An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation

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)

  • verbalicon

    The Pupselkind eats nori, or kim, with gleeful abandon. This stuff here:
    http://www.low-caloriediet.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Roasted-Seaweed-Kim-Nori-300×300.jpg

    It’s weird. It makes the husband gag (heehee!). Not sure that I don’t buy it for her because of just that.

    Other than that, though? I just learned yesterday that chicken is “yucky” but veggie burger is tolerable (only the Gardenburger made of vegetables). And Cheese is God. Or the other way round.

  • Lord Caroline

    Check out http://www.EllynSatter.com Great website for advice on kids and eating.

  • spedrson

    My 7 year old boy is a picky eater too! I feel your pain! He comes by it naturally as well – both my husband and I were picky eaters as kids. Probably my husband even more so. Now my husband is even more adventurous than me when it comes to trying new cuisines. My mother-in-law said that he lived on peanut butter sandwiches for a couple of years! He was forced to sit at the table many nights until he finished his veggies, but he’s very stubborn and would out last his parents (sometimes sitting for 2-3 hours).

    All of that to say – I am totally frustrated that my son is a picky eater, but we’ve chosen to make it somewhat of a “non-issue”. I know the grandparents freak out over our passiveness, but it’s a battle we’ve chosen not to lose sleep over.

    The one thing we are sticklers about is that he is not allowed to “diss” the food at the table. He has a younger sister that is 3 and if he talks about how horrible it is it rubs off on her. She’s more of an adventurous eater and I don’t want him tainting her opinions!

  • janharp

    1) Hot dogs (gross)
    2) Bagels (with butter ONLY)
    3) Cereal (with rice milk ONLY)
    4) Mac and cheese (from the box—gross)
    5) Sliced cucumbers (if the wind was right and you held your lips straight)

    There you have it—our experience from 12 years ago. The good news is that it really does get better; their taste buds grow up, and if you’re lucky, their friends make fun of them! For all those years of mostly carbs, we have a healthy kid (and gummy vitamins help).

    Best of luck.

  • czristy

    I am an RN, and before that I worked in child care and preschool settings. I recommend a set of books by a registered dietitian, Ellyn Satter, especially Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family. Her approach encompasses divisions of responsibility for family eating, and puts an emphasis on what is served to the family instead of what each individual in the family eats at any given meal. It sounds like a philosophy that mirrors what your therapist is suggesting. Good luck!

  • AllisonM

    From 2-5 I went to a pescetarian daycare with a real New Age bent, at least when it came to food. We ate a lot of stuff at lunch that I would assume most of us never encountered at home–tofu, quiche, carob. But there was no drama, just one rule: you had to take one bite of each meal, every time that it was served. If you didn’t want to eat it after that, you could have something else (I think there were sandwiches?) and no one gave you a hard time. (Though once I gagged on a scallop, and after that I didn’t have to take a bite of “seafood stew”!)

    Anyway, it’s a pretty good rule, because it accounts for the fact that most kids’ tastes will expand gradually, but they won’t necessarily know that until they try something again. But I’m no expert, and it’s hard to say if that’s applicable to you.

    Another thing: my best friend’s picky eating extended into her 20s. At the age of 22, this is what she would consume: egg salad sandwiches, chicken strips, pasta with cheese and oil, grape juice, milk, and mushroom soup. Pretty sure that’s it. I used to make alternate meals when she came over for dinner. But sometime around the point when everyone stopped giving her a hard time, she got interested in food. She lived with an Indian family friend for a couple months and of all things, she started eating less-spicy Indian food. After that, she seemed to realize that she was missing out, and started going to a Mexican place near school. Now, a couple years later, she eats pretty much normally. It seems like a lot of this stuff fixes itself. And her health is just fine, as it always has been.

  • alanmill

    Don’t sweat it.

    I ate cold sweet cereal for breakfast, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with an apple or carrot for lunch, and a hot dog and carrot for diner virtually evey day from Kindergarten to sixth grade. My mom asked the pediatrician if I was going to get sick. he said that as long as I was growing, and healthy, not to sweat it.

    Then I went to sleep over camp. I discoverd that food cooked over an open fire, liberally seasoned with sand and ash, tastes wonderful after a full day of hiking/canoing–no matter what the other ingredients are. When I came back home from summer, I discovered that my mom refused the open campfire bit, but that lots of food actualy tasted good without the dirt (dare I admit, even better). My food choices expanded from there.

    So, don’t sweat it.

  • robokitteh

    Here’s some disheartening news for you:

    I’m 22 and I am still a chronic picky-eater. During my short life, I’ve seen every kind of doctor that could possibly exist in a futile effort to help combat my neurosis with food. Sadly, there really isn’t a ‘cure’ for it.

  • whoahgirl

    I just had to comment on this issue since up until I was 16 years old I was a notoriously picky eater. I can remember having battle of the wills with my parents over dinner and sitting at the table until 10PM since I refused to eat what was presented to me since it might taste funny. I, like Leta, would get anxious about meals and demand to know what was going to be served to me so I could either a) refuse straight off the bat or b) calm my fears since thank GOD we were having spaghetti but I could have it without sauce! I’d freak out if there was cheese on my pizza or hamburger and remember in 7th grade freaking out in London since the ketchup TASTED FUNNY.

    This is an excellent portrait of what a little turd I used to be, right?

    How I got out of the picky habits was actually being an exchange student and knowing that I would seriously offend people if I wouldn’t eat meals. Now, I’m not suggesting that you ship Leta to a foreign country or anything but it does present hope, right?

    I guess how my parents best handled it was to just let me prepare my own meals, eat what I would, and just not fight it. They wouldn’t prepare separate meals for me but would let me pull out the noodles before sauce was on it or pick out what I would. They’d let me eat the mac and cheese and try to get me to eat actually tasty and healthy foods but wouldn’t force it down my throat. I did love cucumbers, carrots, and corn so they’d have them readily available. The hungrier I got the more their food that I previously thought was nasty would look appetizing.

    As my Mom always said about dinner… there is two options for dinner: take it or leave it.

  • Pernworld

    I voluntarily became stepmom to two picky eaters. Here’s what they ate…
    Buttered noodles,
    String Cheese
    gradulated to ramen noodles
    campbells chicken noodle soup
    cheerios.

    And of course anything their mother made.

  • tdotjen

    I’m not a parent, but what the therapist recommends is basically what my mom said she did with me, a reformed picky eater. I especially like the part with the shrugging and the “I dunno.”

    My older brother was an adventurous eater, yet we were both scrawny as spaghetti noodles growing up, go figure.

  • montana mommy

    we were there too with our kids but it had to stop. with three kids 6 and under and two grownups to feed, i wasn’t going to do any more special. we stopped talking about it too. my husband or i cook dinner, something appropriate for the family, and when it was really bad we would just serve ourselves and begin eating our dinner. if a kid was being a crank, they could sit with an empty plate and watch mom and dad enjoy their meal. usually within 3 minutes of watching they are asking, using manners, for a little bit of dinner. we would serve them a tiny amount (5 bites max) and let them eat with us. it seemed like if they asked for it they were more likely to eat it. and if they ate the 5 bites, at least they requested it and ate it without a fuss. sometimes, they even asked for seconds. this seemed to clear things up in about a week.

    as for recipes, i got this about a year ago and there are some really yummy, fast meals:

    http://www.amazon.com/Everyday-Food-Great-Fast/dp/0307354164

  • kristin11

    I don’t have kids, but as someone who has my own weird relationships with food, I highly recommend you check out Ellyn Satter’s site:

    http://www.ellynsatter.com/

    Her “Division of Responsibility” is in line with what your therapist was recommending:

    * The parent is responsible for what, when, where
    * The child is responsible for how much and whether

  • the real loo

    It does get better. In fact, one day you’ll realise she just served herself salad from the salad bowl AND ATE IT! Yes, salad made with leaves and things. I kid you not.

    Your therapist’s advice is right on the money. Just like a dog, if I may be permitted to extend the metaphor, she won’t starve herself if you “change her brand of food”. She’ll turn her nose up a few times and eventually, she’ll want to know what not being hungry tastes like.

    When my oldest was little (he’s 7 now), we thought he’d never eat anything except meat. My 3 year old is currently eating only potatoes. The 7 year old, however, now proudly boasts that his mom is the best cook in the world and “We’re having homemade soup tonight?! Alright! I love you Mom!”

    Find the stuff she will eat and use those ingredients. I find most kids will eat cheese and pasta. So, boil up some macaroni or similar, make a cheese sauce (this is a good one to do at the end of the week when you have a handful of different cheese ends because the sauce tastes better using stuff other than cheddar) and then toss some broccoli, finely chopped onion and some ham. Chuck it all a casserole dish and bake for an hour or two at 375 degrees.

    Soups are good if you make your own broth because even if she only gets some of the broth in her, it’ll be full of nutrition. Ohdeeoh’s food site just posted a broth making story a week or so ago. It’s dead easy.

    It gets better!

  • mamableu

    I just wonder if she is a super taster which could explain so much. I saw a show on it recently with a girl who only ate french fries since she was a child and she was tested on the show and was a super supertaster. They even genetically tested her, but the counselor worked with her and by the end of the program she had expanded her food library by about 5-6 things which was huge but they went with a whole routine on it.

    Anyhow just a thought, they have the test.

    Much love

  • Naperville Now

    My friend’s son ate nothing but tuna on rice crackers until the age of 5. They moved, so I don’t know what happened afterward. We hear from them at Christmas, so he’s still alive. So it’s all good.

  • mahonegal

    So Heather- I have good eaters, but I’m not going to tell you what to feed your kids, you’re a smart woman and I would not insult your intelligence, kids will eat what is in front of them if they are hungry enough. But I can relate to you when you spoke about Leita’s anxiety. My son has crazy anxiety over all kinds of things, so I can relate to how you feel about your daughter being anxious about food. I know how terrible it is to have something like this have a hold on your family. I now how difficult it is to think your kid is nuts and how much guilt you likely have thinking it. I will only say that it does get better, slowly, with help, and that one day Leita will say to you, “Remember when I wouldn’t eat bread? Dude, that was wac!”

  • denvixen

    Here’s one of those stories where it all gets better – although I’m sure you’ve read plenty like that already.

    When my friend was about 7 he was a very picky eater. His parents tried the routine we all grew up with – the one where you don’t leave the table until everything was gone.

    But he was a stubborn one. Eventually, he stopped eating altogether. He went on a hunger strike that lasted so long he ended up in hospital. After he got out, his parents were told to let him eat what he wanted and not worry about it. For the next several years he subsisted on hot dogs and white bread. I am not exaggerating.

    These days he is a published author, the father of two, with a stunning wife who is a television reporter – and he has run the Boston marathon more than once. You can bet he had to eat a lot more than just hot dogs and white bread to get there.

    Best of luck with your struggles with Leta. But it sounds like you are already finding ways to make it feel more like a skirmish and less like a war.

  • SimoneBadour

    When my sisters and I were younger my parents were successfully able to get us to eat more unique foods by essentially bribing us. We would say things like “we really want to eat out in the city” or “we’d love to go to NYC” or something like that and they would always say “you’ll have to eat more unique foods in the city or NYC (or whereever), they don’t serve chicken fingers and hotdogs in NYC”. It worked because we knew the more we were willing to try the more places we would be able to go….and so on and so forth. Best of luck to you! xx

  • jennisdrinking

    I also often fix a different meal for Elsa. She’s 7 yrs. old, in first grade, and inherited the picky eating thing from me. If she separated her food into categories, I could blame Dave, but NO- this is all me.

    I stopped harping on it a couple years ago. I make a variety of things available, and as long as she’s not malnourished or dehydrated, I’m cool with that.

    If I urge her to eat something, she doesn’t want to. BUT- and this is a big but- when I don’t even try, and I eat something in front of her that intrigues her, she’ll come over and ask to try a bite. And a lot of times, she’ll like it and ask for her own serving- which I get for her, of course.

  • jennisdrinking

    Oh- and I’d like to add, I come from a long line of picky eaters. I would only eat smooth foods (chronic tonsillitis) and plain foods (no seasoning), my mom ate nothing but apple sauce for 2 years when she was a kid, and then for 5 years she ate nothing but PB&J. No, really. Breakfast, lunch and dinner- PB&J. We all turned out fine.

  • maryannb

    Okay, when my sister was Leta’s age she would eat a very limited number of foods. She outgrew it, sort of. She grew up to be a vegan, but then she joined the Peace Corps and now she lives in Kazakhstan and she eats whatever they serve her even if that’s horse. Except dairy products. She still won’t eat those.

    She ate nothing but white bread at summer camp for weeks on end. Once, at our grandmother’s she was made to eat green beans and she held them in her cheeks for, no lie, over an hour after dinner until she was out of sight of the adults and finally spit them out. Picky and stubborn is not worth fighting.

    My mother did nothing about my sister’s picky eating, except for the rule that when you’re in someone else’s home, you eat some of everything. Dinner at home usually involved one food she’d eat.

    By the time she was old enough to drive, she was barely picky at all.

    My husband was, by all accounts, at least as picky as my sister. His family coddled him and continued to make him separate food all the way through high school. He was still very picky when I found him at the age of 24, but peer pressure in the form of me finally worked on him and he’s not picky anymore.

    Things my sister would eat:

    Protein:
    Skirt steak cooked in a wok with some specific brand of seasoning salt, broiled pork chops (bone in or out, with preference for bone in), Carl Buddig brand sliced turkey, meatballs and hamburgers made entirely of ground beef and maybe a little salt and nothing else.

    Our mother found consolation in the fact that her obscenely picky daughter at least had cheap taste.

    Vegetables:
    Raw carrots, mashed potatoes (no skins) and dill pickles

    Fruit:
    Strawberries, purple grapes, grape jelly, specific brands and flavors of juice

    Dairy:
    unsalted butter on specific foods

    Carbs:
    White bread (specific brands only), Jiffy corn muffins, canned corn, instant white rice, and egg noodles with unsalted butter, grape and strawberry flavored candy, Fudgecicles, cinnamon-sugar bread (NOT toast), one variety of breakfast cereal which changed at indeterminable intervals (with about one ounce of 1% milk)

    Other:
    one brand of instant soup (Mrs. Grass??)

  • AliceTheGorilla

    I want to be your therapist. Don’t ever get rid of him or her.

  • jgr21

    I’m sure I’m repeating what many others have said, but…on the “it can get better” front: My brother was horrible, horrible, horrible as a kid—he’d only eat bread and meat and (very bland) cheese, no spices whatsoever, no vegetables of any form other than canned green beans—once he got nachos at a restaurant and refused to touch any of the chips (and our parents were hippies/natural food hysterics, so chips were basically the holy grail of awesome) until he had peeled off all the cheese and, one by one, picked off all the so-tiny-they-were-practically-invisible fine-diced onion bits.

    And forget hiding vegetables anywhere or trying to trick him in any way. He was so sensitive that he could SMELL the difference between different brands of canned green beans, and he could actually tell you what brand they were BEFORE HE EVEN TASTED THEM. INSANE. And he wouldn’t even always eat those—he ruined one Christmas by refusing to eat even one canned bean segment, and my dad, desperate to take any kind of stand, refused to let him go out for our annual Christmas eve milkshakes and light watching. It was horrible.

    And now? There is no one more fun to eat or cook with, and from a food-obsessed family, this is huge praise. He is a fabulous cook, totally creative and experimental across a wide variety of international cooking styles. And he’s largely vegan, so he makes amazing veggie dishes (and great omni stuff at the holidays). There was no way to imagine that this could ever have happened. I think it changed when he was about 17 or so.

    I only read a few comments, but I did think the “super sensitive” comment was relevant–she may taste things in a different way than others do, and while infuriating now, that may end up an asset. I think your therapist’s advice is perfect—it was only after my family just totally gave up on humoring him that my brother improved. (And no more Christmases were ruined.)

    But also: what makes Leta so picky now may make her a great cook/eater in the future! This is true not only for my brother, but also for my husband, another “no vegetables, no fruit, no spices of any kind, EVER” kid who grew up to use this same supersensitivity that made food taste bad to him. Now, as a sommelier, it’s an advantage.

  • lbnassar

    Yes, it gets better! Especially when they can feed themselves (and make runs to the grocery store). I have so many food stories, but will try to limit them. 1) I made them responsible for their choices. We had a chart that was a list of protein choices, vegetable choices (one kid only ate carrots), starch choices, and dessert. They had to pick one from each one – it was their choice so I didn’t have to take responsibility for it. Cheese sticks were particularly popular. 2) For years we would go out and they would order a bowl of pasta with NOTHING on it, no cheese, no sauce, no green stuff. 3) After a couple of particularly horrendous dinnertimes (trying to force the younger one) I gave it up. They eat what their body needs. And they won’t touch milk or soymilk in a glass. *Sigh.*

  • Sylva Leining

    For years my nephew would only eat dry cereal from a plate with a fork. Granted, he has other issues, but he has survived 12 years on this diet. He would not drink anything but apple juice. Mother-in-law is a doctor who said he’ll be fine. He’ll outgrow it. Now, at the age of 12, he’ll eat pizza too. This may not be comforting news for you and Leta right now, but she’ll get over it. You will too.

  • kbow

    It will be okay. I was a picky kid too and went to elaborate lengths to hide my food and spit it out if it ever hit my mouth.

    Make a list of things she likes with her and she can add to it as she finds more things. Don’t try to sneak shit into other things – she will find out and never eat that thing that she initially liked before you bunged it up.

    My daughter ate a half pepperoni and mustard sandwich in every school lunch for FOUR YEARS. She would even order that at Subway. When she had a boyfriend at 17 who ate out a lot she finally started eating new things out of that peer pressure. Parental and sibling pressure gives you the opposite results. Now she often craves salads.

    My 13-year old son refuses to eat sandwiches so I have to put crackers in his lunch to get enough carbs and actual food to ensure he gets full. Crackers or a baguette or something plus beef jerkey or sliced ham in a baggie by themselves. Also, he eats a bag of popcorn almost every night and I’m not in jail and he’s not obese or even overweight.

    Both of them eat the occasional fruit and veggie – but all apples must be granny smith. She likes broccoli only raw, he likes it blanched–I won’t eat it at all!

    When my mother complained about my picky kids I had to remind her that my little sister basically ate top ramen for dinner every night for 3 years. The sister is a social worker now with two kids of her own.

    She’s not going to get scurvy or rickets. When she hits growth spurts she’ll get hungry enough to try new things.

    At family events with potlucks I feed them before we leave home and just let them go hungry now. Eventually they’ll figure out what they’re missing.

    Good luck!

  • lepisosteidae

    Three points:

    I was a notoriously picky eater as a kid. I got slightly more adventurous as a teenager, but my tastebuds underwent a drastic change sophomore year of college and I suddenly enjoyed a whole lot of foods (mustard! olives! blue cheese!) that I had previously hated. Basically, as everyone else has pointed out, no one has ever died from picky eating, and just about everyone outgrows it.

    Secondly, you may know this, but young kids are hardwired to like simple, bland foods. It’s an adaptation for survival; in the days before supermarkets and chicken tenders, back in our hunter-gathering past, eating something new and unfamiliar could be fatal, so most kids stuck to what they knew. It’s not really Leta’s fault she’s so unwilling to try things. Blame evolution!

    Thirdly, have you considered Real Simple recipes? They’re easy, designed for working parents, and they have a lot of good options for “redoing” classics and kid friendly foods in a healthier fashion, like adding pureed cauliflower to macaroni and cheese. There’s both the website and the magazine to check out!

  • Whitaknee.b3ck

    Lisa’s Chicken. It’s my mom’s concoction.

    Get a box of chicken rice a roni. Follow the directions according to the box. When you add the water also add chicken. At the end add sour cream and let simmer for about 5 minutes.

    My mom has never met a child that would not eat this and she has encountered and raised some VERY picky eaters.

  • J.F.

    Ah yes, I’ve got one myself. He dislikes meat. A lot. However, at 6, I’ve been able to make him understand that when he doesn’t like any foods then sometimes he’s going to have to eat food he doesn’t like. Now he’ll choke down a chicken nuggest or two, and “tacos with cheese, no shell” and a few other things.

    Someone recommended the book “Food Chaining” to me. It’s supposed to be THE book to cure picky eaters. My kid has shown some willingness to try new foods on occasion (mostly at his grandmother’s house where he adores pot roast) so I haven’t gone to the lengths suggested in the book but there are people who swear by it.

    I haven’t read all 176 comments so if this is a repeat I apologize.

  • vaefitz

    Wow. THANK YOU ALL! I am not alone! Heather: I know EXACTLY what you mean about the Spaghetti-O’s! Anything with fiber?! WTF! And the constipation/with-holding issues! Whew! My new resolution for the New Year? Be as strong as the Dooce!
    My only question: What about the “I’m hungry” whining? Since I have catered this long, is there a tapering off, or is this cold turkey? GAH! Ear plugs!

  • MistressOfSqualor

    I highly recommend Ann Hodgman’s book One Bite Won’t Kill You.

    http://www.amazon.com/One-Bite-Wont-Kill-You/dp/0395901464/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1294795797&sr=8-1

    I originally bought this book because the illustrations were done by Roz Chast. Turns out Ann Hodgman is a pretty good cookbook writer.

  • beattiestudios

    Have you considered a “grain free” diet? It’s extremely good for you and since she seems to dislike a lot of things she couldn’t have in this diet you have already taken a huge step. I have read that children who are on a gluten free diet will begin to turn away food that is bad for them and crave the food that is good for them. And yes, I get how impossible that sounds. I know about it only because I have a daughter who is exhibiting autistic markers and I hear that it helps with that as well as anxiety, depression, etc… And I could sure use the diet to help with those last two for me personally.

    It may not be what you are looking for but I thought I would suggest it.

    Good Luck! I agree that taking the emotion out of it will help. If you don’t make it a big deal then she will learn not to as well.

  • mandabunine

    Why not trying make meal time visual? Make a “Dinner Time Option Chart.” Using pictures of what will be available for dinner that night, have Leta choose the items she will eat. Maybe she could choose the items she wants for dinner before school, after school, or even right before dinner. Maybe giving her some ownership over her food, and the ability to choose what foods she wants may help her eat something! I work with students with autism (I am *not* saying Leta has autism) and I use a program called Boardmaker to create visuals for my students. Boardmaker is expensive, but simply google image searching meal options and putting them into a chart can yield the same result. I find visuals help everyone, including adults! Good luck! (I would be happy to create a sample and email it to you, if you want. Just let me know!)

  • Jessica Eiden Smedley

    Heather, I think you’re doing the right thing. If she’s hungry, she’ll eat. Good luck.

  • karmadarling

    My old boss had four kids and she once told me that she would make her husband take the kids out for the day and she would make her “special” tomato sauce.

    Basically she would pack the sauce with every vegetable known to mankind and then freeze huge batches of it. They loved it because it had so much flavor, and it made her feel better about endless days of pasta and pizza.

    They are all adults now and she still refuses to let them watch her make it, but she makes huge batches and gives some to them for their own children.

    Oh, and also, please be kinder to yourself. You have an intelligent and sensitive child. She may need more than you expected, but she will do great things one day with that sensitivity and intellect. I promise. (And even if she needs therapy, so what?)

  • PaigeWAydensMama

    It gets better. We’ve been through the ringer on food too. Not exactly to the extent that you have, but in a different way. Our son is only 2, but he had to have a bone marrow transplant at 8 1/2 months. The chemo required to kill off the old bone marrow severely screws up the taste buds, and for a long time, the only thing he would eat was sweet potato baby food. We had to mix formula into it just to get him enough calories to come off IV nutrition. He tends to go for simple things. Grilled chicken with sides of broccoli and rice. That said, he’s only just started to go for the broccoli and we’ve been offering it to him for months and months. We just tried not to make too big of deal about it if he didn’t eat something. We did instate the rule that if he doesn’t eat a meal, he doesn’t get any snacks and can’t eat again till the next meal. But we don’t make a big deal out of that either or act like it irks us (which it certainly does!). When he asks for a snack or unhealthy food, we just say something along the lines of, “No, you didn’t eat your waffle at breakfast. You can eat when we have lunch.”

    OH! And he loves “dip” of any kind. Ketchup with sandwiches, syrup with waffles, salsa with chips or quesadillas, etc. He’ll refuse to eat something, but then if we offer dip, he starts going for it usually. Not to say that will actually work for Leta, but there may be a trick similar to that that will.

    Good luck!

  • hanniy

    A question for all of you parents with picky eaters – is your picky eater sick often?

    I have a 4yo daughter with health issues, so I’ve really made sure that she has a healthy diet. The turning point for me was when I read a book called Disease Proof Your Child by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. This is a great book to motivate you to work to feed your child a better diet. One thing that really sticks with me from the book was Dr. Fuhrman writing about kids with recurring ear infections – some of these kids were on antibiotics monthly for years! Many were picky eaters who would only eat cookies, fries, chicken nuggets…etc. When Dr. Fuhrman suggested that the parent must change the kid’s diet to change the kid’s health, the most common comment (and worry) was, “But my child won’t eat anything but fries for lunch!” And Dr. Fuhrman’s advice was spot on – take away all of the processed garbage and only offer healthy food. It’ll be rough for a week or two and your child may be hungry, but within a month, not only will they be eating healthier food, they’ll be enjoying it. And when the kid’s diet changed? Earaches (among other health issues) were GONE.

    Since I’ve changed my daughter’s diet (she didn’t eat really badly before, but I removed most processed foods), she is hardly ever sick and thank goodness for that – a fever puts her in the hospital for IV antibiotics because of her low neutrophil (an infection fighting white blood cell) count. Because of the results I’ve seen with my own daughter, I think it is SO incredibly important to make sure children have healthy diets. And even if your picky eater is healthy now, eating no fruits and vegetables can cause problems down the road. I have my own issues with food, but because of my daughter I eat healthier now than I ever have in my life…and I’m so much better off because of it!

    If you want any more information about foods and the hormonal havoc certain foods create in the body, Jillian Michael’s Master Your Metabolism is another fantastic book to read…

  • nmurch

    Good to hear we aren’t the only ones. My son’s so picky he won’t eat candy, cake, pasta, pizza, cheese or just about anything. We even had supernanny come for 2 weeks and she failed to get him to eat. He ended up starving himself for 4 days so they couldn’t air the show. It’s nice knowing we’re not the only one’s with a resistant eater.

  • dragonfish

    I am not sure if anyone else has said this yet but maybe something along the lines of an alton brown cookbook? geekery and science plus food?
    I have had a life long love of food, but I will say that all of the foods I do not like are for textural reasons – not taste, so perhaps that is part of it?
    Good luck and thanks as always for sharing.

  • Shellbell

    My son, 7, is picky too and it is all my fault. He needed to eat on a schedule from an early age or he would completely freak out and become impossible to deal with, so I became a food nazi. I would force him to eat and mealtimes became power struggles. It got to the point where he wouldn’t eat anything and if I forced him he would throw up. It was awful. I dreaded meals and the constant confrontations. Finally, I completely disengaged. I make meals and he eats or he doesn’t, it is up to him, but he knows that there will be no snacking later. I will offer him something for dessert that I know he likes, but to get it he must eat a couple of bites of something that he doesn’t care for. I keep it small, a couple of bites or maybe even just one. And new foods must be tried before they can be rejected. Those are my only rules at mealtimes. Things have gotten much better. I also put a sticker chart on the fridge and whenever he tried something new or ate vegetables, he got a sticker. When the sticker chart was completed we went to the toy store and he picked out a prize. He is not a great eater, but he has improved tremendously since I stopped forcing him to eat.

    Our pediatrician said two things that I keep in my mind at mealtimes:
    Kids do not starve.
    Kids are curious, natural explorers and food is interesting. Nature will take its course.

    I hope this helps!

  • dragonfish

    hey what about fennel?? she likes black licorice, right?

  • CindyB1

    This really makes me laugh. My brother thrived on pita bread pizzas and doretos from the time he was 2 and that is still his primary food groups at 43… My son would NEVER eat meat. He would gag and puke at the table, talk about a appetite killer! I pretty much took the same route as my mom and didn’t push him with the foods. He is now a healthy 21 year old who loves steak and Taco Bell. If my brother or my son didn’t want to eat what was served, they were free to make their own supper. They never starved, never went to bed hungry and somehow still continued to be major pains in the ass.

    What I am basically saying is this food issue is YOURS not Letas! Relax and enjoy her quirks and show her your journals when she has kids and laugh like hell when her kid does the same thing to her.

  • SteffernieA

    I’m also a reformed picky eater, and the only advice I can say from experience is that if Leta is crying at the table because you told her to STAY there until she ate her chicken/pork chop/steak, and she just can’t do it – you might be dealing with a vegetarian.

    That’s how I started! But in addition with my life-long aversion to meat, I also didn’t eat eggs, any cheese other than white and melted, pasta sauce, mushrooms, onions, olives or (get this) PEPPER until I was late into my teens.

    So keep the faith Dooce, and Flintstone vitamins are your (or really, Leta’s) friend.

  • Paddle Board Girl

    You might consider having Leta evaluated for sensory issues – they could be making food and eating a challenge for her. Most good speech pathologists are also trained in feeding therapy.

    If she DOES have sensory issues surrounding food, she might not be able to get adequate nutrition or be satisfied at meals, no matter how much OR little attention you pay it – because the physical challenge may bigger than whatever strategy you are attempting to employ.

    My son used to eat NOTHING but cheese, plain pasta, white bread. He is now eating fruits, veggies and meat and adds new foods to his list on a regular basis, thanks to some good, professional help in a neutral setting that removed any parental pressure and made it about his accomplishments.

    I would be happy to talk with you via email if you want more info on this subject or our experience.

  • writtendad

    After the myriad of comments, I’m not sure you’ll ever make it to this one, and I’m sure it’s been suggested, but we just don’t make a big deal out of it. Not, that is, in the sense that he must eat new things. Granted, our son isn’t NEARLY as picky as Leta, but he has a very narrow range of likes, so presenting something new is far from difficult.

    We offer him the food, wait for him to decline it, and then place it in a separate bowl on the table at dinner. We’ll then engage in conversation about how good that food item is in hopes of triggering some curiosity. This isn’t a science, and it may sound stupid, but sometimes it works. We’re not over the top about it, but we make comments to each other and then figure that he has a portion that he can try if he wants.

    We’ve tried the whole try-it-or-die bit and it has never worked for us. Even if we could get the food into his mount and then manage to break free without him drawing blood, he’s spit it out and cry. It was a lose lose so we finally just gave up and, in some cases, it seems to work.

    HOWEVER, like I said, he’s not as selective as Leta, so I can’t say for sure if this will work. Or if it’s a matter of tastes or a matter of will. But I can say that a child’s tastes will evolve (likely) but their will, as you know all too well, can never be broken.

    But seriously? Cake? Really? I’ve never understood that about her. Cake and cupcakes are, well, awesome. She doesn’t even like the frosting? And, on a different topic that you may have already addressed, what does she eat at school?

  • Shani

    My younger son will be four in a week, and the list of things he is willing to eat is, well, very short. Pretzels (both hard and soft). Tortilla chips. Toast. Bagels. Freeze dried peaches (but no other fruit). Snapea Crisps. Milk and water.

    That’s it.

    Our pediatrician advised adding an iron-fortified vitamin supplement to his milk, so we do that.

    And you know what? He’s just fine. He’s big and strong and smart.

    When he asks for foods, we make them for him, even if we don’t think he’ll actually eat them (he usually just smells them a while). But the other day he ate a spoonful of peanut butter, so I remain hopeful that, one day, he might eat like a normal person (whatever that is).

    Until then? I try to relax about it. It helps that he wasn’t our first child. While his brother has always been willing to try foods, in other ways he’s taught us that each child does things on their own schedules.

  • Dayeseye

    All I can say is Good Luck with however you decide to handle this.

    My husband is 33 years old and his mom always gave in to his ” I don’t like that” “Yuck” etc. etc.
    So now I am married to a 33 year old man who will only eat pizza, chicken Parmesan, chocolate, kung pao chix,black beans & steak. seriously.

    Nothing:
    green
    white
    veggie
    cheese

    My parents cooked everything and anything under the sun. You didn’t want it, okay; sit there and enjoy the conversation, but don’t ask for something not on the table.
    I can go anywhere and find something to eat, my husband starved on our honeymoon, and various other vacations.

  • Red Stethoscope

    This may be my favorite blog post by you ever, but unfortunately, I have no food suggestions for Leta. I just love the title you have for Leta’s memoir, which I should mention, will likely be released at the same time as Lulu’s (the younger of Tiger Mother’s children), “Child of the Tiger: What it was Like to Grow Up Without Happiness.”

  • mstinak

    I was never a picky eater, but my mom still played the “you either eat what I make or you go to bed” card. Ocassionally she played the “you either eat what I make or make yourself a peanut butter sandwich and then go to bed” card.

    Some parent volunteers that I’ve worked with (I work at a food bank) say that their children have become less picky at dinner time after volunteering at our food bank a few times. They say it makes the kids feel more grateful for what they do have, since so many others don’t have the luxury of choosing only the special foods they prefer. I’m assuming the parents used some rhetoric to get their kids there, but seemed to work for them!

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