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The Curse of the Picky Eater

By Mike Snyder

Dinnertime at my parents house was more often than not an unbelievable battle of wills.

My sister, who is one-and-a-half years younger than I, simply refused to eat most of what my mother prepared. My father would make my sister sit at the table for up to an hour after everyone else had finished. I don't believe she ever once caved. In the end, she was told to get down and get ready for bed.

In my parents' defense, they were both born to Pennsylvania coal miners during the Great Depression. Wasting food to them was a major sin.

In my sister's defense, it didn't help matters that my mom used to cook everything until it was "done" -- and that meant all the way done -- and favored canned vegetables during the '70s. I was referred to as the "good" eater, and even I could hardly get it down some nights. (Sorry, Mom, but even you've admitted that you're not much of a cook.)

I'll admit that I found it amusing when my sister's oldest boy turned out to be as picky an eater as she was. Cosmic justice, I thought. But I'm not laughing anymore, now that I've got a 5-year-old boy who, while a hearty eater, has carved out a fairly short list of main courses he's willing to eat for dinner. It consists of:

Pasta (usually with sauce), macaroni and cheese or other types of noodles, low-fat/low-sodium hot dogs, chicken nuggets, cheese sandwiches, cheese pizza or cheese quesadilla. Oh, he might eat fish sticks or scrambled eggs occasionally, but don't count on it.

I feel terrible about giving the kids processed foods on a routine basis. It's crap and I know it. I fear I'm setting bad precedents and starting bad dietary habits. Thank goodness that both of my children are great about eating fruits and green vegetables. Also, we're truly fortunate that we don't have any serious food allergies to deal with.

So, what else can I do to get some healthy protein in their diets? My first-grade daughter will eat roast chicken and will even try a few bites of salmon (plain) or roast beef, but my son balks at anything new. He won't even sniff it. His "No" is firm, and he's as stubborn as my sister (though I don't force him to sit at the table past the dinner hour). Even outright bribery has little effect on the boy where diet is concerned.

Oh, and there's also the time factor. Ours is a fairly typical middle-class lifestyle. We're busy with karate classes and church groups, etc. Cooking -- and cleaning up after -- two separate dinners several nights a week is a real drag.

This is by no means a new blog topic. Stacey wrote about it in October, and a lively discussion ensued.

What I'd like to know is, does anyone have quick, easy -- and healthy, if you please -- recipes to share or tips on how to "sell" kids on new dinner fare that we can all enjoy. I'm wide open to meatless fare, too, my vegetarian friends. Is there anything they could "help" me make? What works well in your kitchen?

By Mike Snyder |  February 26, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Child Development
Previous: Multiples -- The Early Days | Next: I'm Scared!


Only tip I have is have the kid help plan and cook the meal. We've found that when they are invested in the meal, they tend to eat it (not 100% of the time - but better than when we plan and cook it without "input").

Posted by: Father of 2 | February 26, 2008 7:26 AM | Report abuse

Good lord, who runs the house - you or the kids? In my family we were given two choices - take it or leave it. As my mother reminded us constantly, she was not a short order cook and we did not have it our way!

Posted by: ME | February 26, 2008 7:34 AM | Report abuse

DO NOT make two separate dinners. No child has ever voluntarily starved to death. My daughter can make her own peanut butter sandwich after she's tried everything on the dinner table, if she wants, but I don't make it for her.
There's taking care of your children and there's being your children's servant.

Posted by: Angela | February 26, 2008 7:40 AM | Report abuse

As a recovered picky eater, I can honestly say it would have only taken a huge caving on my part to eat some of the things I flat out refused from my parents. No matter the punishment.

It only changed later, either as my tastes changed or the more I ate certain things.

So either force your hand repeatedly until it finally sinks in (good luck w/ that...) or let it happen on its own, haha.

Posted by: Wakka Wakka | February 26, 2008 7:46 AM | Report abuse

Seriously - who is in charge? Tell your 5 year old that he has to try at least one bite of everything. End of story. If he refuses, begin taking away priviliges. Every kid has his/her currency.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2008 7:56 AM | Report abuse

Obviously responders thus far haven't dealt with a stubborn picky eater and don't know that you've already tried bribery, starvation and taking away privileges. I like the "make your own peanut butter sandwich" idea. But let's see some recipes as requested! Kid-friendly food ideas would be the biggest help here.

Posted by: lorip | February 26, 2008 8:08 AM | Report abuse

I am a recovered picky eater that has a picky eater son - he is almost 7 and still alive despite turning his nose up at just about everything. I have an older daughter that will at least try everything.

I agree, no kid has ever willingly starved. I have to limit snacks before dinner, always offer at leat one side item he likes and hope for the best. Periodically we were cooking 2 meals and we finally put our foot down, he either eats what is served or leaves the table hungry. He is healthy and active and eventually will eat willingly - I did!

Posted by: cmac | February 26, 2008 8:09 AM | Report abuse

I come from a large family (8 kids) that didn't have alot of extra money, so we knew what was served for dinner is what we had to eat. Period.

Posted by: ME | February 26, 2008 8:17 AM | Report abuse

You don't have to serve "crap" if you don't keep it in the house. DOn't buy the processed mac-and-cheese- make your own, it doesn't take much longer than the instant stuff.

Don't make a separate dinner! My son is super-picky, too, but he's able to find at least one thing I'm serving that he's willing to eat.

I don't think a daily stand-off is productive. But it's also not productive for you as the parent to make all kinds of adjustments. Take it or leave it is a good compromise.

Posted by: kathy | February 26, 2008 8:21 AM | Report abuse

Easy kid-friendly food:

Take 2 good sized frozen chicken breasts
one can diced tomatoes (I like the DelMonte pre-seasoned with garlic)
one envelope taco seasoning

mix tomatoes & seasoning, put in crock-pot on top of frozen chicken. Cook on low while you're at work all day. Stir it up well when you get home, chicken should fall apart.

Serve on tortillas, or on top of baked tostito chips for a "taco salad". My 2-year old loves this (he calls it "red chicken"), and picky me loves it, too. Serve with cheese, sour cream, lettuce, etc.

Posted by: RiverCityRoller | February 26, 2008 8:22 AM | Report abuse

I agree with "ME" and "Angela" - you need to stop worrying about catering to your son and start enforcing some basic rules. At our house, everyone takes at least a "Thank You" bite of everything on the plate - that includes me. I loathe all types of fin fish, but cook it because others like it, it's super healthy, and I don't want to pass on my dislike of a whole category of healthy food. Also, at our house, what's on the table is what's for dinner and there's no food after dinner - no snacks, nothing. DSs know that if they don't eat, they won't be getting anything else until breakfast. If that means they eat 1 or 2 bites of mole chicken and then fill up on salad and beans, then so be it.

Seems to me that part of your problem is cooking those processed things at home to begin with. For DSs, chicken fingers / nuggets are luxury food to be consumed only at restaurants. Mac-n-cheese and fish tenders are saved for babysitter nights.

Finally, some actual advice along the lines you asked for. 1) Every kid I've ever met has one secret irresistible weakness - ketchup, ranch dressing, parmesan cheese to name a few - that, when provided with the meal, will make just about anything appealing. 1a) Dipping food is always better than eating regular food. We don't have sauces or gravies at our table, we have dips.

2) Find out *why* your child doesn't like a specific food. 10 to 1 it's a texture issue, not one of taste. Turns out DS#2 doesn't care for "mushy" veggies so his carrots and broccoli go on the plate raw and his asparagus and green beans come out of the pot a minute or two before everyone else's.

3) Father or 2 is right - involve them in the process. Trips to Whole Foods an Wegman's become food safaris for us - DSs have to pick something new and I have to figure out how to cook it. (Ever try finding a recipe for Buddah's Hand?)

Good luck!

Posted by: two terrific boys | February 26, 2008 8:28 AM | Report abuse

I often make a few different meals on the weekend and just reheat during the week. So sometimes the kids eat different things but that just means I'm microwaving two different plates. While I would prefer to put everything on the table at the same time and be done, it seems like they actually eat better when I do "courses." So I'll give them their vegetables first with no other food in sight while they're at their hungriest.

Posted by: Rockville Mom | February 26, 2008 8:28 AM | Report abuse

I echo many of the sentiments here. First, if you can get your kid to help out with the cooking, do. My wife makes crockpot recipes (which are a big time saver for working families---when you get home, dinner is basically ready), and our 4 year old helps add the ingredients in the a.m. before we leave for school/work. Doesn't guarantee he'll eat it, but at least he learns to be invested in it.
Secondly---don't make separate meals for everyone. We make our oldest try a few bites of everything, he certainly doesn't have to clean his plate. If he really wants something else, we offer a banana/apple/yogurt or something.

In short, meals are like everything else---you have to set some limits. I agree with the others---take it or leave it is a perfectly acceptable thing to say to a 4-5+ year old.

Posted by: Dadof2 | February 26, 2008 8:32 AM | Report abuse

Another good thing about making your child try at least one bite of everything - they do better when out to dinner with others. We were all used to eating what was on our plate, so there was no embarassing "ew, what's that?", etc., when we ate out.
I soooo want a Wegman's near me. :-(

Posted by: ME | February 26, 2008 8:34 AM | Report abuse

I agree with the no-processed food. I make my mac & cheese from scratch regularly, the kids WAY prefer it ove the blue box.
Easy shrimp alfredo - put a cup or so of milk and a tablespoon of flour in a jar and shake it til it's mixed. Melt a T butter in a sauce pan, add milk and stir about 5 minutes on medium until it starts to thicken. Add about 1/2 cup of parmasan stir until melted. Thaw precooked shrimp Serve over noodles. I use precooked shrimp as a time saver. Have also made with leftover chicken.
Easy chicken nuggets - cut up boneless chicken breasts into 1" chunks. Put italian bread crumbs in a ziplock bag along with a little parmasan cheese if you have it. Shack chicken chunks in bread crumbs. Place on a cookie sheet that's been sprayed with PAM. Spray the tops with PAM. Bake for about 20 minutes at 350.

Posted by: 2 kids favorites | February 26, 2008 8:35 AM | Report abuse

My 5 y.o. son is the picky eater but my 8 y.o. girl is not. She will try anything and has made it her mission to help her brother eat through encouragement. We have been introducing more vegetarian foods and the picky eater actually likes them. He likes fries so we introduced potato pancakes, which he liked. We now do zucchini pancakes which he really likes and are much healthier. has the recipe for that one - Connie's Zucchini Crab Cakes (but with no crab).

Trader Joe's is a great place to find interesting food that can be made easily and is good for them. Try the Vegetarian Bird's Nest (frozen section) - carrots, kale and onions that are shredded and then can be baked. Very flavorful and tons of vitamin A.

But honestly, our saving grace with the picky eater has been sauces - and not the velveeta cheese sauce on broccoli! He will eat Asian food because he can put soy sauce on it. He eats raw veggies with ranch dressing on the side. Broccoli gets parmesan cheese. And if your picky eater likes peanut butter, try grilled chicken with a peanut sauce on the side with some pad thai or peanut noodles from TJ's. It's not perfect by any means but it does get the veggies in him and allows me to cook different things!

Posted by: Alexandria Mom | February 26, 2008 8:37 AM | Report abuse


My son is 3.5 and very similar to your son, based on previous posts. I just spoke with a nutritionist and she said the best thing is to make new foods old foods. Make and freeze a lot of small portions of something you want to add to his diet and give it to him every night for 2-3 weeks. Tell him to have one bite and then something will happen (but not bribe with food - something fun to do instead)

Posted by: momof1 | February 26, 2008 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Here are some of our winning, kid-friendly meals: spaghetti & meatballs (usually use whole wheat or barilla plus pasta, w/ homemade, baked meatballs--make a big batch and freeze them), shake 'n bake chicken or pork (at least you get to pick the meat, instead of mystery meat nuggets), and homemade mac 'n cheese. We have had some success with fish but it's still not a sure winner.

My oldest likes to dip his veggies in ketchup or mustard. I think it tastes awful but he eats his veggies so we always have ketchup and mustard available.

One thing I've noticed is that if we are all sitting down at the same time and eating together, the kids eat more and whine less. We used to eat later a couple of times a week so we could actually have our meal while it was still hot. We do that pretty rarely now.

Posted by: Mom_2_LED | February 26, 2008 8:38 AM | Report abuse

I was a picky eater, and it still sucks -- there is so much out there I wish I liked. So I've been fixated on not inflicting my food weirdness on my kids. Now I have one 6-yr-old who will try almost anything but who gravitates to fruit, and a 2-yr-old who I have yet to see eat a vegetable or a fruit, other than raisins (fruit! what kid doesn't like fruit? he doesn't even like juice!).

We have always tried a positive approach: rule is, you have to try one bite of everything, but you don't have to eat it. When they try something and like it, we make a big deal out of it (including letting the girl hear us bragging about it to the grandparents). We have taken them to various ethnic restaurants since they were babies. Now my girl is hugely proud of herself for liking sushi -- and I'm proud of that, too, since to this day, I still can't eat fish. :-) The boy seems a little tougher nut, but he's still only 2, so hoping it will eventually rub off on him.

For dinner, we are of the "one meal" approach, but I always make sure there's one thing that the kids like. My stalwart "processed" fallback is Annie's mac + cheese -- both kids love it (as do I!), so that's always in the pantry. Other things I always have on hand are turkey sausages (the boy LOVES them) and hard-boiled eggs (the girl eats the white, the boy eats the yolk -- typical).

Dinners: I find they will eat almost any noodle. Pad thai works for us (no peanut allergies); there's a lot of ingredients, but it's like any other stir fry -- once you take the 10 mins to get everything cut up and ready to go, it cooks in about 2 minutes. And those pre-packaged tortellini -- grownups with red sauce, kids with parmesan cheese. They also both tend to like soy flavors, so I will do a basic beef and vegetable stir fry and let them pick out the parts they won't eat (if nothing else, they'll always eat the rice).

You might also want to consider pork chops or a pork tenderloin roast. My boy doesn't like poultry (except in unidentifiable nugget form, of course), but I guess pork has enough flavor for him, and a lot of the cuts nowadays are a lot leaner than they used to be. I do lean boneless pork chops with a simple rice pilaf: brown the pork chops, remove; saute onion and celery in the browned bits with a little olive oil; add rice and stir until browned; add the appropriate amount of chicken stock, cover, and cook for 10 mins.; add pork chops back to top and cook until rice and pork are done. It's not real exciting, but it's easy and quick to make, plus it involves real food -- and there's plenty of time to steam some veggies or throw together a salad while it cooks.

Posted by: Laura | February 26, 2008 8:39 AM | Report abuse

TwoTerrificBoys has some excellent advice. I'll just jump on the bandwagon - if you don't want your son to eat "crap," simply do not buy it or give it to him. We only eat chicken nuggets or fingers when we're out some place, never at home. We don't give the kids hot dogs except once in a blue moon when we have people over for a cookout. If you don't provide it, they can't eat it. At this point, you may have to introduce change gradually since you have indeed set less than desirable precedents, but don't make separate meals and don't give a snack later. Do find your son's "currency" as someone else put it, and do have him help make dinner. My two - ages 3 and 4.5, love to stir, pour ingredients, tear salad, and so on.

Posted by: ViennaMom | February 26, 2008 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Believe it or not, when I was a kid, one of my favorite foods was artichokes. For us, it was a real treat to tear them apart with our hands, dip the ends in the melted butter, and throw the leaves away. I could cut out an artichoke heart myself by the time I was ten.

We only had them maybe three or four times a year, but we always loved them. They were easy to cook (steam with some lemon juice) and fast (fifteen-twenty minutes, completely unattended) and lots of fun. Plus, if you've got a garden, the leaves are great for composting. And the preparation of the leaves, with a good pair of safety scissors, can be done by a kid.

Mashed potatoes was another favorite, especially since my parents usually delegated the preparation of it to one of the kids. We had to peel the potatoes, monitor the boiling water, add the seasoning and milk/butter as appropriate, mash them, and bring them to the table. After all that, we usually ate the entire pot clean.

Bruschetta is another fast, easy thing to make. Just put tomatoes (I like to use halved cherry tomatoes to make it even faster) and some shredded mozzarella cheese into a bowl and drizzle some olive oil. Spoon the mixture over a piece of whole-grain bread, sprinkle with a garlic-herb spice mixture, and toast in the toaster oven until everything is nice and warm and soft and smells good (five-ten minutes).

If they don't like to eat fruits and veggies, try cooking the fruits and serving the veggies raw. Apples-and-yams were one of our holiday staples, and a whole banana cooked in a little bit of butter with cinnamon is warm, sweet, and still pretty healthy.

Finally, soup is fast, easy, and can be seasoned seventeen ways from sunday, effectively hiding almost anything. It also lets you completely control all the ingredients, and lends itself really well to stuff chopped up small. (Ditto for homemade pasta sauce.) I only found out as an adult just how many dishes my mom had slipped zucchini, mushrooms, cabbage, and other "ickies" into--all of which I now love.

Posted by: popslashgirl | February 26, 2008 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Buy the cookbook Good.Cheap.Fast. Almost everything we have tried is a hit with all of my kids. There are even some hints for seasoning adult portions after the kids plates have been served.

I also preplan a menu for 2 weeks before I go to the grocery store. Each kid gets to pick a breakfast, lunch and dinner. They then help me cook that meal. I also always keep fresh veggies chopped in the fridge so that they can eat them with ranch dressing and I know they are getting something healthy. I do try to have at least one thing on the table each one will eat and I never prepare seperate food for anyone.

Remember-They aren't going to starve themselves. They will eat when they are hungry. Why make it a battle?

Posted by: Momof5 | February 26, 2008 8:49 AM | Report abuse

My sister and I were both incredibly picky eaters as children- and we both grew up and now eat normally. It's just a stage.

Please don't listen to the ill-considered advice of those who advocate forcing your kids to eat things that they don't like- in fact, I personally think that even requiring a "no thank you" bite is going too far. Even now that I'm an adult, there is nothing more abhorrent to me than the idea of being forced to put something in my mouth that looks repulsive (or that I think will taste gross.) How would you like it if you went to someone's house and were forced to take a bite of everything they served you?

If you're worried about turning into a short-order cook, show your kids how to make PBJs or heat up a can of soup when they can't stand any of the dinner options.

Posted by: acorn | February 26, 2008 8:51 AM | Report abuse

"fruit! what kid doesn't like fruit? he doesn't even like juice!)"
If it wasn't for the juice part, I'd suggest it was a texture thing. To this day, oranges are the only fruit I can take. I'm trying to get better, but I just don't like fruits, never have.

For all these examples of how to get your kids to eat, I think its worth remembering that a lot of us have at least one thing we cannot eat based on how it was forced on us as a child. Mine is squash, especially zucchinni. My mother would saute zuchinni and yellow squash at least 3 times a week during the summer. And every night I would be forced to take "just one bite" b/c I "might like it." No amount of reasoning that I hated it Tuesday would work. And this was when I was 14, 15, 16, etc. My step-brother's (raise in another family, became steps in our 20s) issue is peas. He will eat anything except peas. And by anything, he lived in Japan for 3 years.

And for kids, I don't have much advice. My child will eat just about anything, and is less picky than me. His only issue is anything with hot peppers, and thats only b/c he appears to have an alergic reaction (red, crusty ring around his mouth for a week)

Posted by: RT | February 26, 2008 9:00 AM | Report abuse

I have an 8-year old who has regularly decided she doesn't like something that she would previously eat. Too bad - I only cook one meal and she has to eat something from the table. I do try and include at least one food I know she likes, but the rule is that you have to have a bite of everything before you can get more of anything. Last night we had lasagna (not from a box - but I like to cook), green peas (frozen and cooked a very short time so as to not make them mushy), stewed squash and onions and bread. She got about 8 peas, two slices of stewed squash, a small piece of bread and about 8 bites of lasagna on her plate. She was not happy about the peas BUT after she had her original plate, she was welcome to fill up on what she did like. We were surprised when she requested more lasagna and more peas.

Posted by: EatYourVeggies | February 26, 2008 9:06 AM | Report abuse

I agree with the group that says don't force it. Research actually shows that picky eating is genetic. I have a theory that in a tribe of primates, it's good to have primates that will eat anything, in case the regular food supply dries up... but it's also good to have picky eaters, that won't eat the berries that turn out to be poisonous. So it's like, built in survival for the group. :-)

For moving your meals to healthier versions though I echo that you should involve your child as much as possible.

I'd be direct about it, since he's five. In our house we use the phrase "growing food" for healthy food and "treat food" for non-healthy food. I'd say that you want him to have food that he enjoys, but he needs more "growing food," and ask him to look through some cookbooks or on the Internet for ideas.

Ask him to pick out a vegetable or a new source of protein to try.

I'd recommend a zillion recipes to you but... I think it works best when the child leads. If he says he wants to try artichokes (like the commenter above), jump on it! Invite him to look over glossy pictures. Then work with him to develop his own binder of "growing foods."

Because some of the pickiness may be genetic. But some may just be a control issue and if you give him control he may fly with it.

I'd also try to move towards healthier versions - for example, you can pretty easily bread your own chicken tenders (he can help) with crushed cornflakes or even crushed bran flakes. That adds back some nutrients, involves him in the process, and you control the quality. Use whole-grain bread and tortillas and pizza dough, and make your own pasta.

Then see what he will add in. If he likes nuggets, he might like breaded (again healthier version; just dip in egg, then dip in a mixture of whole wheat breadcrumbs and parmesan; bake at about 375 about half an hr, or look up a better recipe :)) eggplant or zucchini - especially if they come with "dipping sauce." You can also bread tofu this way (esp if he gets hooked on the sauce part :)).

If he likes cheese on things, and eggs, he might like quiche. Eggs and cheese; what's not to love, and you can add in peas and red pepper or whatever.

Stir fries where you (sigh) take the time to stir fry the components separately, so each family member can choose what to put on their plates with their rice, can introduce a lot of things.

Try serving food creatively (with his input): have a "mexican fiesta" now and then or whatever culture you want to try. The idea of this is not to force him to suddenly eat black beans (yummy in bean dip) or hummus (on greek night) but to give the GENERAL idea that expanding one's palate is fun and worth the risk. If he sees his parents go for it, he might follow suit. He might not. He won't die in the meantime.

You can almost always pack the following with healthy grains, grated fruit or veggies, and if desperate skim milk or other protein powder: smoothies, muffins, cookies, brownies. I'm not a big fan of the sneaky chef overall but now and then it's worth it.

Posted by: Shandra | February 26, 2008 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Our DSs are almost 6 and almost 2, and DD is 4. Overall the kids probably eat fairly reasonably. We eat processed foods occasionally, mainly on week-ends. I make tons of vegetable soups bc they won't eat salads (yet, I hope). I try to throw vegetables into everything: broccoli and carrots go right under that tomato sauce on pasta, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers on week-end mornings with our eggs, etc. Lately they've begun accepting my stir-fries, and they will eat crock-pot stews (also with veggies).

In terms of protein, the first thing I realized is that most Americans are not at risk for protein deficiency -- if anything, we get too much of it. So, you can throw just a bit of chicken into your pasta or soup or whatever, instead of serving the whole chicken breast, and it's easier on younger kids' teeth. One good-size chicken breast or two thighs, sauteed with potatoes or veggies and bread, is enough for dinner for our family of 5, usually with leftovers for my lunch at work the next day. I make whole-grain bread in my bread machine, which also gives you healthy protein, especially if you combine with peanut butter. The kids snack on pieces of cheese and apples or raisins (although they do enjoy their chocolate and cookies, too, what can you do...). Also, nuts are a good source of protein -- my kids eat their Cheerios in the morning with cashews and raisins. Fish, e.g. baked salmon, can be flaked into pieces and also added to your pasta and veg, with something like Italian dressing over it instead of tomato sauce, makes it taste nice and fresh. Or, baked fish and veg with homemade cheese sauce, since your kids seem to enjoy cheese -- takes 10 min to make, not much harder than microwaving your fish sticks!

My kids also will eat beans and lentils, either in soups or straight up, and if you combine beans with a bit of meat or something whole-grain -- brown rice or wheat bread, for example -- you get a complete protein.

But it hasn't been all roses. At age 1.5, DS1 gradually reduced the foods he would consistently eat to just one: pickles. It took a few (mild) spankings to get him to budge. We've tried every other trick in the book, too, with all of the kids: praise, bribery, leaving them at the table, removal of privileges, etc. None of the tricks works 100% of the time, but combined they mostly do. But as eating is just one part of life, mealtime discipline is part of your overall approach to family discipline. Parenting is always a battle of the wills to some extent, so the kids will inevitably push back, so it's up to you to decide how much compliance you want to enforce vs. how much fun and freedom to allow, and it will carry over into how they eat.

When DS1 was little, I read this piece of good advice somewhere, to look at their entire food intake -- meals, snacks, desserts -- over the course of a week, rather than focus on each meal, and you will see that overall they get more of the good stuff than you thought.

I also noticed that since DS1 started kindergarten and been exposed to a more typical American fare at lunch, his tastes have changed a bit, in the direction of hot dogs and fries and away from oatmeal. I tell myself that there is no perfection in life, and if I feed him well at home I might still keep him healthy. Now I am trying to get him into cooking, and he is quite excited about it -- scrambling eggs, stirring my stir-fries, -- and I told him that the first rule of cooking is: you eat what you cook!

Finally, and I never thought I'd say this, but there are situations where eating crap is not bad. We make long road trips with the kids a couple of times a year to see the grandparents, and we had a tough time when DS2 was transitioning to solids because he was used to freshly-made good food at home and would not touch McD french fries on the road! Before our last trip, I had to take the whole family to McDonalds to get him exposed to a hamburger. He ate it up, thankfully, so we're set for this summer...

Posted by: Arlington | February 26, 2008 9:14 AM | Report abuse

To quote Jon (from Jon and Kate Plus 8) -- "she's not a short order cook". If someone doesn't like dinner, there's always breakfast the next day.

I'll never understand the making of separate meals -- I have a friend who makes separate meals for her TWO kids. Too much work! That's 3 meals a night if neither kid likes what the parents are eating.

Posted by: WDC 21113 | February 26, 2008 9:14 AM | Report abuse

While not trying to be a short-order cook, I try to modify what the rest of the family is eating for our picky eater and our growing baby. Picky eater doesn't like chicken soup, but he likes chicken, so I pull out the chicken before it gets tainted by the soup, and he'll eat plain chicken breast. If we're having spaghetti and meatballs, he gets the spaghetti without the meatballs and sauce. Since vegetables are always an issue, he gets himself an apple after dinner to balance things out.

If you think and plan things out, it's really not that big of a deal to serve up a slightly modified plate for one person. Remember to pull out the meat or vegetable out of the pot before the spices or other objectionable flavoring is added.

And I agree, to all the posters who are saying "who's in charge? you or the kid?!" they obviously don't have a picky eater in their family. This is our compromise after going through years of bribes and table torture.

Posted by: Laura2 | February 26, 2008 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Genetic? yeah....guess personal responsibility is still in exile.
One thing we used to make was what we called mini pizzas - toasted english muffin halves with cheese, ground beef and tomato sauce.

Posted by: ME | February 26, 2008 9:24 AM | Report abuse

And as far as making modifications - what happens the first time your kid goes to dinner at a friend's house and ask the friend's mom to "modify" the dinner? EEKK!

Posted by: ME | February 26, 2008 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Growing up, we each had one "skip it" meal - no matter how often mom made it, we were allowed to go straight to the PB&J sandwich (that we had to make ourself, once old enough). Every few months we were allowed to pick a new "skip it meal" if we wanted. For everything else, we had to have at least 3 bites before we were allowed to go to the PB&J. When we were younger, we all picked our absolute least favorite meal - chicken livers. Both my parents love them, and despite growing up in a Jewish household, 0 of 3 kids will even touch chopped liver. As we got older we got more strategic, and started picking a meal that was made more often and disliked.

As to the processed foods - many of those are easy to make from scratch. You can even get some good cookie cutters and cut chicken breasts into different shapes for fun chicken nuggets, that aren't really chicken nuggets.

And I agree with everyone who's mentioned dips. Hummus is a good, protein rich dip. And it can be part of a sandwich (I like pita with hummus and cucumber), or a dip for raw vegetables. A home-made, healthy-ish 7 layer dip with whole grain tortillas is also an option - dairy, protein, vegetables (or is avacado fruit) - it's pretty much all 4 food groups in one. And it's FUN to eat. Sloppy joes are also fun - partly because kids like the name. Partly because it's the kind of meal where you can make it a game - everyone puts on a old/dirty shirt, rolls up their sleeves, and gets to eat their messy sandwich. You can even have a contest about who uses the most/least napkins. And you can experiment with ground beef, pork, turkey, or gardenburger. Find out which your kid really likes, or mix them up. It takes very little time, but it can make dinner time a lot more fun.

Posted by: JB in VA | February 26, 2008 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Here a few ideas that work well with our kids:

Vegetarian tacos. Use meatless "ground beef" from the freezer section (the Boca Burger version is healthier; the Morningstar Farms version is tastier but has lots of multi-syllable ingredients), put additions such as grated cheese, brown rice, chopped romaine, cilantro in little bowls, give everyone a warm tortilla.

Lettuce wraps. Same principle, Asian-style. Use boston bibb lettuce as your "tortilla." Add thin noodles (rice noodles work well), sliced tofu, thinly sliced cucumbers and carrots, and peanut sauce if desired.

Posted by: dc | February 26, 2008 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Acorn - Glad you now "eat normally". However, I have several cousins who are in their twenties who *still* won't try anything different because they were allowed to eat only crap while they were children. My aunt actually asked if I could order a children's meal (chicken fingers) at my wedding for her 19yo son!!! What is that? Is he going to order mac-n-cheese for lunch / dinner during the job interview process or when required to attend business meals? Setting a bad precedent while your children are young can have real, unintended consequences later on.

RT - I'm with you on zucchini. After years of being convinced I hated it, I tried some to be polite at a dinner party and IT ROCKED! Turns out it doesn't have to be sauteed into green mush - what a revelation! It is now a staple at our house during the summer since even one plant produces huge numbers of squash. It helps that DSs plant and grow the zucchini, so they're invested in eating the fruits of their labor. We shred it and bake or fry it into birds' nests, bake it into carrot muffins, dice it into gazpacho, stir fry it, anything but sautee it. Zucchini is no longer the enemy ;-)

One more suggestion for picky eaters: try adding something you know they like to something new. DS#1 wasn't into stir fry until I started adding Udon noodles at the end of the process. DS#2 decided sushi was OK after trying Philly Roll (smoked salmon and cream cheese sushi).

Posted by: two terrific boys | February 26, 2008 9:33 AM | Report abuse

I found I really loved veggies, once I realized they didn't grow in a can :-). I am looking forward to buying produce at my local farmer's market.

Posted by: ME | February 26, 2008 9:36 AM | Report abuse

ME, any child can learn to be polite and say "no thank you" and wait until they get home for a snack.

As for the genetic component, it's amazing how lack of attention to scientific research in favour of a Calvanistic "if the child doesn't eat what you want, force him or her into submission" model.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | February 26, 2008 9:36 AM | Report abuse

I forgot the pizza! I second what an earlier poster said: homemade pizza is hugely easy and kids love it! You can make your own dough in 10 minutes the night before, and let it rise in the fridge overnight, or you can buy it in the stores (Trader Joe's and Wegman's sell both white and wheat options for something like $1.89). You can choose a variety of healthier options for toppings, and the kids LOVE making it. And personal-size pizzas will cook in @ 5 minutes in a 500 degree oven.

I also make a "healthy" muffin for a treat now and then. I start with a basic banana muffin recipe, then double the bananas, substitute flax seed meal for the oil/butter, add oatmeal, and substitute either wheat flour or oat bran for the white flour (oat bran = denser); you can also use egg substitutes and sugar substitutes (I usually just cut back on the sugar, since the double bananas are sweet enough). Then I add a few dark chocolate chips to make it yummy :-), and undercook them just slightly so they stay moist and chewy. Despite the plethora of healthy ingredients, everyone in my family gobbles them up -- even "no fruit" boy downs as many as I will give him, and then throws a flop fit when I tell him he's done.

Posted by: laura33 | February 26, 2008 9:40 AM | Report abuse

There can be a balance, Shandra. I don't think giving in to a child's every whim is healthy either. Also, I notice the link says it "MAY" be genetic?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2008 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the healthy muffin suggestion - I have just bought some flax seed meal and need recipes!

Posted by: ME | February 26, 2008 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Shandra - there's a difference between forcing a child into submission and requiring a child to take a small bite of everything offered in order to 1) get various tastes and textures onto the palate; and 2) teach the child that this is what polite people do when invited to share a meal with others.

Posted by: two terrific boys | February 26, 2008 9:44 AM | Report abuse

fr ME:

>Good lord, who runs the house - you or the kids? In my family we were given two choices - take it or leave it. As my mother reminded us constantly, she was not a short order cook and we did not have it our way!

My nephew went thru picky eating stage, his was mostly mac and cheese and French toast. Now the kid eats darn near everything in sight! (he's now married with 3 kids!) I don't agree with "take it or leave it". I just think that's kind of rude, and not taking into account other's tastes in food.

Posted by: Alex | February 26, 2008 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Ah yes, picky eater. I'll start by saying I love to eat all foods, try new foods, and off the top of my head can't think of a single thing that I can't stand. I don't care for cooked carrots, but if they were on the menu, I'd eat them. I've always been that way. Loved to eat out, at friends houses to see what they ate, etc.

So, my oldest son took me by surprise when he wouldn't eat the dinner I made. He started out fine, ate anything, but at about 2 he has most certainly made his preferences known. And then he started cutting out some of those!

He's 10 now, and still very picky. But, weird picky - he doesn't like the fallbacks some posters mention. No hot dogs, cheese sandwiches, quesidillas, soup, PB&J, lasagna, or anything potato (except pierogies!?!). So, our troubles start when we go over a friends house and they make 'kid-friendly' fare.

He likes meat, but not in a sauce or stew. Loves veggies, but not in a sauce or 'herbed' up. LOVES pasta, likes rice. Tacos are a favorite.

Since he is older now, he is a lot more open to trying new things. And admits when he likes it (rather than the stubborn 'bleak!') So I have been introducing new menus lately, with some good success.

What has worked for us: I don't make 2 meals. Ever. He gets a little bit of a new food and needs to take 2 bites - one to get over the hurdle, the next to really try it. I think it is a texture thing for him - so the first bite he is getting a feel for it. The second bite he can give it a fair chance. BBQ sauce is a staple in the house. He has since started trying new sauces as well - a major thing for him!

Posted by: prarie dog | February 26, 2008 10:04 AM | Report abuse

I found a cookbook that had lots of creative food for kids, I think the title is _C is for Cooking_.
The pictures look wonderful, and it's about making food that looks fun to eat. A lot of the recipes end up looking like edible art, but don't seem to be that complicated.

Posted by: CreativeFood | February 26, 2008 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Also, acron asked, "How would you like it if you went to someone's house and were forced to take a bite of everything they served you?"

Actually, it must be the Italian in me, because I would absolutely try everything, so as not to offend the host! They are not, I am certain, feeding me poison.

But, other than that question, I do see acorn's point. Forced to sit at the table hours later does no good. And forced to eat 'all' of something that you gave a try but didn't like is not good either.

But I do think a try is the polite thing to do, especially if you are a guest at someones house. This is what I stress to my son - he is starting to get invited over to dinner at friends houses, and I expect him to try everything, say thank you, taste it and keep his 'bleck' comments to himself.

Posted by: prarie dog | February 26, 2008 10:10 AM | Report abuse

I have twin toddlers and am dealing with the veggie issue. The older one (by a minute) loves veggies, but his brother is a refusenik. We're working on it.

Some have mentioned home made Mac & Cheese (and our original poster asked for recipes). This one doesn't take much more time than the store bought (adapted from Cooks Illustrated). I reduced the amount of butter and the original recipe calls for evaporated milk. Nice, but very rich.

1. Bring a med. sized pot of water to a boil, add salt and 8 oz. macaroni (though many kinds of pasta work). Strain out the water and return to pot with 1 or 2 tablespoons butter. Stir to coat the pasta. The residual heat in the pan and pasta is sufficient to melt the butter.

2. While the water is heating, mix one cup of milk, an egg, and a bit of mustard powder (1/2 tsp.) A bit of white pepper or hot sauce is nice, though the little ones may be sensitive to spice. Measure out 12 oz. grated cheese (cheddar and American are great, I've found that goats cheese works out well and doesn't need grating).

3. Add milk and egg to the buttered macaroni. Stir over medium heat until the cheese melts and the mixture thickens. Add the remaining cheese and another 1/2 cup of milk. This takes about half an hour start to finish. It probably takes about ten minutes longer than the boxed version since you're making a quick custard.

Incidentally, mac&cheese is a great vegetable delivery system. Frozen peas go right in.

Another idea that might work is stir fry. Find things that they like (and disguise some that they don't). I'm using this to sneak in extra veggies. The only trick is to NOT use a wok (these don't work well on the stove top because the heat is at the bottom).

Take 3/4 lb. of protein (pork tenderloin, chicken breasts, and extra firm tofu are great options). Cut into 1/2" chunks and toss with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. Meanwhile, cut up 1 1/2 pounds of mixed veggies. I'm fond of a combo of carrots, red bell peppers, and onions. Broccoli is good too. This takes a bit of time, though you can find precut in the store. Finally, add some chopped garlic and ginger (about a tablespoon each, though this can be adjusted) to 1 teaspoon peanut oil. You can use regular vegetable oil if you don't like/have peanut oil.

Heat a couple of teaspoons oil in a large nonstick pan over high heat. Get the fan going as you want to get it almost to smoking. Toss in the protein and cook, stirring frequently, for several minutes. It should brown slightly. Remove from the pan and add another teaspoon of oil. Add the vegetables, one kind at a time, and stir fry for a couple of minutes. Hard veggies such as carrots go in first and you need a little water with broccoli to steam it. Once all the veggies are cooked, add the garlic/ginger mix and then the meat. Serve over rice.

The advantage of this is that it's an easy way to gradually add new foods and the picky eater is likely to at least try some of it. I was astounded to learn that my toddlers love tofu. Not a surprise since it's soft and filling.

Finally, if you like to cook, I highly recommend the quick recipe (from Cooks Illustrated). It's a nice source of recipes adapted to busy life.


Posted by: Fairlington Blade | February 26, 2008 10:11 AM | Report abuse

The rule in our house is that the kids have to at least try everything, because it is rude to the person who worked to prepare the meal not to at least give it a shot.

Sometimes kids are just not that hungry, though. I know with my 3 year old, sometimes she won't eat foods I know she likes. When that happens, I figure she just isn't hungry and don't make an issue if she only eats 2 bites. It isn't in her best interest for me to force-feed her.

Posted by: va | February 26, 2008 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Alex - as I noted above, we weren't exactly rolling in money. I know it is hard for some around here to comprehend that, but what we were served for dinner what we had for food, period.

Posted by: ME | February 26, 2008 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Edit to the Mac & Cheese recipe. I should have said add about 3/4 of the cheese with the egg & milk.


Posted by: Fairlington Blade | February 26, 2008 10:17 AM | Report abuse

I remember a Washington Post article from about 1995 or 1996 that had some ideas for foods that kids could help make, and were therefore more willing to eat. One was kid-friendly "sushi" where kids choose their own combinations of stuff to put into the sushi roll and make the rice roll themselves.
Along the same lines, assemble your own kabobs could be a winner too.
If the kids like veggies, consider a quick saute of some of their favorites with a starch (good way to use leftover noodles or rice) and maybe some protein, then add seasonings that make it interesting (i.e. jerk seasoning or singapore seasoning or other blends that are "ethnic" but don't already have much heat/salt in them; Penzeys has a wide variety).

Posted by: ForPickyEaters | February 26, 2008 10:26 AM | Report abuse

When my kids were toddlers and came in the house hungry, I'd put some still frozen peas and or corn into a little bowl for them to eat as finger food. They'd eat it like candy and it would give me enough time to start throwing together dinner. My 11 year old still will ask for frozen corn if she's hungry after school and I'm still getting dinner ready. Added bonus, if they dont' eat all of their veggies at dinner, I know they've already had a serving.

Posted by: Veggies | February 26, 2008 10:29 AM | Report abuse

I am not sure what is up with the step-children. I was told they would eat anything and when they first started eating at our house... they did.

But then they will refuse pizza one night and then eat it the next night it is offered. It is a little confusing.

Usually two meals make it on to the table for a night. Their stepmother will make the children's food which we serve to them. It is a little weird but I consider it a good trade-off for taking her back and forth to work. My husband either eats that or eats what I have cooked for our household. Sometimes if the children refuse their mother's food, we will offer them ours. Sometimes they eat that instead, sometimes not.

The rule in our house is that they have to take 2 bites of whatever is served to them which is normally their mother's food.

What seems to be at issue is not that the youngest doesn't like the food but that she seems to need encouragement to eat. She will take 2 or 3 bites on her own and then if you feed her, she will take another few bites. After that, she doesn't eat anything and when she gets home to her mom, both her and her brother will complain that they are hungry.

It has been a little frustrating but once they say they aren't hungry, we don't force them to eat more. I have been figuring that if the kids are hungry, they will eat. I don't want the dinner table to be a battle of wills.

Posted by: Billie | February 26, 2008 10:33 AM | Report abuse

We have Ukrop's (like a Wegman's) down here, which I love. We'll often go and get a rotisserie turkey or chicken, which will provide 3 meals!

I've also discovered my son loves edamame.

Posted by: RiverCityRoller | February 26, 2008 10:40 AM | Report abuse

DO NOT make two separate dinners. No child has ever voluntarily starved to death.


This isn't true, of course, because teen children with Anorexia have starved themselves to death.

When my son was 3 he refused to eat what we made to the point he was losing weight. We tried enforcing the rules. We tried not making a big deal out of it. He'd eat the carrots and the broccoli, drink milk and leave the table. Or worse, scream at us because we didn't like to eat chicken nuggets.

At one appointment his pediatrician said his weight was down from before and that we would just have to give him the food he wanted so he'd put on the pounds. That came from his doctor.

We do two dinners and live with it. When he gets older, we'll stop, but anyone who thinks "kids will eat" is fooling themselves. Not all kids will and even young kids would rather refuse dinner than see cauliflower or the dreaded macaroni and cheese on their plate.

I want to add that my cousins, who were picky eaters, once told me that they ALWAYS ate what their mother made for them and their kids had to do the same. I reminded to them of the many incidents where their mother had to make a special dinner for them at our house, but they denied it to the end. So some of you who think your parents didn't make special dinners for you when you were 4 are just lying to yourselves. Think back and be realistic.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2008 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Oh, our darling daughter will eat anything and everything that we have. So we know it's the older one and not 100% our behavior.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2008 10:56 AM | Report abuse

My middle daughter is 10 and has always been my problem eater. She loves fruits & uncooked veggies - frozen peas that are still frozed - but protein has always been an issue. She still won't eat chicken nuggets or fish sticks, let alone the good for you stuff. Peanuts & peanut butter, and vegetarian proteins like bean & rice combinations do work, so once she has a "real" bite of whateve I serve, she can get herself one of the above options. It seems to be a texture problem.

Posted by: momof3 | February 26, 2008 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Who is in charge here? Don't prepare special extra meals for the picky eater. If they don't like what's on the table, let them starve. My mother's attitude exactly. We all had to be at the dinner table every night (no after school things, no scouts, no soccer, no band practice). If we didn't like what she prepared, we'd either eat it or wait until breakfast. Not a great choice, either. I hated cold cereal.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2008 11:21 AM | Report abuse

We try to get creative. Our kid likes flavor. No bland foods, thank you very much. She gets that from me, for sure. Some things she likes:

Spanakopita - she loves it and was one of the first finger foods we ever gave her. Tasty with spinach in it.

Smear some hummus or other veggie-based dip on a piece of wheat or grain bread and serve.

Any noodle with sauces, esp. if there is garlic.

Things I remember from a kid that got some veggies or meats in us are smearing peanut butter or cream cheese on a celery stalk. Ditto on apple slices. Smear some cream cheese on a piece of deli meat and roll into a little log and serve. Freeze grapes and serve as a popsicle type treat.

Posted by: JenRS | February 26, 2008 11:23 AM | Report abuse

"Shandra - there's a difference between forcing a child into submission and requiring a child to take a small bite of everything offered in order to 1) get various tastes and textures onto the palate; and 2) teach the child that this is what polite people do when invited to share a meal with others."

Sure, but I'm talking about the "eat or else" crowd here.

I'm not a big fan of the one bite policy either, but I think it's more rational than spanking a child to eat.

Posted by: Shandra | February 26, 2008 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Oh, for protein, you don't have to eat meat. I don't eat meat, for eg, and get lots and lots of protein from beans!!! They taste good (to me, at least) and can be incorporated creatively in a lot of different recipes.

Posted by: JenRS | February 26, 2008 11:25 AM | Report abuse

some.....interesting.......perspectives here. As a former picky eater who has morphed into a "choosy" eater, I find that picky eaters tend to be stubborn, too (lord knows of the three kids in my house, the two picky ones were the stubborn ones. The laid back one ate anything). Don't turn dinner into a battle of wills, PLEASE. "Fine, don't eat it" works way better than the old "You must eat it!" I learned pretty darn quick how to fend for myself.

Picky eaters are also usually aware that they're picky. They don't need society harping on it. I can't tell you how many times in my life people feel the need to point it out. If all I want to eat is bread, all I'm going to eat is bread, so go worry about something that actually concerns you. This drives me crazy at gatherings with my in-laws (all 100+ of them). I don't care for much of the food they have at family gatherings, and I've never been one to gorge myself, so you can imagine what holidays are like. Try as I may, its hard to stay polite after the 50th person says "WHAT?!?! You don't like green bean casserole?!?!" and then follows that up with "You need more food on that plate!" No, I don't like green bean casserole, and no, I don't need more food on my plate. I've learned to deal with my food "peculiarities" and wish people would just quickly back off about it. I bet I'm not the only one.

Posted by: wow | February 26, 2008 11:37 AM | Report abuse

wow - food peculiarities? Hon, you have a full blow eating disorder. eeesh

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2008 11:43 AM | Report abuse

My mom was a picky eater, and swore we wouldn't be.

She made it seem like we'd be missing something if we didn't try what was offered. I became the 'good' eater--my sister's okay, but not great. The only time it backfired was when I was about four and my dad gave me anchovy pizza..... :)

However, if your kids are old enough to be establishing preferences, I'd think it's too late to do this......?

Posted by: Annapolis | February 26, 2008 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Shandra - seems to me that the parents who had to resort to spanking were the ones whose child refused to eat ANYTHING other than pickles. That's not picky, it's dangerous. No child can be healthy and grow only on pickles (even kosher dills!). I'm also inclined to believe that it was more a power issue than a food issue, and sometimes a child has to lose a power battle for his/her own good. Let's not turn this into a referendum on spanking. Rather, perhaps we can agree that there are some cases where "pickiness" crosses over into "extremely unhealthy behavior" that requires stern measures and that each parent must make his/her own decision on what those measures should be.

BTW - DS#1 went on a hunger strike for a week when he was 3. We freaked. We took him to the doctor - perfectly fine. We took him to the dentist - perfectly fine. then we followed the doctors advise and ignored it. After 3 days of no special attention, he started eating again. Turns out he was angry because we came home from vacation and he wanted to stay indefinitely! And he was THREE! God help us when he's a teenager...sigh.

Posted by: two terrific boys | February 26, 2008 11:53 AM | Report abuse

I have a question for all you "force the kid to eat it" advocates: How often do you eat foods you don't like?

So why do think kids will eat foods they don't like? I was labeled "a picky eater" as a child. I'd try something new, but if I didn't like it, I didn't want to eat it. It's as simple as that.

If I was at someone else's house and they served something I didn't like, I politely said I wasn't hungry.

I ate a peanut butter sandwich for lunch every single day of elementary school. So what?

I eat a greater range of foods as an adult, but there are still a lot of things I simply don't like.

It's just mean to force someone to eat something that tastes awful. It's not going to make it taste good, they're not going to suddenly start liking it.

Have them try new things, but if they don't like the new thing, don't push it.

Posted by: picky eater, alive and well | February 26, 2008 12:07 PM | Report abuse

"wow - food peculiarities? Hon, you have a full blow eating disorder. eeesh"

Ummm, wow yourself. Even if that were true, (a) how is it anyone's business but hers, and (b) how is harping on her food choices -- by either you or her relatives -- going to help?

My mom did have an eating disorder as a child/teen. And it developed in large part from growing up in a family a lot like the one described: food was love, so unless you ate 18 helpings of everything, you must not love them enough. Which, of course, means that if you're an independent-minded person, the easiest way to rebel is to refuse to eat anything.

What "wow" wrote is exactly right: when you develop problems from living in that kind of environment, the LAST thing you need is the very people who helped create the problem turning it into even more of a power struggle. All that did was push her even further away from her family. Permanently.

Which is also why I will NEVER spank my child for not eating something. Even if it is only pickles. Sorry, twoterrificboys, I just can't agree to disagree on that. If there's a health risk, my job is to get whatever medical treatment is necessary (which, so far, has never included spanking). Short of that, I think provoking that kind of power struggle does more harm that good. If the kids are otherwise healthy, there's just no reason to get all worked up over a little kid's whim or fit of pique.

Posted by: Laura | February 26, 2008 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Given that my boys are picky in their own ways, picky eating conversations always fascinate me. I was the kid who ate everything -- I even earned free meals at restaurants because waiters would bet my parents I wouldn't eat what I'd ordered. My kids are totally the opposite. And even though I exercised a ton as a kid, I was overweight. My kids are perfectly healthy weights. I often wonder if their pickiness actually contributes to healthier eating habits in the end.

Now, for some tips:

We love tacos. The non-meat-eater can fill the shell with cheese and tomatoes. The meat eater changes his tastes regularly. He now likes us to "hide" a few tomatoes in his taco so he can find them.

Agree with other posters about making individual pizzas. Trader Joe's pizza dough and pizza sauce make that really easy.

Edamame with salt is a big hit.

A few drops of honey for dipping unwanted vegetables sometimes works.

Often when we cook, we take a portion of the food out and cook a plainer version since our kids can't stand sauces or spice (no hummus or ranch dressing dipping!). So, when lemon chicken goes into the oven (slice lemons in pan, top with mixed up chicken, cut-up red potatoes, tomatoes, rosemary, a little oil and a little lemon juice; then bake) we pull out two drumsticks and bake them next to it. I made curry shrimp with peas last week and pulled some shrimp out ahead of time and boiled them. Though some may think of this as cooking two dinners, it doesn't feel like it when we're cooking.

And we'll often put out a tray of raw veggies while we're cooking dinner.

Also, we try to have something on the table the kids like, particularly when we know what we're making isn't a favorite. Often, it's simple: some yogurt, rice, bread, small containers of applesauce. We try to get them to take one bite of the food we make, but if it becomes a battle, we let it go.

I have noticed our kids tend to eat better earlier in the day, too. Given that they eat a good mix of healthy proteins, veggies and fruit at breakfast, lunch and snacks, dinner has worried me less and less lately.

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | February 26, 2008 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Someone asked if people would like being forced to try new foods if they were a guest in someone else's house... I think this is part of the deal when you eat a meal someone else has prepared. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and be polite in order to live in society. I remember as a kid having friends who were rude at meals and made disparaging comments about the food or refused to try it- you'd better believe they didn't get another invitation to stay for dinner!

There is a lot of space between forcing your children to eat an entire meal they hate and catering to them all the time, though. I know for my daughter that if there's something she really hates to eat, I make sure there's something else at the meal she likes okay so she can just eat around the thing she dislikes. And if I'm making a meal exclusively for her (like lunch), of course I'm going to fix something she likes.

FWIW, I was very picky as a kid but I'm not anymore. I think I became much less picky when, as a teenager, my parents just gave up and let me eat dinner in peace without making comments about how many bites I had eaten of every food on my plate.

Posted by: reston, va | February 26, 2008 12:17 PM | Report abuse

"Also, acron asked, How would you like it if you went to someone's house and were forced to take a bite of everything they served you? Actually, it must be the Italian in me, because I would absolutely try everything, so as not to offend the host! They are not, I am certain, feeding me poison. "

Amen. If someone is not going to be a grateful guest at my home, then they most certainly are not going to be invited back. If I have worked to prepare a meal, dang straight I expect people to at least try it. Didn't your momma teach you any manners, acron??

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2008 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I haven't read all the comments, but I do echo the who is in charge here comments.

We have two kids, both of whom usually eat well. The younger one is the 'pickier' one, though - he's not yet 3, tho, so no surprise. We put food on the table, and they eat or they don't. There are times they both don't. So then they get to eat for breakfast. That's that. If you don't show them the food, they never will learn what's good for them. I mean, really, do you want to show them that chicken nuggets is appropriate nightly?

I do agree with the let them help you cook thing. Definitely works. And I try to sneak healthy stuff into other things (like, soups, I'll put wheat germ or things like that, grate veggies into their eggs, that sorta thing).
Before dinner I will put cut up vegetables on the table. If they tell me they are hungry, that's what they get. If they don't want it, well, then they weren't hungry enough and they're not getting anything else.
So they usually snack on them.
My sister was *appalled* that I did not have chicken nuggets in my house when she came to visit - she actually went to the grocery store to get them for her kid.

But really. It's fine if they skip meals. They really won't starve to death. Really.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | February 26, 2008 12:49 PM | Report abuse

No, we don't bribe. No we don't take away privileges, etc. They eat or they don't and we don't make a big deal about it. Seriously, unless a doctor says they are malnourished, don't worry about it. At all.

But every night when the younger one asks for candy - I do say: no, you didn't eat dinner (he only asks cause his older brother asks).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | February 26, 2008 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Laura - I too would never spank a child over food. That said, we weren't there, we don't know the details, and I for one won't presume to judge the parents who *were* there and had to make a decision. I'm glad that your family (and mine) has the resources to get "whatever medical treatment is necessary", but, as is so often pointed out on this board, not every family is so lucky. I'm a firm believer in "pick your battles", but I interpret that to mean that you do actually have to choose some battles to fight. I choose to believe, perhaps overly optimistically, that those parents believed this was a battle they needed to win for their child's continued wellbeing.

Posted by: two terrific boys | February 26, 2008 12:52 PM | Report abuse

There is a website called that has very easy recipes. The put together a weekly recipe and grocery list to make things very easy, if you're so inclined. I've done several of their recipes. The family favorite is curry chicken divan, which my 13 month old loves. It's a casserole, which I know some people hate, but I love them!

1 lb bag of frozen broccoli florets, thawed
as much meat off a rotisserie chicken that you want
1 can of cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup shredded cheddar
1 cup mayo
2 T lemon juice
1 T curry powder
1/2 bag dried stuffing mix

Layer broccoli and chicken in a 9x17 baking dish. Melt the cheese into the soup. Mix the remaining ingredients except stuffing into the cheese/soup mix. Layer sauce onto broccoli/chicken. Top with stuffing mix. Bake at 350 until bubbly.

I love the slow cooker red chicken recipe. You can also just throw a chuck roast into a slow cooker with a bottle of BBQ sauce.

My favorite fish recipe: Mix equal part dijon, mayo, and parm cheese. Spread over white fish filet. Broil until browned.

Easy tomato bean soup: Chopped and saute a small onion and 5 cloves of garlic. Add 28oz small white beans, 28oz crushed tomatoes, 28oz chicken stock. Bring to a boil and throw in a bag of baby spinach leaves. This is great with grilled cheese.

Posted by: atb2 | February 26, 2008 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Yes, you can be fine just eating pickles. It's not like it's years, it's weeks. My nephew never ate well, from BIRTH. He didn't take a bottle well, he would go for three days only eating a tiny frozen pancake, he'd eat a can of corn then not eat for two or three days. It really did drive my sister crazy. But he's fine now. The doctor kept telling them not to worry he was gaining weight (how, we'll never know!) he was growing well, it's not a problem.

This was the kid who didn't want to sleep, so he would throw up every night. Yes, it's possible something else was going on - but ya know, they never figured it out and he's fine.

Posted by: atlmom | February 26, 2008 1:12 PM | Report abuse

" "Also, acron asked, How would you like it if you went to someone's house and were forced to take a bite of everything they served you? Actually, it must be the Italian in me, because I would absolutely try everything, so as not to offend the host! They are not, I am certain, feeding me poison. "

Amen. If someone is not going to be a grateful guest at my home, then they most certainly are not going to be invited back. If I have worked to prepare a meal, dang straight I expect people to at least try it. Didn't your momma teach you any manners, acron??"

Is it more mannerly to politely refuse to taste something you don't like or to be a "grateful guest" and eat something that makes you vomit?

I have never eaten with others where there has only been one item served. I will take what I like and pass on the things I don't like, in a polite way. I have always been invited back.

Posted by: just wondering | February 26, 2008 1:18 PM | Report abuse

twoterrificboys, that's a nice post. I do agree that the parents clearly think they are doing what's best for their kids. But I guess I'm just a tech sensitive on the subject, given my mother's history. Her parents, with all the good intentions in the world, also believed that her not eating "enough" was a battle they needed to win. But they were wrong, and that mistake was incredibly destructive to both my mother's emotional health and to their long-term relationship. Because the only way they could "win" was to break her will -- and she would have starved herself before she let that happen. And they never saw that it was their own decision to turn the dinner table into a power struggle that must be "won" that created the problem.

When I read some of the posts today, about forcing kids to eat, or about spanking over pickles, I don't doubt their good intentions -- but I do question whether that's the best way to handle it.

I also wonder if that isn't giving just as much power to the kids as those who go to the other extreme and become short-order cooks. I mean, if you know, as a 5-yr-old, that you can make Daddy blow his fuse just by not eating your peas, wouldn't that make you feel pretty darn powerful? You may be so much smaller and insignificant, but boy, you just poke him with that one little stick, and wow, does he jump pretty high. I see this in my daughter: she usually behaves better for me than for my husband, because she knows she's not going to get a rise out of me (well, most of the time. :-) ). "Picking your battles" doesn't have to be turning everything into a fight, or berating a kid, or punishing, etc. It just means establishing clear, consistent consequences and calmly executing them (like, for us, if you're not hungry enough to eat your healthy food, you sure can't be hungry enough to have candy an hour later).

Posted by: Laura | February 26, 2008 1:22 PM | Report abuse

A refusal is always more gracious when it is included in a compliment "I'd love to, it looks delicious but unfortunately, it doesn't agree with me."

This is really not much different than refusing food because of allergies.

Of course, there is a distinction between just not wanting to try something new and actually already knowing that you don't like it.

Posted by: just wondering | February 26, 2008 1:22 PM | Report abuse

There's a big spectrum between "don't like it" and "makes me vomit." I could always choke back a dreaded glass of milk, but it was really disgusting. I'm sure there are people whose taste buds, sense of smell, or texture receptors are so sensitive that they vomit, but I'm guessing it's a tiny minority. Children do have sensitivities about food, which is why I'll never serve my child's friends liver or brussel sprouts, but they may well get chicken and broccoli and rice.

Posted by: atb | February 26, 2008 1:27 PM | Report abuse

There is a troll here who is posting jokes about demanding kids eat certain things. Do not feed the troll. They aren't being serious, so leave their quotes alone.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2008 1:34 PM | Report abuse

I eat almost anything and the things I don't care much for? If put on my plate when a guest... I will generally eat it for politeness sake.

One thing I can't eat because it will actually make me feel sick is tripe (panza or pancetta). It is not a taste thing as you can't really taste it. It is totally a texture thing and makes me want to throw up. A friend of ours didn't realize that I didn't like it and served it. I didn't realize that it had panza in it and started to eat it. It tasted great right up until I chewed on a piece of panza. I got that piece of panza down and picked the rest of it out and gave it to my husband. When it was obvious that I was picking it out, I simply said, I am sorry. The dish is delicious but I don't like the texture of panza and can't eat it.

I think the key is how you handle it as a guest. I have been invited numerous occasions to this person's house and have complimented her on her cooking so I already had a relationship with her. At this point, it was probably obvious that it was simply something I really didn't like.

I don't know what I would have done if this was my first visit to this house. This is seriously one food that literally makes me almost vomit when I bite into it. There is no being polite and just eating it. But I think even then politely saying that you can't eat it (but you love everything else) it not going to prevent you from being invited back. I would think that repeatedly refusing food or being obnoxious about your refusal would likely end up with you not being invited back.

Posted by: Billie | February 26, 2008 1:36 PM | Report abuse

"I could always choke back a dreaded glass of milk, but it was really disgusting"

This was a friend of mine, then as an adult she discovered she was lactose intolerant - she believes that because it was making her slightly sick her reaction to it was not being picky but her body saying "don't make me sick" even though she couldn't pinpoint it at the time. Another reason to not make food a battle ground.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2008 1:37 PM | Report abuse

This reminds me of a local restauranteur. He hated authority and always battled with his parents over food and other issues. He ran away from home multiple times, finally quitting school at 14 and living in an abandoned building. He reconciled with his parents and opened his first restaurant when he was 18 and his first bar at 24 and now owns several places. I remember telling him over and over to get his GED and go to college. He didn't and his tenacious, independent streak has served him very well in life.

Who's in charge here? asked one of the trolls? Well, the guy with the most employees working for his company wins.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2008 1:39 PM | Report abuse

My mom was wonderful in letting me have my own meals- this may have been due to the fact that I WAS a sickly and underweight child and just wouldn't eat food I didn't like. I didn't make a tantrum, it just wasn't what I could eat. We later found out it was an ear/nose/throat connected issue.

But I remain picky. I'm not sure why people think if you don't eat things at home that you'll be a rude guest. My mom knew to feed me well before going out to others- not only because most hosts are sucky about being on time and I got sick and had migraines if I didn't keep on a schedule, but also so I wouldn't have to feel bad about not eating tons of stuff I didn't like AND still be hungry. I knew to try at least some of everything, force it down and then be quiet.

I DID have many a hungry day on field trips when lunches were provided because it wasn't anything I could eat.

People who make this into some sort of servicing kids battle just don't seem to get it. As soon as I could make stuff that I enjoyed for myself, I did. No big deal. My mom specifically taught me the few dishes I loved and was more than happy to let me make it and clean it for the family once a week.

I would throw out a suggestion to not limit what you THINK kids will like- very rare steak? sushi? breakfast for dinner? It's not about catering to the kids needs, it's about realizing that there are a lot of options out there and it's silly to say "You can only enjoy the foods we will provide for you, and we're only going to provide the foods we already like."

Posted by: Liz D | February 26, 2008 2:04 PM | Report abuse

I don't care for ham, but if it was served at a relatives house, I had to eat at least a small slice. I used to cut it up and eat it with my mashed potatoes, or other veggy, and managed to get it down.

Posted by: ME | February 26, 2008 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the recipes, cookbook and Web site suggestions. I'll give each a shot. I'm especially looking forward to "make you own" pizza night. I know we'll have a lot of fun with that.

I'm mainly concerned about protein and breaking the cycle of serving processed foods such as hot dogs (even the healthy versions are full of chemicals) and chicken nuggets. I'll quit buying the crap (admonishments accepted) and work on the aforementioned suggestions.

We recently discovered that my son likes to dip in ketchup. So be it. That's fine with me. (Even if his mother once told me when we first started dating, I swear, that "mustard is the superior vinegar-based condiment," which I found charming.)

And don't worry, we ARE in charge. I think maybe we fall into a two-dinner philosophy during the infant/toddler years, when there's a need to ensure that the baby gets nourishment. Then it becomes routine. Time to break out of that mold.

We do push the "one bite" policy, too, with limited success, but we'll keep on it.

Having grown up with a picky sibling, the "eat or go to your room" philosophy doesn't really sit well with me. It wasn't at all pleasant to be a party to it, even when I was the non-offending party. I'm definitely into trying different tacks.

Thanks a bunch.

Posted by: Mike | February 26, 2008 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Protein doesn't have to come in the form of meat and tofu. Don't forget dairy and beans and nuts. We do our best to get fat and protein in our child, since carbs are so easy to get. We try to do the same for our diets.

Posted by: atb | February 26, 2008 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Both of my kids have particular likes and dislikes, which we try not to push too hard. I don't want to create power issues around food. However, I also don't want to cook two meals. So I try to incorporate some things I know they will eat. Additionally, I have a couple of sneaky recipes that I use to get some extra vitamins in them. I make pesto at home with an equal mix of spinach and basil. They eat it with pasta, rice, and on whole wheat pizza. I also roast veggies (carrots, zucchini, eggplant, peppers), whir them up, and cook them into a regular red sauce that they will eat on all sorts of foods. Oh, and we've found that humus and tapenade are both great ways to get them to eat other foods. We let them have, in general, one junk thing a day -- a cookie or a small serving of ice cream. Otherwise, we try not to keep crackers, cookies, chips, and other stuff like that in the house. And we try to remember, as others have said, that children will eat when they're hungry and they'll eat what's available.

Posted by: amoroma | February 26, 2008 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Mike, I realized no one has mentioned that whole grains contain protein. They do!

Posted by: Shandra | February 26, 2008 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Roasted I am hungry!

Posted by: ME | February 26, 2008 3:53 PM | Report abuse

This topic drives me NUTS - I was a picky eater as a child, and my husband was worse. Now although we both eat most things, my husband still REFUSES to eat fish - even after heart bypass surgery.

My kids are both picky too - esp 14-y.o. daughter who eats like a 4 year old. I made sweet potato fries the other night, and put ONE on her plate. You would have thought I was trying to poison her! I blame myself to a certain extent... when she was little, I only gave her "kid-friendly" foods, so that's all she eats. We have friends who, from a very young age, gave their daughter whatever they were eating (ethnic restaurants, etc) and she eats EVERYTHING.

Also - our son's recent blood test came back w/high cholesterol - he's 10 and not overweight. We kept a food diary for the past week, and sent it to the nutritionist for suggestions. I dread to hear what she will say. He's not as picky as his sister, but his diet is not exactly varied.

As to "I don't want that," if they want something other than what I'm making they have to fix it themselves. That does cut down on some of it. Also, if I'm making something with sauce (which my daughter will not touch in any form), I do make a plain version for her.

Posted by: Loren | February 26, 2008 4:23 PM | Report abuse

I was a picky eater as a kid and I have some suggestions that I use with my own kid:

Try not to mention all the time that she's picky. In my case it sort of became part of my identity and that made me less motivated to try anything.

If she tries something and doesn't like it, drop the subject. My mom would wheedle and coax "You like it but you won't admit it! You didn't really try it!" She tried this with my daughter once and I put a stop to it.

If she likes something, don't use this as leverage to browbeat her into trying more stuff. I remember resisting trying something because if I liked it, I would have to hear "See! See! I told you you'd like it! Don't you wish you'd tried so-and-so! Think of all you've been missing!" Who wants to hear that? And I am NOT exaggerating. Therefore I offer food to my daughter but don't make a big deal about her not liking something (although I have pointed out that Daddy and I are eating it and haven't died; in fact we got seconds). I know better. I do tell her she needs to eat "good" food to get dessert (usually a cookie) because it's not healthy to eat sweeties without having eaten nutritious food first.

Posted by: Angela | February 26, 2008 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Ah, the picky eater! I am dealing this right now with my 2 year old. And the whole "one bite" thing just made her fight me harder, so I am in with the folks who say not to push it.

Some of the postings are just not feasible for those of us who work full time. But I do try to make 2 or 3 meals on the weekend to serve through the week.

A few things I've found my daughter can handle:

1) Any kind of veggie soup, but especially with alphabet noodles in it (since she's 2 and loves letters these days);

2) I have an eggplant parmesan recipe that's either from Cooking Light or Weight Watchers. Just layer pasta sauce (I use fire roasted tomato), eggplant, parmesan, and low-fat mozzarella. I call it "eggplant pizza", and this works on my daughter.

3) Tacos -- I just mix ground chicken or tickey with taco seasoning, serve with tortillas, cheese, beans (she loves beans), sour cream, and salsa. She doesn't like the salsa, but the beans are a definite plus for her.

I am thinking of getting Deceptively Delicious, too. Not to replace the veggies I serve, but to add to the meals I make so I don't worry so much about whether she's getting enough veggies.

And I'm with one poster earlier -- my daughter has limited interest in fruit. Fresh berries, sometimes, and that's about it.

Posted by: DC Mom | February 26, 2008 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Raising a picky eater is the parents fault. You want to turn yourself into a short order cook for kids, that's on YOU. In our home, eat it or you can wait til next meal. Amazing how hunger overcomes pickyness.

Posted by: PWAA | February 26, 2008 5:22 PM | Report abuse

"Is it more mannerly to politely refuse to taste something you don't like or to be a "grateful guest" and eat something that makes you vomit?"

Oh please. Nobody's talking about vomiting. If you need to resort to hyperbole to attempt to make a point, then it's a pretty weak point. If someone makes a meal, and you are a guest, and you are not deathly allergic to it, then yes, you should at least sample it. There is not much that can make an adult vomit. If it makes you vomit, then you can rightfully say that you have a food intolerance to it. If not, then again I ask - did your momma teach you any manners, justwondering?

Posted by: To justwondering | February 26, 2008 5:47 PM | Report abuse

What I'm missing above in the comments is this: if you ever were forced to eat a food you honestly hated as a kid, do you actually eat it now, when you have a choice? I know very few people who will -- it's the first sign of independence to reject all those peas and carrots you loathed as a kid.

My 2 sons are both very picky. From the beginning, we discussed with our pediatricians, and they've always advised us against forcing anything. Find the nutritious things the kids like, make those available at all times, then supplement with multivitamins for any deficiencies. Over the course of a week, kids generally eat nutritiously -- just sometimes not today or tomorrow. My 7 year old is starting to voluntarily try new stuff and incorporate it into his diet. Over time, he'll try more & grow more into a more exotic menu. It took my husband well into college to experiment with new foods.

Finally, here's a cautionary tale: my parents forced me to eat fish when I was a kid. Every Thursday night was fish night, and I hated it. I said it made my throat feel funny, and they told me I was making that up. I remember many nights sitting stubbornly at the table refusing to eat. I learned to make my own hamburger when I was about 7, when they finally realized I wasn't ever going to give in. We discovered when I was 11 that I had a severe food allergy to fish (hives in the throat made my throat feel funny). It got progressively worse -- I'm now likely to go into anaphalaxic shock if I eat more than a small piece of fish (and that will make me writhe in pain for several hours). Imagine how my parents feel about forcing me to eat fish now.

Posted by: Parent of 2 picky ones | February 26, 2008 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Actually yes.

I refused broccoli and now eat it all the time.

I refused lentil soup and I eat it when I'm in a hurry for dinner.

It's called "maturing."

Posted by: To Parent of 2 picky ones | February 26, 2008 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Yes, my momma did teach me manners, which is why I "politely" refuse certain foods. There are those that I don't particularly care for that I will eat in small amounts, and then there are those I won't eat at all. Nothing will ever persuade my husband to eat liver or me to eat raw oysters :). Do you expect vegetarians to eat meat if it is part of the meal?

On the other side, as a hostess, I would not be upset if someone didn't eat the food I served unless they didn't eat anything. When I have guests, I tend to serve lots of sides so that people will have a choice. I think it is unmannerly to expect people to eat something they don't like.

I was not a particularly picky child, and I still don't eat the foods that I was forced to eat. I offer food they have refused in the past but I don't force them to eat anything.

My pickiness was not always about taste. Different items of food on my plate could not touch and I could never mix things together - I could eat corn and string beans, but never a little of each on the same fork.

Posted by: just wondering | February 26, 2008 6:54 PM | Report abuse

So...there have been a lot of suggestions. I would recommend Ellyn Satter's books to Mike, she's a nutritionist who has strategies about how to raise healthy eaters. She suggests avoiding food battles and keeping healthy food available. I haven't been able to do all that she says but I hear her on backing off from confrontation. You've already got ideas for homemade pizza and others -- re: tacos, we too use ground turkey and we *skip* the spice packet (my DD won't eat with). We just add garlic (she loves) and a little broth, and a can of black beans. Then we serve with salsa and diced green chilies so adults can add flavor. My DD really loves just black beans and cheese. If your kid is a bean eater this is great protein. Also, if your kid will eat rotisserie chickens that's easy. My child will eat homemade enchiladas from the leftover breast meat (take corn tortillas, fry quickly in oil, add refried black beans/cheese/shredded chicken and roll, put green mild salsa on top and cook at 350 till melts). My kid's not super adventurous and these are her faves for now. She also really likes (?!) Trader Joe's masala sauce. It's not too spicy for her. re: hotdogs, you can get healthy ones w/o chemicals if you get meat from Polyface Farms of Omnivore's Dilemma fame which is doable if you live in the DC area. Finally, re: vegetables, search for The Great Big Vegetable Challenge so your child can meet up with Freddie. They are trying all veggies from A to Z and it's a sweet site. My child's really excited about the concept (and she is also about 5). HTH

MamaBird from

Posted by: MamaBird | February 26, 2008 9:38 PM | Report abuse

On the adult thing- there are a few things I learned to enjoy. My mom about fainted when I told her I liked caeser salads. I love onions, mushrooms when cooked and a few other things. My partner is very good about being patient but occasionally nudging me to be adventurous with a new food type or style- it works well for us.

On the whole though, I'm still an incredibly picky eater, not only with the food type, but the preparation and presentation, and will take full liberty whenever I can at home. Meeting the family over the holidays isn't an issue- knowing whether I'll really be able to enjoy any of the feast is.

And another issue comes up as an adult- alcohol. I don't like it. I tried it plenty in college because it was free for the most part and I wanted to try them all to SEE if I liked any. It can be quite awkward when everyone around you is drinking, or ordering a very nice wine with dinner, or a toast, and you just don't want it. Again, I'll often end up trying to take a small glass and just have a sip to appease and not make a fuss.

Adults really DO push everyone to be like they are and can't handle any sort of real individuality.

Posted by: Liz D | February 26, 2008 9:59 PM | Report abuse


Thanks for a terrific, though-provoking post. I can't think of a topic that has provoked so many interesting comments.

I am struggling with a newly picky toddler who refuses to eat veggies. Pleased to say that he loved my butternut squash risotto. Ya never know. So, I have hopes that I can get some green stuff down his throat.

We are a two meal family at the moment, mostly because our toddlers usually have their dinner before we get home. I try to make meals for them that are filling, tasty, and nutgr

For us, I am a bit more adventurous. I like sushi and spicy curries. I wouldn't dream of giving my sons nigiri or vindaloo. We also enjoy having a relaxing meal on our own after the kids go to bed. So, it's extra work at times, but I know my sons are eating well and we have a meal we enjoy. If you judge me negatively on that basis, so be it. This is MY FAMILY and it is MY CHOICE. Well, our choice.

Posted by: Fairlington Blade | February 26, 2008 10:42 PM | Report abuse

"If you judge me negatively on that basis, so be it. This is MY FAMILY and it is MY CHOICE."

Wow, I can already imagine some of the things your future daughter(s)-in-law will be saying one day .........

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2008 11:55 PM | Report abuse

Liz D- I hope your individuality is about more than just being picky. That's quite a broad brush you've got there re: all adults. Speak for yourself.

DC Mom- I work full time, too. What exactly can't be done that was posted? I shoot for meals that take no more than about 15 minutes of hands-on prep on week nights. I do most of the prep on the weekends.

Posted by: atb | February 27, 2008 7:38 AM | Report abuse

atb I was thinking that too about the prep - I work full time and I didn't see anything I couldn't do during the week either.

momoftwo - Laura said it better than I could have. I want my son to grow up listening to his body and not to the pressures around him. I think this is entirely possible to do and still instill respect and good manners - beginning by my showing him respect for his tastes. I don't short-order cook, but I don't see my role as forcing him to eat anything either. If he had a medical condition of course we'd have to address that.

I popped back in mostly to say thanks for this topic - my son is not picky but we made homemade pizza last night instead of the pasta I'd planned and had A BALL. :-)

Posted by: Shandra | February 27, 2008 8:42 AM | Report abuse

My mildly autistic son will not eat anything "mixed texture" except pizza. I have NO idea why pizza gets a pass, but it does. Otherwise, he will only eat plain, unsauced firm muscle meats (lamb, beef, chicken, pork), he will eat chicken nuggets (his absolute favorite food, actually) plain spaghetti with butter (but no other shape of pasta - go figure). He eats green beans, corn, and can be forced to eat cut-up pieces of broccoli stem. No other veggies. He eats pears, apples, bananas, watermelon (with the seeds, even the white ones, very meticulously removed) and mangos - no other fruits. Are you getting a theme here? He won't touch any starch but french fries, crackers, chips, or white bread: no mashed potatoes, no rice, no stuffing, no couscous.

Luckily, I can ordinarily reserve for him some of what we're all eating before it is "sauced" or otherwise made interesting. I can roast a chicken. He loves a good steak. But my other two kids are the duke and duchess of EAT IT ALL, so we're pretty spectacular about well-balanced, diverse meals - with the exception of always needing to leave something very plain for the bland boy. Worst case scenario I make him some nuggets out of the freezer for his main dish if we're having something he won't touch (which is a lot of things). But we manage. Since his intake is really very good for the type of restrictive eating that a lot of autistic kids have, we're really very lucky and his diet is very good. He also likes to bake, and when he helps make something he's more inclined to eat it (indeed, that might account for the pizza - he loves to help make pizza).

But the technical term for a kid who will not, on pain of death, try anything new (and who eats fewer than 20 things) is a neophobe. Now if you genuinely want to feel lucky about what your kid eats, take a gander at some of the websites devoted to this problem, reasonably common among those who are not "neurotypical," and see how hard it can be.

Posted by: badmommy | February 27, 2008 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Give up the battle. Just hide the good stuff in whatever they will eat. Buy the book, Deceptively Delicious and Sneaky Chef. Best tip: Put a can of navy beans in the food processor and combine it with the spaghettios or tomato sauce or mac/cheese. Kid will never know.

I know this, you won't win the battle. Not worth it.

Posted by: jm | February 27, 2008 9:47 AM | Report abuse

fr jm:

>...Put a can of navy beans in the food processor and combine it with the spaghettios or tomato sauce or mac/cheese. Kid will never know.

I am SO sorry, but that idea definitely hits the EWWWW factor with me!

Posted by: Alex | February 27, 2008 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Our biggest challenges involve our child's friends. She eats a broad range of foods; her friends all seem to be in the "plain buttered noodles with a little pre-ground cheese" camp. It's also pretty clear that none of these kids have been taught the "try a bite of everything because it's the polite thing to do" rule.

What has been the most successful is to have them build their own pizzas. We pick up dough from Trader Joe's, provide 4-5 different topping options, and everyone gets what they want on their own personal pizza.

We still have plenty of dinners when our child decides that she doesn't like something. Our fall-back is to open a box of tofu for her or provide a yogurt. Both are healthy options but too boring for her to decide she wants them every night instead of trying to enjoy the family dinner.

Posted by: Herndonmom | February 27, 2008 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Hey ATB- well it doesn't help that I was shunned for being "gay" when I was 8 so I got a lesson really hard and really early on about how it's not cool to be "different."

I am bisexual, polyamorous (multiple intimate simultaneous relationships), very kinky switch, philosophy major, no desire to marry or bear kids but adores her nephews. So I deal with a lot of issues that most adults think are 'bad' or 'wrong' just because it's not their white bread version of how to life a happy fulfilled life.

I wouldn't be surprised if I were indeed a bit oversensitive and overattentive to that issue.

Posted by: Liz D | February 27, 2008 2:25 PM | Report abuse

I didn't read all of the comments, and who knows if anyone will read this, but although I do not have picky eaters, I do have a nephew who is. My sister's saving grace is her blender. He will eat smoothies with no problem, and you will not believe what you can put in one! There are several good books on smoothies, and you can put so many veggies in them.

Also, my friend put silken tofu in her marinara sauce. It turns it a slight orange color, but very good.

Posted by: smoothie queen | February 28, 2008 8:13 AM | Report abuse

TO LIZ D -- "I am bisexual, polyamorous (multiple intimate simultaneous relationships), very kinky switch, philosophy major, no desire to marry or bear kids but adores her nephews. So I deal with a lot of issues that most adults think are 'bad' or 'wrong' just because it's not their white bread version of how to life a happy fulfilled life.

I wouldn't be surprised if I were indeed a bit oversensitive and overattentive to that issue."

Well, now this statement really explains a lot..... and the reason you deal with "lot of issues that most adults think are 'bad' or 'wrong'" is because they ARE wrong. I surely do hope your nephews don't have too much exposure to your lifestyle....

Posted by: Anonymous | February 28, 2008 8:21 AM | Report abuse

I am firmly in the camp that believes you have to make an effort -- serving a variety of healthy foods, using the one-bite rule -- to encourage kids to be flexible eaters. Kids do not like change, as a rule. They like what is familiar, so it is in the nature of many to be picky unless adults intervene.

A few points regarding what has already been posted. It makes no sense to say that children will indeed starve themselves, because if they wouldn't there would be no anorexics. Here is the fact: a *healthy* child will not starve him/herself. we are hard-wired for survival and that includes eating. If you have a child who truly will starve themselves, and yes, I know some will, that child is unfortunately not healthy and needs medical attention.

A child with autism is in a different category. It is impossible for a neurotypical person to realize the different sensory experiences that a person with autism has. In the case of a child with autism and food, you just do your best, like a mom who posted above is doing.

For those who think that all picky kids eventually outgrow it, they don't. This link was included in a Post story about a year and a half ago about adult picky eaters.

Read what the founder of the group has to say to picky children.

Posted by: Oakton | February 28, 2008 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Liz D- Perhaps people are put off by TMI, in which case you'll be limited to friends who also enjoy TMI. Just because your grandpa (or sister or neighbor) doesn't want to hear about it doesn't make him (them) opposed to individuality. But you are clearly attached to your kinky label, which you're convinced makes you a "real" individual, unlike the "rest of us" who are, what? Boring and white bread. Do you really see anyone who's not on the fringe as the same? I also find it odd that a kinky girl would have issues with food! I've always marveled at the lack of gag reflex in porn stars, given some of the nasty stuff they do.

Posted by: atb | February 28, 2008 11:05 AM | Report abuse

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