Best way to roast the broomstick. Must try. Five Stars.

Here’s where my mom brings up the apples and peanut butter

It should surprise no one who has read this site for any length of time that my older child does not like food. It started when she was eighteen months old with a three-day hunger strike and continues to this day: she won’t eat bread, certain kinds of pizza, or cake. Don’t even bring up the name of a vegetable. Fruit? Are you crazy? Fruit has taste which is the number one property of disgusting!

So after many months of fighting a losing battle, I decided to disengage. It wasn’t worth it anymore, the screaming and crying and multiple skipped meals. Her pediatrician advised this course of action, and I think it was the right one to take at the time. I was so out of my mind with frustration that one night I found myself trying to force open her mouth with one hand while trying to shove a spoonful of applesauce in with the other. A quick one, two! Except it was a little less jovial than that! Yes, a tad bit less jaunty and more like the inspiration for the title of her tortured memoir:

Force Fed Applesauce: One Woman’s Journey Through the Hell of Being the Daughter of a Mommyblogger.

Ever since then I have been that awful parent who fixes her child a separate meal at dinner time. We’d always bring it up with her pediatrician at check-ups, and he’d always ask, “Is she happy and walking? Then why are you bringing this up? Next patient, please! Preferably a toddler who has swallowed a nail!”

Jon and I were notoriously picky eaters when we were kids, but we both eventually grew out of these phases on our own. And I have the same hope for Leta, except things in the last year have been getting out of hand. When she started first grade we decided she needed to eat something from the menu in the cafeteria, an effort to use peer pressure to our advantage. And that worked for a few weeks, but then she became obsessed with wanting to know what was on the menu every day. Cut to several weeks of eating only a bowl of croutons for lunch. COME ON, PEERS. Can’t you play up your enjoyment of that bowl of pasta JUST A LITTLE BIT? Oh sure, you can go on and on and on about a one hundred and fifty dollar doll that you have to special order through Satan, but you can’t hype an egg roll?

Are none of you being raised by a Chinese mother?

And then last week there was one awful episode at dinner after another, a situation we have basically created ourselves. In fact, we take all the blame for this, for the fact that she can tell the difference between organic spaghetti oh’s and the ones whose main ingredient is high fructose corn syrup, and IMMA LET YOU GUESS WHICH ONE SHE’LL LOOK AT.

Cue our family therapist who yesterday afternoon just sat there shaking her head, and I was like, no! LISTEN TO ME. I have to get this out there:

I’m about to compare my child to my dog, so if you take offense to that kind of thing why have you not unfollowed me yet?

I remember the fear I experienced during Chuck’s first year, one of a person who had never owned a dog. What was acceptable in terms of discipline? Was I going to scar this dog forever if I went this far? And it took a trainer coming into our home and going, dude, that isn’t anywhere near far enough.

(It was LA. He did, in fact, call me dude.)

So I’ve given birth to a picky eater. One so picky that she’s gone days without eating before. I don’t have any experience with this. How far do I push her without causing permanent damage? Already she has daily anxiety over lunch, anxiety that gives her stomach aches. But the list of things she will eat? All awful food.

That’s when our therapist goes, “Are you finished? Okay, good. Now, shut up.”

That’s basically the recipe, no pun intended. No more talk about food. If she asks about lunch? We shrug and say, “I dunno.” If she asks about dinner? We shrug and say, “I dunno,” knowing that we will fix her a plate of what we are eating that night. She doesn’t have to touch a thing, but if she sits there and complains, she’s more than welcome to go to her room for the rest of the evening. No more emotion over food. Ever, at all.

And she promises that Leta won’t remember the incident involving the applesauce.

So, I know I’ve just opened things up wide for judgment and whatnot, but what I’d really like to hear from you guys are menu ideas. We want Leta to try new food, so where have your picky eaters been willing to go? (also, please hold me and tell me it gets better)

  • ChickWhitt

    Does she have a dressing she likes? I am all about dipping veggies in a dressing, if you pick fat-free dressings. Or any other sauces she wants to dip in.

    I also like doing foods that combine a lot of things, like build your own nachos, tacos, calzones, etc. So there are options and the kids can say, yes beans, yes cheese, no salsa, yes sour cream, yes salad. And everyone gets it their way.

    My mom found that we were more likely to eat fruit if she made it into fruit salad every week. Then we just had to dish some up, instead of peeling oranges & cutting apples.

    One of the families I sat for got the “icky” foods over with right at the beginning of the meal. The main course didn’t even make it to the table until the veggies were eaten. So it was, quick, get the broccoli over with so I can have mac and cheese! This also worked well, when they didn’t choke themselves trying to be fast!

    You might ask her, when she does try things and dislikes them, what it is specifically. One of my “kids” kept telling me she hated pizza, and finally I said, what is it about pizza you hate? Turns out, she hated seeing grease on top of it, it turned her off. So we started ordering from a different place and she was happy. Maybe you will find some patterns.

    Btw, if she likes to be praised, I would come on here every day to hear what Leta tried that day and tell her how awesome she is. And I am sure I am not the only one!

  • roxanne dubier

    One of my favorite food moments was when I gave my 3 year old a cheese stick that was a different brand from the typical one. She got it close to her mouth, sniffed it and said “sorry, I can’t eat this one.” ONE SNIFF! How did she know? She still has issues with smells. One day she told me that I smelled like cheese sticks and walked away from me. The next day she said, “oh good mommy, you don’t smell like cheesesticks today.” REALLY?!

  • jaclynw

    Okay so my kids are 3.5 and 14 months and they eat everything. Whatever, luck or genetics, who knows? One thing that I know did help widen our older child’s palate when he was 2 or so and seemed to just say no to everything was “Try something new day”. This was every Friday. We’d go to the grocery store, sometimes the co-op, sometimes the sheeshy gourmet store, etc and we’d pick one new thing and he’d pick one new thing. Basically at the beginning we’d let him pick anything, fruit leather, crackers, etc but then as he got better and better at it we’d make new rules, like we can’t try something we’ve already had, it can’t come from a box, bonus points if it has a silly name. Sometimes we’d pick very normal things, like super yummy wood fired chicken hot from the sheeshy place. We didn’t want to scare him, but we did dare him to try anything and everything. Our families got into it and would ask him what he was trying that week or would give him pointers on what to look out for at the store, etc. Cue to this weekend when my in-laws took him to Subway and he asked if they had Octopus to eat!! Yikes!

    You are doing great for taking the emotion out of it, not letting it be a power struggle. This is something we’ll all go through at some point. We have a third on the way and I’m thinking my eat anything kids phenomenon/luck might end with this one.

  • sunnygirlsf

    I was so unprepared for your therapist’s advice but it makes SO MUCH SENSE. (yeah – I just used ALL caps there.) Take the emotion away from the food and it (hopefully!) it becomes a nonissue.

    In my family we ate whatever, except I didn’t like to drink milk (still don’t) and had other “ewww..gross” foods but overall ate what I was served.

    I would give you the BIGGEST HUG EVER if I were there. You will make it through this and just think – the therapist said Leta won’t even remember the applesauce incident. CHEERS for that news!!!!

  • jen_l

    I don’t have any useful info about what to feed her, but I can tell you that I was a picky eater and it turned out OK. Also I think it’s awesome advice not to focus on it because, while my parents didn’t too much, other folks did and honestly I’m 37 and they still remember it. Which is annoying (like “look you cleaned your plate!”). But I could absolutely tell the difference between canned vegetables and fresh (of course, hated fresh) and honestly I liked one vegetable, from a can, one brand. And I knew if they tried to trick me.

    But that slowly ended and I do try to at least try everything. Also there’s not one vegetable I don’t like now which is a huge jump from ONE vegetable to ALL.

    Good luck–you guys will be fine, I know it.

  • tallhottie

    Oh my god, I’m a white “Chinese” mother! I had no idea! LOL, I’ll do anything for my kids but they better get good grades and excel in return.

    On the food thing, it gets better, but I was so much tougher on my stepkids than you’ve been on Leta. Minus the applesauce incident.

    I lied to my stepdaughter to get her to eat. She told me she only likes shitake mushrooms and chicken, guess what we had EVERYTIME we ate mushrooms “shitake mushrooms” they just look different because I cooked them different. Wink, wink! Same with chicken, any meat I fed her I told her was chicken.

    My stepson wouldn’t eat veggies, so I told him “you don’t have to eat them tonight, but you will eat them in the morning” he agreed. And eating reheated brocoli the following morning broke him of leaving them behind.

    I also refuse to make separate meals. You don’t want to eat, fine… this is what I made. You can be hungry, but that was your option for tonight.

    With new foods they have to try 1 bite and then can leave it on their plate, but it has to be one REAL bite.

    Both kids now eat everything from sushi (including octopus) to brussel sprouts. And I don’t have to lie anymore. So it totally gets better!

  • luckyme23

    So I only ate peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches on white bread with the crust cut off with Tree Top apple juice box to drink (yes only Tree Top I hated all other brands of apple juice). My snacks were limited to chocolate chip chewy granola bar, string cheese, jello (red or orange only) and Little Debbie brownies. I didn’t eat fruit, or drink water and I hated eggs and milk. This was from Kindergarten until sophomore year of high school at which point I subbed the pb&j for BLTs and nachos (and my cholesterol went through the roof). I forgot how constricted my diet was and I still can’t believe I didn’t get tired of it. But my mom who was a nurse got the same advice from my pediatrician after she freaked out about my pickiness and I learned to adapt. I ate certain parts of dinner and left the rest untouched. It forced me to open up my horizons a bit and I didn’t starve.

  • CALynn

    My middle child was and still is a very picky eater. He refused all baby food from a jar and most fruits or vegetables. He pretty much lived of starchy foods. There were days in a row where he would refuse to eat. And believe it or not he is all grown up now and doing very well. He is a 19 year old college student.He has traveled abroad and now gets excited to try new things.
    I think the best thing I ever did was stop making a big deal about what he ate. My mom always told me “kids eat when they are hungry” so I tried to only have healthy choices around. I only fixed one thing for dinner and if he didn’t like it he was free to get something else on his own later but we wanted him to sit with the family during meals and not complain so the rest of us could enjoy meal time. My husband and I also tried to set a good example of enjoying a wide variety of healthy foods. One time in his 8th grade science class all the students participated in an experiment to show that about 25% of the population has more taste buds and is more sensitive to taste and you guessed it, my son fell in the more sensitive, increased taste bud group. Your daughter is probably in this group too. My advice is don’t worry too much and make good food available. She’ll be fine, really, she will…

  • jenniferjunedotcom

    Learning to eat and enjoy meals at the table is a learned skill… like so many other things, it takes practice. It may take many many times of being exposed to new foods for a child to like or even TRY them… (don’t know if you do this?) teach Leta a “polite” way to try and spit out foods she doesn’t like. Let her put foods in her mouth without having to swallow them… and spit them out without all the drama. Letting kids serve themselves, choosing how much and which foods from the table they want to eat really is the best in the end. You can do it.

  • AdroitPrimate

    I second the “Eat what you normally eat and serve her the same without comment.” Around the age of three, our son suddenly decided he liked nothing but popcorn chicken, PBJ, and pasta. I mean he did a complete 180 on the very diverse eating habits to three types of food. For awhile we were able to get him to eat homemade basil pesto and other sauces with pasta but that ended pretty quickly. Our son is just about to turn 11 and over the past couple of years he has opened up a little to other foods (mostly ethnic, he loves Japanese/Indian/Thai) but I’ve also put my foot down. As of about 6 months, I no longer make a separate dinner for him. He is served what I make and if he only eats a couple of bite then he only eats a couple of bites. He does take a TJ’s children’s chewable vitamin everyday though.

    This is the irritated thing, I’m not trying to feed him the nasty “food” our parents fed us– casserole, meatloaf, spaghetti, etc. This is quality organic food with fresh veggies and fruit. Organic free range meat (mostly chicken and some fish–I used to be a vegetarian and meat *really* grosses me out but I can stomach a little chicken) with fresh in season veggies on the side. I will say we do eat out more than we normally would now that he enjoys Japanese/Indian/Thai but it’s still less than four times a month. Epicurious and Sunset have some great recipes and most of them are quick and fairly easy.

    Oh and our son doesn’t like cake either. Hard to understand/believe if you don’t see if firsthand.

  • joyfulgirl

    I think you should have Tyrant make Leta some lunches like this mom does:

    http://www.anotherlunch.com

    How could she resist cute lunches like that??

  • erinnatani

    I have been reading your blog for over a year but this is the first time I have commented. I have taken lots of parenting classes at our local community college. This topic comes up a lot. One book that my teachers have recommended is Ellyn Satter’s book, “How to get your kids to eat” http://www.amazon.com/How-Get-Your-Kid-Eat/dp/0915950839/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1294784708&sr=8-1

    It sounds a lot like what your therapist recommended doing. We have tried it with our son (he’s 2.5) and it’s getting better. There is hope. She recommends saying this is what we are having for dinner, take it or leave it. You always try to put at least one thing out that they will like and they can it eat or choose the other things. Or not eat. Then offer food or a snack again in 2 hours but not in between. That is the basic idea… good luck!!!

  • tinymorsels

    Have a kid who is probably equally as picky as yours. Just started occupational therapy (at the suggestion of her pediatrician) to help her try new things.

    Everyone thinks they have all the answers when it comes to picky eaters. Those people don’t have picky eaters. Totally not judging you.

  • meegieshell

    I have a Leta. He eats goldfish, cheerios, grilled cheese, toast and 3 types of freeze-dried fruit. He will eat raisins, Pirate’s Booty, more goldfish, french fries, one particular brand of hot dog microwaved for exactly 35 seconds and extra-crispy (very disgusting) fish sticks that we call “chicken”. He still drinks whole milk because he needs the fat and I’m grateful for the milk consumption. We’ve tried every type of vitamin under the sun and he spits them out. So basically, I got nothing. Well, nothing but support and sister, I feel your pain. Please update with a “Consequences of Tough Love aka Starving Your Loved Ones” post. Godspeed, woman.

  • AdrienneBW

    I was recently interviewing a child therapist for a work project and mentioned how insanely picky my younger daughter is, and the woman told me something very wise: you can’t control what goes into them or what comes out of them. Mealtime and potty time shouldn’t be a struggle b/c the parent just can’t win. I felt much better after hearing THAT. My 5 yr old continues to be super picky, but her 6 yr old sister eats a wide variety of healthy foods – but fights me on getting dressed (e.g., doesn’t want to wear a coat when it’s 10 degrees out). Good grief. BTW, love love love your blog.

  • Lisalisa412

    Thanks for this post. I have two picky eaters, I spent a long time getting my little one to eat peanut butter to get a little protein in him, then he started a pre-school that was peanut free. No two picky kid are alike, what works for some won’t work for others. I have a friend who’s picky kid will eat only vegetables and likes them raw, I wish.

    Have you tried smoothies? My 5 year old won’t do it but the 3 year old likes them. I put fruit, rice milk, protein powder and yogurt in them. Sometimes I can sneak some spinach in them. I also give them gummy vitamins.

  • Rebellin

    So far (knock on wood), my kids aren’t picky eaters. I think what has truly saved my sanity is that I have established that I will cook one family meal each night, and the kids will eat what we’re having. If they don’t want what we’re having, they don’t have to eat it, but the kitchen will be “closed” after we’re done eating, and hence there won’t be any snacking or dessert. When my daughter went through a picky phase, I turned to Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook of Deceptively Delicious, which hides vegetables in kid friendly food. After a while of doing that, I found that she was used to the taste of veggies, and would eat pretty much whatever we eat. I offer up some healthy choices for them to make for breakfast and lunch, but don’t even introduce the non-healthy options into our house, so that’s not even a choice.

  • ozonelayer

    I went through years of this. Even talked to a therapist who said it was a fear/anxiety issue. I just dealt with mac n cheese being on the menu every night and draw the line with total junk food instead of “real” food. Vitamins did give me some peace of mind, I even tried ensure, ah but guess what, “it tasted funny” 🙂 Also helpful are granola type bars that sneak in nutrition.
    As for school lunch, I packed. I swear I packed 1/2 of a peanut butter and a Sunny D for at least 8 years . Also cereal helps because it has added vitamins. I tried to focus on getting the nutrition in without discussing it too much. But at times I would lose my cool and bring it up. It’s a deep stubbornness and fear of food, that I don’t think you can win with.
    What created a little bit of a breakthrough when she was about 11, was going to ethnic restaurants. The first time she ate nothing but a piece of bread, but as we took her out more and more to funky little place she began to have fun and enjoy the experience. Of course she still played it safe when ordering, but she began to see food as more of an experience to be enjoyed.
    I think she will be a cautious eater for life, but it does get a little better with time.

  • curlsz

    I agree COMPLETELY no emotion over food – just look out into the world for 5 seconds right now to see the result of a lot of emotional eaters – she’s fixating on it and causing you guys to fixate. Its turned into a power struggle and dare I say a manipulation tool on both ends. My mom was of the mentality “this is what’s for dinner tonight, don’t like it huh well then hope your cooking skills are up to par”. She was a single mother that worked way too much, she just din’t have the time or energy to be a short order cook and deal with the drama. So good for you guys!

  • justnesting

    Ok, picky eater here. I think what you have decided to do is the right thing. You can’t feed into the hysteria. All meals are a non-issue. Cook whatever you want to cook and she can eat it or not eat it. I think the problems start when a kid is forced to eat things. I know this from my own experiences. It hasn’t made me any more open to food, if anything the old foods that I was forced to eat as a kid are foods I will not even try now that I’m older. For me, once the pressure was off I found I was more open to trying things. If someone made me feel embarrassed, like haha, you like it, I’d stop eating it out of spite, that’s just the way it is. Kids don’t like to be made to feel stupid or embarrassed. I think I mostly tried interesting things when an interesting person exposed me to things. For example we had a family friend and one time he brought over a bag of egg rolls. I’d never had one in my life but he was so awesome and fun and made the egg rolls look so good that I tried one. The same thing happened with crablegs with a different person. The main thing is nothing is a big deal, don’t make her eat anything, don’t talk up anything, don’t do anything. Just make what you want, let her serve herself (I think she’s big enough for that?) and then she can choose as she wants.

  • meganqbostic

    this is not based on research, personal experience, or even advice.

    however, having made my disclaimer, i’ll throw this out there anyway:

    perhaps, if you guys (plus leta) grew your own veggies and watched them grow, she would have a greater appreciation for those foods, and might be more willing to eat them. or, this could cause greater aversion to veggies and backfire with her being grossed out by the dirt they grow in or not want to eat/hurt what she helped nurture.

  • hayofray

    I am/was Leta. Still at 39 years of age. I grew up as a very picky eater and my Mother made me a separate dinner than the rest of the family. My diet was meat and bread. That’s it.

    They tried the “sit at the table until you finish your vegetables” but I outlasted them. They tried to force feed me vegetables once and let me tell you this, I remember it like it was yesterday, both mentally and emotionally. My Father wound up wearing the vegetables and that was the last time that was tried.

    From that day on I was the kid who didn’t eat them. Ever. Until I was 30 and diagnosed with high cholesterol and had to start eating them. Then I got diagnosed with celiac disease and could no longer eat wheat so I had to expand my boundaries even further. But I’m still a picky eater and food is still a major issue for me.

    And now I see my nephew doing the same exact eating patterns I did and it frightens me. How do you tell your younger self, “it’s in your head, let it go and move on.”

    But you can’t. However, I’ve thought a lot about how to improve things perhaps for my nephew and your struggle with Leta gave me a new idea based on how I started eating after the celiac diagnosis.

    Begin it as a project with Leta that you know she doesn’t like a lot of foods but you want to find stuff she likes. So start the game. Here’s a basket of what she will eat and one for what she won’t eat. Make a card with the name of each food on it. She puts what she likes in the “likes” basket and the one’s she doesn’t in the “dislikes” basket. However, she doesn’t get to put one in either basket without actually trying it. Once she tries it and its in the dislikes basket it can stay there for a year with no pressure. After a year we try it again and if she doesn’t like it, back it goes. If she’s changed her mind, which she always has the right to do, it can go in the likes basket. Then Mom and Dad can make dinner, lunches, etc based on the (hopefully) plethora of choices in the “likes” basket. Some things may have to be negotiated such as, apples are okay but only when covered with peanut butter or only without the skin or broccoli raw is a no but broccoli steamed with cheese on it a yes, but I think there’s a way to get there. I hope.

    This is the best idea I can come up with that gives her choice and gives you a heads up as to what is safe to serve without the drama. I’ll continue to read to see what ideas you’re trying and hopefully what’s working. GOOD LUCK.

  • chanteling

    Unfortunately, I can’t speak as someone who has faced this issue with my own children, but I can speak as someone who is a reformed picky eater. And this might be a strange suggestion… But does Leta know how to eat the food you’ve prepared for her?

    I ask because, as an extremely insecure perfectionist whilst growing up, I wouldn’t eat anything that I wasn’t sure how to eat. Didn’t matter if the only people who might see me eat were my parents… I thought everyone would laugh at me if I did something wrong, and drop a bit a food, or didn’t have perfect technique. For example, I hated eating things like peas because they might fall off my fork. Not that I didn’t like the way peas tasted, but I was just anxious about being imperfect.

    So I wouldn’t eat anything I didn’t know how to eat, like burritos, fajitas, teriyaki bowls, or sushi. I never tried sushi because I was too scared to pick up chopsticks, until a friend of mine told me just to use my fingers. She said she didn’t care how the hell I ate it, as long as I tried it. So I did. And man, sushi rocked my world. And sort of made me realize that people probably don’t really care how I eat my food… Which made me feel more adventurous and willing to try new things.

    So, maybe it’s not about the food itself, but a self-image thing? That’s just another way to think about the problem while you try to find solutions.

  • PamB

    I have a picky 10 year old.
    He doesn’t eat anything with cheese, do you KNOW how many “kid” recipes have cheese in them? Same goes for anything creamy. doesn’t eat hot dogs… hell, if I let him he’d eat a steady diet of pumpkin pie, ice cream, chicken nuggets, and pizza pops (blech).
    Added to this list of “won’t eats” is the fact that he will not let any food pass his lips unless the person offering food is a blood relative!! For three years I had a daycare provider that was beside herself TRYING to get him to eat anything at her house!!!

    I finally just gave up. I offer him food and if he doesn’t eat it too bad. I am in the process of getting rid of the “junk” foods that they rely on to get around my meals…

    Soon they will only eat broccoli and apples (mwahahaah)

  • Celestia

    I have a daughter who’s a picky eater too. She won’t touch fruit! I’ve heard that some kids have a problem with the texture of foods and there are special therapies that address these problems.

    I like the advise you’ve been given. Take all the emotion out of eating and food. Don’t make a big deal out of it. We tried putting her uneaten food in the fridge and every time she said she was hungry we would take out her uneaten meal and offer it. She would go without eating for days. Now we just give her what we are eating. If she won’t eat we’ll make her a grilled cheese but only if she eats her veggies first. She will eat some veggies but no fruit. Only juice.

  • Pixie

    Over this last weekend, my daughter introduced me to Weelicious. http://weelicious.com

    Click on the School Lunch daily photos of what gets packed into these lunches…the visual sensation alone ‘might’ bring Leta around. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=194597&id=248062301608

    I wonder if she has any interest in ‘creating’ the food she consumes? This might include a garden, finding recipes, cooking and then consuming the food she’s been involved with.

    And I wonder if a little trip to a local Soup Kitchen or time volunteering in a survival center to help others who have little or no food, might put food in an entirely different ‘position’ in her life.

    Food is such an amazing thing! Culturally, economically, symbolically, medically etc. I’m sure you have approached all this, I just wondered if a different type of ‘recipe’ to expose her to the wonders of food and the role it plays in our lives.

    Keep us posted on your progress.

  • missusclark

    Heather – It IS gonna be ok. Something a pediatrician told me once: “No kid ever starved themselves to death”. We tell our kids they can eat what’s offered or not, their choice. But this is dinner and the next meal is breakfast. Offer her healthy choices and let her choose what to eat. Period. No need to worry or fuss.

    One way to engage kids in their meals is to grown some of your food. We grow sugar snap peas, carrots and cherry tomatoes and the kids eat ’em right outta the garden. And as others have commented, have Leta help in the kitchen. That can do wonders.

    Hang tough!
    Jennifer

  • Manyletters

    Our picky eating daughter responded well to choosing her own food adventure from her own cookbook that she chose from the book store. It had great food pictures. She took control over the entire dinner experience and was willing to try new things because it was her dinner idea.

  • Circe74

    Dude, it sometimes feels like I spent half my childhood sitting at the kitchen table over my refusal to eat chili. And mind you, to this day I will gag at the sight, smell, or the too-detailed thought of chili. In fact, excuse me for a moment…

    But the point is, I survived. In fact, it was good for me. I got to be alone with my thoughts. And realized that sheer force of will won’t always move mountains (aka, my MOTHER’S will). BUT, I waited it out. She waited it out. She had a limit — I’d sit there for an hour after dinner was over, staring at congealing chili. And life went on.

    And yeah, Leta may go days without eating just to test you, but she’ll survive that, too. Or it’ll really suck to be stuck in the ER rather than out playing in the snow.

    Just remember, it’s harder on you than it is on her. Be strong! You’re doing what’s best for her, whether she likes it or not!

  • SomeSayIce

    My son is 12. He was a very picky eater for many years, from age 4 to about 9-10. During those years we ate out a lot, and the pickiness was a HUGE problem when a restaurant did not offer chicken fingers and french fries. Choosing from the available menu options (esp. if there was no kids meal–THE HORROR) became an exercise in futility which usually ended up in tears and meant either me or my husband had to take the kid outside to defuse the drama. Between 2002 and 2007, we spent more time in restaurant parking lots than actual restaurants.

    I packed his school lunches every freaking day until fourth grade, when he hit another kid with his lunch box and the teacher made him eat school lunch for the rest of the week. Being free of the task of packing lunches was like an epiphany to me and I decided to put that behind me. It was the best thing that ever happened to all of us, because he slowly started to try other foods. My son is a hoss and has never skipped more than one meal.

    Once we switched to cooking more at home, we had a big issue with our son eating vegetables. He has Asperger Syndrome and a lot of foods are off-putting to him in terms of texture, taste, etc. Because of this, I tried to be sympathetic to his condition and not push anything too out of the ordinary. But by this point, we had watched good friends of ours allow their children to eat chips and sodas and little debbie cakes without abandon, all day, instead of eating actual meals. These kids have the worst behavior (and teeth) I’ve ever seen, and I vowed my child would NOT be like that, Asperger’s-stubborn or not.

    We forced him to eat at least 3 bites of each vegetable on the plate, every night. No exceptions. And if he was feeling particularly asshole-ish, we would make him sit at the dinner table until those 3 bites were taken. He pushed it over an hour a few times, and often pulled the “gagging” bit, but eventually he just gave up and started doing it. Not always without a fight, but no more marathon Mommie Dearest incidents.

    Gradually over the last few years, he has really opened up and started eating just about everything that is put in front of him. I don’t know if his taste buds developed, or what, but it just happened. Hubby & I eat lots of ethnic food, and the kid can’t get enough of it all. He actually cries if he finds out we went to eat sushi without him. He still doesn’t like a lot of veggies, but will tolerate them enough that we can force him to eat just about all the veggies on the plate now.

    All that long-windedness to say that she’s going to have to make this decision on her own that it’s just not worth putting up a fight. BUT, regardless of which sense(s) motivate her preferences, you have to assert your authority as both a parent and cook and before she will get it. Your therapist is totally right in that the emotion about food has to stop, and in the end you will all be SO much better off for it.

    Good luck in the journey, but understand the road will be long and often rocky.

  • ingrida

    I’m not a parent yet, but I used to be the champion of picky eaters… meaning I hardly ate ANYTHING.
    … god bless my parents, for they NEVER forced food upon me… NEVER (except for that one time they tried to trick me into trying fish… my dad kept telling me it was “chicken of the sea”… I didn’t buy it and was LIVID for days… I was 6).
    Anyway, they had full support of my pediatrician and I am so grateful… I remember as a child, certain tastes, textures, and smells were simply HORRID and I just couldn’t stomach it. Forcing food makes eating stressful… I grew up healthy, no nutritional problems or eating disorders… I slowly grew out of the picky eating thing during my college years… and now, I’ll eat (or try) pretty much everything and anything (I’m in my mid 30s).

    As for menu recommendations, go with what she’ll eat… and occasionally check to see if she’ll mix it up and sample something new…
    I used to eat cookies for breakfast, so my mom made sure they were as nutritional as could be, and that at least I had a glass or 2 of milk and juice with the cookies. I also used to pretend I liked pizza, but I would scrape all the toppings off and just eat the pizza bread… but, I used to like to make my own personal mini-pizzas with english muffins, that way I could put whatever toppings I wanted on them.

    Good luck!

  • DBMcGrath

    I am the very proud daughter of 2 amazing girls – 17 yo and 19 yo who have such different eating styles it is astounding. The 19 yo will try everything and eat anything. She at raw octopus in Hawaii and freshly caught yellow tail in the back of a boat in Mexico. She drank a jar of pickle juice on a dare – hey it was $10.00 – and crunched on a squid lens after dissecting the eye on a school field trip. The younger child lived on a diet of mac and cheese and chicken strips for years. When dinner did not please her – usually a holiday feast that my mother had spent hours cooking – she would enjoy a bowl of cheerios served by herself. This was a food solution my sister, a child development expert, suggested at the ripe old age of 4. We would pour milk into small tupperware cups in the fridge and moved the cereal to the lowest shelf. No other cereal was an option nor would we get it for her – we were not short order cooks.

    Listen to your therapist – stop the battling and the food will come. Peace.

  • gretchie

    I got nothin’ ground-breaking. I have known my step-kids since they were 6 and 10. They are now 18 and 22, and I have a 6 year old. My 6 year old has gotten progressively pickier since starting kindergarten, so I attribute it in part to peer pressure (“ew, you eat THAT?”) The step-kids were notoriously picky and their mom… ugh, forget it. My husband isn’t picky about what so much as the quality. I refuse to grocery shop on his behalf, b/c inevitably I get the wrong eggs or tomatoes. What hope did they have??? However, as they have gotten older, they have gotten much better. I have found this: Make whatever you want, and let them cry. Nothing more ridiculous than a seriously overweight 10 year-old child crying that he’s hungry with a delicious cut of salmon in front of him (he now loves salmon). Your therapist is right. Make what you love, and allow them to be conscientious objectors. It’s so hard not to get upset, but the truth is that it won’t make much difference whether they actually eat it. Some day they’ll swear that salmon steak is comfort food. I think it’s the smell of home thing that eventually lures them in. I mean, they associate the smells of YOUR favorite meals with the love and comfort of home. Do you want that smell to be spaghetti-o’s or salmon?

    Here’s the hard part: When one kid LOVES IT, BEGS FOR IT, and the other starts to cry when you make it. That’s why you should just make what you like. You’ll never make them all happy anyway.

  • Circe74

    One question — have you had her tested for food allergies? (Knowing you from your blog, you probably have.) But I can tell you that my mom used to get on my case for my refusal to eat certain fruits or vegetables, but it turns out (as I find out, 30 years later) I am allergic to the acids in several kinds of fruits and vegetables. They make me have a hay fever-like reaction, where my lips will itch, my eyes and ears itch, etc. I can clearly remember telling my mom that was WHY I didn’t want to eat certain things, but since she’d never heard of a kid who was allergic to watermelon (which I’m hyper-allergic to), she didn’t believe me.

    Moms!

  • honkytonk

    One thing we do with my niece is sort of frame her picky eating as a childhood thing. We’d tell her: oh yeah, sometimes flavors taste really strong to young tastebuds, but when you grow up it will taste totally different and you may just love it! She’s very into it, and says stuff like, “I bet when I grow up I’m going to loove mustard!” May your picky child be an adventurous grown up.

  • Peanut22

    I was an extremely picky eater as a child. I would basically only eat pasta, rice & french fries.

    My parents used to try to get me to eat different foods, but it never worked. They never used to cater to my food aversions either. If they made pot roast with veggies for dinner, that’s what I got. I could eat it or go hungry. I would often just pick at it because the alternative of going hungry wasn’t really appealing to me.

    I don’t have much advice to give to you that you haven’t already heard and since I don’t have children yet, I’m even less helpful, but coming from someone that was a borderline Leta as a child, I did outgrow it and I did try different foods as I entered high school. Just be patient and use the tough love approach that someone else mentioned above. Giving in to the aversion is only going to exacerbate this problem even more.

  • c_kidman69

    Well my sister had/has a kid who only ate popcorn and chicken nuggets and i’ll be damned if she didn’t haul around a bag of popcorn everywhere she went. It turned out to be a texture thing and believe it or not they have a therapy group for kids who have problems with food, so she did it and it worked. They started out with playing with their food and then gradually got to tasting it and now all is good.

    In our house to try new foods I take the kids to the store and let them pick out something that looks good and then I figure out how to cook with it. So last summer my 4 year old chose artichokes, what do you do with an artichoke? Well the internet saved me and it has become a big hit in our house. I figure if they pick it they will eat what they picked out, not what you picked out.

  • catslife

    Our 8 year old son has always been a picky eater, but I don’t think as picky as Leta (you win!). He will have the same dinner if we have garden burgers and fries (plain bun, garden burger, ketchup and mayo for him). Also, macaroni and cheese (“Daddy’s world famous homemade macaroni & cheese” as he puts it). And he would eat white rice every night if we gave it to him… We recently conquered broccoli (steamed, with butter and salt), his second veggie after baby carrots, but that was a success due to a bribe (if you eat a spear of broccoli, then…). Now he will reluctantly eat it when we serve it as he now knows it isn’t the most disgusting thing ever. A HUGE surprise to us was that he LOVES lox and cream cheese on a roll which we fixed for ourselves recently, and I asked him to try one bite. He did, said it was “pretty good” and would have his own sandwich. He claimed that on a scale of 1 to 10, it was a 2-billion, and the best dinner he had ever had in his life. This is the boy who will only eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. Go figure!

  • tangobat

    I think your therapist is right on the money. This is the approach we have taken with our children. They can choose from what we have on hand for breakfast and lunch, and for dinner, they eat what we eat or they eat nothing at all. There is no “finish your food to earn a reward,” there are no special meals, there is no “good job on finishing your food!” We display no apparent interest in whether they eat or not– but they do not receive snacks if they have not eaten dinner, and they are not allowed to insult the food or create a dramatic scene at the table. Sometimes they end up filling up on cereal in the morning and then eating no dinner, sometimes they try new things and end up liking them, but there is no emotional power struggle over food, period.

    This worked quite easily with my older daughter, who eats a wide variety of food in reasonable amounts. It was significantly more difficult with my younger daughter, who is super finicky and still eats very little, but I think we’ve had good results. Best of all, it’s one less thing to worry about.

  • Miss Anthrope

    My family breeds pickiness- though I don’t think on this grand a scale. My brother would eat rice and corn (together) and bread with cinnamon sugar.

    This has probably already been mentioned, but you may consider getting her to help you make dinner. She still doesn’t have to eat it. But she’s a part of the family and old enough to help out with it. If she argues that she doesn’t eat it you could easily inform her that you didn’t take her shit but you changed her diapers for years!

    I know you’ve mentioned you want to start cooking more. This was the only time my mother was able to get my other brother to talk to her- when they were working in the kitchen.

    I think what you’re doing in absolutely what you should be doing. Tying emotions to food is never a good idea. And if this is what it takes, so be it. Even if she continues to be picky.

    I wish you the very best of luck.

  • Eveie

    Start a vegetable garden or maybe start taking her to the farmer’s market!

    I grew up with grandparents who grew all their own vegetables and raised chickens and cows.

    My mom was a big time green thumb and since I got to go out there and help pick the corn and the tomatoes and onions and whatnot, and got to go pet the chickens and pick eggs, it made me want to try them much more than I otherwise would have! Ever since I was little I think I have had an almost unhealthy LOVE of tomatoes! I eat them whole with just a little garlic salt! MmmMmm tasty!

  • eherzog

    You could tell her to plug her nose when she eats food she doesn’t like, which takes away the smell and taste. That’s what my parents made me do.

  • tiny apple

    ugh, i feel your pain. although in slightly different terms…we don’t have a picky eater, we just have a child who refuses to poop on the toilet. the drama, the attemps at games, peer pressure, forcing it…oh my. it SUCKS. she’s going to be five and still poops in a diaper. i’m told she’ll go to college pooping in the toilet, but i’m not so sure she’ll be there by jr. high. the only consolation i’ve gotten is a friend who is an OT telling me her extreme stubborness is probably a sign of high intelligence. nice. sometimes i’d take a slightly stupider kid in exchange for not having to wipe poop from my almost 5 year old’s ass.

  • justcrazyme

    First of all, repeat after me: “I am a good parent!”
    Repeat multiple times daily. Now, listen to your therapist. I have four grown children. This is how I handled the picky eaters (all of them at some time or other): Make a meal,eat. Tell Leta that if she doesn’t like what you are having, she can make something that she likes that she can make without the use of the stove. Always have the ingredients available. Tell her that she is welcome to have all or some of what you are serving. Make no comment whatsoever about what she eats or doesn’t eat….especially don’t praise her for eating something outside of her comfort zone since that will just embarass her into NEVER eating anything again that might provoke a comment from you. If she points out that she tried something and liked it, just say, “I am glad you liked it, we will have it again someday soon.” Oh, and we NEVER served dessert after meals so eating anything in particular didn’t make one deserving of dessert. Treats were not available in our home on a daily basis, they were just surprise treats not contingent on any specific behavior or food consumption. All four of my children are healthy adults who now eat all food groups, and dessert!
    Remember, you are a good parent!

  • kristinbuel

    My husband was the world’s pickiest eater when I met him. He had never eaten soup until he was 23. SOUP. He would eat fajitas, not tacos, and lord help you if you offered him steak (it hurt his teeth). His parents made different meals for each of the three kids every night, and all three of them were horribly picky.

    But something happened. We’d go to my mom’s house and I’d make sure she’d make something he’d never had before. I’d order unusual things at restaurants that he had to try. Ten years later, he’s a total foodie and an excellent cook. It was a gradual change, something that only his curiosity could ignite. His brother and sister, at the ages of 25 and 27, are still impossible to cook for and will only eat fried bologna, Chipotle burritos, and turkey. They are also single.

    We have our first little one on the way, and there is no way in hell anybody’s getting their own separate dinner. We like to cook together, and I think having kids help cook goes a long way towards getting them to eat. Watch that blow up in my face.

  • lisalaplaca

    I may slap the next smug parent who casually crows to me while at the park that their child eats everything handed to them including kale and sardines. My girl is not the pickiest eater in the world, but she’s certainly not the most adventurous, either. Her preschool teachers ask children who don’t like certain foods to at least lick or “kiss” a piece before saying “No, thank you” to it. I myself have never even gone that far. I make what I make for dinner and if my girl doesn’t want it, she is free to have a pb&j or cheese and crackers (we limit it to those two choices because I don’t want to be a short order cook every night). We don’t comment on her eating beyond asking her to have nice manners — no “eeewww”, no ugly faces, no commenting on what we’re eating. I do, however, recognize that children’s tastebuds are more sensitive than adults and I ease up on spices and seasonings for her foods. We let her help cook as much as possible and let her make choices (pizza with pesto or pizza with tomato?, burrito with cheese or just beans?, that kind of thing). Really, the best advice I got was to leave her eating under her control.

  • photogmomma

    I was going to read through the other responses, but holy crow! This may duplicate what’s going on with their answers…

    So, my daughter is picky. Not Leta picky, but not fun…. I have had her go to the grocery store to help me pick things out. It was just a trip with me and her and that’s all. If you’re wanting to go more organic, only go somewhere that carries organic food. Tell her that she doesn’t have to LIKE everything, just that she has to try what she picks. Just try.

    Have her take a bite and see what she thinks. If you can get her to that point.

    Why doesn’t she like the foods? Is it allergies? My daughter gets upset stomachs because of some of those. You could try something like AAT (www.allergytx.com) to test for allergies in a non invasive way – and then treat them. (As it get RID of them with this method – amazing stuff.)

    Another thing you can do is figure out if she’s eating by texture. I eat more by texture and there are some things I like the taste of that I think are FOUL because of the texture. Then you can branch off that. To get over it, I will grind things up and then put other things in it – for example, I’ll make a veggie soup and then grind it then put meat in it. Or noodles. My girls rarely complain about this! Shockingly, they get TONS of veggies – even the ones they hate.

    Finally, it could be a sensory issue. Hers sounds so extreme that it wouldn’t shock me. I know there are several books out there that can help with that as I don’t have much experience with that.

    Best of luck! I suspect she’ll be just fine in the long run. She’s just giving her mom a run for her money!

  • knud

    I have a very similar situation and not a lot of help to give you but I will tell you that my son who is 3 does not eat meat of any kind unless it comes in the form of a chicken nugget. I have finally decided to just feed him the dry noodles and pb&J that he likes. He’s healthy – tall for his age – not overweight. But I did recently discover that I can trick him – probably because of his age. Just last night I ordered a chicken quesadilla from my favorite Mexican restaurant and pulled it apart to give him. I told him I had taken all the chicken out but it was still in there. He ate the whole thing. In fact, he ate so much I had hardly anything for myself. Probably just because he is young. The point is that it taught me that it isn’t that he doesn’t like the taste of the chicken – he’s just a stubborn pain in the ass. But I’m a stubborn pain in the ass so I’m really not willing to battle with him.

  • elptransplant

    Former picky eater here.. Just recently read this blog post about giving kids the chance to try something and spit it out and struck me that it would have probably worked for me when I was younger.. just a suggestion..
    http://itsnotaboutnutrition.squarespace.com/home/2010/12/7/why-some-kids-should-spit.html

  • geeka

    Ok, so I was a really picky eater. The only thing I can remember eating as a child is chocolate, the leaves from celery, and Kraft Mac and Cheese. In fact, I had the Kraft EVERY SINGLE DAY the year I was in kindergarten.

    At one point, my mom who was desperate to get me to eat a vegetable explained to me how digestion worked. There was literally a half hour story about saliva and stomachs and molecules and blood and poop with voices and everything. And after this, because knew how everything worked and why I needed to eat something other than saturated fats.

    I have also heard that helping to make the food makes kids more likely to eat it because they grew it/made it.

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