Ask the Readers: Handling Picky Eaters

It’s been a while since we’ve Asked the Readers. Please, help us out in the comments!

What is your favourite trick for tempting a picky child at mealtime?

I was quietly ecstatic when my kids first took to solid food. Fish, spinach, fennel—they loved them all. I thought they were set for a lifetime of adventurous eating. I hadn’t read far enough into child development books, though.

At around age 2, kids tend to get pickier in their eating habits. It makes sense. The hunter-gatherer argument is a compelling one. 2-year-olds stop putting anything and everything in their mouths, including many foods, because that is the age they would start straying farther from their mothers in hunter-gatherer societies. This pickiness is a survival instinct that lasts until they are old enough to make mature choices regarding what is safe to eat.

Whether their pickiness is explainable or not, picky eaters present an enormous challenge to parents. When M was at her pickiest, she could go two days on nothing but milk if nothing struck her fancy. I worried that she would starve. She’s only recently begun enjoying food again.

Please share how you deal (or would deal) with picky eaters.

8 thoughts on “Ask the Readers: Handling Picky Eaters

  1. One of my twins is super picky about food and incredibly stubborn, but we recently introduced “Cheers!” to the boys, where we showed them how to toast their cups and drink, so we extended it to food. We “cheers” the forks full of food, ours with theirs, and then they eat it. Makes dinnertime last forever, but then, so does eating with toddlers.

  2. I have a very picky eater. She won’t even try something if it looks different from what she has tried before. I instituted a one bite rule. She has to try one bite and then she can stop eating. Sometimes she takes a bite and wants to spit it out. Most times she takes a bite and ends up liking whatever it is. I refuse to make something separate for her, so she knows she either eats or she doesn’t. I’ll give her credit… she is definitely starting to try more things.

  3. My girls will be three in January, and [KNOCK ON WOOD], they still eat just about everything we eat.

    My philosophy to date has been, they’ll eat when they’re hungry. Particularly if I’m serving something new (like chili, for example), I will serve it with a veggie that I know they’ll like (even though I wouldn’t normally serve broccoli with chili). And I always serve fruit at every meal. I do not offer my girls an alternative.

    That way, if someone doesn’t like the chili, they still have the broccoli and fruit to eat.

    I think this helps keep the emotion — and any kind of “power struggle” — out of the equation.

    There are a couple of things that my girls just don’t like (B seems not to like pasta lately), but probably 95% of the time, they come around to eating what’s served when they realize that’s what’s for dinner.

    The only other advice I have is try, try, try again…I’ve read it can take up to 15 times of trying a new food to develop a taste for it. This was definitely true when our girls were younger, and I continue to think about that today.

  4. I completely agree with MandyE! If your child is hungry enough, they will eat. Don’t force it! Provide healthy options and let them be. You don’t control how much they eat, but what they eat. Be good examples yourselves of eating healthy, balanced meals, and keep introducing new foods and doing it early! I also love the idea of not making something different because they won’t eat what everyone else is having for dinner. We as parents should be in control of running our house, not our children.

  5. My kids are 19m, so we’re not totally into the pickiness, but I can see it coming, especially with my daughter. So far my dinner philosophy is this: we all eat the same food, but we don’t eat the same food my husband and I ate pre-babies. Fewer spices, since our kids clearly need time to adjust to them; mushier, easier-to-eat veggies for now; added occasional kid-faves like mac-and-cheese; removed choking hazards like nuts and really hard-to-chew foods. But it’s not like the kids’ menu at most restaurants: they don’t get pizza, pasta, hot dogs, mac-and-cheese every night (which is what they’d prefer). Occasionally if they’ve attempted a dinner but clearly just didn’t like the taste of it, I’ll give them some hummus or other healthy, dinner-appropriate food as a filler–no Cheerios or graham crackers at dinner. It allows me to slowly expand their palates while still maintaining balanced diet for all of us.

  6. Thanks for the post and comments. My twins turn 2 in 10 days, and I must say, the picky eating is getting worse. They almost eat nothing anymore. I am with the “they’ll eat when hungry” group – but it always seems to happen when we are out and I don’t have healthy meal-type foods! When the Food Theme Week was announced, this was the question I had on my mind. Thanks for asking it Sadia.

  7. Natasha, I used the “eat when hungry” technique, but slightly differently than you. Food was available to the kids at meal- and snack-times, but only then. They very quickly learned that they would be hungry if they chose not to eat what we offered, when we offered it. Yes, they went to bed without dinner with some frequency, but now that the picky period is drawing to a close, they still know that mealtime is mealtime, and it makes schedules and expectations easier to manage.

  8. Sadia,

    I see your point. It’s the same with milk for them. Everything’s all over the place. I have to be more organised and more strict on these things. Not so easy when everyone in the household is on a slightly different schedule. The changes have to be made though if I want to make sure they eat well though. Thanks for the response.

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