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Dealing with a Picky Eater

Let’s talk about food.  In particular, let’s talk about feeding our children.  Every day, one of the biggest challenges I face as a mother involves food.

I have three children.  One of them, my 17 year old, is finally developing a more mature palate and I can pretty well expect her to eat, and even enjoy, just about any foods I prepare.  My oldest son, who is 9, is a bit more difficult, but I can count on him to eat most meats if they are served fairly plain (he does not like sauces, creams, or gravies except maybe marinara or BBQ sauce).  Vegetables are hit and miss, but he will eat the basics like green beans, corn, potatoes and carrots.

a typical meal for a picky eater

My 7 year old, however, is a challenge every single dayGarrett only eats a few foods.  I am not joking when I say he basically only eats chicken nuggets (and he is brand-particular), pancakes, thin spaghetti (without sauce), yogurt, cheese, cheese pizza, eggs, chips and toast.  He will not eat red meat or pork of any variety.  He does like several desserts and sweet things, however.

what to feed picky eaters

Lunches are our biggest challenge, because he won’t eat any sandwich except grilled cheese.  We tried chicken nuggets, but they get soggy in the lunch box.  We use a lot of those easy to assemble “lunch kits” because he likes the cheese pizza ones.  At least he eats now.  The whole year he was in preschool he rarely ate a bite at school.

a typical lunch for a picky eater

I remember reading feverishly on the subject when he was younger, hoping in vain to find some sort of advice to improve his eating habits.  I read once that a new food must be introduced up to 25 times for a toddler to like it or even try it.

So, for years I would put a small portion of whatever we were having on his plate, along with the dreadful chicken nuggets.  At first he ignored it and only ate the nuggets.  Eventually, though, it began to anger him, and he would refuse to eat anything.  By constantly offering the new stuff on his plate, he developed new aversions, especially if the “offending” food came into contact with “his” food.

I begged.  I pleaded.  I bribed.  I bought special dinnerware just for him.  I tried different ways to present the food and make it appealing to a small child.  I even tried to outwit him, or at best, out last him.

One night I’m not terribly proud of, when he was about 3 years old, I made him sit at the dinner table for over three hours trying to get him to just taste a green bean.  One tiny, little green bean.  I was convinced if he’d just try it he would like it.  After more than three hours I was about to give up and send him to bed, when I finally offered to pay him $1 to try it.  He agreed, but then started crying and gagging once the bean went into his mouth.  He was literally sick just at the taste of it.  I felt awful.

I learned a real lesson, though.  He’s not just being stubborn.  He truly has deep-seated food issues, and we still don’t really know why.  Is it texture, temperature, smell or taste?  It appears to be a combination of things.  There have been signs of his food issues since infancy; we just didn’t recognize them at first.

I remember vividly having to get a special doctor’s prescription for him to be able to continue drinking formula at daycare when he was over a year old because he flat out refused to drink whole milk.  The daycare participated in the government food program and was required to serve milk to all toddlers over 12 months old.  He continued with formula until he was 18 months old, which is a good thing or he might have starved to death because he never ate a whole jar of baby food in his life.

It took years of trial and error to come up with the meager list of foods he will eat now.  The whole family has become accustomed to making allowances for Garrett’s food needs and making a separate meal just for him is second nature now.

dealing with a picky eater

I used to worry incessantly about his health, but our wonderful pediatrician assured us repeatedly that he’s growing fine and is healthy. Up until this past year when he had a huge growth spurt, he was on the small side in height and weight, especially compared to his brother (who has always been big for his age).  To this day, though, I still worry. I guess I always will.

I try to take him to the grocery with me whenever possible, especially to the local big box store that offers lots of samples, because you never know, today might be the day he tries a new food.  Occasionally he will even see something that appeals to him on someone else’s plate, like his sister’s chocolate cheesecake a few weeks ago, that he asked to try, and loved. At this point I count that a victory and I always praise him for even trying something new.

I’d love to hear your experiences with picky eaters.  I’m always looking for new ideas and inspirations.

About Missy

Missy is a mom of 3 fantastic kids, wife, full-time RN, and grad student.


  1. 1

    Wow, I really feel for you, that must be so difficult to deal with. Poor guy, he really doesn’t know what he is missing out on by eating all of those highly processed foods. 🙁 Hopefully as he gets older, he will start being curious and adventurous and try some fruits and veggies!

    • 2

      Thanks Jenn, it really is difficult to deal with, I pray one day he’ll start eat some fruit and veggies, right now the closest he gets is yogurt and tomato sauce/ketchup!

  2. 3

    I have two picky eaters. It’s really a day by day struggle.

    • 4

      Oh dear! It’s such a struggle with one, I can’t imagine two! I’m so thankful my other two have always been good eaters. Maybe that’s why it was so hard at first recognizing how picky Garrett really is.

  3. 5

    It sounds like you are doing it already – you are taking the pressure off of meals. If your doctor isn’t worried, then you are doing fine 🙂

    • 6

      Thanks Lisa! I try to just make sure he eats, and honestly although I wish it were “better” food, I try not to worry, but it’s hard!

  4. 7

    I have a very picky eater too. My 4 year old son does not like meat unless its pepperoni. I have to order him cheeseburgers w/no meat. He also likes noodles and ranch sandwiches. I have to sneak the veggies into other things to get him to eat them. I am hoping as the times go by he will realize there is so much more that he likes.

    • 8

      How are some of the ways you sneak in the veggies? I’ve never been all that creative with that, and it’s hard because he won’t eat things like mashed potatoes or smoothies, although I hear those are great for sneaking in some nutrients!

  5. 9

    My youngest daughter is very picky when it comes to what she eats. She loves veggies and all of the good stuff but she has certain foods she wont touch, no matter what. It’s really a day by day struggle because most of the meals I prepare has the foods she don’t like.

  6. 10

    My three year old eats basically the same list as your 7 year old, if you switch your son’s cheese for my son’s hamburgers {no bun, patty only}. I get very frustrated too but as a super picky eater myself, I kind of get it more than most.

  7. 12

    Kendall is only 2 and already a picky eater 🙁 there are days when I’ll she will eat is cereal multiple times a day because she will not take what we are eating for lunch or dinner. It sucks so bad so I feel what you’re going through

  8. 13

    I am not a big help as my 10 year old is very very picky, even having vomited after a little try. He won’t touch ground beef, so his taco consists of cheese, sour cream and taco sauce. He won’t touch mashed potatoes unless they are Betty Crocker Butter & Herb. Only eats corn, iceberg lettuce, pears and sometimes bananas. He loves pork and chicken though but sides forget it. One day I hope he’ll enjoy food!

    • 14

      That’s the worse, when they vomit after trying something new, it makes me hesistant to even offer new stuff, so I don’t push all that hard now, unless he shows interest. At least your little guy eats a few fruits and veggies, maybe by age 10 Garrett will too, I can only hope! The list does grow a bit every year!

  9. 15

    My youngest was the same way. He would never try anything. For years I would make him peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner because he would refuse to eat anything else and I couldn’t stand to see him go hungry. Eventually, I switched it to he could have a sandwich only if he tried some of the food we had. That is when he learned that he loved almost all meats, but wouldn’t eat sides like potatoes or rice and hated vegetables and even fruit. For fruit, we have found out he likes those squeezable natural fruit things, so I get him those and his school started giving fruits and veggies as snacks, so I don’t pack him a snack. He has started to try the fruits and veggies there because he sees the other kids eating them and has nothing else. Now, he gets what we get for dinner and will even eat rice if I put sauce on it. He has come a long way, but it took a long time and patience to get him there.

    • 16

      What are squeezable natural fruits? I’ll have to look those up! Garrett ate nutella sandwiches every day for about two straight years….now he can’t stand the sight of it so we had to cross that off the “list”. I wish he would eat some other meats, but he only likes the disgusting nuggets!

  10. 17

    Goo won’t eat veggies for the most part…..uphill battle.

  11. 18

    Sounds like Sweet T. Was hoping she would outgrow it but maybe not!

  12. 20

    My oldest is 7 and he is a picky eater too, not quite as bad as your 7 year old. His brother, on the other hand, will eat anything and everything. It’s so weird how they are so different. With my oldest, I stick to what he likes.

  13. 21

    I don’t have any tips but I hope you can find some creative ways to get him to try new foods.

  14. 23

    Great tips!

  15. 24

    My daughter is an awesome eater, but boys are picky I don’t know what to do with them. One of them is over weight and I’m having a hard time figuring out how to help him.

    • 25

      My older son is overweight as well. I didn’t mention it because I was focusing on the picky part, but it is a struggle! I was to encourage the younger one to eat all the time, but it’s hard balancing that knowing big brother doesn’t need the extra snacks! The best solution I’ve found for that is to offer both the healthiest possible snacks I can, for Garrett it’s often cheese/yogurt, and find something fairly low cal for big brother. I’m also working hard trying to ensure they both get enough exercise, which is a struggle for us this time of year!

  16. 26

    The girl I nannied for LOVED peanut butter. Hello peanut butter, jelly, and SPINACH sandwich.. lol

  17. 28

    My daughter tries to be picky but in the long run all I have to say is Green Eggs and Ham and she will at least try it!

  18. 30

    My son is very picky, and he takes medication that makes it so he has very little appetite. On the advice of a dietician, we feed him high caloric foods whenever possible, and we never deny him snacks or food. It’s frustrating when it feels like they never eat anything.

  19. 31

    i hope our future kid won’t be picky

  20. 32

    My daughter is the pickiest eater on the planet. Luckily some of her favorite foods are raw fruits & veggies.

  21. 33

    I come from this as a mom of a child with autism and seeing the list of foods he will eat immediately makes me think there is something in the foods he is eating that make him crave the foods. My son with autism would only eat a few foods but when I found out that the gluten free casein free diet was really helpful to kids on the spectrum we went cold turkey and stopped giving him those foods. Being the hard ass that I am I would just remove the food from the house and refuse it. In my experience with kids with ASD they always end up eating and once the offending foods are removed they improve and never want that stuff again. Of course I am not saying your son has autism, but the list of foods are the same as the ones that cause problems in kids with autism – always chicken nuggets, always! And that leads me to believe that he is having a reaction to the foods and therefore will only eat those foods. I know he is a bit older, so that can be harder, but I would work to eliminate each type of food and give him something else.

    • 34

      Maryann, can I just say you’ve just blown my mind? Not in a bad way, either, but more like a light bulb just went off. My son is not autistic, or if he is on the spectrum at all it’s never been diagnosed, but he’s always had a few mannerisms that have given me pause and made me wonder, but then I have shrugged it off (I won’t go into big specifics, but things like walking on tiptoe fairly often, a few hand motions that remind me of stimming but aren’t “exactly” what I’ve seen in other kids, hard to get affectionate with, very shy for the most part, doesn’t smile alot). I’ve never thought about his food preferences being tied to reactions! As a nurse, I’m somewhat familiar with food disorders and some of the causes, as well as some of the autistic charac,teristics. You’ve given me alot to think about and research! Thank you so much for replying! Oh and by the way, he BEGS for the chicken nuggets, he would eat them every day, every meal, if I allowed it, but I make him eat spagetti or eggs, or pancakes, grilled cheese, something, at least a few nights a week. I honestly don’t know if we could stop cold turkey, but maybe it would be worth trying! Thank you again for your response!!!

  22. 35

    My son has always been a picky eater, but it getting a tiny bit better. He will at least try new things, now, though.

  23. 36

    This is my middle son to a T. If the texture or taste is something that is just a little bit to his liking he gags and will sometimes throw up. I hope as he gets older it will change but for now we just work with what he likes.

  24. 37

    My 3yo is such a picky eater. There are days I’m adamant she eats what the rest of the family is eating, or she can just wait until the next meal. But then I have days that I’m too tired to argue with her and I give in and feed her one of the handful of things she will eat.

  25. 38

    My son has always been a very picky eater and we ended up finding out it was due to a medical condition. It hurt him to eat but he never knew what is was supposed to feel like when you eat that he never complained, just would only eat a few foods. Could he have have an underlying medical condition?

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