Helping Severe Picky Eater Eat - Updated for Your Answers

Updated on May 16, 2013
C.Z. asks from Manning, IA
20 answers

My nephew will not eat most foods... My sister has put her foot down but needs your help.

He will get so mad that he makes himself throw up at the table(acts like he is gagging till he really does) just to get out of eating whatever is not grilled cheese, cereal, or chicken patties... Yeah I just named the whole list! We need advice... help... nanny 911 lol. Last night was horrible.

Any input moms???
ETA - he is six. (Old enough that he can get some stuff but still to young to cook. )

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So What Happened?

As I stated it is my sisters doing. I would have happily ate the meal that I cook and she made his whatever. But he is getting skinny and needs protein, and veggies. I am only her back up for support when she wants to give in because when she says something they know I don't let mom cave. I push her when she pushes them!

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answers from Los Angeles on

I'm an adult. I eat what I want. No one forces me to eat anything. If I want to eat grilled cheese, cereal, and chicken patties the rest of my life, I can. But I have to make them myself, or go hungry if they are unavailable.

The age of the kid definitely makes a difference here. Can the guy get his own cereal? Then let him.

No matter the age, the kid needs to learn the appropriate way to refuse foods he doesn't like/want. Gagging is not cool. I'd say work on the expectations around how to say "no thanks" to something one doesn't like, rather than how to make oneself EAT something one doesn't like. Because in reality, we humans do not eat things that are not appetizing to us.

My input is: keep offering, keep offering, keep offering, But accept the refusal. Have the short list of back-ups they are allowed to grab/prepare (on their own). And then give the kid a multivitamin at the end of the day.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Sometimes with my very picky eater, I give a multivitamin and it increases his appetite. But, yeah, I wasn't too brave with feeding him different foods because I would see it again, yuck.

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Honolulu on

Please read this article. The Mom, needs to read this.

Putting down her foot, is not going to "cure" a child or adult, of eating struggles.
It will only, cause dysfunctional eating habits. And it will turn into, an emotion based... eating problem. Which, will often turn into adult eating disorders.

HOW old, is this child????

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

I went through this with my granddaughter and I made her life miserable until I made her puke at the free lunch program at a local Jr. High during lunch.

I looked around and every single person was staring at me and they weren't saying I was doing the right thing. I realized what I was doing to her. She was in hell.

I decided I didn't have to be a dictator about her eating. She is thin, super athletic, and isn't suffering due to her food choices.

You know what? Since I backed off and am making an honest effort to make meal time a much better environment for everyone she is relaxed and often will try a bite of a new food. If she doesn't want to she does NOT have to try it. I no longer try and make her eat anything she doesn't willingly want to eat on her own.

We do not have battles over food I learned that is not healthy for anyone. This will backfire on this mom, she will be making her child hate food and learn that food has power.

Making a child eat like this at the table only teaches them to have eating disorders.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

Its easy for people to say that he'll eat when he's hungry and to not cater to him. But, I am raising an extremely picky eater who would rather starve than eat "weird" food. Throw the fact that she's not a big eater and she's on Adderall into the mix and letting her skip meals is not an option! She's SLOWLY expanding her horizons because we do not make food an issue. If she wants to eat pasta with butter every night for dinner, so be it
But she's going to have a fruit smoothie with it and her multi-vitamin! She's recently started to try new things and discovered spinach is not so bad, so we'll make a small salad with her dinner. This is a child who won't eat a hot dog or hamburger, that's how picky she is. It WILL get better, slowly but surely. Just tell her not to make food a battle, add a multivitamin, and try to at least get some protein through milk.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Lexington on

I was watching a show the other dayabout one of these severely picky eaters, and it turned out he had acid reflux which may have started him off that way, but then it became learned. They dealt with the acid reflux, but he still had to go through some eating therapy to get him to eat other foods.

I was a very picky eater, and I can tell you - I would NOT NOT NOT eat some foods - no matter how hungry I was. My taste actually didn't change for many foods until here I was an older adult and had to totally change my diet, eliminating every speck of gluten and dairy. I thought ... "What in the world will I eat?" But not only do I now eat a more diverse diet now than before, my tastes have actually changed. It changed even more when I did one of these "juice reboots" - drinking freshly made veggie juices. I now, finally, actually LIKE more veggies than before.

Since then, I have read so many stories about kids who seem addicted to the very foods that actually are making them sick. I can definitely say that was the case for one of my own kids who also cannot have gluten or dairy.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

For me, there's no "mad" about it. He either eats what's served or he doesn't. Period. If he does, great. If he doesn't, there is nothing else to eat until the next regular meal. No snacking in between.

If she's really worried about nutrition, I would get some of those Pedi-Sure or whatever it is they are advertising these days for picky eaters. You see the commercials all the time.

This is NOT something to battle over. It's cut and dry; black and white.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Sacramento on

Have her look up a condition called food neophobia. Three food items sounds classic. Our son has it and if this sounds like what she's dealing with, she's going to hit a brick wall.

Putting your foot down just doesn't work with this condition. Our son went for days without eating when we tried. It's a total myth that kids will eat when they're hungry, because kids with this condition would rather starve than eat scary foods. It's something you have to learn to live with because there is no solution. We even tried a therapist and even he couldn't get our son to overcome his fear of food. It's a nightmare. Let her know she's not alone.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

YOu did not say how old he is. My husband worked evening shift until a little over a year ago so he was never home. So I didn't ever cook a big meal. I would make the kids what they wanted. I am the pickyest eater of us all and I resent my mom for making me eat all that she did when I was young. Yes I said resent. And have issues enough with it to wear the smell of pancakes makes me sick to my stomic as an adult. When one of us does make a meal it's usualy something we all like if it's not its something that I don't like and I will make me something else. Some times my youngest will just eat a little and then eat a snack later but I see no problem with that as well. We make sure they are eating enough healthy things. Then there are nights that we just fend for ourselves. But I have never tried to force them to eat a meal of stuff they don't like.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

how old is your nephew?

I would keep presenting different foods...a variety of foods.

DO NOT make separate meals for him. I know it's harsh - but he will NOT allow himself to starve.

If he's old enough to make decisions - have him help with the grocery shopping and the meal planning so he feels like he has input into the decision.

Example - make a meal plan for the week, ask him what he thinks dinner should be on Wednesday -we have chicken or fish. Let him help make the final decision. Then make what the choice is...if he chooses not to eat it - fine. Excuse him from the table - NO SNACKS. NO separate meals. NO cereal, etc. "John, this is the choice you made. We made it. NOW you have to try it. I will NOT be making you separate meals."

Also - when adults lose it and start yelling - kids KNOW they have "won" and will continue to do and behave in that way. When he says "NO! I won't eat that!!!"? Your response should be "Okay. You are excused. Maybe you'll be hungry for the next meal" - do NOT fight. DO NOT beg. DO NOT plead. Stay calm. He will NOT starve himself....promise.

Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

I know of Moms in 3 different camps on this.
1) Talk to the pediatrician about a referral for a therapist. This is for kids who have sensory issues, because they translate to food issues.
2) I have a friend who simply doesn't fight the battle. She makes a meal. Her kids have their choice of the meal, cereal (no sugar cereals, only plain cheerios, Life, etc), or a PBJ. If they choose the cereal or PBJ, they have to get it themselves. She doesn't make it for them. No bedtime snack.
3) I also don't fight it, but I have more rules than my friend. I make a meal. You have to try a bite of everything on your plate, and eat at least a fair amount of at least 1 of the things on the plate. If you do that, you can have whatever you want for bedtime snack - including a piece of chocloate, etc. If you don't eat a good dinner, then your snack options are limited to finishing your dinner or a healthy snack such as fruit or yogurt.

I guess there is also a "eat your dinner or don't eat" camp, but I don't personally know anyone who does that.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

There is also something called SPD sensory perception disorder. One of the symptoms is that food texture is a big deal to these kids. My son has this and it is a long slow process but he is now 10 and is eating more things each day.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

how old is he? How strict I would be with him depend partly on his age.

added: 6 is old enough to know better, if he vomits at the table he can clean it and then get punished (whether that means time outs or losing toys ect). Also, try to set a rule that he must try everything on his plate before he can leave the table. This worked well with my picky eater. Of course the first night we sat at the table for 45 minutes (I read my book) until his need to pee trumpt his desire not to try it. Now he tries without fighting. I never make him take more then one bite, but the only foods available to him after dinner are fresh fruit, and if he goes to bed hungry that is his own fault. It takes time, but this works, at least it did for my super picky guy. Also, he has to try a bite even if it is a food he has tried before, sometimes I cook it different, plus they say a child needs to try something several times sometimes before they like it.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

Picky eater? That's an understatement.

- Try introducing the concept of a "no thank you" helping. My mom did it with us and I have done it (when needed) with our son. He's a good eater, but there are times when he will refuse to try something, but he knows that he MUST at least taste it. Put about a tablespoon of whatever it is that he needs to eat on the plate. After he has eaten that (without gagging and commentary), then he can have a helping of his preferred item. Slowly introduce new foods and bigger portions.

- Keep introducing new things b/c most picky eaters are "picky" because they are allowed to be. Typically someone "caves" and gives them what they want so they don't starve. Here's the thing (as others have mentioned)... they won't starve themselves.

- The new rule (for everyone) is that you must eat what is served. No "alternate" meals. If he refuses, then he refuses. Glass of milk will get him through. It will take a while for him to realize that this is the new "reality", but he cannot continue this way.

Just know that his refusal behaviors will get far worse before he finally caves and eats something, so be prepared. Make sure he's taking a vitamin (because he needs it and he may not be eating much) and if he's in school, make sure that the teacher knows what's going on. If he goes into school and tells the teacher that he hasn't had dinner all week, you're going to get a "knock on the door".

You don't say how old he is, but remember that this is actually a parenting problem... unless he has a sensory issue. So as much as you want to "punish" the behavior, it's your sister who needs to tighten up and be consistent. If she isn't really willing to do that, then the behavior will continue.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I eat a lot of foods. I have always eaten a lot of foods.

I had this thing with stewed tomatoes. Give them to me raw and they would disappear quickly. Cook them and mix in stale bread and I would gag. My dad made sure I ate what my mom put on the table. So I gagged my way through it. I would much rather have had the bread with the tomatoes on it raw. But it wasn't my choice.

That being said, I made my kids eat what their mom cooked. I varied the cooking techniques so that if they didn't like it one way they could like it a different way. And then there was some foods that they didn't like so they could be in charge. Example: one child loved mayonnaise, but hated ranch dressing. Ranch is made from mayonnaise.

With just eating those foods you list, he is just spoiled and just determined to get his way. I had kids that wouldn't eat fish unless it was fish sticks. So I cooked the fish to look like fish sticks and then gave them the fish without the breading. With the chicken patties, I would give him fried chicken with a similar breading and work in that direction. I feel this kind of food pickiness is just being spoiled.

Good luck to you and yours.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

He is using his ability (weak gag reflex) to control the situation. For me, when my kids throw up, the only thing that they can have is toast or cheerios until they are better.

Knowing how old he is would be helpful.

Here is an idea that may be WAY off. Is it possible that
a. either he has dental problems/soreness and will only eat foods that he can 'gum'
b. does want to have to chew his food.

Maybe think of other foods that can be 'gummed'.
- oatmeal
- pudding
- smoothies
- pancakes
- scrambled eggs
- mac n cheese

Start small in growing the list. Try to add to it once a week.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Dinnertime should never be "horrible."
Your sister should cook a variety of healthy meals, sometimes grilled cheese or chicken patties, and sometimes not, and your nephew should be free to either eat or not eat.
I doubt he's seriously malnourished, right?
It's easy to keep a bowl of fruit on the table, and other easy, healthy offerings like nuts, granola bars, cheese sticks, etc.
When he doesn't like dinner he can help himself to those items. Problem solved.
If he wants to throw a fit or whine about it he can do it in his room. He'll learn, but only if his mom is consistent.



answers from Sioux City on

You have kids that are fussy eaters. Often, the meals you’ve prepared go uneaten . . . forkfuls of food are rearranged on the plate, perhaps, but none eaten. If you have your kids help you prepare meals, will your kids be more willing to eat their meals? The answer is: it depends.

Sometimes, simply helping kids see and understand what is in their foods reduces their hesitancy to eat. Kids can learn a lot about cooking, baking, and ingredients when they help in the kitchen. This increased awareness can reduce their food-related anxiety.

Also, perhaps you can allow your kids to have voice in what ingredients are included in foods that they don’t like and how those dishes are prepared. For example, if Johnny likes oatmeal but does not like raisins, Johnny may suggest leaving out the raisins the next time you plan oatmeal cookies for dessert. Why not give it a shot? Johnny may like it . . . and you may like the revised recipe too.

If your kids learn about a certain ingredient and the ick-factor remains for them . . . and if the ingredient is essential to the recipe . . . then having your kids help in meal preparation will not make a difference in your kids’ willingness to eat the meal in question.



answers from Kansas City on

He can eat what is served or have cereal before bed.
6 is too d to be THAT picky!

Extra calories? Whole milk, eggs, butter....


answers from Los Angeles on

Don't allow him to snack. This way he'll be good and hungry. lead with the healthy foods and serve in courses. Try blending smoothies. Start with simple fruit smoothies. If you invest in a high horse power blender, you can sneak in all kind of healthy foods he'll never taste (walnuts, kale, flax seeds).
My sister has a picky eater who also gags on new foods. To boot he has allergies to dairy and most nuts and she raises him vegetarian. Talk about challenging! He eats smoothies,brown rice, corn, peas and whole wheat toast as his healthy food every day. He also eats pasta, cereal, and waffles. She has found those 5 healthy foods he'll eat and she feeds them to him daily.
I know people freak about protein, the truth is that our bodies need way less of it than we've made made to believe. Protein is not just found in meat and dairy, Its also found in fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains, and legumes.

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