10 ways to avoid raising a picky eater

Our children are not picky eaters. A few of them want to be, but it’s simply not allowed in our house.
I think our children are generally content to eat what is served to them because we usually follow these guidelines:

  1. Do not allow children to request alternate meals if they don’t like what’s being served. A child might be allowed to have bread and milk if I’m serving something I know she dislikes, but not a separate meal.
  2. Do not get their approval before you prepare a meal. I often solicit their input, but they understand that the final choice is not theirs.
  3. Don’t assume that your children will dislike all the foods that you dislike. To make that assumption is to encourage pickiness.
  4. Don’t avoid serving the foods you dislike. As above, this teaches and encourages children to assume that they will dislike certain foods.
  5. Make sure your children know that even if there are certain foods you dislike, you will continue to try them regularly to see if your tastes have changed. I use this as an opportunity to express regret that I haven’t yet learned to appreciate that particular blessing of God, but hope to someday. Except for raw onions and sushi. They’re just gross. Hubby wants me to add liver to the list of Gross Foods That Don’t Deserve to be Retried, as well the list of Foods That Will Never Be Served At Our Table.
  6. Likewise, expect or require your children to try foods that they claim to dislike. They don’t need to eat a full serving, but they need to be humble enough to admit that they might actually have been mistaken when they were 3yo and decided that green vegetables were abominable.
  7. Do not allow them to announce freely which foods they don’t like and their negative opinions of the food before them and before others. This is a courtesy issue. If they don’t care for what is served, they may politely decline. They may not announce that the food looks gross, smells gross, and/or tastes gross. Unless somebody is serving sushi. Or liver.
  8. Do not bring “backup food” to friends’ homes when you are invited just in case your friends serve something your children don’t like. Of course you might want to bring food when you are invited to dine at a friend’s home and you’ll probably want to bring something that your children like, but don’t let this turn into a child-centered decision. Here again, a child may politely decline and let the host assume that she is not hungry. The host doesn’t need to know how the child feels about her Bolivian Green Bean and Tomato Curry.
  9. Do not keep children so full of snack foods that they are never hungry at mealtime. Beggars can’t be choosers, but a full belly can be very choosy indeed.
  10. Avoid serving a sweet drink with every meal: juice, koolaid, soda, sweet tea.

All of our children have likes and dislikes, but they have generally learned not to be ruled by their own preferences, and this is one way to become less self-centered. None of these are hard fast rules, and there are probably situations where each guideline should be tossed down the garbage disposal but these general practices have worked for us.
Obviously, allergies and special dietary needs will create special situations – but the point is for children to learn to be thankful for God’s provision and courteous to those who serve them. And adults too. I despise olives, but I try them regularly just in case my taste changes, and I eat them graciously when they are served to me. I just swallow quickly and drink a lot of water.

Comments

  1. Dawn,
    I honestly think that many of our nation’s eating problems come from parents allowing their children to eat whatever they want, whenever they want.
    These rules are general guidelines for courtesy, gratitude, and creating healthy eating habits – I said nothing about forcing a child to eat when she’s not hungry.

  2. ~*Country Dawn*~ says:

    OR you could have titled this: 10 Ways to Create an Eating Disorder. :x

    Seriously, being this controlling about something as basic as food can lead to some major developmental issues in childhood and later in adolescence. I’m glad to hear there are some people out there (people listed friends who brought backup food or “catered” to a child’s tastebuds) who actually listen to their children and respect them as individuals.

    I’m all for providing healthy choices in the household (i.e. not buying the Doritos in the first place) but after that, it should be up to the child whether he or she is hungry enough to eat at meal times. If it’s something they don’t like, they should be free to find themselves an alternative, or not eat at all, if that’s their choice.

    If you set up battles like this with your child, you’re asking for trouble. I guess it’s no wonder we’re a nation full of compulsive overeaters and leading the world in anorexia and bulemia.

    *sigh*

  3. soupablog says:

    This is a great blogpost. Thanks. I wish we had started down this road eleven years ago :/

    grace & peace

  4. Geneva,
    Thanks for introducing yourself!

    To all those who have picky eaters, let me clarify just a bit. I don’t claim that our children don’t have likes or dislikes; some have far more than others. But the goal is to teach them to put aside their own preferences and eat (or abstain from eating) with gratitude and courtesy, so that “whether [they] eat or drink or whatsoever [they] do, [they] do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31

  5. Stacy McDonald says:

    Your list sounds similar to what we do, Kim. Except we don’t allow the bread and milk until after they at least have a small portion of the undesired food. We eat a huge variety of foods because we LOVE to cook and experiment with all sorts of new recipes. I have one daughter who is fat-phobic, meaning she examines each cut of meat to see if there is any fat or grizzle on it. The only time there actually is any fat is when we have pork chops, but she’s a little compulsive (like her mother-I hate fat too).

    Recently, I made veal and to her, it tasted like it had fat. She had a very long dinner, trying to find acceptable bites, but she ate it. LOL

    When our children don’t care for something, they only have to have a very small portion, but they are not permitted to decline it completely. Recently, we had sautee’d spinach and my 4 yo daughter decided she didn’t want hers. There were brothers and sisters who were dying for her portion! LOL Yet we still required her to eat it herself, so that she might eventually learn to like it.

    There have been times when our children had some pretty unappetizing breakfasts (shrimp creole) for breakfast, because they didn’t eat their dinner, but not often.

    I was a very picky eater when I was a child, but I was required to eat all my food and be thankful for it. I can only think of one food I just can’t stomach – and that is liver (the one thing my parents didn’t require me to eat). There are other things I just WON’T eat – blood pudding comes to mind. Ewwww!

    Once, while having dinner with my grandparents, I secretly fed the dog my food under the table. The dog promptly walked over to my father and threw up my dinner at his feet. “Your sin will find you out!” ;-)

  6. I agree 100% with each and every rule you have listed. It is just good sense. It does not, however, guarantee avoiding creating picky eaters.

    We have some pretty strict eating rules, including all of your and a few more, and I still have one who would rather starve for more than a day than to eat what he cannot stomach. The poor child tries hard and will ask for extra water to help wash the food down.

    Thanks for the list. Like I said, it is a good one.

  7. Susan L. Prince says:

    My friend tried these rules for her kid and once he went three days without eating anything.

    I too am a picky eater, and it’s a curse. My parents tried these rules, but I sat at the dinner table many a night four hours until bedtime. I dislike being a picky eater, but can’t make myself like things I just don’t.

    One of my friends has a theory that I am oversensitive to flavor. She got that idea when once I complained in a restaurant that the iced tea I ordered tasted like there was pepper in it. I sent it back, they brought me a new glass of tea and I tasted it. It was fine, until I added a packet of Equal.

    Then I tasted pepper again. I discovered that the packets of sweetner were kept next to the pepper on the table and actually absorbed some of the pepper! I was tasting that!

    Salt is too much flavor for me and my friend, who often cooks for me will remark “I can’t believe it, one speck to much salt was added and you can tell!”

    I tell you…being a picky eater is a curse.

  8. If someone is serving sushi, instead of announcing against it, just ask “which rolls are vegetarian?” and explain you don’t eat raw fish … that way you can still try the cucumber roll or the avocado roll, and not be rude about the host’s choice. Especially seeing as anyone except a wealthy host who is serving sushi has put a good bit of money into it, probably thinking you would enjoy the treat.

  9. VoiceInTheWilderness says:

    Kim,
    Thanks for offering some guidelines for feeding the little ones. I used to do many of the things on your list (and still do some of them) and things were definitely much easier then. I’ve become a little too relaxed and am suffering the consequences. You’ve reminded me of how nice things were before and inspired me to begin again.
    I read quite often, but have never commented before. I thought it was about time to introduce myself.

    Geneva

  10. Well, Kim. I’ll have to be the lone stand out here. Your rules are very close to our rules. Yet, we still have a couple of picky eaters out of 10 children. My 24 year old daughter is still picky, even after all these years of being made to eat some of everything. Give her meat or carbs and she’s happy as can be. She detests mayonnaise & onions and will only eat most green things because of our rules. My 5 year old son is just like her. We had a day the other day because he didn’t like the raisins in his oatmeal or what was served for lunch. He did eat but only after discipline.

    Your rules are great and in no way would I allow a child to be rude, demanding or manipulative about their food. But, I still do have a couple who are very persnickety about their likes and dislikes, even though they eat what is served.

  11. Okay, I’m printing out this list right now to give to a friend, who’s child is unbearably picky.

    Another copy goes to my husband.

    Blessings,
    Amanda

  12. Tully Family says:

    Kim,

    We do NOT allow picky eaters and do the things on your list. We have noticed that there is always a time (or two!) when our littles will try testing this- usually around the age of 3. Firm and consistent training weeds this out. I share this so that others might not be discouraged- stick with it! It is such a blessing to have children who will eat what is served!

    Heather

  13. What a great list!! We however do eat Sushi.. Living in Japan we encourage our boys to try everything.. Turned out they loved it.. I did however draw the line at Sashami (raw Sushi).. as well as the raw eggs they seem to add to everything.. Eating here when we venture out has become an experience..

  14. how funny, we were thinking alike-sorta-for our wfmw contributions! mine is from a slightly different perspective as i deal with children with special concerns. enjoyed your thoughts here!

  15. Our boys are not picky eater either..I didn’t allow it. Now a couple of them don’t care much for onions but they won’t refuse to eat whatever the onions are in..they just pick the onions out and finish eating.

    Also we drink water with our meals because if they drink soda with the meal they’ll fill up on that and not the food that has been prepared for them. Especially when we eat out..it’s water..I can’t see spending $1.50+ for a glass of soda when I can buy a whole 2 liter for less then 1 persons cup of soda..UGH!

  16. Kim, this is a brilliant list! If you don’t mind, I’m going to reference it on my blog and add a link back to here.

    I’ve had some issues with other moms when their kids are over at my house and decide they don’t want to eat what I’ve served. So many moms defend their kids behavior and say something like, “I want to acknowledge that my child has taste buds.” We all have taste buds, but not enough have good manners.

    Also, I allow each of my kids to have one food, and one food only, that they don’t have to eat. One of my girls picked corn, and another picked white cheese. But other than that one food, they’re required to have as many bites of each food as years as they are old. (Six years old equals six bites of carrots.)

  17. I’ve tried not to let our two girls be picky. The 2y/o will eat anything. The 4y/o won’t eat anything. She’d rather be hungry all night than to even TRY something she thinks she won’t like. I don’t make different meals when they won’t eat either. Maybe I have a stong-willed child on my hands. :-s I’m going to send your link to my DH.
    Dana

  18. Good rules, we follow most of them and our children are not picky. It is frustrating to be a host to someone who refuses everything you set out. Embarrassing also.

  19. Mrs Mecomber says:

    Good post.

    I was a TERRIBLY picky eater when I was a kid. I still don’t eat tomatoes, but I eat just about everything else I once “hated.”

    My kids eat just about everything: onions, turnips, peppers, etc. What works for us is we grow a lot of what we eat (vegetables, that is) and we don’t snack at all.

    You’ve got great ideas there. Let’s not make a Doritos nation! ;)

  20. Life throws you surprises! says:

    So very true. I grew up with a sister who was picky….my mom broke most of the rules. I never wanted my kids to be that way so I have been following alot of the same rules that you wrote out. I never like uncooked tomatoes but kept trying them until they no longer bothered me so trying things at different times works too. Not sure I could grow to love olives though.

  21. HomemakerAng says:

    awesome post! we dont allow our children to be picky either. my friends cannot believe what they eat as they are cutting up their backup food at my house they brought from home, and they wonder why…

    one of my friend’s children will only eat Kraft dora explorer mac and cheese… wont even eat plain noodle Kraft mac and cheese. even though same brand, same taste, the box looks different and they cater to it!!!!!

    i babysat them a few days when she had surgery and they ate everything i served them happily with no other choices… when they came and picked them up they were going to mcdonalds because the kids then demanded it!
    amazing…

    kids really aren’t that picky, the parents train them that way!

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