Her 4-year-old won't eat

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  December 7, 2009 06:00 AM

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Hi Barbara,

I'm really struggling with food issues with my 4-year-old. I don't want to make meal time a battle zone, but... Come dinner most nights, my 4-year-old, who is pretty picky, frequently won't eat. She usually doesn't like what is being served, even though I often make 2 versions of the same meal, one for adults and one that is more child-friendly (with similar ingredients, but not spiced, maybe fewer objectionable vegetables.) She's gotten into the habit of complaining of a tummy ache and I'm never sure when she's telling the truth or when she's just trying to get out of sitting at the table, being nagged to at least try something.

I have never forced her to eat anything, we simply want her to try each thing that we put on her plate. I also worry that she's already got a bit of a complex about her eating: she hears from our friends and neighbors about her comparatively picky eating, as well as from her big sister, who is a much better eater. I don't want her to go to bed hungry (though I realize it won't kill her), and I also don't want her deriving all of her calories from the breakfast cereals and other carbs that she favors. Plus, I feel uncomfortable with the wasted food. I guess I struggle with this because of my values and I don't want to create a food minefield with her either. Do you have any suggestions for books about getting your child to eat, without engaging in too much food subterfuge?

Thanks!
From: Rachel, Jamaica Plain

Hi Rachel,

With all that build up, you're asking a really easy question. The single best book on the topic is by Ellyn Satter, "Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family." (2008).

Another good one is, "Let Them Eat Cake, The Case against Over-controlling what Children Want to Eat," but it's older and can be hard to find. I just spent half an hour chatting with co-author Ronald Kleinman, a specialist in pediatric nutrition and head of pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children. Just to make sure no one accuses me of under-answering a reader (OK, I also find this subject pretty interesting), here are some of his tips:

1. Don't make special food accommodations for her at meal time. Every time you do, you reinforce her poor eating habits. Make sure the meal includes at least one food that she usually likes. It takes a lot of repetition -- as much as 70 servings! -- for a child to stop thinking of a "new" food as new. It's also OK to have one alternative for her to eat (see #4 below).

2. Make dinner time a family event whenever possible. That makes it social and fun and it also provides positive role models for mealtime behavior, not just what to eat but also how to eat it.

3. Don't compare her eating to any one else, especially not to a sibling's. Children this age (well, all ages) love to exert their independence; as soon as you say, "Your sister likes this," you rob her of her independence, Kleinman says. "She's more likely to not want to eat as a way to exert her independence." At the same time, though, they want to be part of the group. The trick is for her to observe that everyone else eats this, that everyone enjoys dinner, and to want to be part of that.

4.Put the food on her plate, "Here's dinner!" If she refuses, you can have one alternative in the fridge: "Oh, there's a turkey sandwich, if you'd like that." When she says, "NO!" I want X, tell her, do not negotiate. "This is what we have tonight. What's on the table, or the sandwich." Don't insist that she eat ("It's your decision to eat or not.") but do insist that she stay at the table to keep company with the family.

5. When she's hungry a little later, offer her the same choices as at dinner: the plate of food she didn't eat or the sandwich. If she refuses? "You can look forward to breakfast."

If you are consistent about this and if you are able to set this limit matter-of-factly, it usually takes three days to a week for a child to eat what's offered. If she throws a tantrum ("But I'm hungry!"), deal with it matter-of-factly, the same way you would a tantrum over any other issue.

"If she's really hungry, she'll eat," Kleinman says. "Children have a pretty well developed sense of hungry and it works in their favor and in yours, meaning when they are really hungry, they will eat what’s available." The goal is for them to learn to respect their internal cues when it comes to food -- to eat when they are hungry and not eat when they are full.

Two other critical tips: (1) During the rest of the day, don't be rigid about when she eats. "Leave a bowl of healthy food on the table, available for whenever she's hungry," he says. (2) "Never use food as a reward, ever."

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with
some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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76 comments so far...
  1. i think that is some great advice.
    i have two kids - one is a great eater and the other would live off of peanut butter sandwiches if she could.
    my kids eat 3 meals a day plus a morning snack and afternoon snack. i find if they have more than that during the day - forget about dinner.
    i also make sure there is at least 1 item on their plates they will eat. they must sit with us at the table and ask to be excused. if they choose not to eat - that is their choice.
    i'm not a cook at a restaurant - i make dinner and that is what is being served. if they are hungry enough - they will eat something.
    i try not to get too worked up about it.
    but like the LW - i hate hate hate to waste food too.

    Posted by baby blue December 7, 09 09:02 AM
  1. Some other factors that make kids "picky" eaters--

    Timing--Is dinner being served late relative to the child's stomach clock? YES there is such a thing. If she is fed a late snack she probably gags at the sight of more food. This is actually a healthy reaction by the body that has already had enough calories for the day.

    Genetics--on a quiet afternoon, sit down and ask her to make a list of her food likes. Write them down. Pay attention to them at the grocery store. My sister-in-law told me all about my "picky eater" niece and it turns out her list at the age of 3 was EXACTLY the same as mine at the same age, without any contact in between. Taste receptors are partly genetic. Some children prefer stronger flavored food, some hate spices, sometimes it is the genes. They DO change in adolescence.

    Attention--some children drag out suppertime to get as much face time with their working parents as possible. They don;t have any way to say they need contact. If you ask this child to sit and talk with you in the kitchen while you cook dinner, you may find that you only need to cook one meal and that the struggles diminish.

    Salt--how much do you salt the food during cooking? Except for potatoes and rice, try skipping the salt until the food is on the plate. Too much salt will make most kids gag, another healthy reaction that should not be ignored.

    Sibling rivalry at the table is a good way to make things worse. It brings the lesser child to the table with a stomach ache that really is emotional pain and anticipation of more pain at the criticisms. At the age of 4 this child has heard FAR TOO MUCH FROM FAR TOO MANY PEOPLE about how she is inferior. The letter really sounds like this poor kid feels she can;t do anything right at mealtime.

    Posted by Irene December 7, 09 09:55 AM
  1. I think Barbara's advice is sound, but I would add a few things...

    - Make sure you're not giving snacks too close to dinner time. My kids became much better eaters when I made sure that they had snack at least a couple of hours before dinner. That includes drinks - liquids fill you up.

    - On a related note, don't give infinite refills of milk before some dinner is eaten. It's really easy for kids to fill up on milk and then not eat any actual food.

    Also, it doesn't to have a little fun sometimes. We got my picky daughter to try sushi by telling her it's what Hello Kitty eats.

    Posted by akmom December 7, 09 10:25 AM
  1. I was the classic picky eater growing up. I stopped eating meat when I was 6. I am still a vegetarian to this day, although I have extended my repertoire to pretty much anything that doesn't include meat, fish, or poultry. But at the time, I was pretty much a 'starchatarian' who lived on rice and noodles.

    My folks turned mealtime into battle time for years trying to get me to eat. It never worked, and it just made me mroe resistant. Finally, my pediatrician said "Look, she is healthy and growing as she should be. If you don't want to fight, don't". So they stopped. They made whatever they were going to eat. They ate the main course, I filled up on the veggie side dishes. Once they stopped making an issue of it (I think my mom finally said "Eat or starve, your choice"), I ate more. When I got to college, I discovered that the vegetarian selections were pretty limited and boring. So I acquired a few vegetarian cookbooks and learned to cook.

    My kids have been raised vegetarians as well, and have had the "Eat what you get or go hungry" rule since they were toddlers. I think they each have chosen to go to bed hungry exactly twice. Otherwise, they may grumble, but they eat what is on the table.

    Posted by BMS December 7, 09 11:15 AM
  1. leave her alone, she will eat when she is hungry. She is playing wih you, it is control - now you need to get some. She sits at the table with the rest of the family and eats what is in front of her or not eat at all. You are NOT running a restaurant. Once you get her to realize who calls the shots, she will stop doing this.

    Posted by sandi December 7, 09 11:29 AM
  1. I have sympathy for the parents of the picky eater -- yes, kids will eat eventually if they are hungry enough, but don't underestimate the willpower of a young child. We had the "you can eat what's for dinner or one other choice" policy when my daughter was 2. She failed to gain a single ounce between check-ups. The pediatrician said we had to cave in and allow "re-buttering" of her bread, etc. Enough calories were more important that the "right" foods. Some kids will eat to stay alive, but not enough for healthy growth. Happily, at 10 she is a pretty darned good eater. It took a lot of will power to try not to make it into a power struggle.

    I would like to add a suggestion that instead of labeling the two versions of the family dinner as adult/regular and kid/special, try to give everyone at the table the same options. That is, ask everyone at the table if they would like the sauce on their pasta or if they prefer it plain, carrot sticks or caesar salad, etc. The finicky eater may come to realize that the other family members enjoy their choices, and that they are not something you just have to learn to endure. It also keeps the plain options from having a "special just for me" connotation. And once in a while, the adults might really prefer the carrot sticks!

    Finally, make sure you keep her servings really small and on a small plate-- she won't be overwhelmed by them and you will be less stressed out about waste.

    Posted by gastrogal December 7, 09 12:33 PM
  1. A few things you can try that might help...
    1) Although it makes things take longer, have her help in the preparation. If grocery shopping "do you want to get broccoli or green beans", if at home, "can you get me 1 egg from the fridge". If she feels like she worked on something she'll be more likely to eat it.
    2) Make a point of showing her that you eat new things too. "Ooh, that looks interesting, lets get artichokes and see what they're like" (and don't let her know of you hating any foods).
    3) Try not to rush through dinner.It might take her a little while to switch from play-time mode to meal-time mode.

    Posted by The Other December 7, 09 12:37 PM
  1. My mother always told me, "Give them what they like". For years all my daughter wanted to eat was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Then her favorite was chicken nuggets and french fries. When I fed my two daughters what they liked, I never had to fight, argue, give or take, or beg and plead. They grew up trying different foods I made for myself; some they really liked, some they didn't. Eventually, I got them to like haddock and broccoli--imagine that! Stressing about eating whatever you make is nonsense, and making two choices is also idiotic. Just give them what they like!

    Posted by Linda McManus December 7, 09 12:40 PM
  1. I agree completly! Kids have to be taught that dinner time is a family event and there will be ONE menu with no exceptions. I have a friend that will make 3 different meals for 3 different children because they each have different preferences. I say HOGWASH! He's only setting them up to be spoiled complainers.

    Posted by DaveCJ December 7, 09 01:20 PM
  1. I don't know how for how many years this principle applies (or whether it's been mentioned already), but I've read that many toddlers consume 80% of their calories before the dinner meal, and in many ways, their dinner is a bit of a snack and some family time. If you're satisfied with her diet during the rest of the day (or can get her to eat a few more healthy things during the course of the day), then maybe she can graze a bit at dinner and sit with the family for good practice.

    Posted by matthew'smom December 7, 09 03:03 PM
  1. DaveCJ, it seems like you are the one complaining.

    Feed them. It's your job as a parent, and that includes giving them what they like if it is healthy.

    What are the consequences if they are picky eaters? None that I've ever heard of. I've never heard someone say someone is a good person or a bad person based on what they ate or did not eat as a child. It's not that big of a deal, and its not worth all these other parents getting bent out of shape for.

    Also watch out for indigestion with all your spicy foods.

    Posted by TTT123 December 7, 09 04:12 PM
  1. My oldest son (5) is a great eater and will try anything at least once. There is usually no arguments about eating unless there is broccoli on his plate! My youngest son (3), totally different story! He eats mostly carby foods and will only eat meat if it's on top of a pizza. Or when he mistakes a chicken nugget for a french fry. Dinner is usually whatever part of the meal that is a carb. If I'm making something for dinner that I know he will eat no part of I will make him a PB&J sandwich, but that's it. I don't see anything wrong with having one alternative for a picky eater (something quick and easy, PB&J, grilled cheese) just so they have something in their little bellies before bed.
    I know people say missing one meal won't kill them, but just think of how you feel after missing a meal. I can't do it! To note, my youngest soon has a fairly big communication delay and some sensory issues, so think that has to do with some of his being so picky. As long as they eat healthy food for the most part, I don't think food should be a battle.

    Posted by momof2 December 7, 09 04:27 PM
  1. We don't have a "family dinner" except on the weekends, because my husband doesn't get home until around 6:30, and my kids go to bed at 7 & 7:30. They're looking for their dinner around five. And so I follow the "give them what they like" suggestion above. Their meals are very simple without a lot of spice, but I do make them healthy things. Sometimes their early bird special is a leftover of what my husband and I ate the night before. I cook the meal for my husband and I to enjoy after they have eaten....by then their beasts are calmed and they are relaxed while I prepare "the other meal." My older son actually does his homework at this time. Sometimes they sample the food that I am preparing for my husband and I as more of a snack, or they sit down with us and have their small snack while we are eating our dinner...if they are interested, I let them taste whatever they want.

    One of my children is way more interested in new foods than the other one, but for the most part they eat what is put in front of them or else they simply don't eat. In our family, the kids' bedtimes are more important to maintain (they are 6 & 2) than a daily family dinner time.

    Posted by RH December 7, 09 05:11 PM
  1. Have you considered the possibility of food allergies? We had a similar situation in our family. My wife was diagnosed earlier in the year with gluten intolerance, and our pediatrician speculated that our younger child might have the same thing going on. Kids that young can't really articulate why something might make them feel bad. Sure enough, it came to pass that our child also was gluten intolerant. Since removing that from her diet, she's become far more adventurous in her other eating. Something to consider.

    Posted by ssm December 7, 09 08:56 PM
  1. You just don't get it. You can't make you kid like certain foods any more than you can make them like hiking or football or gardening. It's just part of who they are. If you truly have a super taster who's stomach turns at the sight of foods that are appealing to an adult, just stop fighting.

    And the rest of you, stop judging those of us that refuse to starve our kids for the sake of serving a single meal to the family. As long as they're eating a healthy balanced diet, who cares if they end up eating what the adults eat? I've got one kids that eats about 80% of what I eat, and one who refuses all meat and vegetables. Sometimes I make him a special meal, sometimes he gets a sandwich and fruit and he's growing like a weed and we all eat together and talk about our days with no negotiating over the dinner plate.

    You can spend the dinner hour enjoying your food and chatting and listening to your kids, or you can spend it trying to fit a square peg into a round hole

    Posted by Margaret December 7, 09 09:48 PM
  1. One consideration I did not see here is medical status. My son was a very picker eater. My son's eating improved tremendously after he had his adenoids out. He was a mouth breather. Subconsciously, he might have felt safer eating certain foods. Ones he could manage when he breathed through his mouth. For example, he always choose mashed potatoes over rice. But, potatoes are easier to manage since rice does not stay together as easy and more of a tendency to choke on. Just a consideration but may be worth watching your daughter's breathing pattern and talk to your pediatrician.

    Posted by mary borsari December 7, 09 10:14 PM
  1. Read her "Bread and Jam for Frances"! (Russell Hoban).

    Posted by felixzeiler December 7, 09 11:04 PM
  1. Irene,

    Your advice is amazing.

    Thanks.

    Posted by Giffen December 8, 09 12:09 AM
  1. I can relate to this situation. I have a ten year old son who hardly ever eats anything. It seems as if 4, 5, maybe 6 nights a week I send him to bed without dinner for some reason or another. That boy must really not like to eat if he can't behave himself enough to make me want to feed his scrawny ass.

    Posted by jcromero December 8, 09 06:43 AM
  1. Best advice is, don't turn this into a control issue.
    I certainly wasn't a spoiled complainer for not liking the same foods as some of my family members. It simply wasn't what I liked to eat. The response by Barbara is exactly as it should be.

    20+ years of anorexia, bulimia and hospitalizations and they are just starting to get it. That said, my diet has been healthier than theirs for many years. Whole Foods, no food with hormones/antibiotics, raw cheese, and plenty of fresh vegetables.

    As parents, you can't force your children to be like you.
    Provide 2 options and make sure some of their favorite healthy food is in the house at all times. More than 2 options just adds confusion and opens the door to be manipulated.

    Posted by NDGF December 8, 09 07:17 AM
  1. Simple solution, as my father did for me when I was 4 years old...Whatever was made for dinner was placed at the table and we all sat down and ate. If i didnt like what was served, I did not eat, simple as that. I quickly got to like broccoli, onions, green beans, etc by the time I was five.

    Posted by Aaron Buelmer December 8, 09 07:28 AM
  1. I hope you also consider that she may have something wrong with her stomach. I see way too often that kids suffer with various medical issues, but it is not diagnosed by a doctor until later in life! WIth more and more people having celiac disease and other digestive issues, perhaps she should also see a doctor to be sure its not medical. If food made your stomach hurt all the time, would you want to eat it?

    Posted by Jen T. December 8, 09 07:45 AM
  1. Most of the commenters here have great ideas and are fairly literate,so reading these comments has been very enjoyable for me. My kids have always been good eaters, but what I have noticed from other people with issues is 1) some kids are a little picky, don't make a big deal of it , 2) don't let them milk and juice themselves all day, they will definitely fill up on these, and 3) don't eat dinner too late. Also, take snack time as opportunities to get healthy food in. Kids hungry waiting for dinner? Put out veggies and dip, cheese and crackers, etc.

    Posted by Laura December 8, 09 07:54 AM
  1. This is an excellent answer, but do not underestimate the child's resolve. You've got to follow the advice, and follow the advice, and follow the advice...

    Posted by MM December 8, 09 07:59 AM
  1. My four year old daughter is an extremely picky eater as well. She has texture issues that developed as an infant, plus she is stubborn. Many of the "tricks" used for other children don't work with her. For example, she is adverse to "dipping", so getting her to eat vegetables by dipping them into salad dressing has never been successful. She is very reluctant to try anything new and more than once has gone to bed having chosen not to eat dinner. Our approach is that dinner is one meal, family time. If she chooses not to participate, that is her choice. Lunch she has a choice, and we try to make sure her snack choices are healthy. Ironically, this is a child who loves to help with grocery shopping and with cooking. She will work with me to make everything, even rolling the meatballs, layering the casseroles, etc., but she will refuse to eat it. I console myself by saying some day she will have one just like her.

    Posted by Carol December 8, 09 08:08 AM
  1. I agree with sandi - this is a power play.

    If you'll excuse the parallel, there are similarities to raising children and training dogs - both are challenging you to become the alpha of the house. You need to show them that YOU are in charge. Otherwise, they won't respect or obey you in any other matter.

    Like DaveCJ, I've also seen instances of parents who fall over themselves to prepare an alternate meal for a picky child (some going so far as to serving Pop Tarts). This results in a spoiled, bratty child who is learning that they can get whatever they want simply by taking a fit. Trust me, you DON'T want to see how this attitude develops into adulthood - it isn't pretty.

    I would refrain from having another alternative for them to eat - it just opens the door to negotiation and weakens your position. As long as you're not serving the family Lima Bean Casserole (a sworn enemy of kids), your child should like what you're cooking.

    You're a good parent for seeking advice and utilizing the resources and the knowledgebase at hand. I know so many parents who think they know it all and won't bother to crack a book or search for information on how to raise their children, As a result, their kids are some of the worst behaved I've ever met.

    Posted by JoeyJoeJoe ShabbaDoo December 8, 09 08:10 AM
  1. " ...maybe fewer objectionable vegetables" - why are veggies objectionable? If you're serving vegetables that are simply reheated, you're missing out on an entire category of food that is delicious, filling and nutritious. Sounds like Rachel is passing on her veggie aversions to her daughter.

    Posted by Diet Coke December 8, 09 08:38 AM
  1. wow!
    someone who finally agrees not only with the old methods, but me! I am going to send the whole page to my DIL who insists on fixing separate meals for her 4 kids ( 2 are toddlers ) the other 2 are tweens and they do run the house. When I told my DIL that her kids did not act that way in our home she accused us of starving and abusing the kids. We were taught ( as kids ) you eat what is on your plate or it will be waiting for the next meal. We were never excused before everyone was done, and that meant having to watch while they got dessert.

    Posted by Feances December 8, 09 08:50 AM
  1. Being the mother of a child who had feeding issues, I know your frustration. I like another Ellyn Satter book called How to Get Your Kids to Eat But Not Too Much. She basically sets out this rule to live by: You (the parent) decide what and when, and your child decides IF and how much they will eat. That being said, food allergies are abundant in our society. Consider lactose intolerance (a breath test can be done to diagnose) or gluten/wheat sensitivity (harder to diagnose). Good luck!

    Posted by zippy365 December 8, 09 08:58 AM
  1. I have taken care of many children, and I think it is very important to be flexible with young children who are acting out around eating supper.
    I'd talk to her pediatrician about a daily supplement and then I'd have a large variety of things that do offer some sort of nutritional value, toss some wheat germ on her cereal, if that is what she generally WILL eat.
    Have juice boxes, yogurts, cheese and crackers, applesauce, mandarin oranges, peanut butter and cream cheese celery sticks, carrot sticks, tangerines, bananas, grape tomatoes.
    Children usually will like tacos and lots of healthy stuff can be used for the fillings.
    I agree with the idea of serving what you serve for supper, but if she skips it and is expressing hunger later, I'd humor that for at least another year or two.

    Posted by Omphalos December 8, 09 09:01 AM
  1. Just to put it out there -- if your daughter continues not to eat, don't hesitate to take her to the doctor if you suspect something more serious.

    I only say this because my little brother was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease when he was 6 years old. He was always a picky eater, and he's the middle child, always looked for attention. He would never want to eat, and when he did eat, he'd say he had a stomachache. My mother took him to the doctor, and at first, the doctor just said it was attention-seeking behavior. However, he started losing lots of weight, and started losing his hair because of malnutrition. My parents finally took him to Children's Hospital, and they diagnosed him with Crohn's within a few days.

    I'm sure this is not the case for your daughter, but I did just want to mention it, because there are cases when there could be something else wrong! That being said, my mother caved in to us WAY too much when we were little, and I hope when I have kids someday, I'll be able to get them to each veggies and healthy foods by using the methods the author suggests. Thanks Barbara!

    Posted by Kate December 8, 09 09:01 AM
  1. Interesting...

    I myself was an extremely picky eater. My parents lived by the rule of "you will sit at the table until your plate is clean." And I didn't get dessert if I didn't finish my meal. The funny thing is that being threatened like this never changed my eating habits. I rarely had dessert and I often went to bed hungry. I gave up meat by 10 because I got heartburn so much (yes, at 10!) and was told I had to cook for myself. So I did.

    By 16, I was on prescription acid inhibitors and sleeping pills (I was so sick to my stomach and it hurt so badly I couldn't sleep). By 21, I was seeing a multiple specialists. By 27, I'd had a colonoscopy. And now at 30, I've been diagnosed with a host of food allergies! So if only my parents had listened to me, maybe I would have known about this years ago. I don't blame them, but I do think that parents need to understand that maybe kids aren't eating because it hurts or makes them sick, or something. But when I was a kid, I didn't know how to communicate this.

    Posted by Ann December 8, 09 09:49 AM
  1. Let her eat what everyone else eats. I can't stand kids who sit there and fuss about what's served or refuse to eat. She'll get the picture fast that she needs to eat what the family eats or she will be hungry.My younger daughter was like that and my wife catered to her and cooked special for her and it didn't really help. She still refused to eat what was served to her. So I put my foot down and it is amazing how quickly she adapted.

    Posted by Dave Adams December 8, 09 09:53 AM
  1. My daughter is picky, but she knows that if she eats her dinner, she gets a treat. No dinner, no treat. Works for us.

    Posted by CB December 8, 09 09:53 AM
  1. My kids were never much hungry for dinner. They could eat what the family had, or have a bowl of cereal or peanut butter sandwich.

    I agree that young kids shouldn't be pushed to eat a big dinner anyway - they run off their energy long before that. I always made sure they had a good lunch and a good breakfast and a healthy snack and didn't sweat dinner. The battle becomes dinner if you do.

    If you put food in front of them, give them some variety, and make sure it is nutritious, they will eat what they want and need. This has been validated by research going back to the 1930s. No child will starve in a home full of food, unless food becomes something bigger.

    Posted by Infoferret December 8, 09 10:01 AM
  1. My daughter has been through OT and followed by a feeding team for picky eating/sensory issues. If this is not a brand new behavior for your daughter (suggesting a developmental stage/time of experimentation with control), you might consider getting her evaluated for physical causes like allergies/GI issues or sensory issues. That said, even most normal eaters I've seen run out of steam by dinner. Every book I've read about feeding kids mentioned that appetite is lowest in the evening for kids, and you have to observe the intake over a period of a few days to a week to assess how balanced a diet may be.

    I also wish people would lay off about how parents of picky eaters are causing the problem, blah blah. To the lady crowing about how she was going to send this article to her DIL, fuhgeddaboutit! That's not going to help anything in your relationship.

    My kiddo has severe neophobia and texture/taste issues. She smells and tastes things in a seemingly greater degree of detail than my husband and I do. I'm not going to starve her if eating certain things really is deeply difficult and objectionable for her. We net out at the "family meal" strategy, where she gets something she likes and options to try what we are eating. If she won't try it, no judgment or commentary. It's not a "request whatever you want for dinner" thing, just having a failproof standby incorporated for everyone's sanity and comfort.

    Good luck, I know how intensely frustrating this can be! Use your intuition and pursue it if you think this is above and beyond the typical independence seeking stuff.

    Posted by Blythe December 8, 09 10:39 AM
  1. Here's a trick I learned from a cousin: make a vegetable plate. When I start preparing dinner, the first thing I do is assemble a serving plate of some of the following: cut up fresh veggies (e.g. carrots, cucumbers, peppers, cherry tomatoes), leftover cooked veggies (e.g. steamed green beans or broccoli), sunflower seeds, cooked beans (e.g. kidney or chickpea), pieces of cheese (e.g. string cheese, wedges of laughing cow cheese, or slices of mild cheddar), maybe some nuts -- whatever I have in the house that day. Everything is either a vegetable, a source of protein, or possibly fruit (if I have a leftover half apple, for example, I'll slice it and put it on the plate), and all of it is finger food. This plate goes on the kitchen table around 5:30, about half an hour before we eat, and stays there during the meal. My kids know that as soon as that plate appears, they can eat whatever they want off of it. This way, if they are getting grumpy from tiredness and low blood sugar, they can give themselves a little boost before the meal, and they are better company at the table. If they are famished at 5:30, they may eat a lot off the vegetable plate, and eat less at dinner, but I don't mind, since I know they've filled up on healthy choices. This technique has dramatically reduced the pre-dinner whining in our house, and made dinner more pleasant for everyone.

    At dinnner, unless I'm making something very un-kid-friendly (e.g. a spicy curry), I only make one dinner for everyone. We usually stick with the eat-what-is-served-or-wait-until-breakfast rule, although on occasion, if one of the kids has given something new a good try (four or five bites) and really doesn't care for it, I'll let them have a bowl of Cheerios instead. My younger daughter has made the choice to go to bed hungry a few times, but she's survived, and in the last three months (since she turned five) she has made that choice much less often.

    I agree with the commenters who say your daughter should sit with the family at dinner whether or not she chooses to eat. Research has shown that there are real benefits for children in having a regular family dinner (link: http://parentingmethods.suite101.com/article.cfm/family_dinner_time_builds_health_success). But in order to make this a pleasant experience for her and everyone else, you have to stop nagging. I know how hard that is! I still struggle with it myself, when I worry that a kid will be hungry or undernourished. But it's important to give them a sense of autonomy over what they eat; otherwise it becomes a power struggle. Inform her of her choices (e.g., "You may eat anything that's currently on the table, or you may wait for breakfast."), and then drop the subject.

    I remember my pediatrician telling me when my children were toddlers that my goal should not be to have them eat a balanced diet at any one meal, but a balanced diet over the course of a week (check with your pedi to see it this advice would still apply to a child your daughter's age). If one day she won't eat any protein, don't sweat about it, as long as she has another day when she does. If one day is not an eating day at all, she'll make up for it later. (When one daughter was three, she went four or five days seeming like she was living on air, and then had a dinner where she literally ate twice as much roasted chicken and broccoli as I did!) I also got a piece of advice I really like: my job as the parent is to put healthy food in front of them. That's it. Whether or not they eat it is up to them.

    I understand you concerns about wasting food, too. My suggestion: give her miniscule portions. Six cut-up bites of chicken, two green beans, one tablespoon of rice. She can always have seconds. If a kid can't finish what she's been served, we'll sometimes save her leftovers to have for lunch the next day (not as a punitive thing -- only if she says she wants it).

    Finally, if you are concerned about your child's nutritional intake or her stomach aches, it never hurts to call your pediatrician, or some other person who's opinion you respect. Ask other parents you know with kids the same age what their children normally eat. You may find that a lot of kids are just like yours! Good luck!

    Posted by Jonquil December 8, 09 10:56 AM
  1. I came to this page as the father of an 8-month old to see what I have to look forward too. I can't believe these parents who are supporters of the "you eat what you are served or go hungry because that's what my parents did to me" crap. Your parents probably spanked you too but it doesn't make it right. Read Ann's comment #31.Kind of similar situation to myself. I am lactose intolerant--which, as a child, made every meal difficult in which I was served something I didn't like. Like most kids, I was served milk and ate what I liked first. By the time I got to the vegetables, my stomach was upset due to the milk and then I was expected to keep eating. I fought my parents often about finishing my meal. Unilike Ann, I do blame my parents. It was their responsibility to realize that night after night I was getting sick and that's why I wouldn't finish. So I ask parents to consider that there may be many reasons for your child's refusal to eat, including allergies, and it can be a mixture of reasons as well.

    Posted by MakeLoveNotWar December 8, 09 11:19 AM
  1. Wow. So many opinions. I, too, have a picky preschooler. My DH and I have been trying to figure out what to do - or if we should do nothing. This article and comments are very helpful. Thanks, all!

    Posted by CopywriterJess December 8, 09 11:19 AM
  1. I do not agree with the "give them what they like" suggestion. My son is six and my daughter is two and they eat what I put in front of them no matter. It has been this way since my son started table food. I gave them no alternate dinners, no eat or starve techniques. they ate dinner and they ate what I gave them because I told them too. I am glad I was so stern about it too because now my son eats everything and will try everything! my daughter too...Giving these kids too many options is not healthy. They have so many other things to have choices about but I am the cook in my home, and dinner is non-negotiable.....at some point these kids need to hear it like it is...

    Posted by judgenot December 8, 09 11:39 AM
  1. I don't understand parents who will not make food that they know their child will eat. I know my child will not eat a steak so I don't make them. I know he likes plain food, so I make plain food. If I want something different, then I make it for myself, but when you become a parent, it is not about you anymore, it is about your children. I have a "picky eater" but what it comes down to is what he likes, not him being defiant.

    I don't like seafood at all. I will not eat it. The smell of it makes me gag. If you served me fish, I would starve, because it makes me sick.

    I really think parents who refuse to take care of their children are the wrong ones, not the children who wish not to eat food that they don't like. It doesn't have to be a power struggle, only if the parents make it one. Trying new foods is important, but eating is as well.


    Posted by Sara December 8, 09 11:54 AM
  1. I have two nephews who were picky eaters but survived. Let the kids eat what they want within reason. The two nephews survived to adulthood. One nephew got married, have two children, one child eats like he does so

    Posted by sophie08 December 8, 09 12:35 PM
  1. My kids eat anything I put in front of them. Why? Because if they don't eat they will go to bed starving. I don't have time for the BS. At dinner they request fish, scallops, shrimp and chicken. They love it!
    BTW:My kids also have junk food in the day time. I'm no health nut.

    Posted by take control December 8, 09 01:48 PM
  1. I'm surprised she didn't mention that the child might have a food allergy. A couple friends of mine had allergies to common foods such as garlic which made them very sick as children and they were often accused of being picky eaters. I was allergic to milk and had similar problems. Has she even considered it might be a food allergy?

    Posted by questioningreponse December 8, 09 02:00 PM
  1. I grew up poor and sometimes not having dinner so I am extremely sensitive about wasted food. My son went through a phase b/t 3-5 yrs. old where he would go days and only eat graham crackers, PB&J or grilled cheese. At first, I balked and wanted to ensure he had veggies and fruits, but after 2 dinner battles, I gave up and didn't even offer him what my husband and I had for dinner. I just put out graham crackers or a grilled cheese. After 3 straight days of graham crackers, he decided he wanted to eat what we were having. He is now 25 yrs. old and has traveled and eaten a whole range of foods on every continent. He is a fabulous cook of whom his Indian co-workers are amazed at his vegetarian and curry skills that rival their own.

    Posted by A Mom December 8, 09 02:08 PM
  1. I have a 4 year old and a 17 month old and they are both incredible eaters. Perhaps I lucked out...twice...but I believe wholeheartedly that it has a lot to do with the fact that I almost never offer them alternatives. What I serve them is what they eat....period. If there is no planned meal, often for lunch or breakfast I will occasionally offer a CHOICE, i.e. "Would you like to have eggs or pancakes for breakfast?" or "Would you like yogurt or a sandwich for lunch?" I believe this offers them a level of CONTROLLED independence in their eating choices. However, if I have a meal that is made and on the table, then that's what is being eaten. If they don't like it, then I do not offer an alternative, and I do not give them a "snack" later when they are of course hungry.

    Presuming there is no reasonable reason that a child could not eat what you have given them (physiological, immunological or otherwise) then supplying them with another alternative that is preferable only to them is unnecessary and indulgent. It teaches them that if they object strongly enough they can get what they want. Of course children won't eat EVERYTHING, and I am certainly not one of those people who believe that everything that goes into a child's mouth has to be perfectly nutritionally balanced -- chicken nuggets, french fries, goldfish crackers are fine to eat on occasion (and heaven knows my children do!) but what if your child will ONLY eat goldfish crackers.....is that what you will serve them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? I certainly hope not. Do you not give your kids their childhood vaccinations simply because they don't want the shot? Of course not. Why is food so different?

    We as parents have to accept reponsibility and act responsibly FOR our children. Just because they refuse to eat something does not mean that they CAN'T eat it, it just means that they WON"T (at least not at that particular time). It's ridiculous to assume that children can't have appetites for anything beyond macaroni & cheese and pizza. What did parents feed their children before such things were widely available?.....I guess all the children of the world starved before Kraft came along to save them. We really should stop underestimating children.

    Posted by NoPickyEatersHere December 8, 09 02:17 PM
  1. You don't say how varied her diet is for lunch or breakfast or how well she eats then, so could it just be a dinner issue? We have a hard time getting our girls to concentrate at dinner and so getting them to eat at dinner is mostly about getting them to focus. After a busy day out of the house, all they want to do is play.

    Also, if she craves carbs, especially at breakfast, when she's hungry, can you make sure she gets an equal amount of protein? It will last longer and add to her overall, daily diet.

    Posted by twins December 8, 09 04:04 PM
  1. I didn't learn until my 21st birthday that growing up I had a condition called Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome. I didn't know until I was 18 that I was lactose intolerant. I remember being forced to eat pizza, alfredo, and casseroles filled with cheese. I hated them, but my parents said what was what was for dinner. Now my mom feels horrible that she aggravated my stomach with lactose, and might have contributed to my cyclic vomiting with the glass of milk with every meal.

    I even to this day will think I'm okay to eat something, put it in the oven, and by the time it is cooked be too ill to eat it (it can hit me in less than 15 minutes sometimes). If I were you I would bring my child to the doctor and get them tested for food allergies, lactose intolerance, chromes, and other intestinal/stomach problems. Your "two versions of the same thing" might be what makes her sick and seemingly uncooperative. It might not be her fault.

    Posted by Go to a doctor. December 8, 09 04:06 PM
  1. I second those who mentioned vegetarians. I was also a very picky eater from a young age. Some of my earlier memories are me hiding the chewed meat in a napkin and throwing it out in the bathroom. My mother never figured it out until I was able to make the claim that I wanted to be a vegetarian (age 11). Fortunately though, my mother was great about making salads and cooking veggies/pasta/fish so I survived.

    Also, I have a very sensitive stomach, so certain foods just don't agree with me. This also started when I was an infant and got severe indigestion. Again, my mother learned infant massage to help with that.

    Sure, some kids are picky, but we all are. The best advice I can give from my experience is to not compare people's eating habits, don't focus the conversations on what's wrong with them, and make sure you as a parent have a healthy relationship with food. Kids pick up on that very quickly. 27 years later and I'm still waiting for people to stop commenting on how slowly I eat.

    There's lots of other good advice in the comments today!

    Posted by Rachael December 8, 09 04:32 PM
  1. This sounds so similar to what we went through with our daughter that I am compelled to comment. The belly aches register with me most. We took her to her physician who ordered an endoscopy and colonoscopy. I have to admit I was skeptical. When I saw the photos of her insides after the procedure I literally cried. Her upper and lower systems were completed messed up. She takes a couple of medications now and eats anything she wants.

    Posted by Frank December 8, 09 04:35 PM
  1. This is a great topic. I was that "picky eater" child and I know that for ME it had zero to do with control. It had to do with a gag reflex and texture/taste. I had a very sensitive palate which as you age your taste buds are less sensitive.......so as a child I would feel the urge to physically get sick over certain foods. I vowed to myself that I would not make my children eat foods that they found disgusting tasting or felt awful in their mouths. I have EXCELLENT eaters. From day one I've always put little bits of various foods that I'm eating for them. If they dislike the food or they push it away I make sure to mix in some things tha they really like and are more bland such as cheese or what not.

    Posted by Tamra December 8, 09 05:20 PM
  1. Thank you NoPickyEatersHere for bringing the blog back to rationality. You give great tips too.

    Remember folks, the original advice is from MDs.

    +1 to the person that suggested allergies too.

    Posted by JackSprat December 8, 09 06:34 PM
  1. This string is starting to really irk me. My dear husband does not like spinach. It's one of my faves - I'll take it any way I can get it. But I do not tell him he has to eat it or go hungry! In fact, I hardly ever prepare it as a main veggie (although I do make it for myself) because I don't want to see something get wasted. Similarly, I would be an unhappy woman if someone told me I needed to eat a curried dish or salmon for my dinner. I'm a pretty adventurous eater and like a lot of spice and variety, but those are the two flavors I despise most.

    Don't get me wrong, I am NOT a short order cook in my house. We do have the timing issue as far as my husband getting home too late for a family dinner so I do tend to cook twice about two hours apart. But is there nothing to be said for personal taste? When are we allowed to develop that - only in college when our mothers are no longer cooking for us?

    Posted by RH December 9, 09 06:13 PM
  1. I just want to add my personal experience. My son started complained about frequent stomach aches. We had him tested at age 5 and sure enough, he had severe lactose intolerance. Now he drinks lactaid milk and we carry lactose pills for when he eats out and enjoys ice cream, cheese, etc.. He is doing very well now. So I really encourage parents to get your kids tested if their kids don't want to eat or vomit or complain of stomaches. Seeing that story here about the 21 year old was heartbreaking. Often. parents assume their kids are "defiant" or bad"..., not necessarily the case!

    Posted by Laura December 10, 09 08:04 AM
  1. If you think your kid is a problem now, I am in my 50's and am still a very finicky eater. It has been a serious problem and embarrassment my whole life and probably kept me behind. You can image what it was like for me when I lived in another country for a couple of years. Every other American was scared of the language, I was scared of the food.

    I am sensitive to textures, so I wish my mother hadn't followed the WASP tradition of overcooking vegetables. I was once diagnosed with OCD, though that wasn't confirmed.

    I have tried to seek help, and the most I ever got from eating disorder specialists was "It's great that you recognize your problem, but we only treat over- and undereating."

    I wonder how common this is among adults.

    Posted by Michael December 23, 09 10:32 PM
  1. I would check for food allergies, my grandson has allergies and is very picky.

    I have 4 year old grand daughters, one eats everything, the other is picky.

    I try the no dessert routine, that seems to work, sometimes.

    Posted by Ellen August 27, 11 02:47 PM
  1. Why is there a waste problem? I have a collection of storage containers, big and small. Any leftovers go in the containers. And, sometimes get eaten out of the containers! I think the containers actually enhance the eating experience, like having a packed meal.

    The comparison to other children, and being the topic of conversation in a negative way is very harmful. WHY is this happening? With all due respect, the mom sounds a little too fraught. Every child is different, you need to be a little more flexible.

    No vegetable should be considered "objectionable". I introduced spinach in a spinach, ricotta, pasta dish, and my kid absolutely loved it. My mom made the kids when they were tots cod, rice and broccoli, and to this day, they speak of it fondly.

    They want to be like you. Show them how much you enjoy eating something and they'll be there.

    Please don't go the "treat if you eat" way. All that teaches is EVERYTHING in life needs to be rewarded.

    Posted by JC January 30, 12 08:25 AM
  1. Definitely rule out any health problems before you assume this is normal behavior (which it totally is). I would never want to scare anyone, but I know Mom who discovered Celiac Disease in her daughter (gluten inolerance) after years of complaints. On the extreme side, in our little town, we lost a 5-year-old boy to stomach cancer, and when he was three his Mom would say the same thing, that he wouldn't eat and he said his tummy hurt. We all shrugged it off, but when he was diagnosed, it was stage four. Certainly the advice to combat picky eating is most often warranted, but please, rule out health problems first!

    Posted by Josephine January 30, 12 09:03 AM
  1. When I was a child and didn't like something that was put in front of me, my mother usually responded "But you used to love that when you were a baby!" It usually worked. And I also heard of another family that used a similar psychological technique: When an unfamiliar food was placed in front of their little boy and he declared, "I'm not eating that!", his father answered, "Well, I'm not surprised you don't like it. That's grown up food."

    But the system I like best is one employed by an acquaintance of mine with two young daughters (ages 6 and 7). They have a simple rule that it's important for their children to taste things. They don't have to like them, but they do have to taste them. I saw this reinforced one day when, at supper, the older one took a sip from her mother's glass and declared, "Mommy, this Kool-Aid tastes funny." Her mother looked at the glass and said, "Oh, that's not Kool-Aid, that's Mommy's wine. But that's okay! It's important for you to taste things." These two have thus tasted all manner of things, from beer to exotic vegetables. They don't like them all, but they've developed a habit of sampling, as well as one of learning what's good for them and what isn't.

    Posted by Paul January 30, 12 09:58 AM
  1. I don't agree with the "alternative" option at all, but I also got my finicky eater involved in making the meal so he could see what was going in to it and wanted to try what the result was. That made a huge difference and a bit of independence and self-esteem. Sometimes with a complicated meal with a lot of different things in them, kids get worried about whats in their food. Once, he refused to eat a stack of fresh pancakes because they had "Poisonberry" (Boysenberry) syrup on them but all he had heard was the poison bit and he didn't eat them.
    But do keep an eye on the allergies too. I am allergic to maple and so is my youngest son, and everything maple smelling makes us nauseous because we know what the outcome is. Even if it's a mild allergy that causes stomach upset, children will remember it. Grandpa took him to Taco Bell once and it made him sick... 12 years later he still won't go to Taco Bell and he was 4 at the time.
    Also keep in consideration that children don't have the same palette as you do, and heavily spicing foods can be a big turn off for them as it can give things an unfamiliar flavour. Try adding one spice at a time to see what things your child enjoys.

    Posted by Renee January 30, 12 10:40 AM
  1. Who is the Adult and who is the Child?

    In my house it's eat or go hungry. Hunger is the best spice.

    Posted by Anon January 30, 12 10:55 AM
  1. I really hope the MIL who plans to send this article to her DIL will reconsider. You raised your children the way you saw fit, and now your DIL is raising hers the way she sees fit. You may disagree with her approach, but you indicate that you already know where she stands on this issue, and the only thing pushing your views on her over and over again -- or sending her articles that "prove" that you are right -- is going to do is strain your relationship with your DIL and as a result with your grandchildren. As a DIL myself I really see no good coming from this plan of action.

    Posted by ad January 30, 12 11:21 AM
  1. My parents followed these rules here to a "T" and while I was quite skinny as a child, I grew up to be a huge foodie with a healthy appetite.

    Posted by CHG January 30, 12 12:46 PM
  1. I never ate when I was little. I truly wasn't hungry and the food made me gag. My parents thought I was pretending. I tried to describe why to my husband over 30 years later, and the best description that I could think of was that putting something I didn't want into my body was akin to rape. It was foul and disgusting and terrible. (Of course... this is all in a 5 year old's head.) I even remember going bed hungry because I didn't want to eat. I have no regrets. It was my choice. But you know what, I'm just fine now. I'm tall for a woman, eat healthily, am not overweight. Everything is JUST FINE.

    (But definitely rule out any medical issues...like the allergies that the other commentors are talking about.)

    Posted by Diane January 30, 12 03:48 PM
  1. Yes - if the child is complaining about a stomach ache, it could be that there's a food allergy. My niece was (and is) a picky eater. She loved pasta, pizza, all kinds of carbohydrates but we also found out that she has Celiac's disease which is an allergy to wheat. She is now off wheat and no longer complains about a tummy ache. So that may be a real issue.

    Posted by Melitta January 31, 12 12:46 PM
  1. My Dad used to make me sit at the table and eat my vegetables; squash, spinach, broccoli. They used to make me gag. To this day I still don't like them. I like my kids to try things. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't but I refuse to force them to eat things. My son,11, likes steak and baked potatoes now. I think as they grow they will find new things to like. My daughter, 6 likes pasta and bagels. Not the worst things to eat. They are healthy and growing . . . that's all that matters.

    Posted by GS January 31, 12 03:15 PM
  1. I was a picky eater and my parents would n ot excuse me from the table until my plate was clean. This resulted in me sitting alone at thye kitchen table many nights until it was bedtime. To this day there are still many foods that I will not eat and I still have major problems with authority figures.

    Posted by exitseven January 31, 12 03:32 PM
  1. Sounds like a food allergy. Have the child tested by a pediatric food allergist is you want to get to the bottom of this.

    Posted by KS February 1, 12 07:16 AM
  1. My adopted 2 yr. old ate way too little, so I fed him every 15 minutes and we played in the kitchen with spices and cooking...Several years later he ate very little again and I went back to hand feeding him. Finally with foul smelling leakage, we went to the pediatrician -constipation. It had no symptoms except loss of appetite. There was no pain, no bloating, no gas. The problem was simple to fix and he is eating. Hand feeding and offering one alternative at dinner was crucial as he was not growing and his growth hormone was at zero. The pattern occured all day not just dinner.

    Posted by Dasha18 February 15, 12 09:31 PM
  1. There is really not enough information in the question you raised to reply thoughtfully. For example, how is your child's hight and weight? If in the normal range, you may just be dealing with behavioral issues, but comment No. 58 is spot on. You need to first rule out medical issues. These include psychological issues. We've gone through feeding issues with our two-year old, who was born with an ulcer. It created trauma around feeding. Similarly, kids sometimes develop aversions to food if they experience a choking episode. You should talk first to your pediatrician. Ignore the comments in the vein of "she'll eat when she's hungry" until you have first ruled out medical reasons

    Posted by bill April 12, 12 07:56 AM
  1. This also sounds like a food allergy. My mom said that, as a young child, there were foods she "power struggle" refused to eat. When she got to be older, it turned out she was seriously allergic to them. As a result, we were never forced to eat foods we didn't like, though we were encouraged to taste them.

    Also, maybe the stomachaches are stress stomachaches from having a bossy, domineering mother who won't respect her.

    Posted by AP April 12, 12 10:49 AM
  1. I second Dasha's comment (#69) about the constipation. At my 4yo's well check appt, my child was diagnosed with chronic constipation. You can still "go" if you're constipated, so it was not an obvious problem, but the doctor could easily tell from an external abdominal exam. Since we've been treating him (for about a month) his appetite has noticeably increased, and he's actually put on some healthy weight.

    Before twisting yourself into a pretzel over eating habits and other intangibles, see if there might be an easily fixed problem that would help remedy your situation.

    Posted by M April 12, 12 11:43 AM
  1. My daughter will eat breakfast, lunch and snacks with no fight whatsoever. For some reason she would fight with us about dinner. I refuse to make more than one meal so we have started playing what we call The Dice Game at dinner.

    If she's not interested in what's for dinner, then she rolls a die we keep on the table. Whatever number comes up, that's how many bites she has to take before she can be excused. Sometimes she rolls a six, sometimes she rolls a one. I would worry about her going to bed hungry if she rolled a one but she's never complained and she's a normal weight. Because she has some control over the situation there's no fighting anymore.

    As for wasting food; whatever is leftover I usually eat for lunch the next day.

    Posted by Kelly April 12, 12 03:57 PM
  1. This works wonders! Our 4 year old would not eat anything. Here's what we did to solve the problem. All kids like toys, right? Ask him/her what toy they want to buy. Then tell them they can earn money and he/she can go buy it. At every meal (3 times a day) set them down with the meal and 3 nickels. Every time you have to remind them to eat, you take 1 nickel away. After you take 3 nickels away, they must get down and can no longer eat. (Give 1 warning of course). If they get down from the table without permission you take a nickel. However, if they finish the entire meal they get a bonus of a dime. Your child can earn 25 cents per meal. Whenever they have 25 cents they can trade the nickels/dimes for a quarter. Whenever they have enough they can trade 4 quarters for a dollar. Once they have a dollar they can go pick out a toy at the dollar store, or they can save up money for an even better toy. This teaches children math, the value of money, and some discipline. It has been working wonders for our 4 year old boy and now I'm more concerned that he could be eating too much.

    Posted by Rob Urban April 29, 12 10:07 PM
  1. Be aware how you aproch your daughter about eating. Our daughter for almost a year would complain about tummy pains, sometimes throwing up whole chunks of things not digested, after many other test one was order for CELIAC DISEASE . Talk with the doctor about this , don't ignore your daughters, tummy troubles even if you think it is her-working you send me message if want to talk or anyone else does be glad to share my story. Look up Dawn Coubert face book me send me a message
    Thanks

    Posted by Dawn September 5, 12 11:40 PM
  1. I am very concernd about my 4 year old son. I will fix Dinner and I know he likes it because we have the same thing once a week. His two favorites are pizza and spagetti. One day he will eat it and the next week he says he dont like it any more. What do I do.

    Posted by Tiffany December 5, 12 06:20 PM
 
76 comments so far...
  1. i think that is some great advice.
    i have two kids - one is a great eater and the other would live off of peanut butter sandwiches if she could.
    my kids eat 3 meals a day plus a morning snack and afternoon snack. i find if they have more than that during the day - forget about dinner.
    i also make sure there is at least 1 item on their plates they will eat. they must sit with us at the table and ask to be excused. if they choose not to eat - that is their choice.
    i'm not a cook at a restaurant - i make dinner and that is what is being served. if they are hungry enough - they will eat something.
    i try not to get too worked up about it.
    but like the LW - i hate hate hate to waste food too.

    Posted by baby blue December 7, 09 09:02 AM
  1. Some other factors that make kids "picky" eaters--

    Timing--Is dinner being served late relative to the child's stomach clock? YES there is such a thing. If she is fed a late snack she probably gags at the sight of more food. This is actually a healthy reaction by the body that has already had enough calories for the day.

    Genetics--on a quiet afternoon, sit down and ask her to make a list of her food likes. Write them down. Pay attention to them at the grocery store. My sister-in-law told me all about my "picky eater" niece and it turns out her list at the age of 3 was EXACTLY the same as mine at the same age, without any contact in between. Taste receptors are partly genetic. Some children prefer stronger flavored food, some hate spices, sometimes it is the genes. They DO change in adolescence.

    Attention--some children drag out suppertime to get as much face time with their working parents as possible. They don;t have any way to say they need contact. If you ask this child to sit and talk with you in the kitchen while you cook dinner, you may find that you only need to cook one meal and that the struggles diminish.

    Salt--how much do you salt the food during cooking? Except for potatoes and rice, try skipping the salt until the food is on the plate. Too much salt will make most kids gag, another healthy reaction that should not be ignored.

    Sibling rivalry at the table is a good way to make things worse. It brings the lesser child to the table with a stomach ache that really is emotional pain and anticipation of more pain at the criticisms. At the age of 4 this child has heard FAR TOO MUCH FROM FAR TOO MANY PEOPLE about how she is inferior. The letter really sounds like this poor kid feels she can;t do anything right at mealtime.

    Posted by Irene December 7, 09 09:55 AM
  1. I think Barbara's advice is sound, but I would add a few things...

    - Make sure you're not giving snacks too close to dinner time. My kids became much better eaters when I made sure that they had snack at least a couple of hours before dinner. That includes drinks - liquids fill you up.

    - On a related note, don't give infinite refills of milk before some dinner is eaten. It's really easy for kids to fill up on milk and then not eat any actual food.

    Also, it doesn't to have a little fun sometimes. We got my picky daughter to try sushi by telling her it's what Hello Kitty eats.

    Posted by akmom December 7, 09 10:25 AM
  1. I was the classic picky eater growing up. I stopped eating meat when I was 6. I am still a vegetarian to this day, although I have extended my repertoire to pretty much anything that doesn't include meat, fish, or poultry. But at the time, I was pretty much a 'starchatarian' who lived on rice and noodles.

    My folks turned mealtime into battle time for years trying to get me to eat. It never worked, and it just made me mroe resistant. Finally, my pediatrician said "Look, she is healthy and growing as she should be. If you don't want to fight, don't". So they stopped. They made whatever they were going to eat. They ate the main course, I filled up on the veggie side dishes. Once they stopped making an issue of it (I think my mom finally said "Eat or starve, your choice"), I ate more. When I got to college, I discovered that the vegetarian selections were pretty limited and boring. So I acquired a few vegetarian cookbooks and learned to cook.

    My kids have been raised vegetarians as well, and have had the "Eat what you get or go hungry" rule since they were toddlers. I think they each have chosen to go to bed hungry exactly twice. Otherwise, they may grumble, but they eat what is on the table.

    Posted by BMS December 7, 09 11:15 AM
  1. leave her alone, she will eat when she is hungry. She is playing wih you, it is control - now you need to get some. She sits at the table with the rest of the family and eats what is in front of her or not eat at all. You are NOT running a restaurant. Once you get her to realize who calls the shots, she will stop doing this.

    Posted by sandi December 7, 09 11:29 AM
  1. I have sympathy for the parents of the picky eater -- yes, kids will eat eventually if they are hungry enough, but don't underestimate the willpower of a young child. We had the "you can eat what's for dinner or one other choice" policy when my daughter was 2. She failed to gain a single ounce between check-ups. The pediatrician said we had to cave in and allow "re-buttering" of her bread, etc. Enough calories were more important that the "right" foods. Some kids will eat to stay alive, but not enough for healthy growth. Happily, at 10 she is a pretty darned good eater. It took a lot of will power to try not to make it into a power struggle.

    I would like to add a suggestion that instead of labeling the two versions of the family dinner as adult/regular and kid/special, try to give everyone at the table the same options. That is, ask everyone at the table if they would like the sauce on their pasta or if they prefer it plain, carrot sticks or caesar salad, etc. The finicky eater may come to realize that the other family members enjoy their choices, and that they are not something you just have to learn to endure. It also keeps the plain options from having a "special just for me" connotation. And once in a while, the adults might really prefer the carrot sticks!

    Finally, make sure you keep her servings really small and on a small plate-- she won't be overwhelmed by them and you will be less stressed out about waste.

    Posted by gastrogal December 7, 09 12:33 PM
  1. A few things you can try that might help...
    1) Although it makes things take longer, have her help in the preparation. If grocery shopping "do you want to get broccoli or green beans", if at home, "can you get me 1 egg from the fridge". If she feels like she worked on something she'll be more likely to eat it.
    2) Make a point of showing her that you eat new things too. "Ooh, that looks interesting, lets get artichokes and see what they're like" (and don't let her know of you hating any foods).
    3) Try not to rush through dinner.It might take her a little while to switch from play-time mode to meal-time mode.

    Posted by The Other December 7, 09 12:37 PM
  1. My mother always told me, "Give them what they like". For years all my daughter wanted to eat was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Then her favorite was chicken nuggets and french fries. When I fed my two daughters what they liked, I never had to fight, argue, give or take, or beg and plead. They grew up trying different foods I made for myself; some they really liked, some they didn't. Eventually, I got them to like haddock and broccoli--imagine that! Stressing about eating whatever you make is nonsense, and making two choices is also idiotic. Just give them what they like!

    Posted by Linda McManus December 7, 09 12:40 PM
  1. I agree completly! Kids have to be taught that dinner time is a family event and there will be ONE menu with no exceptions. I have a friend that will make 3 different meals for 3 different children because they each have different preferences. I say HOGWASH! He's only setting them up to be spoiled complainers.

    Posted by DaveCJ December 7, 09 01:20 PM
  1. I don't know how for how many years this principle applies (or whether it's been mentioned already), but I've read that many toddlers consume 80% of their calories before the dinner meal, and in many ways, their dinner is a bit of a snack and some family time. If you're satisfied with her diet during the rest of the day (or can get her to eat a few more healthy things during the course of the day), then maybe she can graze a bit at dinner and sit with the family for good practice.

    Posted by matthew'smom December 7, 09 03:03 PM
  1. DaveCJ, it seems like you are the one complaining.

    Feed them. It's your job as a parent, and that includes giving them what they like if it is healthy.

    What are the consequences if they are picky eaters? None that I've ever heard of. I've never heard someone say someone is a good person or a bad person based on what they ate or did not eat as a child. It's not that big of a deal, and its not worth all these other parents getting bent out of shape for.

    Also watch out for indigestion with all your spicy foods.

    Posted by TTT123 December 7, 09 04:12 PM
  1. My oldest son (5) is a great eater and will try anything at least once. There is usually no arguments about eating unless there is broccoli on his plate! My youngest son (3), totally different story! He eats mostly carby foods and will only eat meat if it's on top of a pizza. Or when he mistakes a chicken nugget for a french fry. Dinner is usually whatever part of the meal that is a carb. If I'm making something for dinner that I know he will eat no part of I will make him a PB&J sandwich, but that's it. I don't see anything wrong with having one alternative for a picky eater (something quick and easy, PB&J, grilled cheese) just so they have something in their little bellies before bed.
    I know people say missing one meal won't kill them, but just think of how you feel after missing a meal. I can't do it! To note, my youngest soon has a fairly big communication delay and some sensory issues, so think that has to do with some of his being so picky. As long as they eat healthy food for the most part, I don't think food should be a battle.

    Posted by momof2 December 7, 09 04:27 PM
  1. We don't have a "family dinner" except on the weekends, because my husband doesn't get home until around 6:30, and my kids go to bed at 7 & 7:30. They're looking for their dinner around five. And so I follow the "give them what they like" suggestion above. Their meals are very simple without a lot of spice, but I do make them healthy things. Sometimes their early bird special is a leftover of what my husband and I ate the night before. I cook the meal for my husband and I to enjoy after they have eaten....by then their beasts are calmed and they are relaxed while I prepare "the other meal." My older son actually does his homework at this time. Sometimes they sample the food that I am preparing for my husband and I as more of a snack, or they sit down with us and have their small snack while we are eating our dinner...if they are interested, I let them taste whatever they want.

    One of my children is way more interested in new foods than the other one, but for the most part they eat what is put in front of them or else they simply don't eat. In our family, the kids' bedtimes are more important to maintain (they are 6 & 2) than a daily family dinner time.

    Posted by RH December 7, 09 05:11 PM
  1. Have you considered the possibility of food allergies? We had a similar situation in our family. My wife was diagnosed earlier in the year with gluten intolerance, and our pediatrician speculated that our younger child might have the same thing going on. Kids that young can't really articulate why something might make them feel bad. Sure enough, it came to pass that our child also was gluten intolerant. Since removing that from her diet, she's become far more adventurous in her other eating. Something to consider.

    Posted by ssm December 7, 09 08:56 PM
  1. You just don't get it. You can't make you kid like certain foods any more than you can make them like hiking or football or gardening. It's just part of who they are. If you truly have a super taster who's stomach turns at the sight of foods that are appealing to an adult, just stop fighting.

    And the rest of you, stop judging those of us that refuse to starve our kids for the sake of serving a single meal to the family. As long as they're eating a healthy balanced diet, who cares if they end up eating what the adults eat? I've got one kids that eats about 80% of what I eat, and one who refuses all meat and vegetables. Sometimes I make him a special meal, sometimes he gets a sandwich and fruit and he's growing like a weed and we all eat together and talk about our days with no negotiating over the dinner plate.

    You can spend the dinner hour enjoying your food and chatting and listening to your kids, or you can spend it trying to fit a square peg into a round hole

    Posted by Margaret December 7, 09 09:48 PM
  1. One consideration I did not see here is medical status. My son was a very picker eater. My son's eating improved tremendously after he had his adenoids out. He was a mouth breather. Subconsciously, he might have felt safer eating certain foods. Ones he could manage when he breathed through his mouth. For example, he always choose mashed potatoes over rice. But, potatoes are easier to manage since rice does not stay together as easy and more of a tendency to choke on. Just a consideration but may be worth watching your daughter's breathing pattern and talk to your pediatrician.

    Posted by mary borsari December 7, 09 10:14 PM
  1. Read her "Bread and Jam for Frances"! (Russell Hoban).

    Posted by felixzeiler December 7, 09 11:04 PM
  1. Irene,

    Your advice is amazing.

    Thanks.

    Posted by Giffen December 8, 09 12:09 AM
  1. I can relate to this situation. I have a ten year old son who hardly ever eats anything. It seems as if 4, 5, maybe 6 nights a week I send him to bed without dinner for some reason or another. That boy must really not like to eat if he can't behave himself enough to make me want to feed his scrawny ass.

    Posted by jcromero December 8, 09 06:43 AM
  1. Best advice is, don't turn this into a control issue.
    I certainly wasn't a spoiled complainer for not liking the same foods as some of my family members. It simply wasn't what I liked to eat. The response by Barbara is exactly as it should be.

    20+ years of anorexia, bulimia and hospitalizations and they are just starting to get it. That said, my diet has been healthier than theirs for many years. Whole Foods, no food with hormones/antibiotics, raw cheese, and plenty of fresh vegetables.

    As parents, you can't force your children to be like you.
    Provide 2 options and make sure some of their favorite healthy food is in the house at all times. More than 2 options just adds confusion and opens the door to be manipulated.

    Posted by NDGF December 8, 09 07:17 AM
  1. Simple solution, as my father did for me when I was 4 years old...Whatever was made for dinner was placed at the table and we all sat down and ate. If i didnt like what was served, I did not eat, simple as that. I quickly got to like broccoli, onions, green beans, etc by the time I was five.

    Posted by Aaron Buelmer December 8, 09 07:28 AM
  1. I hope you also consider that she may have something wrong with her stomach. I see way too often that kids suffer with various medical issues, but it is not diagnosed by a doctor until later in life! WIth more and more people having celiac disease and other digestive issues, perhaps she should also see a doctor to be sure its not medical. If food made your stomach hurt all the time, would you want to eat it?

    Posted by Jen T. December 8, 09 07:45 AM
  1. Most of the commenters here have great ideas and are fairly literate,so reading these comments has been very enjoyable for me. My kids have always been good eaters, but what I have noticed from other people with issues is 1) some kids are a little picky, don't make a big deal of it , 2) don't let them milk and juice themselves all day, they will definitely fill up on these, and 3) don't eat dinner too late. Also, take snack time as opportunities to get healthy food in. Kids hungry waiting for dinner? Put out veggies and dip, cheese and crackers, etc.

    Posted by Laura December 8, 09 07:54 AM
  1. This is an excellent answer, but do not underestimate the child's resolve. You've got to follow the advice, and follow the advice, and follow the advice...

    Posted by MM December 8, 09 07:59 AM
  1. My four year old daughter is an extremely picky eater as well. She has texture issues that developed as an infant, plus she is stubborn. Many of the "tricks" used for other children don't work with her. For example, she is adverse to "dipping", so getting her to eat vegetables by dipping them into salad dressing has never been successful. She is very reluctant to try anything new and more than once has gone to bed having chosen not to eat dinner. Our approach is that dinner is one meal, family time. If she chooses not to participate, that is her choice. Lunch she has a choice, and we try to make sure her snack choices are healthy. Ironically, this is a child who loves to help with grocery shopping and with cooking. She will work with me to make everything, even rolling the meatballs, layering the casseroles, etc., but she will refuse to eat it. I console myself by saying some day she will have one just like her.

    Posted by Carol December 8, 09 08:08 AM
  1. I agree with sandi - this is a power play.

    If you'll excuse the parallel, there are similarities to raising children and training dogs - both are challenging you to become the alpha of the house. You need to show them that YOU are in charge. Otherwise, they won't respect or obey you in any other matter.

    Like DaveCJ, I've also seen instances of parents who fall over themselves to prepare an alternate meal for a picky child (some going so far as to serving Pop Tarts). This results in a spoiled, bratty child who is learning that they can get whatever they want simply by taking a fit. Trust me, you DON'T want to see how this attitude develops into adulthood - it isn't pretty.

    I would refrain from having another alternative for them to eat - it just opens the door to negotiation and weakens your position. As long as you're not serving the family Lima Bean Casserole (a sworn enemy of kids), your child should like what you're cooking.

    You're a good parent for seeking advice and utilizing the resources and the knowledgebase at hand. I know so many parents who think they know it all and won't bother to crack a book or search for information on how to raise their children, As a result, their kids are some of the worst behaved I've ever met.

    Posted by JoeyJoeJoe ShabbaDoo December 8, 09 08:10 AM
  1. " ...maybe fewer objectionable vegetables" - why are veggies objectionable? If you're serving vegetables that are simply reheated, you're missing out on an entire category of food that is delicious, filling and nutritious. Sounds like Rachel is passing on her veggie aversions to her daughter.

    Posted by Diet Coke December 8, 09 08:38 AM
  1. wow!
    someone who finally agrees not only with the old methods, but me! I am going to send the whole page to my DIL who insists on fixing separate meals for her 4 kids ( 2 are toddlers ) the other 2 are tweens and they do run the house. When I told my DIL that her kids did not act that way in our home she accused us of starving and abusing the kids. We were taught ( as kids ) you eat what is on your plate or it will be waiting for the next meal. We were never excused before everyone was done, and that meant having to watch while they got dessert.

    Posted by Feances December 8, 09 08:50 AM
  1. Being the mother of a child who had feeding issues, I know your frustration. I like another Ellyn Satter book called How to Get Your Kids to Eat But Not Too Much. She basically sets out this rule to live by: You (the parent) decide what and when, and your child decides IF and how much they will eat. That being said, food allergies are abundant in our society. Consider lactose intolerance (a breath test can be done to diagnose) or gluten/wheat sensitivity (harder to diagnose). Good luck!

    Posted by zippy365 December 8, 09 08:58 AM
  1. I have taken care of many children, and I think it is very important to be flexible with young children who are acting out around eating supper.
    I'd talk to her pediatrician about a daily supplement and then I'd have a large variety of things that do offer some sort of nutritional value, toss some wheat germ on her cereal, if that is what she generally WILL eat.
    Have juice boxes, yogurts, cheese and crackers, applesauce, mandarin oranges, peanut butter and cream cheese celery sticks, carrot sticks, tangerines, bananas, grape tomatoes.
    Children usually will like tacos and lots of healthy stuff can be used for the fillings.
    I agree with the idea of serving what you serve for supper, but if she skips it and is expressing hunger later, I'd humor that for at least another year or two.

    Posted by Omphalos December 8, 09 09:01 AM
  1. Just to put it out there -- if your daughter continues not to eat, don't hesitate to take her to the doctor if you suspect something more serious.

    I only say this because my little brother was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease when he was 6 years old. He was always a picky eater, and he's the middle child, always looked for attention. He would never want to eat, and when he did eat, he'd say he had a stomachache. My mother took him to the doctor, and at first, the doctor just said it was attention-seeking behavior. However, he started losing lots of weight, and started losing his hair because of malnutrition. My parents finally took him to Children's Hospital, and they diagnosed him with Crohn's within a few days.

    I'm sure this is not the case for your daughter, but I did just want to mention it, because there are cases when there could be something else wrong! That being said, my mother caved in to us WAY too much when we were little, and I hope when I have kids someday, I'll be able to get them to each veggies and healthy foods by using the methods the author suggests. Thanks Barbara!

    Posted by Kate December 8, 09 09:01 AM
  1. Interesting...

    I myself was an extremely picky eater. My parents lived by the rule of "you will sit at the table until your plate is clean." And I didn't get dessert if I didn't finish my meal. The funny thing is that being threatened like this never changed my eating habits. I rarely had dessert and I often went to bed hungry. I gave up meat by 10 because I got heartburn so much (yes, at 10!) and was told I had to cook for myself. So I did.

    By 16, I was on prescription acid inhibitors and sleeping pills (I was so sick to my stomach and it hurt so badly I couldn't sleep). By 21, I was seeing a multiple specialists. By 27, I'd had a colonoscopy. And now at 30, I've been diagnosed with a host of food allergies! So if only my parents had listened to me, maybe I would have known about this years ago. I don't blame them, but I do think that parents need to understand that maybe kids aren't eating because it hurts or makes them sick, or something. But when I was a kid, I didn't know how to communicate this.

    Posted by Ann December 8, 09 09:49 AM
  1. Let her eat what everyone else eats. I can't stand kids who sit there and fuss about what's served or refuse to eat. She'll get the picture fast that she needs to eat what the family eats or she will be hungry.My younger daughter was like that and my wife catered to her and cooked special for her and it didn't really help. She still refused to eat what was served to her. So I put my foot down and it is amazing how quickly she adapted.

    Posted by Dave Adams December 8, 09 09:53 AM
  1. My daughter is picky, but she knows that if she eats her dinner, she gets a treat. No dinner, no treat. Works for us.

    Posted by CB December 8, 09 09:53 AM
  1. My kids were never much hungry for dinner. They could eat what the family had, or have a bowl of cereal or peanut butter sandwich.

    I agree that young kids shouldn't be pushed to eat a big dinner anyway - they run off their energy long before that. I always made sure they had a good lunch and a good breakfast and a healthy snack and didn't sweat dinner. The battle becomes dinner if you do.

    If you put food in front of them, give them some variety, and make sure it is nutritious, they will eat what they want and need. This has been validated by research going back to the 1930s. No child will starve in a home full of food, unless food becomes something bigger.

    Posted by Infoferret December 8, 09 10:01 AM
  1. My daughter has been through OT and followed by a feeding team for picky eating/sensory issues. If this is not a brand new behavior for your daughter (suggesting a developmental stage/time of experimentation with control), you might consider getting her evaluated for physical causes like allergies/GI issues or sensory issues. That said, even most normal eaters I've seen run out of steam by dinner. Every book I've read about feeding kids mentioned that appetite is lowest in the evening for kids, and you have to observe the intake over a period of a few days to a week to assess how balanced a diet may be.

    I also wish people would lay off about how parents of picky eaters are causing the problem, blah blah. To the lady crowing about how she was going to send this article to her DIL, fuhgeddaboutit! That's not going to help anything in your relationship.

    My kiddo has severe neophobia and texture/taste issues. She smells and tastes things in a seemingly greater degree of detail than my husband and I do. I'm not going to starve her if eating certain things really is deeply difficult and objectionable for her. We net out at the "family meal" strategy, where she gets something she likes and options to try what we are eating. If she won't try it, no judgment or commentary. It's not a "request whatever you want for dinner" thing, just having a failproof standby incorporated for everyone's sanity and comfort.

    Good luck, I know how intensely frustrating this can be! Use your intuition and pursue it if you think this is above and beyond the typical independence seeking stuff.

    Posted by Blythe December 8, 09 10:39 AM
  1. Here's a trick I learned from a cousin: make a vegetable plate. When I start preparing dinner, the first thing I do is assemble a serving plate of some of the following: cut up fresh veggies (e.g. carrots, cucumbers, peppers, cherry tomatoes), leftover cooked veggies (e.g. steamed green beans or broccoli), sunflower seeds, cooked beans (e.g. kidney or chickpea), pieces of cheese (e.g. string cheese, wedges of laughing cow cheese, or slices of mild cheddar), maybe some nuts -- whatever I have in the house that day. Everything is either a vegetable, a source of protein, or possibly fruit (if I have a leftover half apple, for example, I'll slice it and put it on the plate), and all of it is finger food. This plate goes on the kitchen table around 5:30, about half an hour before we eat, and stays there during the meal. My kids know that as soon as that plate appears, they can eat whatever they want off of it. This way, if they are getting grumpy from tiredness and low blood sugar, they can give themselves a little boost before the meal, and they are better company at the table. If they are famished at 5:30, they may eat a lot off the vegetable plate, and eat less at dinner, but I don't mind, since I know they've filled up on healthy choices. This technique has dramatically reduced the pre-dinner whining in our house, and made dinner more pleasant for everyone.

    At dinnner, unless I'm making something very un-kid-friendly (e.g. a spicy curry), I only make one dinner for everyone. We usually stick with the eat-what-is-served-or-wait-until-breakfast rule, although on occasion, if one of the kids has given something new a good try (four or five bites) and really doesn't care for it, I'll let them have a bowl of Cheerios instead. My younger daughter has made the choice to go to bed hungry a few times, but she's survived, and in the last three months (since she turned five) she has made that choice much less often.

    I agree with the commenters who say your daughter should sit with the family at dinner whether or not she chooses to eat. Research has shown that there are real benefits for children in having a regular family dinner (link: http://parentingmethods.suite101.com/article.cfm/family_dinner_time_builds_health_success). But in order to make this a pleasant experience for her and everyone else, you have to stop nagging. I know how hard that is! I still struggle with it myself, when I worry that a kid will be hungry or undernourished. But it's important to give them a sense of autonomy over what they eat; otherwise it becomes a power struggle. Inform her of her choices (e.g., "You may eat anything that's currently on the table, or you may wait for breakfast."), and then drop the subject.

    I remember my pediatrician telling me when my children were toddlers that my goal should not be to have them eat a balanced diet at any one meal, but a balanced diet over the course of a week (check with your pedi to see it this advice would still apply to a child your daughter's age). If one day she won't eat any protein, don't sweat about it, as long as she has another day when she does. If one day is not an eating day at all, she'll make up for it later. (When one daughter was three, she went four or five days seeming like she was living on air, and then had a dinner where she literally ate twice as much roasted chicken and broccoli as I did!) I also got a piece of advice I really like: my job as the parent is to put healthy food in front of them. That's it. Whether or not they eat it is up to them.

    I understand you concerns about wasting food, too. My suggestion: give her miniscule portions. Six cut-up bites of chicken, two green beans, one tablespoon of rice. She can always have seconds. If a kid can't finish what she's been served, we'll sometimes save her leftovers to have for lunch the next day (not as a punitive thing -- only if she says she wants it).

    Finally, if you are concerned about your child's nutritional intake or her stomach aches, it never hurts to call your pediatrician, or some other person who's opinion you respect. Ask other parents you know with kids the same age what their children normally eat. You may find that a lot of kids are just like yours! Good luck!

    Posted by Jonquil December 8, 09 10:56 AM
  1. I came to this page as the father of an 8-month old to see what I have to look forward too. I can't believe these parents who are supporters of the "you eat what you are served or go hungry because that's what my parents did to me" crap. Your parents probably spanked you too but it doesn't make it right. Read Ann's comment #31.Kind of similar situation to myself. I am lactose intolerant--which, as a child, made every meal difficult in which I was served something I didn't like. Like most kids, I was served milk and ate what I liked first. By the time I got to the vegetables, my stomach was upset due to the milk and then I was expected to keep eating. I fought my parents often about finishing my meal. Unilike Ann, I do blame my parents. It was their responsibility to realize that night after night I was getting sick and that's why I wouldn't finish. So I ask parents to consider that there may be many reasons for your child's refusal to eat, including allergies, and it can be a mixture of reasons as well.

    Posted by MakeLoveNotWar December 8, 09 11:19 AM
  1. Wow. So many opinions. I, too, have a picky preschooler. My DH and I have been trying to figure out what to do - or if we should do nothing. This article and comments are very helpful. Thanks, all!

    Posted by CopywriterJess December 8, 09 11:19 AM
  1. I do not agree with the "give them what they like" suggestion. My son is six and my daughter is two and they eat what I put in front of them no matter. It has been this way since my son started table food. I gave them no alternate dinners, no eat or starve techniques. they ate dinner and they ate what I gave them because I told them too. I am glad I was so stern about it too because now my son eats everything and will try everything! my daughter too...Giving these kids too many options is not healthy. They have so many other things to have choices about but I am the cook in my home, and dinner is non-negotiable.....at some point these kids need to hear it like it is...

    Posted by judgenot December 8, 09 11:39 AM
  1. I don't understand parents who will not make food that they know their child will eat. I know my child will not eat a steak so I don't make them. I know he likes plain food, so I make plain food. If I want something different, then I make it for myself, but when you become a parent, it is not about you anymore, it is about your children. I have a "picky eater" but what it comes down to is what he likes, not him being defiant.

    I don't like seafood at all. I will not eat it. The smell of it makes me gag. If you served me fish, I would starve, because it makes me sick.

    I really think parents who refuse to take care of their children are the wrong ones, not the children who wish not to eat food that they don't like. It doesn't have to be a power struggle, only if the parents make it one. Trying new foods is important, but eating is as well.


    Posted by Sara December 8, 09 11:54 AM
  1. I have two nephews who were picky eaters but survived. Let the kids eat what they want within reason. The two nephews survived to adulthood. One nephew got married, have two children, one child eats like he does so

    Posted by sophie08 December 8, 09 12:35 PM
  1. My kids eat anything I put in front of them. Why? Because if they don't eat they will go to bed starving. I don't have time for the BS. At dinner they request fish, scallops, shrimp and chicken. They love it!
    BTW:My kids also have junk food in the day time. I'm no health nut.

    Posted by take control December 8, 09 01:48 PM
  1. I'm surprised she didn't mention that the child might have a food allergy. A couple friends of mine had allergies to common foods such as garlic which made them very sick as children and they were often accused of being picky eaters. I was allergic to milk and had similar problems. Has she even considered it might be a food allergy?

    Posted by questioningreponse December 8, 09 02:00 PM
  1. I grew up poor and sometimes not having dinner so I am extremely sensitive about wasted food. My son went through a phase b/t 3-5 yrs. old where he would go days and only eat graham crackers, PB&J or grilled cheese. At first, I balked and wanted to ensure he had veggies and fruits, but after 2 dinner battles, I gave up and didn't even offer him what my husband and I had for dinner. I just put out graham crackers or a grilled cheese. After 3 straight days of graham crackers, he decided he wanted to eat what we were having. He is now 25 yrs. old and has traveled and eaten a whole range of foods on every continent. He is a fabulous cook of whom his Indian co-workers are amazed at his vegetarian and curry skills that rival their own.

    Posted by A Mom December 8, 09 02:08 PM
  1. I have a 4 year old and a 17 month old and they are both incredible eaters. Perhaps I lucked out...twice...but I believe wholeheartedly that it has a lot to do with the fact that I almost never offer them alternatives. What I serve them is what they eat....period. If there is no planned meal, often for lunch or breakfast I will occasionally offer a CHOICE, i.e. "Would you like to have eggs or pancakes for breakfast?" or "Would you like yogurt or a sandwich for lunch?" I believe this offers them a level of CONTROLLED independence in their eating choices. However, if I have a meal that is made and on the table, then that's what is being eaten. If they don't like it, then I do not offer an alternative, and I do not give them a "snack" later when they are of course hungry.

    Presuming there is no reasonable reason that a child could not eat what you have given them (physiological, immunological or otherwise) then supplying them with another alternative that is preferable only to them is unnecessary and indulgent. It teaches them that if they object strongly enough they can get what they want. Of course children won't eat EVERYTHING, and I am certainly not one of those people who believe that everything that goes into a child's mouth has to be perfectly nutritionally balanced -- chicken nuggets, french fries, goldfish crackers are fine to eat on occasion (and heaven knows my children do!) but what if your child will ONLY eat goldfish crackers.....is that what you will serve them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? I certainly hope not. Do you not give your kids their childhood vaccinations simply because they don't want the shot? Of course not. Why is food so different?

    We as parents have to accept reponsibility and act responsibly FOR our children. Just because they refuse to eat something does not mean that they CAN'T eat it, it just means that they WON"T (at least not at that particular time). It's ridiculous to assume that children can't have appetites for anything beyond macaroni & cheese and pizza. What did parents feed their children before such things were widely available?.....I guess all the children of the world starved before Kraft came along to save them. We really should stop underestimating children.

    Posted by NoPickyEatersHere December 8, 09 02:17 PM
  1. You don't say how varied her diet is for lunch or breakfast or how well she eats then, so could it just be a dinner issue? We have a hard time getting our girls to concentrate at dinner and so getting them to eat at dinner is mostly about getting them to focus. After a busy day out of the house, all they want to do is play.

    Also, if she craves carbs, especially at breakfast, when she's hungry, can you make sure she gets an equal amount of protein? It will last longer and add to her overall, daily diet.

    Posted by twins December 8, 09 04:04 PM
  1. I didn't learn until my 21st birthday that growing up I had a condition called Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome. I didn't know until I was 18 that I was lactose intolerant. I remember being forced to eat pizza, alfredo, and casseroles filled with cheese. I hated them, but my parents said what was what was for dinner. Now my mom feels horrible that she aggravated my stomach with lactose, and might have contributed to my cyclic vomiting with the glass of milk with every meal.

    I even to this day will think I'm okay to eat something, put it in the oven, and by the time it is cooked be too ill to eat it (it can hit me in less than 15 minutes sometimes). If I were you I would bring my child to the doctor and get them tested for food allergies, lactose intolerance, chromes, and other intestinal/stomach problems. Your "two versions of the same thing" might be what makes her sick and seemingly uncooperative. It might not be her fault.

    Posted by Go to a doctor. December 8, 09 04:06 PM
  1. I second those who mentioned vegetarians. I was also a very picky eater from a young age. Some of my earlier memories are me hiding the chewed meat in a napkin and throwing it out in the bathroom. My mother never figured it out until I was able to make the claim that I wanted to be a vegetarian (age 11). Fortunately though, my mother was great about making salads and cooking veggies/pasta/fish so I survived.

    Also, I have a very sensitive stomach, so certain foods just don't agree with me. This also started when I was an infant and got severe indigestion. Again, my mother learned infant massage to help with that.

    Sure, some kids are picky, but we all are. The best advice I can give from my experience is to not compare people's eating habits, don't focus the conversations on what's wrong with them, and make sure you as a parent have a healthy relationship with food. Kids pick up on that very quickly. 27 years later and I'm still waiting for people to stop commenting on how slowly I eat.

    There's lots of other good advice in the comments today!

    Posted by Rachael December 8, 09 04:32 PM
  1. This sounds so similar to what we went through with our daughter that I am compelled to comment. The belly aches register with me most. We took her to her physician who ordered an endoscopy and colonoscopy. I have to admit I was skeptical. When I saw the photos of her insides after the procedure I literally cried. Her upper and lower systems were completed messed up. She takes a couple of medications now and eats anything she wants.

    Posted by Frank December 8, 09 04:35 PM
  1. This is a great topic. I was that "picky eater" child and I know that for ME it had zero to do with control. It had to do with a gag reflex and texture/taste. I had a very sensitive palate which as you age your taste buds are less sensitive.......so as a child I would feel the urge to physically get sick over certain foods. I vowed to myself that I would not make my children eat foods that they found disgusting tasting or felt awful in their mouths. I have EXCELLENT eaters. From day one I've always put little bits of various foods that I'm eating for them. If they dislike the food or they push it away I make sure to mix in some things tha they really like and are more bland such as cheese or what not.

    Posted by Tamra December 8, 09 05:20 PM
  1. Thank you NoPickyEatersHere for bringing the blog back to rationality. You give great tips too.

    Remember folks, the original advice is from MDs.

    +1 to the person that suggested allergies too.

    Posted by JackSprat December 8, 09 06:34 PM
  1. This string is starting to really irk me. My dear husband does not like spinach. It's one of my faves - I'll take it any way I can get it. But I do not tell him he has to eat it or go hungry! In fact, I hardly ever prepare it as a main veggie (although I do make it for myself) because I don't want to see something get wasted. Similarly, I would be an unhappy woman if someone told me I needed to eat a curried dish or salmon for my dinner. I'm a pretty adventurous eater and like a lot of spice and variety, but those are the two flavors I despise most.

    Don't get me wrong, I am NOT a short order cook in my house. We do have the timing issue as far as my husband getting home too late for a family dinner so I do tend to cook twice about two hours apart. But is there nothing to be said for personal taste? When are we allowed to develop that - only in college when our mothers are no longer cooking for us?

    Posted by RH December 9, 09 06:13 PM
  1. I just want to add my personal experience. My son started complained about frequent stomach aches. We had him tested at age 5 and sure enough, he had severe lactose intolerance. Now he drinks lactaid milk and we carry lactose pills for when he eats out and enjoys ice cream, cheese, etc.. He is doing very well now. So I really encourage parents to get your kids tested if their kids don't want to eat or vomit or complain of stomaches. Seeing that story here about the 21 year old was heartbreaking. Often. parents assume their kids are "defiant" or bad"..., not necessarily the case!

    Posted by Laura December 10, 09 08:04 AM
  1. If you think your kid is a problem now, I am in my 50's and am still a very finicky eater. It has been a serious problem and embarrassment my whole life and probably kept me behind. You can image what it was like for me when I lived in another country for a couple of years. Every other American was scared of the language, I was scared of the food.

    I am sensitive to textures, so I wish my mother hadn't followed the WASP tradition of overcooking vegetables. I was once diagnosed with OCD, though that wasn't confirmed.

    I have tried to seek help, and the most I ever got from eating disorder specialists was "It's great that you recognize your problem, but we only treat over- and undereating."

    I wonder how common this is among adults.

    Posted by Michael December 23, 09 10:32 PM
  1. I would check for food allergies, my grandson has allergies and is very picky.

    I have 4 year old grand daughters, one eats everything, the other is picky.

    I try the no dessert routine, that seems to work, sometimes.

    Posted by Ellen August 27, 11 02:47 PM
  1. Why is there a waste problem? I have a collection of storage containers, big and small. Any leftovers go in the containers. And, sometimes get eaten out of the containers! I think the containers actually enhance the eating experience, like having a packed meal.

    The comparison to other children, and being the topic of conversation in a negative way is very harmful. WHY is this happening? With all due respect, the mom sounds a little too fraught. Every child is different, you need to be a little more flexible.

    No vegetable should be considered "objectionable". I introduced spinach in a spinach, ricotta, pasta dish, and my kid absolutely loved it. My mom made the kids when they were tots cod, rice and broccoli, and to this day, they speak of it fondly.

    They want to be like you. Show them how much you enjoy eating something and they'll be there.

    Please don't go the "treat if you eat" way. All that teaches is EVERYTHING in life needs to be rewarded.

    Posted by JC January 30, 12 08:25 AM
  1. Definitely rule out any health problems before you assume this is normal behavior (which it totally is). I would never want to scare anyone, but I know Mom who discovered Celiac Disease in her daughter (gluten inolerance) after years of complaints. On the extreme side, in our little town, we lost a 5-year-old boy to stomach cancer, and when he was three his Mom would say the same thing, that he wouldn't eat and he said his tummy hurt. We all shrugged it off, but when he was diagnosed, it was stage four. Certainly the advice to combat picky eating is most often warranted, but please, rule out health problems first!

    Posted by Josephine January 30, 12 09:03 AM
  1. When I was a child and didn't like something that was put in front of me, my mother usually responded "But you used to love that when you were a baby!" It usually worked. And I also heard of another family that used a similar psychological technique: When an unfamiliar food was placed in front of their little boy and he declared, "I'm not eating that!", his father answered, "Well, I'm not surprised you don't like it. That's grown up food."

    But the system I like best is one employed by an acquaintance of mine with two young daughters (ages 6 and 7). They have a simple rule that it's important for their children to taste things. They don't have to like them, but they do have to taste them. I saw this reinforced one day when, at supper, the older one took a sip from her mother's glass and declared, "Mommy, this Kool-Aid tastes funny." Her mother looked at the glass and said, "Oh, that's not Kool-Aid, that's Mommy's wine. But that's okay! It's important for you to taste things." These two have thus tasted all manner of things, from beer to exotic vegetables. They don't like them all, but they've developed a habit of sampling, as well as one of learning what's good for them and what isn't.

    Posted by Paul January 30, 12 09:58 AM
  1. I don't agree with the "alternative" option at all, but I also got my finicky eater involved in making the meal so he could see what was going in to it and wanted to try what the result was. That made a huge difference and a bit of independence and self-esteem. Sometimes with a complicated meal with a lot of different things in them, kids get worried about whats in their food. Once, he refused to eat a stack of fresh pancakes because they had "Poisonberry" (Boysenberry) syrup on them but all he had heard was the poison bit and he didn't eat them.
    But do keep an eye on the allergies too. I am allergic to maple and so is my youngest son, and everything maple smelling makes us nauseous because we know what the outcome is. Even if it's a mild allergy that causes stomach upset, children will remember it. Grandpa took him to Taco Bell once and it made him sick... 12 years later he still won't go to Taco Bell and he was 4 at the time.
    Also keep in consideration that children don't have the same palette as you do, and heavily spicing foods can be a big turn off for them as it can give things an unfamiliar flavour. Try adding one spice at a time to see what things your child enjoys.

    Posted by Renee January 30, 12 10:40 AM
  1. Who is the Adult and who is the Child?

    In my house it's eat or go hungry. Hunger is the best spice.

    Posted by Anon January 30, 12 10:55 AM
  1. I really hope the MIL who plans to send this article to her DIL will reconsider. You raised your children the way you saw fit, and now your DIL is raising hers the way she sees fit. You may disagree with her approach, but you indicate that you already know where she stands on this issue, and the only thing pushing your views on her over and over again -- or sending her articles that "prove" that you are right -- is going to do is strain your relationship with your DIL and as a result with your grandchildren. As a DIL myself I really see no good coming from this plan of action.

    Posted by ad January 30, 12 11:21 AM
  1. My parents followed these rules here to a "T" and while I was quite skinny as a child, I grew up to be a huge foodie with a healthy appetite.

    Posted by CHG January 30, 12 12:46 PM
  1. I never ate when I was little. I truly wasn't hungry and the food made me gag. My parents thought I was pretending. I tried to describe why to my husband over 30 years later, and the best description that I could think of was that putting something I didn't want into my body was akin to rape. It was foul and disgusting and terrible. (Of course... this is all in a 5 year old's head.) I even remember going bed hungry because I didn't want to eat. I have no regrets. It was my choice. But you know what, I'm just fine now. I'm tall for a woman, eat healthily, am not overweight. Everything is JUST FINE.

    (But definitely rule out any medical issues...like the allergies that the other commentors are talking about.)

    Posted by Diane January 30, 12 03:48 PM
  1. Yes - if the child is complaining about a stomach ache, it could be that there's a food allergy. My niece was (and is) a picky eater. She loved pasta, pizza, all kinds of carbohydrates but we also found out that she has Celiac's disease which is an allergy to wheat. She is now off wheat and no longer complains about a tummy ache. So that may be a real issue.

    Posted by Melitta January 31, 12 12:46 PM
  1. My Dad used to make me sit at the table and eat my vegetables; squash, spinach, broccoli. They used to make me gag. To this day I still don't like them. I like my kids to try things. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't but I refuse to force them to eat things. My son,11, likes steak and baked potatoes now. I think as they grow they will find new things to like. My daughter, 6 likes pasta and bagels. Not the worst things to eat. They are healthy and growing . . . that's all that matters.

    Posted by GS January 31, 12 03:15 PM
  1. I was a picky eater and my parents would n ot excuse me from the table until my plate was clean. This resulted in me sitting alone at thye kitchen table many nights until it was bedtime. To this day there are still many foods that I will not eat and I still have major problems with authority figures.

    Posted by exitseven January 31, 12 03:32 PM
  1. Sounds like a food allergy. Have the child tested by a pediatric food allergist is you want to get to the bottom of this.

    Posted by KS February 1, 12 07:16 AM
  1. My adopted 2 yr. old ate way too little, so I fed him every 15 minutes and we played in the kitchen with spices and cooking...Several years later he ate very little again and I went back to hand feeding him. Finally with foul smelling leakage, we went to the pediatrician -constipation. It had no symptoms except loss of appetite. There was no pain, no bloating, no gas. The problem was simple to fix and he is eating. Hand feeding and offering one alternative at dinner was crucial as he was not growing and his growth hormone was at zero. The pattern occured all day not just dinner.

    Posted by Dasha18 February 15, 12 09:31 PM
  1. There is really not enough information in the question you raised to reply thoughtfully. For example, how is your child's hight and weight? If in the normal range, you may just be dealing with behavioral issues, but comment No. 58 is spot on. You need to first rule out medical issues. These include psychological issues. We've gone through feeding issues with our two-year old, who was born with an ulcer. It created trauma around feeding. Similarly, kids sometimes develop aversions to food if they experience a choking episode. You should talk first to your pediatrician. Ignore the comments in the vein of "she'll eat when she's hungry" until you have first ruled out medical reasons

    Posted by bill April 12, 12 07:56 AM
  1. This also sounds like a food allergy. My mom said that, as a young child, there were foods she "power struggle" refused to eat. When she got to be older, it turned out she was seriously allergic to them. As a result, we were never forced to eat foods we didn't like, though we were encouraged to taste them.

    Also, maybe the stomachaches are stress stomachaches from having a bossy, domineering mother who won't respect her.

    Posted by AP April 12, 12 10:49 AM
  1. I second Dasha's comment (#69) about the constipation. At my 4yo's well check appt, my child was diagnosed with chronic constipation. You can still "go" if you're constipated, so it was not an obvious problem, but the doctor could easily tell from an external abdominal exam. Since we've been treating him (for about a month) his appetite has noticeably increased, and he's actually put on some healthy weight.

    Before twisting yourself into a pretzel over eating habits and other intangibles, see if there might be an easily fixed problem that would help remedy your situation.

    Posted by M April 12, 12 11:43 AM
  1. My daughter will eat breakfast, lunch and snacks with no fight whatsoever. For some reason she would fight with us about dinner. I refuse to make more than one meal so we have started playing what we call The Dice Game at dinner.

    If she's not interested in what's for dinner, then she rolls a die we keep on the table. Whatever number comes up, that's how many bites she has to take before she can be excused. Sometimes she rolls a six, sometimes she rolls a one. I would worry about her going to bed hungry if she rolled a one but she's never complained and she's a normal weight. Because she has some control over the situation there's no fighting anymore.

    As for wasting food; whatever is leftover I usually eat for lunch the next day.

    Posted by Kelly April 12, 12 03:57 PM
  1. This works wonders! Our 4 year old would not eat anything. Here's what we did to solve the problem. All kids like toys, right? Ask him/her what toy they want to buy. Then tell them they can earn money and he/she can go buy it. At every meal (3 times a day) set them down with the meal and 3 nickels. Every time you have to remind them to eat, you take 1 nickel away. After you take 3 nickels away, they must get down and can no longer eat. (Give 1 warning of course). If they get down from the table without permission you take a nickel. However, if they finish the entire meal they get a bonus of a dime. Your child can earn 25 cents per meal. Whenever they have 25 cents they can trade the nickels/dimes for a quarter. Whenever they have enough they can trade 4 quarters for a dollar. Once they have a dollar they can go pick out a toy at the dollar store, or they can save up money for an even better toy. This teaches children math, the value of money, and some discipline. It has been working wonders for our 4 year old boy and now I'm more concerned that he could be eating too much.

    Posted by Rob Urban April 29, 12 10:07 PM
  1. Be aware how you aproch your daughter about eating. Our daughter for almost a year would complain about tummy pains, sometimes throwing up whole chunks of things not digested, after many other test one was order for CELIAC DISEASE . Talk with the doctor about this , don't ignore your daughters, tummy troubles even if you think it is her-working you send me message if want to talk or anyone else does be glad to share my story. Look up Dawn Coubert face book me send me a message
    Thanks

    Posted by Dawn September 5, 12 11:40 PM
  1. I am very concernd about my 4 year old son. I will fix Dinner and I know he likes it because we have the same thing once a week. His two favorites are pizza and spagetti. One day he will eat it and the next week he says he dont like it any more. What do I do.

    Posted by Tiffany December 5, 12 06:20 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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