She's Beyond a "Picky Eater"

Updated on October 17, 2009
L.F. asks from San Francisco, CA
21 answers

My daughter eats poorly. For the past year or so she is will not try new foods and wants to use a sippy cup only. She will eat cereal bars, fruit snacks, yogurt, mac and cheese, hot dogs, oatmeal only; when she eats "mixed Vegetables", we are elated because she won't eat any other vegetables. Oh, except for mashed potatoes, but they can't have anything weird, like PARSLEY, in them! My husband and I have to stop ourselves from bribing her, "eat this and I'll give you a treat." When she does eat pretty well, at least for her, we have let her have cookies or other sweets- and I know this is awful! Should we just prepare something and if she doesn't want then oh well then you get nothing? I also should say, , my family eats different things, mu daughter won't eat what we are eating. She has her vitamins, but other than that? I don't know what to do, she's tiny now, but if she keeps this up, she'll grow quickly into a cautionary tale. My son eats healthy foods, I don't want him following her lead! Any ideas? Please?

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answers from San Francisco on

I am in the same boat so I can not offer much advice but I have been able to get a carrot in my 3.5 year old with the cool apple and carrot sauce packs sold at Trader Joes. They are in a cool sip style package. We load up on them whenever we are there. I only wish they had other veggie ones!

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answers from Fresno on

I think if you back way, way off, life will be better for all of you. You must, at all costs, avoid catering to her every whim. I mean, there's nothing wrong with preparing meals that your kids like, but bribing her with cookies to take a bite of mac n cheese, or only preparing things she already likes is going to create a monster.

I think it's really common for young kids to go through a phase where they'll hardly eat, especially if it provokes a huge reaction from their parents. If your child is on the small end of the growth charts to begin with, it's enough to make us moms panic! I spoke with our ped about it (my youngest is tiny for her age and is quite picky), and he said that if she's hungry, she'll eat. Children will not actually starve themselves to prove a point, even though it seems like that's what they're doing! Our doctor said to put the meals in front of her that everyone else is eating (if she prefers the chicken without bbq sauce, I'll scrape it off, but that's as far as I go to cater to her). If she eats them, great! If not, oh well. She doesn't get dessert or anything else after dinner if she doesn't eat dinner. Other than that, she gets NO reaction from us about what or how much she eats. Believe it or not, she went through a growth spurt recently, so she is getting enough to eat. (I can't imagine how a tablespoon of chicken and a teaspoon of broccoli is enough to sustain a 4 year old, but... apparently it is!)

Like one of the other moms said, I think it does help to talk to your child about nutrition, in terms she can understand. "We are going to eat chicken today because chicken has protein in it, and that helps us have strong muscles! We're having spinach salad because that has calcium in it, and calcium builds strong bones and teeth." Let her help you make dinner - even preschoolers can help wash lettuce leaves and tear them up, or stir sauce. My daughter is much more likely to eat when she has a stake in making dinner and setting the table.

It's just a phase, and the bigger the deal you make of it, I think the longer it will last. Just be calm about it, let her be involved with making meals as much as you can, and let meal time be a time when your family talks and has an enjoyable time, rather than focusing on what she is doing (or not doing, as the case may be). I think that will help. Good luck!

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answers from San Francisco on

I posted somethign similar a few months ago, but with my 6 yr old.

We have made it a rule that if there is something new (or she says she doesnt like), she has to take a "thank you bite" and it has to be a real bite, chewed and swallowed. It is pretty much a bite that says "Thanks for cooking". If she really, truly doesnt like something, I can tell by her face (and i can tell when she is faking it too!). I would not cook her somethign different unless it is something you know she really truly doesnt like. We had some picky eaters spend the night a few weeks ago and come dinner time, they didnt want to eat what was fixed and Jody (my daughter) gave them a huge speach about taking a "thank you bite"! She easts a wide array of vegetables now (before, we were lucky if she ate potatoes and corn!) along with may "mixed" dinners (casseroles, hanburger helper, etc....) Dont reward her for eating her dinner, she will learn to expect that. I serve dessert on Fridays and when we have company, once in a while, I will let her have a muffin or some ice cream after dinner, but it is not every night:)

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answers from San Francisco on

Pay attention to some of the details of what she eats -- salty vs sweet, texture (soft and mushy vs. hard and crunchy), temperature (does she avoid really hot or cold foods).

I like taking my kids to buffets like Fresh Choice where there is a wide selection of food. You can see what they select there, and try making some of it at home.

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answers from Sacramento on

Hi Janet,
A year ago I heard a Pediatric Nutritionist speak on this very topic. She had some very helpful thoughts that might help you too. First of all, she said that current studies show that in a two week period of time, kids 5 and under have will get all the nutrition they need if given a variety of healthy choices at every meal. They do it naturally. Then she said something that really relieved me from the stress I was feeling about my daughter's eating habits. That is, it's my responsibility as a parent to 1 - give her plenty of healthy choices at each meal; 2 - to set a schedule for meals and stick to it; and 3 - to "set the stage" for meal time. And it's my child's responsibility to choose 1-what & 2- how much to eat of what I offer. I found an article about it here:
This addresses the “picky” eater issue and becoming a “short order cook” which I’m sure you don’t want to do – who has the time, seriously???
This site also looks like it has other articles that may be helpful:
NOW a year later, my daughter eats what is put in front of her or not. She doesn’t throw a fit about it, sometimes she asks for something else and if it’s reasonable I’ll relent, but I’m not a short order cook. Sometimes I just say this is what we are having, if you are hungry, you’d better eat it. She doesn’t like it, but she doesn’t fight me on it too much either.
With all my best wishes - Hang in there!

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answers from Sacramento on

Hi L.,

I understand you and your husband's frustration with her eating habit. Let me relay to you what my pediatrician told me when our now 15 year old was just 3 and I was trying to force her to eat veggies.

He told me that this was a war of wills and hers was stronger and I would not win. He reviewed the things she ate and said, "She is healthy, strong and thriving - why fight her? Just enjoy her and she will come around".

To be honest, our baby is now a sophomore and 15 years old. Very Healthy. Played competitive softball since 4th grade and got her Varsity Letter from her High School as a Freshman last year. This year she has 3 Honors classes - English, Biology and Geometry. Her diet is mostly carbs with a multi vitamin. She discovers new foods from her friends, not me, mainly (I think) because I tried to force her to eat what I thought she should.

Just love your daughter and accept her and please don't force foods she won't eat at this time. Hope this helps.
Patti B

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

OMG! Im right there with you. My almost 4yr old son should date your daughter. He hates everything on his plate. My son eats the same thing as your daughter. However i can get corn and peas down him from time to time. Pizza with no sauce just cheese, mac-cheese, grill cheese,ceral no sugar ones thank god, yogart and a certain soomthie from the store is all the fruit he gets. I can't get him to eat a raw piece of fruit no matter what i do. apple sauce is a hit and miss, chicken nuggets which i sometimes make. I can sneak fish sticks in if i cut them up like I do the chicken nugggets and that is my son's menu. DRIVE ME INSANE. His little brother 15 months old has been eating table food since he was 5mos old. He has hated baby food from day one. at 4 months he would sit in his high chair (crawling at 4 months, walking at 7mos) would glare at our plates of food at dinner time with 3 teeth. Im running out of food ideas for him since he only has 8 teeth rightnow. He eats is all. At 13 months he was chewing on a spare rib. He will sometimes finish off his older brother's plate of food after he eats his own meal. I just give up trying to get him to eat. Its a game and he is in the 98% tile since 5 motnhs old so im not worried about his growth. He was 31lbs at 1 yr old. I never let them snack on junk food or load up on milk before meals. It is my biggest nightmare being a parent. In fact, i have tried to sneak other foods in when he is in another room and he knows there is something wrong with it. I just roll my eyes and look the other way. don't frustrate yourself and don't become a short order cook. My dr said they will not starve. If they don't eat, then that is it. No more food or snacks till the next meal. Don't give in. Hang in there.

SAHM, 40yrs old with 2 wild and funny little boys that take my breath away.



answers from San Francisco on

I am always fascinated by my son's "food edge" syndrome: he doesn't trust edges. Not just crusts of bread---he eats apples as if they were watermelon, leaving the peel. And watermelon itself, sometimes if I cut the rind off, he would still leave an edge on the red fruit! Mistrustful of any non-uniformity in foot--different color or texture, be it specks, or edges.
So the enemy parsley in the mashed potatoes sounds familiar. = )

From the foods you listed she is getting protein, some grain and fruit--so don't worry too much about her health. = )

Peanut butter is another good source of protein aside from the yogurt...and you can grind nuts into a powder and put it in muffins or cookies.
My kids like cinnamon a cinnamon applesauce, cinnamon cereal and things like that are easy. And cinnamon is healthy spice.

Just keep working on getting her to try things, but don't make it a big issue. One new food tried each day.

If she will drink juice, the V8 company has some newer mixed juices that are very tasty and healthy. If they are too intense for her, you can water them down and she'll still get some nutrients from it.

I know there are cookbooks out there called The Sneaky Chef" and things like that, all about mixing healthy stuff into food without kids even knowing. A little carrot juice in her mac-n-cheese maybe? = )



answers from San Francisco on

My daughter is 3.5 and a picky eater. I was one as a child, too, so I kind of get where she's coming from (which is I guess a good thing). First off, is your pediatrician concerned with her weight/growth? If not, I would relax about it a bit. It sounds like she is eating things from all the food groups, so you should feel good about that. My mother's advice to me is "when she's hungry, she'll eat" so don't make a big fuss about the amount she eats. I've noticed that over time, my daughter has wanted to try new things when we eat it but don't offer it to her (reverse psychology?). She asks what it is, then we tell her and offer it to her. Sometimes she says yes, other times she says no. But we try not to push it. Also, when I'm fixing dinner and she's starving and bugging me, I give her something she doesn't usually eat a lot of (but that she will accept) to try to get her to eat more of that thing. At 3.5 my daughter still gets most of her veggie nutrition from Gerber 3rd foods in a jar, specifically sweet potatoes and applesauce -- the only veggies she'll eat in bulk. Others she nibbles at, and I try to tell myself that's OK because you've gotta start somewhere. I've tried hiding peas in mashed potatoes, but she tastes them and spits them out every time. Same with tiny, tiny carrots in chicken noodle soup, etc. So that doesn't work for us. But things that did: My pediatrician actually recommended giving my daughter chocolate milk when she refused regular. She'll take little sips of regular every once in a while, but she generally gets her calcium intake via chocolate milk. Ah, and to get my daughter to eat beef, we tried taking her to McDonald's for a Happy Meal -- she gobbled it up and now will try other ground beef dishes (as long as she can't see tomatoes anywhere near it :o) So I guess the bottom line from me is don't worry so much. Some kids will eat anything, others "have a very refined palate" as our pediatrician put it. And don't feel guilty tempting her palate into a food with a little unhealthiness attached to it at first. You can gradually decrease the oil, butter, salt, etc after you get her saying yes to an item. Also, a book that's helping me relate better to my little picky one is: "The Highly Sensitive Child" -- not sure if your daughter has other "hangups" besides food, but if so it's a great book. Hope this helps!



answers from San Francisco on

I have one child who is picky about vegetables.

What it came to at our home is this:

He got only his serving of vegetables on his plate first.(one veg for each year old) He can wash them down with water if he chooses. After he is done with those, he can have the rest of his dinner. If he wants to put the meat with the veg bite to make it taste better I will allow that, but he refused. Carbs are always the last on his plate. Everyone else gets served everything at the same time because they don't complain/make a scene. The entire meal (leftovers) get put away after 30 minutes. So if he sits there all night in front of his veggies without eating, he misses out on the rest of the meal.
I did this for about a week. Now he does eat his veggies. He still washes them down w/ water, but he KNOWS now that he wont get away with leaving them or complaining.

ps... My sister's child is has never eaten well. She ended up with anemia and magnesium ,protien deficiency because all she wanted to eat was cereal bars and other carbs. she now supplements with whey powder ( a form of protien)that she can put in pancakes and such. She still has problems getting her to eat right tho but at least she is getting a little bit of protien.



answers from San Francisco on


You left out in the post that you have an infant son in your question. Kids are often picky eaters around this age but she may also be getting worse because it is a way to get your attention away from the baby and only on her. HMMMM

I would suggest that you offer what is being served for dinner and try to cut off the snack foods particularly in the late afternoon. My son was doing the same thing and when he discovered that the only snack options were a piece of fruit he would be hungry enough to eat some dinner.

I know this is hard especially when you are trying to take care of an infant but you have to create limits or she will expect that you will always serve her mac and cheese.

Hang in there and Happy Dining!



answers from Sacramento on

I am 39 and have been a picky eater almost my entire life. I hated it when my parents made a big deal out of foods ("Ooh, it's so tasty, just try it" etc.). It never caused me to want to try new foods. I honestly didn't like certain foods. Now, this year I've learned I was probably protecting myself with my pickiness. I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. I'm very sensitive to certain foods and the very ones I avoided most -- ethnic foods like Mexican, Thai, etc. -- are the ones that can cause big problems for me.

Our son is a very picky -- about 100x worse than I ever was. We can put healthy options on his plate until he's 18 and goes off to college, but he will not try something he doesn't want to try. In fact, it can cause him to revolt and not eat any of the meal. The pediatrician doesn't seem concerned and mostly just wants him to continue gaining weight for now. I'm not thrilled at making other meals for our son, but when he's old enough, that will become his responsibility if he doesn't want what we're eating.

Letting your daughter know you accept her as she is will go a lot further in encouraging her to change than constantly making food an issue. I eventually started trying new foods when it was my choice as I got older.



answers from San Francisco on

My kids can be picky at times. For dinner we usually have the main dish (more often than not chicken) a veggie and a startch. They can eat what they like, but they don't get any more of anything until they TRY everything. Sometime, even before my son (4 ys) knows what's for dinner, he'll say he doesn't like it. I say, fine you don't have to eat, but you need to sit at the table. I put the plate in front of him. Some days he'll have one bite and other's he'll eat almost everything. Unless I KNOW it's something kids/he doesn't like, I'll add a side of pasta and that will become his main dish. After each of my children turned 2 they eat what we eat for all meals. Many lunches I have chicken nuggets, because that is what I am serving them. I sit down and eat with them. Any time they say they don't like it, I say fine, don't eat it. You can eat at your next meal/snack (which I will not increase the size of to make up for a missed meal).



answers from San Francisco on

I'm not sure how much help I can be, because my daughter (4.5) is a great eater. She tries everything we throw at her even a small bite and if she doesn't like it, we make her some cereal or mac n cheese with hot dogs. This doesn't usually happen very often, but when it does it is frustrating. She eats curry, Adobo, loves vegies (just about any one out there), fruit, etc. Her snack is salami, cheese, tomatoes and grapes or crackers. She loves this snack the most.

I do however have a couple of girlfriends who have daughters that don't eat a lot and are extremely picky eaters when they do eat. One, Sofia is very tiny... she used to eat only things of a certain color and her mom started trying that hidden cookbook where you hide things in their muffins, etc. She has started eating better, but still is very picky. They have stuck to a no sweets or crackers rule, where Sofia has to eat real food if she's hungry and rarely (if ever) gets snack foods or sweets because if she's hungry then she needs the nutrition first. It's hard because she's incredibly stubborn and has gone without eating just because she didn't want that particular meal, but I think she is much better now. Sofia has been this way since she was 1.5 and now she's 4. She's still small and picky, but she does eat more variety from what I understand.

My other girlfriend, her daughter is 3 (Geni) and she refuses to eat breakfast (almost always). Their approach is very different. They get her to eat whatever (a lot of different carbs mostly - which I don't think is right, but as long as she's eating it's what matters right now.) She does eat yogurt and fruit and some vegies but doesn't get treats for eating her food ever - unless it's a piece of bread or something like that. They tend to steer away from sugar almost completely in their house (where our rule here is everything in moderation... you can have the cookie as long as you eat what is on your plate, because if you are hungry enough for the cookie you are hungry enough to finish your plate... and you can only have half the cookie or a small cookie).

Does your daughter like eggs and breakfast meat (bacon and sausage)? Sometimes making breakfast for dinner can be fun. My husband and I even experiment with pancake recipes (add blueberries and bananas mooshed up into the pancake mix) or whatever fruit we have at the moment. My daughter loves these Sunday meals. Or maybe a piece of toast with honey and a banana or honey and peanut butter. She gets protein and it's a little sweet so that helps.

I wish I could be more help, hope some of my tips work out and good luck. I'm sure she'll be fine and will eventually like food more later on.

S. C-P
SAHM to 4.5 yr old girl, and baby girl #2 on the way for Halloween. Married to awesome husband for 6.5 yrs.



answers from Sacramento on

Her choices in food are not all that bad, except for the fact that she doesn't appear to be eating from the fruit and vegetable group. Try carrot and celery sticks, (ants on a log encourage eating celery), broccoli or other veggies cut up and served raw. Give her a little bit of ranch dressing to use as a dip. If she will eat fruit, give her fresh raw fruit cut up.

I would also get rid of the sippy cup. Does she drink from a regular cup at all? At her age, she should be, and you can possibly encourage her by making it a "big girl now" type of thing. If she MUST have a sippy, get her one of the cups with the straw type of sippy rather than the little spout with holes in it thing. We are hearing dentists say that those are a major problem for the teeth and mouth and should be used sparingly if at all.



answers from San Francisco on

I'm a cautionary tale: I just had gastric bypass surgery at the age of 57. I have battled weight all my life, and I am convinced that a major source of my problem was my poor mother's policy of rewarding me for eating "good" foods with treats.

Your daughter will be just fine, if you stop fussing about her diet. Don't reward her, or punish her, for what she eats or doesn't eat, and don't fix her separate meals or "children's foods." Just offer her some of what everyone else is having, and if she doesn't want it, let her have some bread and butter, or a carton of yogurt, and don't make an issue of it. She will not begin to suffer from malnourishment, believe me.



answers from Sacramento on

My son is what most would call a "good eater" but even he goes through phases where he gets very picky about what or how he wants his food (like wanting a corndogs at every meal including breakfast and snacks). So while I can't really relate to your situation exactly, I CAN empathise a little bit.

My suggestions (things I think helped my son become an easier eater and that have gotten us through the picky patches) are:

1)Talk about health.
Go to the library and pick out a couple of books about healthy bodies and growing strong etc. Talk about how healthy foods give our bodies fuel to grow big,strong and smart.
Use the play kitchen food and groceries to play with healthy foods.

2)Make sure there's always something she likes
Instead of making her a separate meal. Try preparing the family meal and just making sure there is at least one item that she'll eat. If she doesn't want to try the other things, don't push her, but let her choose only from the foods on the table. (Since she really only seems to like starches, fats, and sugar you aren't going to get a ballanced meal even if you make her a separate meal.)

3)Give her control other places.
Sometimes pickiness is about control. Are there other places she can assert herself instead of at the dinner table (pick her own clothes, decide what to play or be the boss of a family game, pick a color for her bedroom walls etc).

Hope this helps.



answers from Sacramento on

I'd just make sure there is something for her to eat when you sit down to dinner. Don't make a big deal out of it. After dinner she can have a snack of other foods she prefers. Just request that she be with you at the table and not say "YUCK". The more you make a big deal out of it the worse it will get...some people are picky eaters...she may suprise you and try other things as she gets could also be a tactile thing/sensory integration. I have 3 kids, one was picky and now trys new foods without any problems, one was always a fabulous healthy eater and has now developed type 1 diabetes and the littlest is 6 and is beyond picky, but I'm not going to stress about it.



answers from Stockton on

Hi L.!

I went through a similar issue with my son. At three, he literally had a list of about 5 things he would eat. I tried the whole "if you don't eat this now you'll have it for your next meal" thing, and it didn't work. He would go 4 meals and eat nothing, and I would be freaking out because he needed to eat! My son's food issues were so severe that he would make himself vomit rather than eat what he didn't like. What was worse was it wasn't fruits and vegetables he refused to eat, it was everything else.

I found that by consistantly serving him things he "didn't like", he built up a tolerance and actually learned to eat new things. All my yelling and time outing and punishing and bribing acheived nothing. Only watching other people eat it and seeing it on his plate over and over over a period of time (not day after day, but two or three times a month) seemed to do the trick.

Hope this helps




answers from San Francisco on

Great book that my kids loved growing up: Gregory the Terrible Eater. Gregory was a goat who didn't want to eat garbage--he wanted to eat REAL food! Great tables-turned approach to picky eaters. Then there's The Seven Silly Eaters, which is another delightful book about picky eaters.

My approach was always to have a variety of foods on the table (ingredients served like a salad bar so they could take what they wanted--salads, pasta salads, fajitas, etc) and the rule was that you had to eat what you took. And when a new food was introduced, there was always a requirement of a 'no-thank you' helping--a teaspoon of the new food just to try.

I was a terribly picky eater, and I ended up eating just about anything but black-eyed peas, lima beans and corned beef (and I'm Irish!) The bigger deal you make of it, the worse it will be--it's attention-getting! If anyone doesn't like what's on the table, they can have crackers and milk--I never made anything special for anyone. The ingredients choice was enough.

Oh, the other thing about letting them serve themselves is they will take only what they'll eat, and maybe she doesn't need that much. Just don't let her fill her tummy with junk because she didn't eat anything.

Good luck!
Mom of very good eaters now 23,20 and 15 (okay, the teenager is still kinda picky, but that's a teenager!)



answers from Salinas on

Hi- I feel for you as my oldest is a bit picky. She eats very healthy food but just not a lot of variety and is not into trying a lot of new things. It has nothing to do with how you raise them as my second has been served the exact same things all her life and eats everything, very adult type foods and loves them. The deal is your daughter eats poorly because you are feeding that other stuff to her. With my oldest she must eat what we eat with the exception that she can form a meal out of what's already served like just having the beans and cheese in corn tortilla while the rest of us have tacos with veggie "meat". If she just doesn't care for one part of a meal I'm not going to force her to eat it. Otherwise she's on her own, no extra food just because she's picky. If you keep letting her eat the junky snacks and separate meals she will never eat what the rest of the family is eating and instead fill up on the other stuff. The list of food she eats is pretty bad. I mean other than the oatmeal those are refined sugars, white carbs and unless they are the natural substitutes lots of chemical dyes and preservatives. Serve her whole foods only and she'll eat when she's hungry!

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