Mom with food issues in her past struggles with daughters' eating habits

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  May 20, 2011 06:00 AM

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Hi Barbara,

After yet another night of more tears shed than food consumed, my husband and I feel as though we have reached our breaking point! I have food issues in my past so I'll admit that I am hyper-sensitive about this but I am trying not to pass this on to my daughters! I have 2 - a 3.5 yo and a 1 yo. The 1 yo eats little bits of anything you put in front of her. They tell me at school (daycare/preschool) that the 3.5 yo is one of the best eaters in the classroom and eats whatever they give her. (They offer a food program) However, eating at home is the exact opposite. She'll eat maybe 40% of the food that we eat so when we have something she won't eat, we'll often make her something else.

Sometimes she will eat what we give her, other times she won't, and still other times she'll ask for something different mid-meal. I should also note that she typically has a treat (popsicle or fruit snacks) once she gets home and often asks for a snack before dinner. We tried a new recipe tonight and while at first she said she would eat, she ate maybe three pieces of elbow maccaroni amidst multiple crying fits. I finally told her she had to sit there until bedtime, which brought some of my own bad memories to the surface.

As I type this, I see the clear makings of a power struggle but I have no idea how to turn things around. Any help is much appreciated - and needed!

From: Christin, Chelmsford, MA

Hi Christin,

As I'm fond of saying, picky eaters are made, not born. But keep this in mind: feeding issues are hard for everyone, harder still for someone who has an eating issue in her past. But here's the first bit of good news: If either daughter was nutritionally challenged, you would be hearing about it from your pediatrician. So relax on that count. Whatever they are or aren't eating, it isn't threatening their well-being.

Next, when eating and food becomes a source of punishment -- as in, making her sit at the table -- you know you're on shaky ground. And you do know that, otherwise you wouldn't be writing!

I consulted with Claire McCarthy, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital Boston and blogger, and she agrees with that assessment. Here's her advice:

"First, ditch the right-before-dinner snack (which may mean you'll need to do some advance planning so dinner gets on the table sooner). Second, take out the drama. Be simple and matter-of-fact about it. You are all going to sit down to eat together, because that's what families do. It's important to stress the togetherness and conversation part of family dinner; take the emphasis off the menu. She may or may not like the food. If she doesn't want to eat the new recipe, insist on her trying 3 bites. Being calm and matter-of-fact about it is key. If she does that, she can have an alternative meal—but not the way you are doing it. The alternative meal must be (a) wicked easy for you to make, so that it doesn't interfere with your family meal time, and (b) boring. In our house, the alternative meals for balkers are either a bowl of Cheerios (plain, no Honey Nut stuff) or microwaved leftover spaghetti (we make it once a week and make extra for leftovers). There are no other choices.

"It may take a while for it to sink in that you really aren't going to make her what she wants, but she'll get it eventually. And putting the emphasis on being together will help re-frame the power issue. It's okay if she has some meals where she barely eats; that's part of what may need to happen for it all to sink in. If you aren't getting anywhere, or you have other worries about her or her diet, give your doctor a call."

I want to stress five of Dr. McCarthy's words: "calm and matter-of-fact." To which I would also add: firm. So: be firm, calm and matter-of-fact. Turn away from her when she starts demanding something else. Don't give her attention. And don't worry. She will not go hungry. Children's bodies don't let that happen.

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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23 comments so far...
  1. "First, ditch the right-before-dinner snack (which may mean you'll need to do some advance planning so dinner gets on the table sooner). "

    That is probably half your battle.

    Posted by jd May 20, 11 07:13 AM
  1. Maybe it would help to get a printed copy of the school's foods so you know what the 3.5 year old will eat.

    Maybe the new recipes should be considered carefully as kids do better with plain choices protein, starch, veg and any sauce/gravy on the side to be added or dipped into.

    Now remember--you are NOT running a restaurant there. You can discuss your childrens food preferences when you are making the grocery list. You can involve them in the simple cooking steps when they are big enough to do it safely (I could cook scrambled eggs at 3.5 with my mother beside me). This gives the kids something more than food--it gives them active attention of the most healthy kind.

    This specific kid's not eating at home is a way to seek attention. Stopping in the middle of a meal to demand other food is the smoking gun. Taking all food off the table after 20 minutes and going on to the next normal evening activity is part of the cure. Set a timer and DO NOT FIGHT OR GET UPSET.

    Spending one-on-one time for 15 minutes with each parent each evening is more necessary as the kid gets bigger. It's far more important than supper because the kid does get enough nutrition and variety before that.

    Posted by Irene May 20, 11 07:59 AM
  1. This really feels to be about the mom's past struggles, and not anything unusual about the daughter's eating habits.

    Do not fight and do not cry. Your daughter eats at school. This means she will not starve. So: this is not a crisis. Even if she eats not a single bite at dinner, this is not a crisis. She is nutritionally fine.

    Stop thinking about what she eats on a daily basis; appetites go up and down. Take a longer view, and just try to make sure that over the course of a week, she is eating.

    Also: stop catering to her food "needs." You make what you make for dinner. Try to have at least one side dish that you know she generally likes. Or, as the expert Barbara talked to suggested, have a standard, boring, but nutrituos alternative dinner option available for nights she says she is hungry but refuses to eat (love the Cheerios idea... it should not involve extra cooking or preparing for you!).

    But above all, don't argue or cajole or anything else at all. Just give her the plate, give her the food, and let it go.

    Posted by jjlen May 20, 11 11:21 AM
  1. If our 3 year old doesn't eat what's in front of her, that's fine. She doesn't eat. Sometimes, kids just aren't hungry. Usually if we give her a smaller portion of what's on her plate and tell her to at least eat that much in order to get dessert, she will - and sometimes, that turns into eating everything anyway.

    We never force her to sit until her food is done. That's pointless. We don't fight about it either. That's also pointless.

    Asking her if she wants to help cook has worked for the last year in terms of getting her to try new recipes. She can sample each ingredient as it's added, and there's something extra tasty to her about knowing that she made it. Plus, it's wicked fun for both of us to cook together. It's taught her some basic math, kitchen safety, the basics of measurement and even the basics of chemistry. It's also taught her to follow step-by-step instructions and to be patient.

    She doesn't always WANT to help these days, but she knows she can any time.

    The bottom line is that "finish everything on your plate or sit there til it's gone" is something that even my own parents, who employed this tactic, have expressed a lot of regret over. My mother said she would do things totally different today. Little kids bodies don't let them go dangerously hungry - and giving them something special of their own? total power trip on the kid's part.

    Be calm, rational, reasonable. Don't make a huge issue out of it. Shrug and say, "OK. But you won't have anything else after. This is what's for dinner." INclude her in the cooking process. But don't fight over it. It's such a waste of time and energy and creates absolutely needless stress.

    Posted by phe May 20, 11 11:45 AM
  1. I completely agree with Irene that this child is doing this for the attention. She's figured out that she can get 2 snacks before dinner and then raise heck at the table. I love the idea of refusing the snacks and making the only option at dinner unsweetened cereal! A couple of weeks of that and you will likely have a much less "picky" eater. Note that at school she eats whatever they offer - which probably gets her lots of positive attention. She's figured out that the reverse works at home.

    Posted by Q May 20, 11 04:21 PM
  1. Listen, this is your kid's problem -- sorry, I never met her, have never examined her, and, in any case, I'm neither a doctor nor a psychologist, so I won't do you the disservice of diagnosing your daughter from a newspaper article.

    There is rarely a single cause or a single right solution to this type of problem. You've got to find the right treatment for your specific child, just like with quitting smoking or drinking.

    Some possibilities are that it's a matter of textures. Try cooking vegetables less and even serving some raw, and see if that works. Another possible cause is OCD. See a professional.

    The idea that finicky eaters are "made and not born" is another "sounds like it ought to be true" statement. Your child deserves to be treated with scientifically tested, evidence-based medicine.

    Posted by Ork May 20, 11 08:37 PM
  1. When my daughter was this age, and didn't want to eat what I had served (which was food that she and most kids would usually eat), I often said (in a "calm and matter-of-fact" way), "This is what we have." I typically had to repeat it once or twice. I looked at her with my big, serious eyes, but with no threat, and told her that she could eat it or not, but that this was "what we have." Then I ate my portion from my plate.

    Remembering that young children are self-feeders (who will eat when they are hungry, and if presented a menu of healthy foods and not refined sweets, will eat what they need) helped me feel OK about this.

    If my daughter was hungry after dinner, I offered her some leftovers. And if she didn't eat her dinner (or at least a reasonable portion of it), my husband and I would wait to eat dessert until after she went to bed. We didn't tell her she wasn't having dessert; we simply didn't serve it while she could see it.

    Although you didn't ask for this information, I hope you don't mind if I take the liberty of saying that I think you're doing a great job of considering your own history and feelings as you think about how to address your daughter's needs.

    Posted by Jane May 21, 11 02:17 AM
  1. One of our kids eats everything, the other is pickier about veggies and meats and, actually, pretty much everything. But we've never gotten into the habit of making something else unless I know that I am making something that they've tried before and truly dislike, like chili (after all, I don't make food that I don't like). To that end, they almost never ask for something else at the dinner table, which is wonderfully refreshing. I try to make one piece of the meal that I know they'll both eat, so if they're really hungry they can fill up on that. A meal or two of plain white rice or a couple of rolls is not going to do them harm.

    For the pickier one, who is 3, this has become a common refrain at the table, "You need to eat at least 2 big bites of X if you would like to have dessert. If you don't want to eat it, that's fine, but then you cannot have dessert." He still gets to make the choice, but it's giving a good incentive for trying something new. He tries it about 90-95% of the time, and the other times he knows that he's forfeiting some after dinner ice cream. We've been doing this for about a year, and there is never any fighting about it anymore.

    Now I just need to work on getting him to sit with us at the table for more than 5 minutes...Everything's a work in progress : )

    Posted by jane May 21, 11 08:54 AM
  1. So many of these struggles involve dessert! Wanting the dessert before dinner. Using dessert as a bargaining chip. Not eating dinner then filling up on dessert. I saw this all the time with my sister and her son.

    I wonder, did you ever think of just not having dessert as part of dinner? I know this sounds like a horrible, joyless communist plot or something, but I stopped eating dessert as part of dinner a while back and, honestly, I don't miss it. I'll usually have a piece of fruit or two (clementines are great for this) and maybe a square of dark chocolate with the fruit. I'll still eat a brownie during the day or something if I'm getting coffee. I just don't have dessert as a required part of dinner any more, and I'm surprised I don't miss it. Just a suggestion -- maybe just remove it from the equation until the kids grow up a bit. I don't think kids in many other parts of the world are such picky eaters.

    Posted by peter May 21, 11 07:15 PM
  1. I must respectfully disagree that picky eaters are made, not born. I have a child who eats everything, and one who, at age 14, has a very limited range of foods he will eat. And they were raised the same way. So in some cases, pickiness really is genetic, just like hair color or personality. Why should taste preference be any different?

    In the LW's case, your daughter isn't really picky. She's just full. With my son, I learned to serve what I had made for dinner at about 3:30, right after he got home from school. No snacks, no junk food. He was offered dinner. After that, if he was still hungry, he could have cereal. This way, I knew he was getting something nutritious.

    If your daughter is gaining weight appropriately for her age, then she is getting enough calories. If you're concerned that some of those are unhealthy calories, stop buying fruit snacks (they're junk) and popsicles, and offer her realy fruit instead. A child who is really hungry will eat this and eventually learn to prefer it over the fake stuff.

    Posted by Isolda May 21, 11 07:43 PM
  1. I have a picky eater (6 year old son) and if he even ate close to 40% of what we were eating I'd be thrilled! I say, do not make it a battle. Serve one thing with each meal you know she will eat, or at least likes, and from there it is up to her.

    Posted by Wendy May 21, 11 08:28 PM
  1. Snacks may be part of the problem. I found that my children were so hungry before dinner and it made everything miserable.
    Now I try to have a veggie plate ready to go, and serve that instead of a sweet snack. I think of it as a salad first course, and that helps me not worry about it. Healthy snack, first course, whichever.

    Posted by Reading mom May 21, 11 11:35 PM
  1. Your job is to put food in front of them. Their job is to decide what to eat and how much of what you give them. You don't comment. You don't give snacks. You just serve the food.

    No stress, no harm...and the kids will sort themselves out.

    Posted by C May 22, 11 02:05 AM
  1. Here's a tip, you're the parent. Don't give them a choice.

    Posted by Anonymous May 22, 11 05:40 PM
  1. Be careful not to make a big deal about dinner. My 3.5yo son is a big eater at breakfast and lunch and usually pretty picky for dinner time. If your daughter is eating at school, that might just be her body's schedule. I totally agree with the idea that if she does want something different, it should be something super easy. If my son doesn't want what we are having, he can have some plain pasta or yogurt. We try to save 'new foods' for early in the day when he is hungrier.

    I hope that is helpful.

    Posted by Nicole May 22, 11 07:36 PM
  1. I wonder, did you ever think of just not having dessert as part of dinner? I know this sounds like a horrible, joyless communist plot or something, but I stopped eating dessert as part of dinner a while back and, honestly, I don't miss it.
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------

    Yay for you -- but don't you realize it's a great tool for a parent? In our house there is no power struggle or whining about dessert, and it isn't a big issue. But it's been a nice way to present a guidelines for our household: you get dessert if you finish your veggies. Incentive can be a wonderful thing.

    Posted by jjlen May 22, 11 09:27 PM
  1. You've been catering to the child with special meals, then you wonder why she pitches a fit when she gets something she doesn't like? The rule is: you eat what's served. And if you don't like it, fine, but you don't get anything else. I certainly wouldn't make her sit at the table trying to make her eat. I'd excuse her from the table, but stick to your guns later on when she's hungry.

    Posted by Miffy May 22, 11 10:56 PM
  1. There should be only one meal for everyone in the family, no other choices. No snacking before the meal and no dessert, in place of dessert you should probably serve a fruit. Don't worry, she won't starve, she'll eat if she's hungry.....

    Posted by Vita May 23, 11 10:47 AM
  1. For all the folks who say, just don't give them a choice, here's a question: how long can a picky three year old not eat any food but water? In my experience, close to 36 hours. At which point, I decided I would rather be the fool who very, very slowly introduces new foods and mostly loses than the jerk who literally starves their kid...

    The notion that picky eaters are 'made, not born' is just plain wrong. My daughter at age four has been picky since she was first offered solid foods - apple sauce, pears, spinach, oatmeal, avocado - you name it, we tried it. She only ate yams and bananas. At age 2, It took us close to two weeks to introduce pasta with oil or butter - she didn't get anything else and didn't have any snacks. I've found bribes do work, but only up to a point.

    My kid would much rather eat cheerios than anything we cook, so the solution by the nutritionist, while maybe a solution for many kids, doesn't do any good for me.

    Posted by Dave May 23, 11 12:25 PM
  1. Agree with Dave. And disagree with Barbara and many of the posters. Some stubborn kids WILL go hungry--for as long as it takes to get what they want!

    Personally know a kid who passes out from hunger rather than eat anything he doesn't like--which means three foods. Just three.

    And my own kid who will wake up in the middle of the night hungry and won't go back to sleep. So yes, I've made my point about the fact that she has to eat what I serve or else. But then we both have to live with the unhappy result.

    Sometimes parents just lose and the picky eaters win.


    Posted by momof2 May 24, 11 01:05 PM
  1. momof2: A kid who will willfully pass out from hunger rather than eat anything he doesn't like probably has broader issues than just being a picky eater. Sorry, but that's not the norm at all - and most 3 year olds won't ever get to that point.

    Posted by phe May 25, 11 02:07 PM
  1. Phe: never said that was a three year-old. It was an 8 year old and he doesn't happen to have any other issues at all. I know him personally. He's bright and perfectly normal. Just a picky eater. Some people have very sensitive taste buds--there's been research to confirm this--so forcing the issue isn't the right or effective thing to do. You have to live with it. Any other ideas?

    Posted by momof2 May 26, 11 05:18 PM
  1. Young children are excellent self regulators. Don't make food a battle or punishment. Put something on the table at every meal that is healthy, and which you know she likes -- fruit, cheese, etc. If she gobbles up the fruit but won't eat the new recipe, you'll know she's hungry and you can either urge her to try to new recipe and/or offer her yogurt or some other alternative that doesn't require cooking. If she doesn't touch the fruit, she's probably just not hungry. It's not uncommon for kids to eat one big meal at lunch and not much at all at dinner. This may change with seasons, and her dinner appetite might grown as she plays more outdoors in the afternoon.
    Also, it could be that your child cannot wait until dinner time to eat. If that's the case, continue to offer a snack, but give fruit, cheese, yogurt or something with nutritional value rather than empty calories in the form of popsicles and "fruit snacks", and know in your mind that it's a part of her overall "dinner" intake. Finally, do everything you can to put your food issues out of your mind. A child this age will only have issues herself if you create them for her.

    Posted by mandbmom June 3, 11 10:44 AM
 
23 comments so far...
  1. "First, ditch the right-before-dinner snack (which may mean you'll need to do some advance planning so dinner gets on the table sooner). "

    That is probably half your battle.

    Posted by jd May 20, 11 07:13 AM
  1. Maybe it would help to get a printed copy of the school's foods so you know what the 3.5 year old will eat.

    Maybe the new recipes should be considered carefully as kids do better with plain choices protein, starch, veg and any sauce/gravy on the side to be added or dipped into.

    Now remember--you are NOT running a restaurant there. You can discuss your childrens food preferences when you are making the grocery list. You can involve them in the simple cooking steps when they are big enough to do it safely (I could cook scrambled eggs at 3.5 with my mother beside me). This gives the kids something more than food--it gives them active attention of the most healthy kind.

    This specific kid's not eating at home is a way to seek attention. Stopping in the middle of a meal to demand other food is the smoking gun. Taking all food off the table after 20 minutes and going on to the next normal evening activity is part of the cure. Set a timer and DO NOT FIGHT OR GET UPSET.

    Spending one-on-one time for 15 minutes with each parent each evening is more necessary as the kid gets bigger. It's far more important than supper because the kid does get enough nutrition and variety before that.

    Posted by Irene May 20, 11 07:59 AM
  1. This really feels to be about the mom's past struggles, and not anything unusual about the daughter's eating habits.

    Do not fight and do not cry. Your daughter eats at school. This means she will not starve. So: this is not a crisis. Even if she eats not a single bite at dinner, this is not a crisis. She is nutritionally fine.

    Stop thinking about what she eats on a daily basis; appetites go up and down. Take a longer view, and just try to make sure that over the course of a week, she is eating.

    Also: stop catering to her food "needs." You make what you make for dinner. Try to have at least one side dish that you know she generally likes. Or, as the expert Barbara talked to suggested, have a standard, boring, but nutrituos alternative dinner option available for nights she says she is hungry but refuses to eat (love the Cheerios idea... it should not involve extra cooking or preparing for you!).

    But above all, don't argue or cajole or anything else at all. Just give her the plate, give her the food, and let it go.

    Posted by jjlen May 20, 11 11:21 AM
  1. If our 3 year old doesn't eat what's in front of her, that's fine. She doesn't eat. Sometimes, kids just aren't hungry. Usually if we give her a smaller portion of what's on her plate and tell her to at least eat that much in order to get dessert, she will - and sometimes, that turns into eating everything anyway.

    We never force her to sit until her food is done. That's pointless. We don't fight about it either. That's also pointless.

    Asking her if she wants to help cook has worked for the last year in terms of getting her to try new recipes. She can sample each ingredient as it's added, and there's something extra tasty to her about knowing that she made it. Plus, it's wicked fun for both of us to cook together. It's taught her some basic math, kitchen safety, the basics of measurement and even the basics of chemistry. It's also taught her to follow step-by-step instructions and to be patient.

    She doesn't always WANT to help these days, but she knows she can any time.

    The bottom line is that "finish everything on your plate or sit there til it's gone" is something that even my own parents, who employed this tactic, have expressed a lot of regret over. My mother said she would do things totally different today. Little kids bodies don't let them go dangerously hungry - and giving them something special of their own? total power trip on the kid's part.

    Be calm, rational, reasonable. Don't make a huge issue out of it. Shrug and say, "OK. But you won't have anything else after. This is what's for dinner." INclude her in the cooking process. But don't fight over it. It's such a waste of time and energy and creates absolutely needless stress.

    Posted by phe May 20, 11 11:45 AM
  1. I completely agree with Irene that this child is doing this for the attention. She's figured out that she can get 2 snacks before dinner and then raise heck at the table. I love the idea of refusing the snacks and making the only option at dinner unsweetened cereal! A couple of weeks of that and you will likely have a much less "picky" eater. Note that at school she eats whatever they offer - which probably gets her lots of positive attention. She's figured out that the reverse works at home.

    Posted by Q May 20, 11 04:21 PM
  1. Listen, this is your kid's problem -- sorry, I never met her, have never examined her, and, in any case, I'm neither a doctor nor a psychologist, so I won't do you the disservice of diagnosing your daughter from a newspaper article.

    There is rarely a single cause or a single right solution to this type of problem. You've got to find the right treatment for your specific child, just like with quitting smoking or drinking.

    Some possibilities are that it's a matter of textures. Try cooking vegetables less and even serving some raw, and see if that works. Another possible cause is OCD. See a professional.

    The idea that finicky eaters are "made and not born" is another "sounds like it ought to be true" statement. Your child deserves to be treated with scientifically tested, evidence-based medicine.

    Posted by Ork May 20, 11 08:37 PM
  1. When my daughter was this age, and didn't want to eat what I had served (which was food that she and most kids would usually eat), I often said (in a "calm and matter-of-fact" way), "This is what we have." I typically had to repeat it once or twice. I looked at her with my big, serious eyes, but with no threat, and told her that she could eat it or not, but that this was "what we have." Then I ate my portion from my plate.

    Remembering that young children are self-feeders (who will eat when they are hungry, and if presented a menu of healthy foods and not refined sweets, will eat what they need) helped me feel OK about this.

    If my daughter was hungry after dinner, I offered her some leftovers. And if she didn't eat her dinner (or at least a reasonable portion of it), my husband and I would wait to eat dessert until after she went to bed. We didn't tell her she wasn't having dessert; we simply didn't serve it while she could see it.

    Although you didn't ask for this information, I hope you don't mind if I take the liberty of saying that I think you're doing a great job of considering your own history and feelings as you think about how to address your daughter's needs.

    Posted by Jane May 21, 11 02:17 AM
  1. One of our kids eats everything, the other is pickier about veggies and meats and, actually, pretty much everything. But we've never gotten into the habit of making something else unless I know that I am making something that they've tried before and truly dislike, like chili (after all, I don't make food that I don't like). To that end, they almost never ask for something else at the dinner table, which is wonderfully refreshing. I try to make one piece of the meal that I know they'll both eat, so if they're really hungry they can fill up on that. A meal or two of plain white rice or a couple of rolls is not going to do them harm.

    For the pickier one, who is 3, this has become a common refrain at the table, "You need to eat at least 2 big bites of X if you would like to have dessert. If you don't want to eat it, that's fine, but then you cannot have dessert." He still gets to make the choice, but it's giving a good incentive for trying something new. He tries it about 90-95% of the time, and the other times he knows that he's forfeiting some after dinner ice cream. We've been doing this for about a year, and there is never any fighting about it anymore.

    Now I just need to work on getting him to sit with us at the table for more than 5 minutes...Everything's a work in progress : )

    Posted by jane May 21, 11 08:54 AM
  1. So many of these struggles involve dessert! Wanting the dessert before dinner. Using dessert as a bargaining chip. Not eating dinner then filling up on dessert. I saw this all the time with my sister and her son.

    I wonder, did you ever think of just not having dessert as part of dinner? I know this sounds like a horrible, joyless communist plot or something, but I stopped eating dessert as part of dinner a while back and, honestly, I don't miss it. I'll usually have a piece of fruit or two (clementines are great for this) and maybe a square of dark chocolate with the fruit. I'll still eat a brownie during the day or something if I'm getting coffee. I just don't have dessert as a required part of dinner any more, and I'm surprised I don't miss it. Just a suggestion -- maybe just remove it from the equation until the kids grow up a bit. I don't think kids in many other parts of the world are such picky eaters.

    Posted by peter May 21, 11 07:15 PM
  1. I must respectfully disagree that picky eaters are made, not born. I have a child who eats everything, and one who, at age 14, has a very limited range of foods he will eat. And they were raised the same way. So in some cases, pickiness really is genetic, just like hair color or personality. Why should taste preference be any different?

    In the LW's case, your daughter isn't really picky. She's just full. With my son, I learned to serve what I had made for dinner at about 3:30, right after he got home from school. No snacks, no junk food. He was offered dinner. After that, if he was still hungry, he could have cereal. This way, I knew he was getting something nutritious.

    If your daughter is gaining weight appropriately for her age, then she is getting enough calories. If you're concerned that some of those are unhealthy calories, stop buying fruit snacks (they're junk) and popsicles, and offer her realy fruit instead. A child who is really hungry will eat this and eventually learn to prefer it over the fake stuff.

    Posted by Isolda May 21, 11 07:43 PM
  1. I have a picky eater (6 year old son) and if he even ate close to 40% of what we were eating I'd be thrilled! I say, do not make it a battle. Serve one thing with each meal you know she will eat, or at least likes, and from there it is up to her.

    Posted by Wendy May 21, 11 08:28 PM
  1. Snacks may be part of the problem. I found that my children were so hungry before dinner and it made everything miserable.
    Now I try to have a veggie plate ready to go, and serve that instead of a sweet snack. I think of it as a salad first course, and that helps me not worry about it. Healthy snack, first course, whichever.

    Posted by Reading mom May 21, 11 11:35 PM
  1. Your job is to put food in front of them. Their job is to decide what to eat and how much of what you give them. You don't comment. You don't give snacks. You just serve the food.

    No stress, no harm...and the kids will sort themselves out.

    Posted by C May 22, 11 02:05 AM
  1. Here's a tip, you're the parent. Don't give them a choice.

    Posted by Anonymous May 22, 11 05:40 PM
  1. Be careful not to make a big deal about dinner. My 3.5yo son is a big eater at breakfast and lunch and usually pretty picky for dinner time. If your daughter is eating at school, that might just be her body's schedule. I totally agree with the idea that if she does want something different, it should be something super easy. If my son doesn't want what we are having, he can have some plain pasta or yogurt. We try to save 'new foods' for early in the day when he is hungrier.

    I hope that is helpful.

    Posted by Nicole May 22, 11 07:36 PM
  1. I wonder, did you ever think of just not having dessert as part of dinner? I know this sounds like a horrible, joyless communist plot or something, but I stopped eating dessert as part of dinner a while back and, honestly, I don't miss it.
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------

    Yay for you -- but don't you realize it's a great tool for a parent? In our house there is no power struggle or whining about dessert, and it isn't a big issue. But it's been a nice way to present a guidelines for our household: you get dessert if you finish your veggies. Incentive can be a wonderful thing.

    Posted by jjlen May 22, 11 09:27 PM
  1. You've been catering to the child with special meals, then you wonder why she pitches a fit when she gets something she doesn't like? The rule is: you eat what's served. And if you don't like it, fine, but you don't get anything else. I certainly wouldn't make her sit at the table trying to make her eat. I'd excuse her from the table, but stick to your guns later on when she's hungry.

    Posted by Miffy May 22, 11 10:56 PM
  1. There should be only one meal for everyone in the family, no other choices. No snacking before the meal and no dessert, in place of dessert you should probably serve a fruit. Don't worry, she won't starve, she'll eat if she's hungry.....

    Posted by Vita May 23, 11 10:47 AM
  1. For all the folks who say, just don't give them a choice, here's a question: how long can a picky three year old not eat any food but water? In my experience, close to 36 hours. At which point, I decided I would rather be the fool who very, very slowly introduces new foods and mostly loses than the jerk who literally starves their kid...

    The notion that picky eaters are 'made, not born' is just plain wrong. My daughter at age four has been picky since she was first offered solid foods - apple sauce, pears, spinach, oatmeal, avocado - you name it, we tried it. She only ate yams and bananas. At age 2, It took us close to two weeks to introduce pasta with oil or butter - she didn't get anything else and didn't have any snacks. I've found bribes do work, but only up to a point.

    My kid would much rather eat cheerios than anything we cook, so the solution by the nutritionist, while maybe a solution for many kids, doesn't do any good for me.

    Posted by Dave May 23, 11 12:25 PM
  1. Agree with Dave. And disagree with Barbara and many of the posters. Some stubborn kids WILL go hungry--for as long as it takes to get what they want!

    Personally know a kid who passes out from hunger rather than eat anything he doesn't like--which means three foods. Just three.

    And my own kid who will wake up in the middle of the night hungry and won't go back to sleep. So yes, I've made my point about the fact that she has to eat what I serve or else. But then we both have to live with the unhappy result.

    Sometimes parents just lose and the picky eaters win.


    Posted by momof2 May 24, 11 01:05 PM
  1. momof2: A kid who will willfully pass out from hunger rather than eat anything he doesn't like probably has broader issues than just being a picky eater. Sorry, but that's not the norm at all - and most 3 year olds won't ever get to that point.

    Posted by phe May 25, 11 02:07 PM
  1. Phe: never said that was a three year-old. It was an 8 year old and he doesn't happen to have any other issues at all. I know him personally. He's bright and perfectly normal. Just a picky eater. Some people have very sensitive taste buds--there's been research to confirm this--so forcing the issue isn't the right or effective thing to do. You have to live with it. Any other ideas?

    Posted by momof2 May 26, 11 05:18 PM
  1. Young children are excellent self regulators. Don't make food a battle or punishment. Put something on the table at every meal that is healthy, and which you know she likes -- fruit, cheese, etc. If she gobbles up the fruit but won't eat the new recipe, you'll know she's hungry and you can either urge her to try to new recipe and/or offer her yogurt or some other alternative that doesn't require cooking. If she doesn't touch the fruit, she's probably just not hungry. It's not uncommon for kids to eat one big meal at lunch and not much at all at dinner. This may change with seasons, and her dinner appetite might grown as she plays more outdoors in the afternoon.
    Also, it could be that your child cannot wait until dinner time to eat. If that's the case, continue to offer a snack, but give fruit, cheese, yogurt or something with nutritional value rather than empty calories in the form of popsicles and "fruit snacks", and know in your mind that it's a part of her overall "dinner" intake. Finally, do everything you can to put your food issues out of your mind. A child this age will only have issues herself if you create them for her.

    Posted by mandbmom June 3, 11 10:44 AM
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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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