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Fixing a Picky Eater

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I used to believe picky eaters were made not born. I, a reformed picky eater, was sure my parents were the reason for my picky habits. My mother was picky. We had a very limited variety of foods that were rotated though and if I didn’t like something my parents (my dad) would make me something else. For years I wouldn’t eat white rice so they always made me macaroni or potatoes.

Once my husband and I got serious and he had started stripping me of my picky eating tendencies he put his foot down. We would not create picky eaters. We would not cater to their ways. There would be no crust cutting off, no special meals prepared we would all just eat and try new foods.

Then we had PBgirl.

She was born picky. We thought.

I definitely believe now that some kids are born with more stubbornness when it comes to food. What I have learned in the last four and a half years though is that picky eaters are made by parents who enable them. We, even my staunch no-picky-eaters husband, totally and completely enabled her to the point that we had a macaroni addict who wouldn’t even touch a vegetable.

See, we got tired of the fight. We got tired of sending her to bed hungry (which we did many, many times) and subconsciously we started planning our meals around that. Every third day was some sort of pasta so she would eat it. We never tried new things, we rarely made vegetables other than broccoli and the only meat we had on a regular basis was chicken and ham.

I realized that while we thought we were being such good parents—making her take a bite of everything, limiting snacks, not making separate dinners—that we were in fact no better than those things. It was one of the main reasons we decided to start our Dinner Challenge. We were tired of eating the same food yes, but we were also tired of catering to her very limited appetite.

We are finishing our 15th week of the challenge and I can honestly say I have a practically new child. Is she still picky, yes—especially when she is not at home and faced with a new situation. However she has improved by leaps and bounds. She has devoured fish and steak, stealing it off my plate. She has tried polenta, leeks, carrots, corn bread. Everything we have made she has tried with no tears and no fuss. Last night she ate white wine risotto and declared it the best cheesy rice ever! So yummy! She ate all her chicken and all her peas and the best part we didn’t have to bribe her with dessert.

It was a rough start, with lots of tears for no macaroni and several times we had macaroni for lunch just to get us through the crabbies. She has even started eating salami and has eaten her first ever sandwich made on actual bread, and eaten together! She discovered this summer that she loves peaches and nectarines and she polished off all her green beans two nights ago with just a little prodding. I think in addition to our change in dinners having a little sister who is now starting foods and growing quickly is helping as well.

So if you are a parent who is struggling with a picky eater, it may be time to stop looking at them and really take a hard look at your behaviors. Do you let them eat snacks, especially mid-afternoon, because they have snubbed everything all day and you don’t want them to be hungry? Do you make multiple meals? Do you base your menu off of their tastes?

It was not easy, especially the snacks. The first few weeks we stopped allowing snacking were tough, there were lots of tears. If dinner will be later than 5 or if they are playing hard we will sometimes cut up veggies and leave them out on the table, otherwise there is no snacking. A hungry kid will eat, they will try new things and everyone will be surprised.

The truth is your kids won’t starve if they miss a meal here or there because they don’t like it. Once we laid down the rules; at least 1 bite of everything and you can’t get up until at least your brother is done. There was no more yelling, no more fighting at the table. The expectations were clear and she knew that there was no macaroni coming so she just ate. Dinner is now a tastier and more enjoyable event instead of a battle.

Do you have a picky eater? How have you handled them?

Melissa is mom to 3 kids (6 months to 6 years old) and 1 angel. She used to dream of traveling the world, now she dreams of a clean kitchen. She writes about all the sticky bits of motherhood at Peanut Butter in my Hair, and hides from her children on Twitter (@PBinmyHair).

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