It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Picky eaters

743955_a_tad_angry_Today’s post is inspired by a commenter, who asked, “Do you ever get kids in who are such picky eaters that they won’t eat a lot of your cooking?” My answer to that is, “Yes, at first.”

Generally, the younger children will eat pretty near anything you plonk on that high chair tray, or poke into their mouths with a spoon. (Occasionally, yes, something comes blasting back out of that 7-month-old mouth, but not nearly as often/commonly as with older children.) Just let them get a little older, let them start feeling their “I’m autonomous!” two-year-old oats, and suddenly you have someone refusing this, refusing that, refusing anything that isn’t white, that isn’t sweet, that isn’t macaroni…


So yes, I see my fair share of tots who turn their sweet little button noses up at my delectable offerings. I work with toddlers, of course I see that!

But as I say, it doesn’t last. Why?

The key is knowing who controls what. Who’s in charge of your child’s intake?

Hint: not you.

YOU control what is served, when it’s served, and where. Your child chooses whether to eat, and how much they’ll eat (though you can certainly put a cap on it, you can’t really enforce a minimum).

YOU provide a range of healthy foods at set intervals.
YOUR CHILD decides whether to eat it.

So far, any of you with picky eaters are shouting at me. “I KNOW that! That’s exactly the problem, isn’t it??”

Sort of. But not really.

It’s only a problem if you try to take on the child’s role of intake, and let the child take on your role of “what”.

Are you following me?

You provide a healthy meal. Your little darling says, “No broccoli. I want macaroni.”

Well, no. YOU decide what is served, not them. And THEY decide whether they’ll ingest it.

“I know you like macaroni, but tonight we’re having broccoli.” YOU decide what. Your child decides whether. It may well be that they will decide not to eat the broccoli. That is their right.

Of course, that’s not how the child sees it. They don’t want to be hungry. They want what they want. And you’re saying “No macaroni, but you can eat BROCCOLI”????

So of course they throw a fit.

I know. It’s awful. And don’t you just want peaceful mealtimes? Don’t worry. You’ll get them… only not just yet. Fits are almost inevitable when you’re teaching new patterns, so let’s take a look at your reacton to a fit. If you change his meal because he’s throwing a fit, you are being bullied. You are being bullied into doing something less-than-healthy for your child. Your child may not intend to bully you — they just know they don’t want that damned broccoli — but in the end, you are teaching your child you can be bullied.

And once you start that, it never ends. So, if you cave in to a fit, are you buying peace, or guaranteeing ongoing strife?

“I know you prefer macaroni. But tonight we’re having broccoli.”

[The fit commences.]

“Oh, dear. I guess you’re not hungry. Away you go and play, then.” (Or, if the fit is too loud and ugly to ignore, you calmly — think robot — take them and deposit them in their room.) “When you’re ready to be calm and quiet, you can come back.”

But why would I go through that, you ask? So what if she wants nothing but macaroni and bananas? It’s better than nothing, right?


You have ONE thing going for you — in a big way — in this food struggle. (You have more than one, really: you have the fact that you are the parent, you are the chef, you buy the food. But for many parents, that isn’t enough.)

The ONE thing you have that’s really, REALLY on your side and will inevitably tip the scales in the favour of healthy eating?

Your child’s hunger.

“AHHH! She’s telling me to starve my child!!!” There you go again, taking on your child’s role in the feeding dynamic. YOU are not “starving” your child; YOUR CHILD is refusing perfectly good food. There is a world of difference here.

I find myself hauling out the same things that were said to me, many years ago… because certain parenting techniques just never, ever wear out.

“But mummy, I’m HUNGRY!”
“No, you’re not. If you were hungry enough, you’d eat your sausage.”

And of course, she was right. And when I GOT hungry enough, I did eat that sausage… because I knew there was nothing else forthcoming. It’s entirely possible (because I was a stubborn little thing) that there were some nights I went to bed without supper.

My mother knew that choice was my right and was willing to let me make it. I’m better for it, because now I enjoy a wide range of foods. There are fewer than half-a-dozen things I truly don’t like. (Liver and lima beans top that list.)

“Starving”? North American children have no idea, none at all, what it’s like to “starve”. This is a good thing! But let us be clear here: Starving children will eat dirt to ward off the hunger pangs. They would never in a million years turn their noses up at broccoli.

So no, you’re not starving your child. And be assured that your child won’t “starve” themselves, either. (Yes, there is a rare medical condition whereby a child actually will do that… but it’s rare.)

If you’re hungry, it’s the most natural thing in the world to expect you to eat. (And it IS!)

This is a process. It may take a few days (for stubborn children, even a couple of weeks) before they realize you are dead serious. What they see is what they get. No options. And you can’t waffle on this, not even once. As soon as you do, all that suffering has been in vain.

Don’t cave!

For particularly recalcitrant kids (I recall doing this with one of my own, I forget which one), I’ve been known to pull out the rejected lunch at snack time. And then again at dinner. (Told you I was stubborn. Push me too hard and I get downright ornery.)

But stubborn (and maybe even a bit of ornery) is necessary when we’re talking creating healthy habits for a lifetime.

Really what it is, is consistent. Stick to your guns, and your child will eventually learn to eat. You don’t coax, you don’t argue, you don’t indulge in long drawn-out negotiations at the table. You can go easy, and only put one or two bites of a new/problematic food on their plates. And then they can eat it.

Or not.

If you can face the “or not”, you will produce healthy, varied eaters.


November 10, 2009 - Posted by | food, power struggle | , , ,


  1. i always get this when i tell people i make fish or tuna casserole or whatever–oh, do your children eat that? well, i don’t know, i say, but that’s what is being served! thanks for the reinforcement!

    “It’s what’s being served.” Great attitude! I’d bet good money they eat a lot more than the kids of the parents who fret about every mouthful. Keep it up!

    Comment by Dana | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  2. Mary, here is my question. I’m allowed to not like certain foods — heck, there are foods that every single one of us doesn’t like. (For me its eggs and bananas; even hated them as a tiny infant; its something about the smell.) So I’m totally on-board with not allowing a child to refuse a food s/he has never tried. But if the child says to you “I hate broccoli” and has tried it and spit it out and steadfastly tells you how much they hate broccoli every time you serve it … what then? At your house, are toddlers allowed to not like a food or two?

    As a rule, no. I would bet that there were a great many other things besides eggs and bananas you didn’t like when you were two, just because that’s what two-year-olds do. How do you know which are real and which not? Until a child is eating just about everything without a fuss (any kind of fuss), I tend to assume a stated dislike is more about autonomy, negativity and power than it is about a genuine taste.

    As the child matures and shows themself ready to eat what they’re given, I allow a couple of opt-outs. But really, most children are well into three and close to four years old before this happens… and even then, we’ll revisit them once in a while, because tastes do change!

    Comment by anastasiav | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  3. I have used this technique with all of my children, with the result that I have a child on the Autism Spectrum who is *not* a picky eater. From the reaction of the professionals we deal with, she may be the *only* child on the planet who is both on the Autism Spectrum, and not picky about food. Heh.

    Truthfully, she might be picky – I just don’t notice. She’s not allowed to complain about the food, but I don’t particularly monitor what she puts in her mouth, either. A well-balanced plate of food is dished out at meal time, conversation ensues, food goes in the mouths. At the end of the meal I encourage everyone to finish their fruit or vegetables and milk. Whatever else is left on the plate passes by without comment, except that anyone who has asked for seconds is expected to either finish the second helping at that meal or come up with another plan to avoid wasting the food.

    Personally, I think the current epidemic of picky eaters is a result of overparenting. A little benign neglect is called for at the dinner table as well as the rest of life. 🙂

    Well done! That’s quite the accomplishment, and it sounds like you’ve gotten there pretty painlessly, all in all. Something to take some parental satifaction in.

    In our home, until every item on the plate is at least tasted, there are no seconds of anything. Seconds, however, don’t have to be finished. Generally, there’s someone at the table who’s more than willing to clean a buddy’s plate. (They sneeze in each other’s faces, after all. I don’t sweat the germ issue much…) 😛

    Comment by Dragon | November 10, 2009 | Reply

    • My son is ASD and not particularly picky too – we get the same look of astonishment from all professionals!

      Actually, he is very picky, and would, given the choice, eat plain pasta & cheese every day. I DO NOT serve pasta and cheese every day though! And I do insist that he tries new foods, and remind him that tastes change over time, so he needs to re-try foods he previously didn’t like!

      “I DO NOT serve [insert pet food here] every day!” The key to a well-balanced diet for your child. Provide it and no options.

      Good point about tastes changing. They do. I learned to enjoy coffee when I was thirty. (Beer, too.) I used to love cotton candy. Now I can’t stand the stuff. Brussel sprouts were something I only began to enjoy in the last five years or so — that thanks to my kids, who love them!

      Comment by mrs aginoth | November 10, 2009 | Reply

    • Also in this home – you don’t get seconds until you’ve at least tried everything on the plate, and most of the time you’re expected to have finished your entire first plate before you have second helpings of anything. I’m flexible on that, though.

      And yes, the arrangements for dealing with “I took too much second helping and can’t eat as much as I thought” often involve just passing the plate along to someone else at the table. 🙂

      Comment by Dragon | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  4. I have a very stubborn picky eater. At preK (ages 4-5), he got served lunch and snacks every day. I found out that he wasn’t eating lunch – basically he ate the bread and drank the milk and that was it – every. single. day. He chose to be hungry. Even now at 13, he chooses to be hungry several nights a month. One small serving of chili got served to him 3 separate times and he still never managed to eat it. How he manages to keep growing, I’m not sure.

    You’ve got yourself quite the kid, there. Even so, “several times a month” is not “every meal” — and this is good! I’m betting that if you hadn’t allowed “choosing to be hungry” to be an option for him, you’d be faced with a child who still only ate bread and milk. One of my daughter’s friends (she’s 16) eats nothing but breads, plain pasta, and peanut butter. Why she doesn’t have rickets or scurvy is beyond me. Perhaps her parents give her supplements?

    Then there’s my younger child, who did try to starve himself as a toddler – we never did figure out why, but he wasn’t eating enough to grow and finally ended up with an ng-tube for several months. He, who was fussed and catered to as a toddler, eats anything and everything. Go figure! If he says he doesn’t like a food, I respect it more, because I know he truly considered it (and the number of foods he doesn’t like is ridiculously small, like I think I’ve counted six (including Greek olives, but he likes regular black olives and green olives)).

    Goodness, you’ve had your challenges on the feeding front! I’m impressed that you can hold this line with the experience of a TRUE non-eater. As I remarked to an earlier commenter, when a child has proven him/herself willing to eat just about everything without a fuss, they’re allowed the odd exclusion. The right to opt out of a food is earned, though, as yours has done, by eating the vast majority of foods.

    Comment by Katherine | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  5. Thank you! I have friends who cannot figure out why their children refuse to eat most foods, while my kids eat just about anything. True, there are a few foods that each child really does not like. But they are willing to try them repeatedly, since tastebuds change. Since they were babies, I have believed (with my doctor’s encouragement) that my job is to provide healthy food. Their job is to choose to eat it. As a result, they eat just about everything, and nobody has died from starvation.

    The parents’ job is to provide healthy food; the kids’ is to choose to eat it. Exactly. And when they choose not to eat it? Their choice. Your job is to provide healthy food, not prevent them from being hungry when they choose to reject the healthy food.

    Comment by Tammy | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  6. Once again, your timing is impeccable. I was just lamenting how I had become one of those moms cooking two dinners every night. My kids who ate everything once upon a time (and one who eats just about everything when she’s at day care) now will not eat anything that has mixed ingredients (save Mac & Cheese and Pizza). My son wouldn’t eat pasta until he was nearly 3, and hates ice cream.

    I just sent this to my husband and reminded him that you gave us “the quiet stair”.

    You are my hero!

    I gave you “the quiet stair”, did I? That made me laugh out loud. Thanks!

    If she’ll eat everything at daycare, if they both used to eat just about everything, you know this isn’t about food at all, it’s about power and control. However, they’ve chosen a battle that is totally weighted in your favour. You can win this!

    Comment by ClumberKim | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  7. Ok, I have been *waiting* for this topic to come up again. Thanks! Here are my questions. At what age do you start this routine? Our daughter has some gross motor problems and it took her much longer to be able to eat anything than I expected. She finally started reliably eating yogurt at around 8-9 months. She is 22 months now and can eat most things, but less well than your average child. For example, pizza crust is fine – I don’t think she could manage a tortilla chip. Is she ready for Mary’s approach to food?

    I find that children under a year or so aren’t generally picky. What you’re describing doesn’t seem to be ‘picky’ so much as physically challenged. In that case, should she begin to become picky, yes, she’s absolutely old enough for this approach. I assume, given her gross motor issues, you’d be working with a doctor. If a certain food is liable to be a choking hazard, then you wouldn’t offer it, of course. But if it’s just that she’ll eat it more slowly, or more messily, than another child her age, then yes, offer away!

    For my son, almost 6, we did not go this route. He is moderately picky, but usually willing to try things. This echoes the above question. At 6, if he is willing to try something, but doesn’t like it, is that “good enough”? He has to try things every time – so if he tried chili yesterday, he has to try the leftovers again today. But if he doesn’t like it, we let him eat something else. We are working on having that something else be something he can make himself.

    At six years old, assuming he eats 98% of what he’s offered, he’s allowed a few dislikes, so I was nodding my head along with you, until I got to “if he doesn’t like it, we let him eat something else.” Generally a meal has two or three components, so if there’s one item he doesn’t like, he should (after tasting that one item) be able to fill up on the other parts. But even if you’re just having a big bowl of chili, nothing else, if he opts not to eat it… that’s all there is. He’s free to opt not to eat it. He is not free to whip up an alternate meal, otherwise, where’s the motivation to learn to eat new things?

    Looking forward to hearing your comments this week!

    Comment by Sarah | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  8. You’re right. Dogs and toddlers ARE a lot a like. As a dog trainer, I spend a lot of time trying to explain to our puppy raisers that it’s okay for their puppy to misbehave. The puppy should be free to make choices. You are there to provide consequences to those choices.

    People who keep their dog on a tight leash and drag it around like a puppet aren’t teaching it anything. But people who provide positive consequences for walking nicely and negative consequences for hitting the end of their leash teach their dog to walk nicely.

    Oh, goodness, I need you to talk to my husband about that whole “hitting the end of the leash” thing…

    When the dogs come in to my for advance training, I sometimes get stuff like “I like to put some of this in his food to entice him” or “he doesn’t like that new fish based food you put him on so I’ve been giving him these treats.”

    Trust me, a couple days in our kennel, and the dog will be wolfing down whatever we put in front of him. If he doesn’t eat, he doesn’t eat. If he doesn’t sit nicely and wait for the word to begin eating, and he starts eating early, he doesn’t eat. It’s amazing what dogs can learn when they know the consequence is not eating, instead of “I will be enticed with yummier stuff”.

    Oh, well said! It’s amazing what TODDLERS can learn to eat when they know the consequence is not eating, instead of “I will be enticed with yummier stuff”!

    Comment by ifbyyes | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  9. Great advice! I think it’s better than what we do, because it’s so plain and simple. At our house, I give the kids a serving of everything we’re having for dinner, they can eat it or not, but they can’t have seconds of anything until they finish what’s on their plate, and they can’t have dessert, if there is one, unless they finish their vegetables.

    This is pretty much what I do, with the exception of the dessert variant, which I never serve at lunch, so it doesn’t affect the daycare.

    One thing we added with my son, a “never eat” list of 5 foods that he’s allowed to not eat. Everything else he has to eat without complaining. My husband’s parents did this with him, so we tried it. My son’s list is: squash, eggplant, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and lasagna. I think it’s a texture thing.

    Sure sounds like texture! We had a “do not eat” list for my stepkids who were picky eaters at first. They, however, only got two items, which they were allowed to change from time to time… but not right before dinner!

    I also take the kids preferences into account. Eg. last night I made both tortellini and plain pasta, because I like tortellini but the kids prefer plain pasta, and I could boil them all in the same pot. And tomato sauce and cheese on the side, so they could choose which they wanted.

    We do the ‘on the side’ thing in our family, but I don’t do it with the toddlers. As I’ve said to previous commenters: the right to have opt-out foods is earned by being willing to try everything, and by eating any and all foods without fuss. They don’t generally get to that point much before three or later.

    But yes, no special meals, they can go hungry if they want to, and they get sent away from the table for complaining.

    Good point. Mealtimes should be pleasant affairs. Anyone making it unpleasant for the others can leave.

    Comment by lynn | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  10. Oh, and for Sarah – I try to have more than one dish as dinner, e.g., pasta, broccoli, and salad, and give small portions of each to start, so if a kid doesn’t like one thing, they only have to eat their first small portion of each thing, and then they can have seconds of the stuff they liked better.

    My husband’s favorite line when the kid says he doesn’t like something: “That’s okay, you don’t have to like it. Eat it anyway.”

    Ha! I have the same line. When the children can understand, I explain that this is just good manners: if I go to a friend’s house for dinner, I eat what I’m served, whether or not it’s a favourite. I don’t have to eat a lot of it, but I do have to eat it. Even grown-ups have to eat things they don’t like from time to time!

    Comment by lynn | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  11. Bravo! I’ve done it from the begining and I have a two year old who adores ceasar salad and a three year old who will steal green beans off your plate.

    Good for you! It’s not that difficult, really, if you do it from the beginning.

    Comment by Jenn H | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  12. The number of comments shows what a hot topic this is! I’m cooking “Jacques, le Pumpkin” tonight for dinner. The kids requested it. I’ve told Mary, but I’ll repeat here: I let the kids help with meal planning. Each chooses one meal a week, and it truly does not end up the same boring stuff. Any help with meal planning is good, and they now have some control over at least one night. Other suggestions are always welcome too.

    I don’t do that with the daycare kids, but I do do it with my own family. I often try out new recipes, and when someone particularly likes something, it goes in the card file, and will often be requested therafter. That’s another benefit of this approach to food and feeding: Because my kids are all willing to try anything, new foods are greeted with enthusiasm rather than suspicion.

    Comment by Jill in Atlanta | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  13. My grandson is going through a phase of not eating unfamiliar food, which we pretty well ignore, and don’t offer alternatives. Of course, when he’s hungry he’s irritable and we all suffer, but there we go, he’ll grow out of it.

    Friends of ours always insisted on plates being cleared and were critical of me for letting Al, who had a small appetite (but was not at all picky) leave food if he hadn’t chosen the portion size. I was sympathetic to him as I’d had a small appetite too. Their son grew up not liking the foods he’d been forced to eat. Your approach is the sound one.

    Thank you!

    “But there you go” is a terrific attitude to the grumpiness. You don’t bend over backward trying to appease (and I’m sure you don’t tolerate direct rudeness, either).

    I recall my mother getting quite annoyed when one set of grandparents would do that to us: fill our plates for us and then insist that we cleaned them. All that does is teach a child to ignore their own body’s signals. I also remember feeling quite sick and uncomfortable, leaving their table, I was so overfull. Now, if we’d filled the plate ourselves, mum might make us finish it, just to underscore the lesson, particularly if we’d ignored her warnings that “that looks like an awful lot. Are you sure you can eat all that?” 🙂

    Comment by Z | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  14. I am following this approach with my 16-month-old son. Selfishly, it’s a lot more relaxing to ME to know that once I have upheld my end of the bargain (providing reasonably healthy meals and snacks at regular intervals) then I can just sit back and relax, knowing I have done all that I can. I don’t have to agonize over my son filling his belly, getting the recommended amount of vegetables in, etc. Some meals he’s hungry; other times he’s not, it’s up to him and I don’t worry about it. I suppose it’s easy for me to say because he’s always been a big kid and his growth is great.

    Sometimes it seems we give kids such a joyless message about vegetables anyway, like it is swallowing an unpleasant pill and you have to do it every day. What’s the motivation to learn to like an unpleasant pill?

    I agree with you about the vegetable issue. Sure, children tend to prefer sweet over not-sweet, but to reject every single vegetable? I love vegetables, and eat far more of them than fruit (or any other food group). My kids have learned to like them, too, in part because,, as you say, you provide it and then leave them to it, but also because of my modelling, which was not faked in any way. I’m just as likely to rave about some delicious asparagus as I am to drool over a gooey dessert. More, actually, given that I’ve outgrown my childhood love of sweets!

    Comment by Jaimie | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  15. In our house, “I don’t want …” is generally met with “you have a choice. What were having or nothing. You can choose to have nothing but it’s a long time till breakfast.” I’ve only had him choose nothing once.
    With rare exceptions, I think people cater to their kids too often over food. I can’t count the number of friends who will ask us to dinner and then immediately ask Will Jeffrey eat this? They’re always amazed when I tell them that he eats everything that we eat.
    Seriously, I’m lucky I have time to make food at all, let alone a separate thing for each person.

    “You can have what we’re eating, or nothing.” And that is the choice. You’re right: people are busy enough as it is. Why complicate things?

    Comment by Dani | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  16. Do you think parents who have been caving for months (not us, honest!) can flip the switch, say “it’s a new day” and this is how things are going to be at meal time henceforth? I can name on two hands what this child will eat. We eat with this family once a week and the child’s dinner meal is almost always pb&j regardless of what I’m serving — provided by the parents, not by me! I’m glad it’s not my challenge to take on, because it’s going to be a big one after letting it go on for so long. We do deal with picking mushrooms and peppers out mind you…

    YES. The children can learn that lesson, absolutely! They can learn it IF the parents can hold fast. And the parents are going to have to hold fast, harder and longer, because, given their prior experience, the kids are going to resist, harder and longer. What is accomplished in a matter of days to weeks (with occasional sporadic but rare resistance thereafter) at the beginning will take weeks for sure in kids who have learned less healthy patterns. But can the patterns be changed? YES!

    Comment by Tricia | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  17. You got this one dead on! I follow by these rules too.


    Thank you. They’re basic, and they WORK.

    Comment by ~S~ | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  18. Big, fat AMEN from me. You know how I feel about this! People think I’m lying when I say that Sophie had a Reuben sandwich for lunch or that Christopher used to BEG us for tomatoes to eat in the cart at the grocery store. Nope, they just eat.

    There are a very few foods that Sophie truly dislikes, and even fewer for Christopher. I do ask them every now and then to try those things again, and they do, and invariably they still don’t like them. That’s fine, I understand. I just make sure that if it’s something I’m serving, they have other, equally “good” options. For example, Sophie doesn’t care for braised kale. The rest of us LOVE it. So she can choose between another vegetable or a fiber-full fruit if I’m serving that (we have salads at every meal, so she can also choose to have a double-helping of salad).

    Children who have learned to eat have earned the right to a few genuine dislikes. When it’s only the odd item here and there, you can, as you demonstrate, work around it without undue fuss. That’s reasonable. Providing alternate meals is not.

    Comment by Candace | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  19. Totally, completely agree. I’ve always had this attitude with my kids, and they eat pretty well (four of them, ages 6 months to 8 years).

    My issue is that my husband caves (not just with food, with most everything). I’m constantly and consistently setting limits, but he comes right behind me and mixes everything up. 😦 Any tips for spouses?

    Sorry. Spouses are WAY harder to train than toddlers. No words of wisdom from me on that one, but you have my utmost sympathy. I sometimes feel that way about certain daycare parents, but at least in my own home I reign supreme. 🙂

    Comment by Alicia @ bethsix | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  20. I love this approach. I’ve read what you’ve written before on this topic and thought that I’m 100% on board with it….. I just haven’t managed to implement it yet, and I need help.

    My concern is how I would manage to make sure my little one eats the required vegetables. If I offer him a plate with a choice of healthy foods, he’ll happily eat those he wants and leave those he doesn’t. Fine, but it’s always all the veggies that get left.

    So what I’ve been doing, and what I’m still doing, is feeding him – i.e. I control the spoon. The veggies are generally mushed or chopped into what I’m serving and he eats happily as I spoon it in. He’s 21 months now, quite capable of using the spoon himself, but he won’t. Because I do it, right? (why, yes, he IS a first child – gee how could you tell??).

    So, I’m wondering how to change things from here. Would you recommend serving just the veggies first?

    I know things have to change, and they have to change soon. I just haven’t figured out how to take the next step.

    There are a couple of things you can do. Does he ask for seconds? If so, seconds can be dependent on eating the vegetables.

    However, for cases like this, I often do provide the veggies first, a very small portion: one tablespoon, or perhaps even a single bean or three peas. Until that’s eaten, nothing else appears. (Food which, in his case, he can eat on his own, with a spoon or fingers.) He can eat it or not, but that means he gets nothing else. Hold firm with that, and he will figure it out soon enough.

    Comment by Kate R | November 10, 2009 | Reply

  21. My sister can’t understand why my 6 yo and 21 month old will eat just about anything and her 5 yo fights her at almost every meal. I don’t give in! I make one meal and they eat or they don’t.

    My 6 yo will try anything. We were at a bbq this summer and she tried raw clams. She slurped that boogery thing up like a pro. She didn’t like it but she ate the whole thing “to give it a fair try” (her words). She then ate cooked clams and liked them. Everyone was amazed that she would even try them.

    “Give it a fair try” sounds like somethiing she may have picked up from her parents. Maybe? Wherever she got it, it’s absolutely adorable. Good for her! (And for you!)

    Comment by Bethany | November 11, 2009 | Reply

  22. Ok, everyone else has already said it all but I wanted to say something (of course!). My older daughter is not picky, likes spice, likes to try new things. But she HATES yellow squash and applesauce. I don’t eliminate these two things from the menu for all time, but I do try to limit the number of times they appear (and i love yellow squash!). I see that she really does not like those two things. I grew up hating mac n cheese, actually, and my mom was good enough to let me by on those nights (I ate a lot of fish sticks in Lent). But I was in all other ways a good eater.

    My younger daughter is pickier. But we have a “seconds” rule. She always is interested in something at dinner…and if she wants more of it, she’ll eat the salad/vegetables/frittata/etc. She always wants more rice!

    The squash and applesauce revulsion sounds like a texture thing again, doesn’t it? Not a fan of the slick and goopy, maybe?

    Comment by bridgett | November 11, 2009 | Reply

  23. We tend to follow the Ellyn Satter approach with our 3-year old, providing the food and letting her decide how much or whether to eat. I try not to make deals or cajole (although it is hard and I have found myself making a ‘pile’ of food for her to finish, then kicking myself later). We generally give her a slightly bigger portion of what we know she likes and don’t serve seconds unless she’s finished everything. If she decides she doesn’t want to eat, she goes hungry until snacktime. We provide a small snack before bed, since she tends to wake up and scream in the middle of the night when she’s foregone dinner (and we live in an apartment building so that’s not an option). When she’s older, however, the ‘hungry until breakfast’ will be in effect.

    I really love this approach, especially as I came from a family where food bribery, treat-withholding, dieting AND clean-your-plate commands were all in existence, and I sometimes wonder if that contributed to my issues with eating. It would be wonderful for my kids to grow up with healthy attitudes toward food!

    What I’ve described is greatly influenced by Ellyn Satter. I read Child of Mine, Feeding with Love and Good Sense when my children were young, and I find her just so sensible about food. If you’re following her guidelines, I’m sure you’ll get those healthy attitudes into your children.

    Comment by Kiera | November 11, 2009 | Reply

  24. Mary, I do understand and generally agree with yoru approach. BUT…….

    My son, second child, stopped eating almost everything at 13-14 months of age. I persevered, offering up food that would be ignored. He stopped growing, and lost enough weight that he was off the bottom of the charts. He was assessed by the pediatrician, who told me to feed him! Ha!

    I gave up and concentrated on what he would eat.

    I could not stand the fact that he had stopped growing.

    He is 11 now, and while still picky, will try new things with some hesitation (and would you believe that he only started eating spagetti, not any other form of pasta, at age 8!) Who doesn’t like pasta?

    If you think I gave up, well yes I did, but it was for his sake and my sanity.

    As I said, there is that very small percentage of children who will actually starve themselves. It’s very small, but if you have a child who is losing weight, with no other reason (such as illness) to account for it, then you consult with your doctor and proceed as required. What else could you possibly do?!

    I am, of course, speaking to the vast majority of parents who have kids whose hunger is a strong enough motivator that they’ll start eating — usually within a few days, and never having reached the point of measurable weight loss. Many parents feel like they have a child like yours when they don’t. They concede to their child’s food fads when it’s not necessary.

    But sometimes? Sometimes it is.

    Those children who would actually starve themselves do exist, and it sure sounds like you had one. (It also doesn’t sound like you had a particularly helpful pediatrician…) For those few parents of children such as your son, well, my approach is not effective. It’s just not. You should in no way feel guilty, inadequate or criticized for having to take a different approach. I truly regret if this post made you feel that way.

    Comment by Diane | November 16, 2009 | Reply

  25. You did not make me feel that way at all. I have certainly felt I was being criticised by others over the years (I ‘catered’ to him, he’d eat if I put my foot down, etc.), but I learned to live with the snide comments.

    No, I was just commenting as I found your approach very reasonable and not at all preachy! Just giving another perspective.

    I love your blog and tune in often! My kids went through childcare as infants and toddlers and i would not choose any other type of care. They benefitted so much from it.

    Comment by Diane | November 16, 2009 | Reply

  26. I’ve just had to deal with a 14 year old all weekend who will only eat a special brand chicken goujons, lorne sausages and white Warburton’s bread. He did starve himself half of the weekend.

    Please folk, show who’s boss with food. You’ll do your kids a favour.

    Comment by cartside | November 18, 2009 | Reply

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