicken, fruit and cheese - pasta, bread and fruit - macncheese, meat and crackers. Whatever you cook for dinner and then add something to it. Place it in front of him and say, "This chicken, fruit and cheese". Then, walk away or go on and eat your dinner. Tell him this is dinner, we need to eat, please. Eventually, he has to eat. Buy him a dinnerware set with something cool, such as Spiderman or an Action Hero. (better if it's divided) Be consistant, do it for a week no matter what. Kids need reputition and consistancy. My son is now 10 and he's appetite is large and will at least try something new. With that said, no green beans & rice, but that's okay, he's human. He's allowed not to like something, I don't like everything. I have a friend story; she had trouble with her daughter to the point of taking her to a therapist. The therapist recommened to pick her battles and make a huge pan of pasta for a week and have it ready for her everyday. That was her daughter's favorite and all she would eat. That was a huge mistake because she never tried anything new. My friend admits now she should have never done that. You cave because it's easier. So, this is just my suggestion and it worked for me. I wish you much luck!



answers from Columbus on

Hey M.,
Have either you or your doctor considered that this may be a sensory issue... that your son does not like the food textures or perhaps it has just become a power game. Either way, you might benefit from contacting an occupational therapist. I have a very good friend who is an occupational therapist specializing in food issues. She works for Richmond Children's Hospital (Richmond, VA). She works with children who don't eat for a variety of reasons... all of which have begun to affect their growth. It might be worth looking into! Don't worry, there is help out there!



answers from Augusta on

OMG! That was totally my brother! His diet consisted of potato chips, bread and mustard, and milk. Thank God for the milk, because he would've starved!

My parents were desperate like you. They tried everything. They even went so far as to try hypnosis. Nothing worked.

The good news is, as an adult, he started eating other foods. He now eats meat and pasta, and enjoys a much bigger variety of foods. But he was everyday of 23 before he started eating those other foods. I'm sure it was a major stress on my parents.



answers from Atlanta on

We currently have our 3.5 year old daughter in therapy at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Their Occupational Therapy group offers a feeding therapy for "limited" eaters. (When I was a kid they just called us picky!)

She used to eat any baby food I gave her (except lentils), but when we switched her to table foods she just didn't want/like very much. Shortly after her third birthday, she started narrowing her selection of foods that she would eat. At this point, it's the same thing every day for lunch and dinner. Basically, if it's not brown and crunchy, she doesn't want it.

She's only been at CHOA for therapy five times, but she's already making progress. Last week she ate two pieces of rotini pasta! For those that have children that eat anything, I know this sounds crazy. But for those of us with "limited" eaters, it's a miracle to get a child to eat something outside their comfort zone.

I HIGHLY recommend the program. And, it's covered under some insurance plans. (We have Kaiser and they pay part, but we still pay the majority.) I am willing to pay just about anything to get her to eat a wider variety of foods.

Also know that it's not your fault. My younger child (22 months old) will try anything you put on her plate. I've fed her the same way I always fed her big sister. They're just different.

Ask your doctor for a referral. CHOA will start with an evaluation that takes about 1.5-2 hours. They'll give you their input and tell you what the next steps will be for you and your son.

Good luck!



answers from Atlanta on

If you have ever given your child food other than what was served or an extra snack to keep him from going hungry he has learned that if he doesn't eat he will get something else. Food also seems to have become an issue in your house. Your boy has learned that it is important to you that he eats so he gets to have control over you by eating or not. I would recommend reading a book called How to Get Your Child to Eat But Not Too Much. It expands on what your Dr. said. Eating needs to become a non-issue. You eat, or not, nothing needs to be said about it. You put the food in front of your child at scheduled meal or snack times. He eats it or not. You do not beg him to eat or offer rewards. He gets no other food except what is served at scheduled meal times. It's going to take a long time for him to realize that you are not going to fall into the old habits of giving him what he wants if he doesn't eat. Also keep in mind YOU are not starving him, rather you are teaching healthy eating habits. It is not healthy for a child to only eat a few certain foods and he does need to eat other things. You need to get control of this situation, it is not something he will grow out of. Right now you are involved in a power struggle that he is winning. Again, your child WILL eat when he gets hungry enough, but that will take a long time since he is currently winning the battle. Stop battling over food!

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