What to do with a Picky Eater.

Steph Wagner

September 11, 2013

I’ll be honest…picky eaters are stressful.

One of the biggest, biggest barriers to healthy living can be pickiness. Maybe it’s your own. Maybe it’s your spouse. Many times it’s your kiddos.

When I ask parents about their experience with picky eaters I hear things like:

  • “It doesn’t matter what I put in front of her, if it’s not grilled cheese or peanut butter sandwich, she won’t eat!”
  • “I try to hide vegetables in things, but they know right away. The hiding tricks don’t work.”
  • “I’m afraid my son will always be this picky. He’ll go to college and still only eat the same 3 things.”
  • “I just know she isn’t getting the nutrition she needs. There is no way. She won’t touch a vegetable and the only fruit she will eat is bananas on a rare occasion. She’s going to be malnourished.”
  • “What if he doesn’t meet his developmental needs because he only eats goldfish and cheese sticks? I get so tired of fighting with him but so scared he isn’t going to grow and be healthy.”

This list can go on, and on, and on. Of all the things to worry about as a parent, I really believe this is up there. You can read every book, every strategy, every idea on the subject and feel like it’s all failing.

What I want to say to parents of picky kids (picky spouses is a different subject altogether) is something I read from a book my pastor wrote. Craig Groeschel talks about parenting in his book Weird…and I think these words can be applied to feeding kids too:

“We have to understand that when it comes to parenting, there are no guarantees. Sometimes great Christian parents raise strong Christian kids. On the other hand, I’ve watched very strong and committed Christian parents raise kids who eventually became complete hellions….surefire parenting formulas don’t exist. But even though there are no guarantees, there are certain {biblical} principles we aim at.”

That’s the first thing I want to start with when I talk to exhausted parents of picky eaters.

There is no sure fire way. We just have principles we aim at. There are no guarantees.

Then I like to remind them:

Kids grow out of it all the time and don’t have development problems. They don’t get to college and only eat macaroni. Okay fine, that might happen. But more for budget reasons than for food preference. 

Friends also have an influence on food choices. Remember the lunch room? It wasn’t cool to eat the Sancho from the hot lunch. Even though it kind of sounded good to you, if it wasn’t cool, you didn’t eat it. (Never mind the fact that you can’t define what a Sancho is.) This can impact your eater for the better and for the worst. Maybe it’s cool to bring a lunch from home and you now get to work with your child on what to pack. Maybe someone nearby is eating a fruit cup and your child comes home and asks for fruit cups.

I remember high school being a very weird eating period of life for most students. I personally would eat a piece of banana bread and an order of spicy fries for lunch. Cheese filled breadsticks was a main entree. Maybe some Otis Spunkmeyer cookies for dessert. Vending machine Chex Mix after school. It doesn’t last. You grow out of it. You start realizing you feel terrible or you aren’t eating like a normal human being. Most people aren’t eating Hot Cheetos for lunch in the corporate world. And I would know…all day I’m hearing about what people are eating!

There are some tricks, tactics and theories. Just like in anything there are going to be ideas and suggestions on what to do. So here is my official list (that I will likely change through years of my career) for the parent of the picky eater:

1. Remember there is no sure fire way, just principles to aim for.

2. Kids grow out of it.

3. Be consistent. If you are going to try a principle, commit to it for at least a month before deciding if it’s time to try another.

4. You’re child is not going to starve.

5. Engage your child in the food process. Have them pick a new produce item at the grocery store each week. Take them berry or apple picking. Locate a farmers market (all that food at their eye level…couldn’t hurt!) Talk about where foods come from. Talk about all the different foods on the table and ask them questions about the food. “What’s that green one? Can we eat it hot? Can we eat it cold? Does it grow in the ocean?? NO! It grows on a plant!” You get the idea.

6. Research is saying children may have to be introduced to a new food as many as 12 times before they’ll develop a taste..or even interest…for it. Once again, stay consistent. This is the key to everything!

7. Be prepared for some waste. Try your best to plan accordingly. Freeze things when you can or eat the leftovers for your own lunch the next day. Sometimes I think kids are more in tuned with their hunger and fullness than we are! When they are done, they are done. If they didn’t touch it, don’t force it. Forcing only makes food less appealing. If I forced something into your mouth, you’d probably learn to hate that food. So be okay with waste and be their biggest cheerleader…but avoid being forceful. 

8. Celebrate the successes. Did they try a bite? Even if they said they hated it…was that bite more vegetable than they’ve eaten at any other meal this week? Just like in our own weight loss, we have to give ourself praise for the improvements so we don’t get discouraged. Keep the “it’s a marathon not a sprint” mentality and you’ll keep your patience a little longer ; )

And finally, I want to ask you a few questions. Your answers will help us all! 

1. What did you eat when you were in high school?

2. What food did you hate when you were a kid, that you love now?

Why these questions? Reading through answers will remind us…if we grew out of it…surely they will too! 

4 thoughts on “What to do with a Picky Eater.”

  1. It has been a long time, but I only remember my high school offering one hot lunch and it included lots of pastas and such (probably because it was cheap). There were no other options unless you brought it from home (which my Mom only allowed once a week).

    I hated baked fish and brussel sprouts when I was a kid, but prepared properly, I really like them now.

  2. Oh highschool! I would sip every morning and get 2 asiago geese bagels from panera and a ic mocha drink… Probably my days worth of calories in one sitting but it was soooo good :) kinda craving that now :) … As far as when I was little don’t really know probably veggies, but I love them now! Lucky for me that didn’t rub off on my little one bc he loves his fruits and veggies and ramen and chicken nuggets!

  3. Sorry, I’m going to get on a soapbox. My own son was not a picky eater because we were impoverished as I went to college full-time. I would give him fruit, cereal, and veggies to “play with” while I fixed the main course, which was usually starch (cheap) based. He played until he accidentally ate the appetizers and learned a lot about math: adding, subtracting, sets, shapes, straight, and circular. He is pickier now because he is partially vegan! My brother and I still like the same foods we liked as children; our “loves” and “hates” have not changed. I have certainly expanded my food interests, and this would not have happened had I not married a man who cooks international cuisine. As my brother and I grew up, our mother would not pack cute food in our lunches…yes, we were the dorks, my brother even had to wear Sears Toughskins. My brother retained his preference for meat and starch–mostly cereal. Sweet kid cereal. And yet my brother is the healthiest adult in our family! Seriously, I don’t believe in nutrition….I think it is all genetics. We were dorks for nothing. Though my brother does have an original Gunsmoke lunch box. And he tries to ensure that his child possesses or says at least one cool thing per day.

  4. Pingback: Bean Bytes 55

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.