How to handle your children when they’re picky eaters

How to handle your children when they’re picky eaters

You’re going to want to hate me. I have four children, and every single one of them was born a “good eater.” They never refused anything. Well, that’s not entirely true. They never refused anything healthy.

Melissa and Doug Sushi Slicing Wooden Play Food SetWhen my oldest daughter, Emma, was a baby, we never let her have any junk food. She ate vegetables, fruits, whole grains. lean meats, and enough milk to fill Lindsay Lohan’s vodka cup. She even fed her doll babies sushi. But she never ate junk.

So on her first birthday, my husband and I were giggly school girl, pee-your-pants excited to feed her her very first cupcake. We did the requisite singing and candle-lighting. We told her to make a wish. (Which she obviously knew how to do. She was a very advanced baby. ALL of her grandparents said so.) We put a bib on her and set a cute little chocolate cupcake down on her little baby high chair, all set to get the adorable chocolate-covered baby photos that were totally not the only reason we were feeding her junk.

Emma Green beansBut my Emma, my sweet little love, did not eat junk. She wanted nothing to do with that cupcake. She made no moves to pick it up. I pinched off a bite and held it to her mouth. She curled her lip and turned away. I tried again. Nothing but disgust from Emma. I swear I am not making this up, you know what she wanted instead? Green beans. I have photographic evidence.

Her siblings were all the same. They’d eat anything I fed them, and it was all super-healthy stuff. Well, almost all of it. Over the years, I’ve gotten a little less uptight strict about the junk food, and my kids do get an ungodly amount of some treats.

Mom 1: Why is she so high and mighty about junk food? She’s judging me, isn’t she? She thinks I’m a bad mom for giving my kids junk. It’s just a few goldfish in their lunches, for crying out loud! Does she expect them to live off of nothing but spinach?

Mom 2: You give your kids goldfish? Mine eat raw, organic vegetables that I grow in my own garden.

Mom 3: I feed my children nothing but organic gardening soil and water, and they complete their nutrition through photosynthesis.

I’m sorry, readers. I assure you, I am not judging. Maybe you’re pre-masticating your children’s organic foods before air-steaming it with the warmth of your own breath. Or perhaps they live off of week-old McDonald’s fries that they find stuffed between your carseats. Either way, I’m fine with it. I’m here to commiserate with you!

Because you see, dear readers, my children have turned on me. Those four little stinkers went from eating anything and everything to turning up their noses at almost everything I cook. Here is that same, sweet, baby girl, Emma, who once turned down chocolate cake in favor of green beans.

“We are on a diet that prevents us from eating sweet potatoes, enchiladas, taco soup, and other gross stuff.”

Well, I’m here to serve you, your highness.

So, what’s a mom of a picky eater to do? I say, beat them at their own game. You love those little buggers, but if you have to hear one more whiny “Chicken again???” you may just have to cut your own ears off. But you know you can sass right back, right? Here’s another actual conversation with my sweet little Emma:

big potEmma: What are we having for dinner?
Me: You have two choices: leftover steak or leftover soup.
Emma: Ugh! Why are you always offering me stuff I don’t like?! Here, you’ve got two choices. you can have princess stew, or—
Me: Ooh! Princess stew!
Emma: Wait—
Me: Here, I’ve got a big pot. You climb in, I’ll get some water.
Emma (meekly): No. I’m too big.
Me: Hmmm…you’re right. Here, climb up on my cutting board. I’ll just use your feet.
Emma: NO!! You can’t have princess stew!

This method may not get them to eat, but it makes the unappreciation a lot more fun.

One last thing. Always have wine with dinner. If you’re anything like me, you already know this, but “wining” makes “whining” a lot easier to take. I think I’ll have some right now.

What about you? How do you deal with your picky eaters? I’d LOVE to hear from you!

92 thoughts on “How to handle your children when they’re picky eaters

  1. funny tales of irony associated with life’s daily responsibilities (interpreted through a black book of humor!) – loved it!

  2. Winning and Whining with meals that involve children is one of the many badges of honor we moms wear! I never offer anything besides what I have made for dinner! Many of nights one of my 6 girls have gone to be without dinner and they are still alive to smile!
    Loved reading this!

  3. After years of me cooking healthy meals and limiting sweets and sodas, my older teens’ diets are anything but when they’re not eating at home. So much for my setting a good example! The best we can hope for is that we instilled enough of the good habits so that when they outgrow their college pizza and hamburger feasts, they’ll get back to what they started with! 🙂

  4. I struggle with my 18-month-old changing her “taste” on a daily basis! What she likes one day is on the next day’s “no” list…Cheers to the “whining” at mealtime! *Clink-clink* 🙂

  5. Cute! You turned an argument into a conversation. I let my kids starve if they didn’t eat what I fixed. I’m not one to fix different foods for different people unless of course there was an allergy involved.

  6. I remember those days and I miss them too! Keep these stories close to your heart and you will never face a day without love in your heart.

  7. Never tried the princess soup angle, but I imagine it did help with the lack of appreciation…we mothers seem to get that a lot! I personally don’t play the accommodation game either, they can eat the delicious dinner I made…or not eat at all!

    1. I know, right? I also love when I hear, “Why do I have to do everything!” Last time I said, “You do? Thanks for cooking dinner, shopping for groceries, packing everyone’s lunch, and mopping the floor today!” She looked at me like I was crazy. “Um, I didn’t do that.” Exactly.

  8. So funny! Same thing happened in my house with easiest eaters as babies have turned on me! Trust me, it all evens out, I keep a couple staple dinners on rotation that I know 3 out of the 4 will eat and then try something new. I only make one dinner for everyone, always have, always will!

    1. Good for you! I usually make the same staples pretty often, but I do like to try new dishes. Sophia is more adventurous than her siblings with the new stuff, so I’m grateful for that!

  9. With two picky toddlers, I’ve come to the conclusion that eating is all about phases and food “training” doesn’t pay off until the child is ready, which could be years down the road. A friend recommended the book, French Kids Eat Everything. It has a number of rules which I tried unsuccessfully. Though the author doesn’t say this, it seems like her own kids finally started eating a variety of healthy foods only once they got older. I think some kids really just need time…and patient parents.

  10. Funny yet frustrating! Our oldest is a picky eater. Just today I learned his favorite meal of mac and cheese was prepared with too much ‘crusty’ cheese on it. And started picking away at it. Really??? None-the-less, we have a saying ‘you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit’.

  11. So far Little George is only picky on what he wants at that moment. If you hit it right, he clears his plate and asks for more. If you hit it wrong (same exact food) he takes 2 bites and is done. He may scarf it down for lunch the next day, but he was not in the mood at that moment.

  12. Being a mom of 5 – food struggles are for real in this house! We all sit down every night and have dinner and every night there is at least one that refuses to eat! they go to bed hungry. Can’t please everyone and I have given up trying! Great read!

  13. Gave my kids limited “junk food” and limited fast food when young. Yes, they were extremely picky eaters! I never jumped through hoops to get them to eat. No alternate menu was offered if they didn’t like what was served. They got 90% of their calories came from heathy, well-balanced meals and snacks. If they didn’t eat it, so be it! Note: my pediatrician assured me that a child will NOT starve himself! Now as adults they are very healthy eaters with VERY limited “fast food” runs! Young moms hang in there, moderation is the key!

  14. Haha, my kids always had a choice, regular dinner or “Allie” dinner, because she had a special diet. Some nights we only had “Allie” dinner.

  15. The struggle is real! I enjoyed this read, as I watch one kid eat up, and the other kid throw bite after bite on the floor.

  16. When my kids were little, I would put a certain amount of each food item on their plate. For example, if the child was six, I might put six noodles, six pieces of broccoli, and six small bite-size pieces of meat on his/her plate. Then I would tell him/her, “You don’t have to eat it all, but you don’t get anything else tonight until you eat everything on your plate.” If they didn’t eat it all at dinner, I would save the plate. Later if they were hunger, I wold give them the plate to finish.

    I like that you put “good eater” in quotes. How well a child eats has nothing to do with morality and sometimes eating less is better than eating more.

    1. I love that idea! I also don’t make them finish, but like you I tell them that they can’t have any more food until they eat what I served them. It used to never be a problem. I really miss the days when they would eat anything. Sophia is still pretty adventurous, but Raymond and Emma have started refusing so much stuff.

  17. Hey, I’ve picked up a whole new meaning of “wining and dining” [“whining and dining”]!

    Also, when I was a little kid, I can remember hating green beans so much that my mother would make me sit for an hour if necessary ’till I ate them.

  18. Funny stuff. Best way to deal with it is just wait a few years. When the kids are teens and pre-teens, picky eating will be the least of your worries!

  19. Great article! So funny and on point! I often ask my kids if this is really the battle they want to fight… followed by a reminder that I am Mom and I will win 😁

    Keep the articles coming!!!

  20. Oh my goodness! All 3 of mine are picky eaters…some days I deal with it better than others. But mostly…I just dread having to make dinner each day! All of those “sure to work amazing tricks to get your picky eater to eat all sorts of healthy, nutritious foods”…never work with my kiddos. Wine helps, of course. Love it! Great article!

  21. We had a son who just wasn’t much interested in eating. Would rather have talked (and talked) and asked questions (and more questions) than eat!

    1. I have a child like that too! It doesn’t seem to interfere with her eating much, but once her lips start moving, it’s like they’ve got this force momentum behind them that won’t allow them to stop.

  22. Oh, the memories… and a game of “Mousey, Mousey always helped. LOVEd the Princess Stew idea… Humor is always the best recipe, even better than wine….especially since kids are often better observers than eaters. Keep up the GOoD

  23. Ha! Funny. I don’t think I ever knew that about Emma refusing her first cupcake. I do remember hearing that dialogue about princess soup before though. Thankfully, my kids are all pretty good eaters. Yes they do eat their fill of junk food more often than I’d like, but on the other hand they are wonderful about trying new foods and eating their veggies and often eat them first before anything else on their plates! So I count my blessings in that regard, considering I was a much more picky eater when I was young than they are! So thankful that karma didn’t come back at me in that regard. I remember the days of sitting for hours at the table after dinner. One time I took the remaining food I refused to eat (some tomato sauce/rice/scallop combination that I was gagging on), and buried it in a hole in the ground outside because I was desperate. We happened to be sitting out on the screened-in porch that evening. I was NOT going to eat it. Sorry mom! I never did tell her about that one. 🙂

  24. So, this is what I get to look forward to? 🙂 I really enjoyed reading this article- I’m taking in all the tips/insight I can to prepare for the arrival of our little one. Keep them coming!

  25. Your story reminded me of my first born who had never tasted ketchup, or coco cola, she was horrified when she was given both at a friends Mc Donalds party at the age of 3!!!! as for picky eaters I used to hide the veggies in their smoothies and mash it up in pasta sauce!!

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