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How To Raise A Picky Eater

July 6, 2012

(This is not a judgement on anyone’s parenting.  It’s tongue in cheek.  Hopefully, it can inspire us all to be more adventurous eaters of real food all our lives!)

I have seven kids who eat everything from salmon to Brussels sprouts to stinky cheese.  I didn’t do these things I’ve listed.  So, heed this advice and learn from my mistakes.

If you want a picky eater:

1. Make “kid food” a part of your child’s daily diet.

You know, things like nuggets, fish sticks, goldfish crackers, tater tots, frozen pizzas, and boxed mac-n-cheese.  Whatever you do don’t give them real chicken, fresh fish, baked potatoes, and real cheese of various varieties.

2. Let your child snack whenever she wants so she’s not very hungry at meal times.

Make these snacks things like yogurt that comes in tubes, chewy fruity snacks, juice boxes, small bags of chips and crackers, and granola bars that are mostly sugar and chocolate.  Whatever you do, don’t make your child wait until meal time to eat with the rest of the family.  And don’t make the snacks things like whole grain tortillas, carrot sticks and whole milk.

3. When your child says, “Ew, I don’t like peas/artichokes/fish/rice/beans/onions/cheese/mushrooms/peppers” be sure to say, “You don’t have to try it.”

Our palates grow and change as we are exposed to different things.  So, to keep your child’s palate very narrow and restrictive, don’t make them try new things–especially icky green stuff, spicy stuff, mushy stuff, mixed stuff, or ethnic stuff.

4. Make fast food regular faire.

If you truly want your child to be fussy about his food, numb his taste buds at an early age with excess amounts of salt, sugar and artificiality.  There is no finer way to make him reject vegetables as the fast food french fry.

5. Keep in mind that children cannot eat spicy foods/ethnically different foods/foods that require a knife/foods that aren’t eaten with their fingers/foods cooked with wine/foods that are raw/foods that are green/foods that are hot/foods not served with ketchup.

Never you mind the Mexican children eating salsa, the French children eating aged cheese, the Japanese children eating sushi.  A picky child can eat none of these things.

6. Make separate meals to cater to each family members unique tastes.  

In order to have a truly picky child you must learn to cater to whatever phase she is in.  Likewise with all family members.  Make each meal like a buffet: oatmeal for one, pancakes for another, cold cereal for another.  With any luck you can dirty up every dish in the kitchen just preparing breakfast!

7. Keep him out of the kitchen.  

Preparing food is only for grown-ups.  It’s just too dangerous.  Kids are far more likely to try foods they helped prepare.   So, let cooking be a big mystery.  This way you won’t foster a creativity to try new things.   Keep the kitchen off limits.

8. Keep him out of the garden.

Kids are far more likely to try a vegetable they helped grow.  So, don’t let your kids plant any seeds or harvest anything. (See number seven.)

9. ALWAYS ask your child what they want to eat.

Parent: What do you want for lunch?  Tuna?

Kid: No!

Parent: Cheese sandwich?

Kid: No!

Parent: What do you want?  

Kid: Cereal!  No, not that cereal!  I want the one with the bee on the front. 

10. Don’t foster or require gratefulness.

You can certainly start a meal with a prayer thanking God for the food, but make sure it’s just words.  After the “amen” is said, let your child complain and show ungratefulness to the one who prepared and provided the food.

11. Above all, be sure to enforce that he or she is picky by saying so to them or about them in their hearing.

Practice these phrases:

  • Suzie just won’t eat anything green.
  • Buddy only likes Peanut Butter and Jelly for lunch every day.
  • She’s just picky.  It’s a phase.
  • He won’t even try spicy foods.  So, I have to make two meals.

The more you re-enforce these things in their hearing the more they’ll learn to believe it.

If the opposite is what you actually hope for, we encourage you to check out our Fast Food Free Challenge, complete with ideas for incorporating REAL FOOD into your family’s daily life.

(Linked at Fight Back Fridays!,  The Morris Tribe’s Blog Hop Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Tiny Tip TuesdayEco Kids and Fantastic Thursdays)

20 Comments leave one →
  1. July 6, 2012 7:35 am

    AMEN. I think you saw my little post on FB yesterday about my 15yo. In spite of doing pretty much none of these, he was so, so, so, so picky. But now, 13 years later, I’ve worn him down. 😉 As I was sauteeing shallots and mushrooms last night, he said that he could just eat THAT for dinner and be happy. I told him that he gives hope to all mothers of picky toddlers… He then started to list all the “weird” things he loves: chicken livers, gizzards, goat cheese…. Similarly, for dinner, I also made a chock-full-of-veggies chopped salad and my 6yo daughter said that she could live on THAT for the rest of her life. It really is worth the effort.

    • Daja permalink*
      July 6, 2012 7:47 am

      That’s so great! Just don’t give up! That’s the message right?! Such a good Mama!!!

      I know how you feel. My 11 year old recently went out to tea with a bunch of other little girls and one mom. When she got home I asked her what she ordered. I was so pleased to hear she ordered a salmon sandwich and a salad. No PBJ or burger and fries! It was a good mommy moment. 🙂

      Oh and actually, this post was written a week ago and scheduled to post today. It was not actually in response to your FB post! I guess picky-ness is just on both our minds lately!

  2. July 6, 2012 7:40 am

    p.s. We never caved to his pickiness. I would *always* serve one meal for every meal, and it was/is a good, healthy, well-balanced meal. He’d fuss and complain, which we would correct, then tell him to eat. 🙂 Things did change a BIT when we discovered that the source of our third son’s “pickiness” was celiac disease. He innately avoided/refused wheat products, even as a 10, 11, 12-month old. I kind of had to reassess my “eat it or else” stance. But that child, now 10 years old, is probably my most joyful and adventurous eater. 🙂 So, even with food allergies and/or intolerances, it still is possible to raise a healthy eater.

  3. July 6, 2012 8:09 am

    The most hilarious/pathetic thing I ever saw was a mother making a late night run to the convenience store to buy breakfast fare for her 11yo daughter: a 2 liter bottle of Coke and a box of Magic Middles (link provided for your edification… and amusement: ) She said, “they’re the only things she’ll eat” and “it’s better than nothing, right?” Ummm.. so so wrong my dear;-)

    For years Noah’s best friend (an otherwise delightful child) would only eat fast food. If we had him over, he would eat literally nothing, no matter what I served. And really Daja, I did try to make reasonably child friendly foods when he came over! His grandmother would always stop at a drive thru on the way home because he was “starving.” She was so concerned that she started dropping him off with bags full of Burger King fare, supposedly to save me the trouble of making lunch for the kiddos… oh my. I am a patient soul, but I admit to feeling more than a bit irked about that even in retrospect.
    Pray for me a sinner;-)

    • Daja permalink*
      July 6, 2012 9:48 am

      I totally remember those cookies! That’s pretty pathetic that a parent would buy their kids coke and cookies for breakfast! If a child never tastes coke and magic middles to begin with, there’s no way she’d crave them or demand them! Parents should just pretend that junk food didn’t exist. If you only ever fed a kid fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, etc. then she’d only ask for those things! She wouldn’t demand coke because, “what’s that?!”

      For the Fourth of July we had a party and someone brought Dr. Pepper. My kids were so excited! They’d never had it before and desperately wanted to taste it! I told them that they could all share ONE. “Excited” doesn’t even touch it! They were FINALLY going to taste this soda that they had heard so much about!!!! “Disappointed” doesn’t even touch their reaction. “It’s not good” said one. “Why does everyone like it?” said another. “It’s just weird” said another. Score one for Mommy! And pass the kombucha! LOL!

  4. July 6, 2012 1:02 pm

    Great post! I did a lot of those things when my boys were younger. Two of them were fairly picky when we started our real food journey last spring. I was surprised at how quickly they overcame their finickiness once we started eating real, whole, traditionally prepared foods. There was only about one week of struggle (for them. I wasn’t struggling because I knew I was doing the right thing for my family!) before their taste buds reset and their appetites picked up. I’m so proud of them!

  5. July 6, 2012 1:03 pm

    Great post! I did a lot of those things when my boys were younger. Two of them were fairly picky when we started our real food journey last spring. I was surprised at how quickly they overcame their finickiness once we started eating real, whole, traditionally prepared foods.

    There was only about one week of struggle (for them. I wasn\’t struggling because I knew I was doing the right thing for my family!) before their taste buds reset and their appetites picked up. \’m so proud of them!

  6. July 7, 2012 8:51 am

    Oh Daja! You should just have parenting classes. lol I would have totally signed up. I was following the wrong advice and catered to Paidan. At one point he wouldnt eat beans! BEANS!?! lol I was like “but you’re half Mexican, you have to like beans… Its in our blood!” lol So I never gave him any after a few times of trying. But now that we are on a plant-based diet, beans are what we eat on a daily basis for our protein. He eats them now bc thats the only option there is and he likes them. So Ive learned to not make my own baby food with the next baby. lol Thanks for this post!

  7. Claudia permalink
    July 7, 2012 8:53 pm

    One rule at our house with Aria is to try 1 Tbsp of the food we serve, if she doesn’t like it, she doesn’t have to eat it, BUT that’s the only meal we will be serving. She will have to wait until the next meal is served. When we started applying this rule, Aria went to bed twice without eating(broke our hearts) , now even when she doesn’t like the food she prefers to eat it anyway. Aria is 5 1/2 years old and has never been in a fast food restaurant 🙂 Now, I’m struggling with Cielo (9 mos). She now seems interested in food. I don’t know if i should give her soft pieces of veggies or puree them instead. We want to avoid allergens and especially gluten (her dad tested twice and is a confirmed celiac) Sometimes when I see babies younger than her eating everything, I feel that I haven’t been a good mom. Any suggestions?

    • Daja permalink*
      July 7, 2012 10:04 pm

      My son River is also 9 months old, as you know. Know what he eats? A few bites of banana or a few bites of avocado about twice a day, about one teething biscuit once a day, a sippy cup with kombucha or herbal tea in it once in a while. That’s about it! Sometimes I give him some chicken liver pate. He likes that, but mostly smears it around the table. But, I’m sure some makes it into his mouth.

      So, don’t worry! You’re nursing. You’re doing GREAT!!!!

  8. July 21, 2012 12:20 pm

    I certainly do not feel that my children are “bad” eaters, but we are not as good as Daja. 🙂 I did, however, make some pan-seared sesame teriyaki scallops for a big family lunch. Caleb thought they were the best thing EVER; Jael ,too! Everyone HAD to have one. I love for them to try NEW things. I made those Sesame Bean Sprouts as a side. Do you remember those from Mongolia? (Btw, Josh did NOT like them!)

    • Daja permalink*
      July 21, 2012 12:34 pm

      How could anyone not like those bean sprouts?! I could eat the whole bowl! Everyone loves them….including Mom! Aunt Glo thought that were amazing and got the recipe, too. You just tell Josh that his taste buds need a reformation. LOL! Tell his taste buds, “be not conformed any longer to the pattern of Panda Express, but be transformed by the renewing of spicy sesame bean sprouts.” LOL!!!!!!

      Would love your recipe for the scallops! Sounds DELICIOUS!!!

  9. July 27, 2012 12:16 pm

    Awesome, awesome post! Thank you so much for this! I was personally having trouble with my 13 month old who wouldn’t touch any food one day, and then eat like a pound of cheese the next day, and then all of a sudden he’d hate cheese on the 3rd day LOL! I was getting so frustrated and really coming down on myself wondering why I couldn’t get him to eat, especially since I’d see other babies younger than him who were champion eaters! He’s stil breastfeeding so I didn’t worry too much but still, you know? Then I read another post about how children actually are more in tune with their appetites than we give them credit for. If they want to eat, they’ll eat. And if not, then no. We just have to trust their instincts and know that they’re not going to starve themselves if they’re actually hungry. We just have to keep offering them good, wholesome food. Instead of tracking what they eat in a day, it’s better to track it over a week’s time.

    Once I let go of it all and accepted that, it was so much easier! Yes, some days he’d eat nothing but potatoes all day. And then the next day he’d try literally anything I’d offer him, even eggplant and okra! Tell me, what kinda kid likes eggplant or okra? 😉

    Oh and I’m totally with you on the whole fast food thing. We only crave fast food because we grew up with it. We know what it tastes like, smells like, feels like. But if our kids are never exposed to it, their brains just won’t be programmed with the desire for it! And great story about the Dr. Pepper!

    Anyways, I’ve talked your ear off, but just wanted to thank you for sharing this at Tiny Tip Tuesday 🙂

  10. August 17, 2012 5:13 am

    I want to thank you for this post. I have almost 7 year old twins, one who eats everything and one who eats almost nothing. They were fed the same food, from the same bowl at the same time until they could feed themselves. Which is when they went their separate ways with their love and hate of food.
    The kids help in the garden and in the kitchen. The one who eats the least loves to cook. Forget getting him to eat any of it. Bad habits like “kid fare” and “fast food” happen, although the options are fortunately limited, as even the picky eater shuns most of the drive-thru menus.
    With equal tongue-in-cheek, your tips will be our guide to change my picky eater’s attitude toward food. I’m looking forward to the day when we can gather around food as a family and everyone enjoys the meal. 🙂

  11. March 7, 2013 7:21 am

    Awesome! I love the tongue and cheek! I think my toddler is going through a phase right now (at least I hope it’s a phase)! He use to eat anything and everything we gave him and now he refuses vegetables. He just wants to eat meat and starches. It’s driving me crazy. I still offer him everything we’re eating, but so far he’s still refusing. 😦 (I’m stopping by from Eco Kid Tuesday.)

    • March 7, 2013 8:04 am

      Keep up the good work, Mama! You keep making him at least taste everything. He might not love it all–at least not right now, but eventually his palate will learn to accommodate more.

      Thanks for stopping by! Please come again!

  12. March 12, 2013 11:04 am

    LOL love it! And be sure to feed your child lots of sugary treats so he never develops a taste for real food!

    Please join us again this week at Eco-Kids Tusday!

  13. Jill C permalink
    June 13, 2013 1:22 pm

    I have noticed that it helps if you, yourself are terrified of anything “germy”.


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