How I Got My Kids to Eat Their Vegetables

How I got my kids to eat their vegetables.  Got a child who refuses to eat anything but chicken nuggets?  It might be time to change your approach.  One mom's mission to raise kids who will try everything and the 5 simple strategies that changed everything for their family.  A must read for any parent struggling with picky kids!

Picky eating can be a pretty touchy subject.  No mom wants to hear they might be making a mistake, especially once you’ve gotten to a point where it seems impossible to change the course you’ve already charted.

Over the past few months, several people have asked me for advice on this topic.  I’ve pondered writing this post many times but until today, something always held me back.  Even just the title seems so self-congratulatory, so smug, like somehow I’ve mastered the art of parenting, having successfully raised perfect Stepford children who can do no wrong.

So let me just say, for the record, that this post is in no way meant to be a lecture on how to parent.  I love my girls to death, but they are far from perfect.  Like all kids they often range from little angels to little demons, sometimes in just a matter of moments.  They whine, they cry, they disobey.  They fight and complain.  Sometimes–a lot of times–they are downright annoying. And contrary to what the title of this post may suggest, they can often be picky when it comes to food.  If left to their own devices, they would probably eat nothing but french fries and toaster strudels.

How I got my kids to eat their vegetables.  Got a child who refuses to eat anything but chicken nuggets?  It might be time to change your approach.  One mom's mission to raise kids who will try everything and the 5 simple strategies that changed everything for their family.  A must read for any parent struggling with picky kids!

When they were born, I think I always just assumed our kids would eat everything.  My husband and I didn’t plan to start making special foods for them, nor did we plan to become the parents that always made a side of chicken nuggets or mac & cheese because we knew at least that would get eaten.  We didn’t intend to be the parents who handed over a bowl of goldfish at the slightest whimper, or put our kids to bed with a cheese stick or a slice of bread because they hadn’t eaten their dinner and we didn’t want them to get hungry in the middle of the night.

It just sort-of happened.

The problem with the path of least resistance is that at the time, it seems so much easier.  It even seems like the right thing to do.  What parent wants their child to be hungry?  Until, of course, it isn’t.  You go to a friend’s house for dinner and you are mortified when your six-year-old, who should know better, says rudely as the food is being served, “Ew, that looks gross!  I don’t like that!”  You try a new restaurant and your three-year-old has a temper tantrum because the chicken nuggets look different from the ones you serve at home.

Our rude awakening happened the day my oldest daughter refused to eat a quesadilla.  Trying to be clever, I had made it with roasted vegetables instead of just plain cheese.  She threw a fit to end all fits and I saw clearly for the first time that I had, for the sake of fewer arguments at dinnertime, created a picky-eating monster.   I vowed then that I would do everything in my power to turn my girls into kids who would not only eat their vegetables, but everything else they were served as well.

How I got my kids to eat their vegetables.  Got a child who refuses to eat anything but chicken nuggets?  It might be time to change your approach.  One mom's mission to raise kids who will try everything and the 5 simple strategies that changed everything for their family.  A must read for any parent struggling with picky kids!

From that moment forward, my husband and I adopted five distinct strategies when it came to dealing with our kids and food:

1. Stop giving choices

We found that we were allowing our kids to dictate what they ate far too often.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t still occasionally let them choose between two different meal options (we do), but for the most part, we adhere to the very wise preschool philosophy of “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”  Specific requests are considered, but not always honored immediately.  Furthermore, we do not make separate meals.  If we are trying a new recipe, whether it be fish, casserole, soup, or anything else, our kids eat what we eat.  If they refuse to eat it, they don’t eat.  This was something we had to enforce quite frequently in the beginning, but these days almost never.  Ultimately we discovered that no kid will starve from missing a meal, and they will eat eventually.

2. The Three Try Rule

I read somewhere one time that most kids are wary of new things, and that it takes at least three separate exposures for something to become familiar.  Once it is familiar, it will usually be accepted without resistance.  It made so much sense that we adopted a Three Try Rule for food in our house.  Our girls are not allowed to refuse a food or say they don’t like something until they have tried it at least three separate times.  (Not three bites, three different meals.)  Amazingly enough, we have yet to find something that they haven’t absolutely loved after the third try, even when the first try resulted in tears.

After following this rule for so long, we have found that our kids now are much more willing to try new things the first time because they understand that even if they think they don’t like it right away, they might like it eventually.

3. Limit SnacksHow I got my kids to eat their vegetables.  Got a child who refuses to eat anything but chicken nuggets?  It might be time to change your approach.  One mom's mission to raise kids who will try everything and the 5 simple strategies that changed everything for their family.  A must read for any parent struggling with picky kids!

It is hard to get kids to try new things and eat healthy, well-balanced meals if they are constantly filling up on snacks.  I can’t say that we never give our kids snacks or junk food, but it is definitely the exception, not the rule.  We especially avoid snacking anytime in the two hours before dinnertime, and don’t allow snacks after dinner, especially if the child requesting the snack didn’t eat their dinner.

This is often easier said than done!  The pre-dinner hour can be rough, especially for toddlers and preschoolers, and the fastest way to entertain a whiney three-year-old is to appease him with a bowl full of goldfish.  Until, of course, dinner is finally ready and he refuses to eat even one bite.  Then an hour later, just before bedtime, you give him another snack because you don’t want him to go to bed hungry, and the vicious cycle continues.

For me this was probably the hardest habit to break, until I finally realized that the only way to get my kids to eat well was to sometimes let them be hungry.

4. Emphasize Good Manners

We wanted our kids to understand that being picky about food and saying I don’t like that, or that looks gross, when someone else has spent time cooking for them was not only unacceptable, but incredibly rude.  This meant teaching them about manners, and what it means to have good manners in all sorts of different situations, including at the table.

For this, I found a great series of books that was incredibly helpful, called the Way to Be! Manners books.  Our favorites are Manners at the Table and Manners in Public.  I found that reading these books frequently, then talking about them and then doing actual role playing exercises was really effective.

5. Constant Reinforcement

Being picky (and rude) is simply not an option in our family, but this rule requires constant reinforcement.  Before we go to anyone’s house or to a restaurant, we will usually have a 3 minute pep talk in the car, which usually goes something like this:

Me:   What are our expectations of you?
Them:  To be polite and use our manners
Me:  How do we use our manners?
Them:  Say please and thank you, yes ma’am and no ma’am, don’t run around, look people in the eye, clear our plates.
Me:  What do we do if we get served food we’re not sure we like?  
Them:  We eat it!
Me:  What DO we say?
Them:  Thank you for this yummy food!
Me:  What DON’T we say?
Them: I don’t like it!

 

Even with the pep talk, they still have their moments.  There have been times where we have had to pull them aside to remind them of the rules, and then make them apologize.  Kids will be kids, which means constant reinforcement will always be necessary.

It has been almost two years since we revised our food strategy, and I can honestly say that it has worked wonders in our family. Going out to eat, cooking a new recipe, or visiting friends for dinner is now, for the most part, a pleasure, not a challenge, and my kids’ diet has never been so full of variety.

They are even now beginning to recognize pickiness in their friends.  On a recent visit with friends, the girls watched in amazement as one of their friends went into hysterics after being served a new food, one she flat-out refused to try.  As she wailed and screamed that she didn’t like it, my four-year-old, leaned over and whispered to me incredulously, Mommy, doesn’t she know she is missing out?

Raising non-picky eaters is no easy task.  It means being willing to sacrifice short term peace in favor of the long-term gain.  It is an exhausting and hard-fought battle, but, at least in this family, ultimately so worth the effort.

*   *   *

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue!   Do you struggle with picky kids?  Have you found other strategies that work for your family?  Do you agree with these strategies?  Why or why not?

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{ 187 comments… add one }

  • Tara August 23,

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this post! I swear you read my mind! I have been SO frustrated with my kids lately because they just seem to get pickier and pickier. I make them separate food for almost every meal and sometimes make them EACH something different. It is killing me and the worst part is that I know I am doing it to myself! I love the 3 try rule. We are SO starting that TODAY!!!!

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 23,

      I’d love to hear how it goes for your family Tara! Keep us posted!

      Reply
  • June August 23,

    This is wonderful. I especially love the emphasis on manners. So many parents seem oblivious to the fact that allowing your kids to be super picky is just downright rude. You are right that they will eat eventually! Well done!

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 23,

      Thank you June. :-)

      Reply
  • shawna August 23,

    THANK YOU! i am so glad you decided to write on this subject…it was like you were writing from my own thoughts. I also have unconsciously raised a five year old picky eater and i am at my wits end…it is time to make some changes . :)

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 23,

      Good luck Shawna, and please keep us posted on your progress! :-)

      Reply
  • Alecia August 23,

    This is a HUGE issue in our house. I let my daughter get away with so much because of sensory issues, in particular with textures of food and her mouth. Now we have a picky eating monster! It has also rubbed off on our son. I have been looking for some motivation and simple suggestions to try to correct this behavior and this was just what I needed. Thank you! I hope to incorporate these in to our dinner time routine. I’m tired of being a short order cook at dinner and throwing away food that won’t be eaten.

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 23,

      Good luck Alecia, I hope this helps! Please keep me posted on your progress!

      Reply
  • Nicole @ CraftyBeards August 23,

    Goodness – I think us adults can benefit from implementing these strategies and tips in OUR eating habits as well! :) I grew up a picky eater and never learned to enjoy produce – my in-laws on the other hand LOVE it and always have platters of raw and cooked veggies and fruit on the table. I hope to correct my pickiness before my son starts eating table food with us and learn to be a good example. I do agree with not offering choices – it drives me nuts when I see people offer to make completely different meals. If my husband doesn’t like a food, I typically won’t serve it. If I know my son hates a particular food after trying it lots, I probably won’t include it at all or very often on the menu. Great tips!

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 23,

      So true….thanks Nicole!

      Reply
  • Laura August 23,

    I love this advice. I have a super picky almost 2 year old that I have admittedly gone back and forth with enforcement of your number 1 and 3 rules. It’s so hard to know what’s right when it comes to your child not eating anything because they refuse to try what you give them for dinner. She’s just so young, I think, “she’ll grow out of this when I can reason with her”, but especially after reading your blog I’m not so sure/hopeful that is the case. She is begging for cheese and crackers as soon as we walk in the door from daycare at 5ish, before I can even start dinner. It’s worse on the days she hasn’t eaten much at daycare because she didn’t like what they served. Somehow though, at daycare they can actually get her to try new things, while at home she screams as soon as I set a plate down in front of her. There is no reasoning with her at that point to “just try one bite”. Any suggestions on how to deal with that? Also, is 2 still too young to be trying this or is starting now the best time?

    Reply
    • Casey August 23,

      Laura – My kids do the same thing where they’ll eat a daycare things they won’t eat at home. I asked daycare how they’re managing this and they said (and I think this is probably a true statement) it’s mostly “monkey see, monkey do.” In other words, kids follow what the other kids are doing. If some are eating sandwiches, then most likely the other ones will follow. I think this is also true because daycare doesn’t have the time or resources to become a short order cook and make something separate for each child. Now if we can just get them to eat at home. :)

      Reply
    • Nicole August 23,

      Can you use your slow cooker/crock pot to have dinner ready when you walk in the door? Maybe then at least you won’t have to worry about late snacks or preparing dinner with a screaming 2yo…

      I’m sort of in the same boat. Miss nearly-3 has been fussy since not long after her 1st birthday, when I found out I was pregnant with her now 14mo brother. We slipped into the path of least resistance and now she’s a fussy eater :( we’re going to put some/all of this into practice once we get this gastro bug out of our house.

      I might add we used Baby Led Weaning with our son, and while he does have favourite parts of each meal, because he’s always had the same food we eat I think that’s helped him to experience food they way we eat it from day 1, instead of making purées, then transitioning to finger foods and then “real” food. And with the “clear your plate” rule, I’d be careful not to overload the plate and enforce that rule as I’ve read it’s a contributing factor to adult obesity from not knowing to stop eating when hunger signals stop going to the brain (not at all saying you or anyone else is doing this parenting thing wrong, just that its something to think about too)

      Reply
      • Ari September 12,

        I don’t think she meant clear your plate as in eat all the food on it. I think she meant clear your plate off the table as in take your plate/silverware/glass to the sink.

        Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 23,

      That is definitely a tough one! I’ll admit that my defenses are lowest at 5pm when I’m hungry and the kids are tired, hungry and crabby. I love Nicole’s crock pot suggestion! I think kids know how to push our limits and they also know what they can get away with. I personally don’t think 2 is too young, but I can’t make that judgement for you. Good luck! Please keep us posted on your progress!

      Reply
      • Jennifer August 25,

        HI, I just want to encourage any parent who is trying this. It is hard but we’ve done this from day one with our son and he eats almost all ‘normal foods’ as I call them :) Laura, 2 is NOT too young to start with this stuff! (we don’t give our kids enough credit). Even when he was one we did told him ‘if you don’t eat next meal is _’ routine. He’s turning 6 next week and is still alive and never suffered from missing a meal. Once you’ve curbed the instant ‘I don’t like that’ you’ll start to know your kid; we love asparagus-he gags when I make him eat it; after trying 5 or 6 times to give him one piece and watching him gag I don’t try anymore BUT he does have to eat another vegetable instead. I think as with anything in life consistency is key. Kids are smart and learn very quickly when our defences are down and if you’re like me that’s when I’m tired and hungry too :)

        Reply
        • Jennifer August 25,

          One other thing that I wanted to mention real quick is when something does end up on my son’s plate that I know he doesn’t like (celery, nuts, tomatoes) he knows that if he pushes them quietly to the edge of the plate he doesn’t have to eat them. BUT, if he’s rude, complains or fusses he WILL be forced to eat them all! It goes right along with manners and at the same point recognizes that some people just don’t like certain things and just can’t eat them and that’s ok too.

          Reply
          • Anonymous January 19,

            jennifer, i love that idea. i want my children to have good manners just as much as i want them to have well rounded diets.

            Reply
          • Anonymous May 6,

            I understand emphasizing good manners; however, forcing a child to eat something you KNOW they don’t like is cruel. Would you, as an adult, appreciate it if another adult forced you to eat something you didn’t like?

            Reply
    • Nikki August 6,

      I had a similar issue with my daughter when she got home from daycare. She was so hungry from the minute I picked her up…so I used it to my advantage and would use this time of day to give her raw veggies like cucumber , bell peppers, carrots, celery, snap peas and things like that, if she said she didn’t like it or didn’t want that I would just say “Fine then you need to wait for dinner” and I would put whatever I had brought out back in the fridge to try for another day or munch on it myself to set the example while I cooked. After a couple of days and a handful of tantrums, she realized I wasn’t going to cave and 9 times out of 10 would eat what was offered, or just go play till dinner was ready. This is a win win situation cause either she eats the healthy snack which is a good thing, or she waits and strengthens her skills in delaying gratification which has the added bonus of being more likely to eat her dinner with out complaint.

      Reply
  • Sarah August 23,

    There are things I don’t like, but for the most part growing up my mom was the pickiest eater in our family! The only thing I disagree with here is cleaning your plate. I was taught to clean my plate. As an adult some of those things my parents drilled in to us still stick and this is one of them. I was finding myself cleaning my plate and over eating!

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 23,

      Cleaning their plate is actually not something we push or insist on. Our kids have to try everything that is served and eat a reasonable amount, but if they are truly full we don’t force them to eat more! My husband was an overweight kid so he is really careful about that! :-)

      Reply
      • Randi January 16,

        i agree, cleaning the plate is not going to help…. my childhood best friend s family was told to eat everything and whenever I’m there I had to eat the food as well. I thought I was going to gag LOL…. but that friend turned to be overweight growing up…. I’m not saying nobody is perfect.. Im not thin myself but I never like to force the child to eat… we are trying to get her to eat veggies (she did eat them when she was little and even have a video of her eating broccoli!!) LOL… shes only 4 but doesnt like to see “GREEN”…. SIGH.. but just glad she likes fruits , but we dont force fruits all the time due to high sugar.. we are always looking for new ideas… sometimes she will try new stuff (even likes fish to my surprise).

        Reply
  • Emily @ My Love for Words August 23,

    I just had an epiphany a couple weeks ago that I too am letting my daughter too often choose what she wants for breakfast, snacks, and lunch, which is why when dinner is served she refuses to eat. It’s so frustrating, but I guess the comforting fact is that my mistake can be corrected.

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 23,

      It definitely can! Good luck Emily! :-)

      Reply
  • Michele August 23,

    We do something very similar and it does work! I feel grateful that my kids will eat veggies and (mostly) try new things. One thing I appreciate about my husband is just about very meal he says to the kids, “what do we say when mom makes a yummy dinner?” And they say “thanks for dinner mom.” Then he also says, “what do we say when mom makes a yucky dinner?” And he’s gotten them to say “thanks for dinner mom!” Of course it took some coaxing but they now know and it makes me feel ok even when the meal didn’t turn out as good as I planed. I know they are being grateful.

    Reply
  • Dawn August 23,

    Thank you for this. We do 2 out of the 5 of these already but we don’t necessarily enforce it 100% of the time, which is probably our downfall. I’m not an afternoon snack parent, we serve them what we eat and no other options, but reinforcement and good manners are so important! I had a friend recently tell me her kids are not allowed to say “I don’t like it” or “I don’t want it”, which is usually what I hear 50% of the time. She tells her girls they need to say “no, thank you.” To me, that is still not acceptable. We go to friends homes for dinner and they end up eating 10% of their food, usually bread and the (uugggghhhhh!!!!!) JUICE BOX they are given. I’m fed up and will be trying your tips ASAP.

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 23,

      Good luck Dawn! I’d love to hear back on how it goes! Keep us posted!

      Reply
    • Christa McCool August 29,

      Along the same lines, I have a friend who has taught her 5 year old girls to say (in french) “Ce n’est pas a mon gout”, which translates into a very polite “this is not to my taste” instead of the automatic reaction of “YUCK!”… Although I would prefer EVEN better manners, where the kids get to the point of just saying thanks, I like that this approach remains polite enough not to offend most hosts.. :)

      Reply
  • Melinda August 23,

    Thank you for these suggestions. My daughter is only 10-months-old, and currently she eats everything we give her! I have given some thought as to how to handle picky eaters in the future. I appreciate you sharing how you have handled this issue in your family.

    Reply
  • Lydia August 23,

    Great article! I have a 14 month old and I worry she is on her way to being picky. When is it too early to enforce your rules?

    Reply
    • Vanessa August 24,

      For a child that young I would just keep putting lots of different healthy foods on her plate (even foods that she didn’t want to eat at a different meal) and make sure that she’s not eating lots of snacks before meals. In my experience children’s tastes can change a lot at that age, but it might be worth talking to your pediatrician if you are concerned. They will have a lot of information and will be able to determine if she is getting enough of the nutrients that she needs.

      Reply
  • Mara August 23,

    Thanks for your thoughts on this! I have to admit that before I was a mom, I did have moments of judgment on my friends who struggled with this. Though my son is only 9 months old, I am already thinking about the future days and how we are going to manage the whole “food” thing because I have seen it be such a challenge for other moms. I already know that I won’t make separate meals, (unless it is unavoidable due to a food allergy) and I’m not afraid to let my child go without a meal if they are being picky and rude. I’ve had this conversation with my mom friends and some have thought I was not providing a good environment for my child by being so “inflexible.” I don’t consider this inflexible- I consider this a teaching moment. The key is to not lose one’s temper (easier said than done, sometimes) and to make sure your child always knows that you love them. I grew up in a very difficult household- something I will not emulate for my family. But giving in to a 4 year old’s demands may provide immediate peace, but long term disadvantages in the end. Thanks for being courageous- for trying new things and for sharing your experiences!! I have just discovered your blog- one of a few that I find worthy of my time. :) Thank you!!

    Reply
  • Angie August 23,

    I agree with this, except that I did give my daughter a snack after school and before bedtime, but what I also did differently than rule #3 was that if she asked to be excused at dinner because she was full she understood that her dinner was to be wrapped up and reheated if she was hungry before bedtime snack a couple hours later. She rarely asked and the bedtime snack was hardly something to ward off serious hunger so the conclusion was that she just wasn’t that hungry.

    I want to add that sometimes we set the kids up to fail because we loudly seek out ‘kid friendly’ foods while they look on. I refused to play that game with my daughter and she pretty much always ate the ‘weird’ foods that her dad and I liked – things like tabbouleh and gyoza and sushi (our Dr almost fell off his seat when he asked her a fave food type question and her response was sashimi :))

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 23,

      LOL that is awesome!

      Reply
  • Jennifer August 23,

    We have tried to do this (our 5yrd old is the picky eater) and he will literally puke when he tries certain foods. He had a speech delay as a child and still has texture issues with food (which he gets from me) and for the most part will not eat what the rest of us eat, it is beyond a battle and makes meal times miserable if we try and serve him what we are eating or introduce a new food + I feel horrible for making my child eat something that is gonna make him vomit. Any suggestions on how to deal with that? It’s not only that he doesn’t want to try new stuff, the texture of some things literally make him sick. Like any type of Pasta. I was a really picky eater growing up and now eat almost anything but it took years for me to finally “try” stuff. That is my only hope that he will eventually grow out of it.

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 23,

      Oh my, I’m not sure how to answer that one! Have you spoken with your pediatrician?

      Reply
    • Anonymous August 24,

      With issues this severe, you could look into seeing a speech-language pathologist or occupational therapist, they have specialized training to help children with oral and sensory difficulties. They could provide treatment or suggestions to save you some frustration

      Reply
    • Leah August 25,

      I really really appreciate your comment Jennifer. Two very close people to me, one of which is my husband, struggle with the gagging issue still to this day! We recently had a child and picky eating is a concern for me with her because of his pickiness (which mostly is not by his choice…although some things are). I hope to help dissuade her from pickiness by having her help me with meal ideas (picking fruits/veggies at the store, helping to cook, etc). I found with my husband the best thing to do is NOT to push him or draw special attention to it. It made it worse. When I leave him be, he does try new things and even old things that made him gag. Some things still do. But he’s discovering that some things don’t anymore and are even tolerable to eat. Now granted, he’s an adult….not sure how to address a child with this issue. However, by addressing his issue, I’m hoping to dissuade non-textured pickiness from my daughter (and hoping I don’t have textured pickiness to deal with). The other person is a close friend of mine. However, she’s discovered that a lot of foods aren’t so bad if they’re cooked other ways. For example, she can’t stand cooked carrots, but raw carrots are just fine.

      I can appreciate what the article is saying, especially since it is so easy to take the easy way out. But I did struggle with it (and even more so the comments) that not everything is clear cut like that. Textured pickiness is one of those things not clear cut and something I have to face with my husband, and probably with my kids at some point. I’ve found that picky eaters due to texture issues don’t necessarily want to be picky…they just are.

      Reply
      • Anonymous September 13,

        The gagging thing along with picky eating can be a sign of an esophageal condition whuch us not well known. My son has it and literally cannot eat a lot of foods. My husband most likely has it as well.

        Reply
      • Kaitlyn September 19,

        My daughter, like me, also has texture issues, specifically with custard-like foods such as yogurt, pudding, or even Jell-0. We finally discovered that introducing other textures made them much more bearable, even delicious! My daughter made this discovery was given banana pudding and Nilla wafers at as a snack at after-school care. She decided to crush up her cookies and add them to her pudding, which she loved. Now we both can enjoy yogurt in the morning with my son and husband by adding fresh fruit and granola. Gotta love when your kids can teach you!

        Reply
        • Ruth Soukup September 20,

          That is a great story Kaitlyn! Thanks for sharing!

          Reply
      • Korey November 14,

        I’m SO glad to hear other people struggle with the gagging thing. My son gags every time we insist he tries something, and then gags some more! It’s so frustrating . I’ve resorted to making him something separate of the very small list of things he will eat. Not sure that very meal time should be a fight. The ends with tears, but I’m not sure what to do.

        Reply
        • Anonymous November 14,

          Sorry, I meant “a fight, THAT ends in tears”

          Reply
        • Danidelion April 10,

          When I was a child, there were certain foods that I thought I hated, and I felt so strongly about them when I was forced to eat them, that I did gag on them- canned peaches being a memorable example. However, there wasn’t really a physical problem going on- just getting so worked up emotionally about being forced to try something, that the gagging was more of an emotional reaction.

          Reply
    • Anonymous December 29,

      Jennifer, seek out a feeding team at a pediatric hospital. I know the one in my city has SLPs and OTs who work with families to develop a plan and to treat feeding disorders that are medical/sensory in nature.

      Reply
    • Kristen January 4,

      I agree with the annon. comment. I have a pediatric patient that went through something that sounds very similar. Mom had him assessed by a feeding team at a hospital and he underwent therapy for certain over-developed and under-developed oral muscles. He still does speech therapy also. Your child may have something that a little therapy can help make mealtime more enjoyable for you and him both. Still continue with consistency, but seek a feeding team consultation as well!

      Reply
  • Taynia @ The Fiscal Flamingo August 23,

    You need to put this in an infographic. It’s wonderful. I would hang it in our dining room. Especially the rules.

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 23,

      Hmmmm….something to think about! I’ll see what I can do! :-)

      Reply
  • Jess @ Little House. Big Heart. August 23,

    While I don’t have little ones yet, I love what you’ve suggested here.
    I had to add two comments: in creating a picky eating child, you just might create a picky eating adult. My husband and I are adventurous eaters, but certain of our friends refuse to eat anything other than Mexican or typical American food. We end up at the same restaurants time after time simply because a nearly 30-year old male can’t learn to try new foods.

    Also, they way my parent’s discussed food as I was growing up was instrumental to how we percieved it. Food was never stigmatized: veggies weren’t called gross, exotic food wasn’t strange, new things weren’t pronounced as foreign. Everything was given a fair chance to gain a place in our judgement without first being colored by our parents.

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 23,

      Agreed! Children often take a cue from their parents when it comes to foods they do or don’t like.

      Reply
  • Chelsea August 23,

    I used to be a server at a restaurant. Oh, the stories I could tell about picky and demanding eaters- and not just children!

    This topic actually hits very close to home for me. My younger brother (who is 17) was recently admitted to the hospital. He is/was considered malnourished because he is *so* picky. We’re talking chicken nuggets and french fries for every meal. Growing up it was a nuisance, but we never realized he would become this ill as a result of it. I know this is an extreme example, but children really do need good nutrients for growing bodies and minds!

    I actually used to be a really picky eater, too. But moving out on my own solved that. I was broke enough to eat whatever my friends and family would serve me. Now I eat just about anything. :-)

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 23,

      Wow that is incredibly scary. Thanks so much for sharing your story Chelsea!

      Reply
  • lisa August 23,

    This is good advice and something to keep in mind. I think it also depends a lot on the age too though. Choices work well for toddlers because they feel like they get more control. As they get older, I can see how less choices may work better.

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 23,

      I think every family is different and parents have to be able to discern between empowering kids to make certain decisions (a good thing) and allowing them to dictate every decision (a bad thing!) Age definitely matters too! :-)

      Reply
  • Sheena August 23,

    This is why I love your blog. I think your name may be Sheena and your daughter’s name may be Alyssa. My daughter is/was oh so picky. There are still certain things she doesn’t like but she eats with alot more of an open mind. I hear more that she likes the new dish than she hates it. Although my other two both made themselves gag till they threw up last time we had okra.

    Reply
  • Samantha Tate August 23,

    Thanks for your suggestions! I’m going to try these out. I can defiantly agree that I give into the snacking more than I should after we get home in the evening. Also, I know you are very busy but I had sent you an email a week or so back. I was wondering if you got the chance to read it?

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 25,

      Hmmmm Samantha, I don’t remember seeing an email from you. Would you mind resending it? Thanks!

      Reply
    • Anonymous October 14,

      Try a nutritious snack. I gave my daughters a veggie tray at 4:00. They can be cooked or raw. They loved

      Reply
  • Jenica August 23,

    Thank you for this post. I could not agree more with any of the things you posted. Do you have any suggestions though for being married to one of these children who grew into a full blown picky eating adult (we’re talking meat, potatoes, and cheese…those are the 3 allowable ingredients)? I made all my own fresh baby food, hoping to alter the fate of my child, but my toddler is now treading that same path as her father and I’m left wishing we had veggies in our meals. I also rarely do snacks with my 2yr old and she often chooses to go to bed without supper rather than try what’s on her plate. So far, I have not found sending them to bed without supper to be successful. In my limited experience, that does not encourage her to eat supper the following night, but rather it ensures that she will eat a hearty breakfast the next morning. Any thoughts on this?? Do I need to give it more time or maybe 2yrs old is too young to be enforcing the eat what we feed you theory???

    Reply
    • Vanessa August 24,

      In our family we instituted a “one bite” rule for our picky eater. When he told us that he didn’t like a food without trying it, we told him that he had to try one bite and assured him that if he didn’t like it he didn’t have to eat the rest on his plate (this does not mean that he didn’t ever have to try it again at other meals). This has worked wonders for our picky eater. I’m not sure if your son is still too young for this or not – our son was four when we first really realized that we needed to change his picky eating habits. I do wonder sometimes, though, that if we had started earlier, if it wouldn’t have been as much work when he was older.

      Reply
    • Kristen January 4,

      This may sound really cruel, but this is how the same battle happened at our house: If they attempted to eat dinner and did not like it, that was fine. If they flat-out refused to eat dinner, saran wrap and into the fridge it goes. It is served as the next meal or snack until child has attempted to eat it. This means, if you choose no dinner and not to have it as bedtime snack, your plate will be reheated for breakfast, and can be saved for lunch if you choose not to eat breakfast. I do not make them eat it all, but they do have a make an effort to eat what has been served. Only once has a plate lasted until lunch the next day, and has not happened again. This was the rule since toddler finger foods.

      Reply
      • erin January 19,

        yup. we do this, my parents did this. it keeps getting served until you try it, encouraging them to try it when it’s served. the thank you bite rule is a serious one in my house.

        Reply
  • Vanessa August 24,

    I also had a picky eater (I wrote about it here: http://vanessasvalues.blogspot.com/2013/02/hope-for-parents-of-picky-eaters.html). We knew he was picky, but when he was four it had escalated to the point where he was complaining at every meal. We knew that we had to do something, and made quite a few changes including only making one meal instead of making something special just for him, letting him fill his own plate, instituting a “one bite” rule (this really was the best thing we ever did!), not allowing him to whine and complain, and (in the beginning) using distraction.

    We are still working on the complaining, but I am amazed at the progress we have made in just 6 months! He is now asking(!) for salads and to have spinach on his sandwiches! There are only a few vegetables that we have found that he really doesn’t like and we are still working on a few other foods (he doesn’t like it when several foods are mixed together like soups and casseroles), but he is doing so well! It does take work, but it is worth it!

    While I was checking out at the grocery store a few weeks ago, I heard our cashier tell another customer that he was picky and wouldn’t eat any vegetables. I thought how sad that was and wondered if it was because his parents had allowed him to be picky.

    Reply
  • sarah August 24,

    I absolutely love this post! We were doing will in this area, and still sorta of are a dinnertime at home, but we have really compromised in restaurants in order to have some peace–we let them order from the kids menu all the time which is generally just junky fried everything or mac n cheese and I really want to improve on this. Thanks for all the great tips!

    Reply
  • Tracy August 24,

    How do you enforce the “must try one bite”? Make them sit at the table until it is taken? My twin boys will be 3 yrs old in a month and I’ve been completely unsuccessful in convincing them to try a bite of something.

    Reply
    • Vanessa August 24,

      My parents used to make me sit at the table until I cleaned my plate and I decided pretty early on that I wasn’t going to make my children do that. :)

      We didn’t use our “one bite” rule until our son had just turned 4. By age 4 we could tell that our son wasn’t just trying to test his boundaries, he genuinely seemed to be afraid to try anything that wasn’t familiar.

      We were able to persuade him most of the time by reassuring him that he didn’t have to finish eating anything that he didn’t like and a few times early on I even told him that if he tried something and didn’t like it he could put it on my plate. I always make sure to make one or two other things for dinner that I know he does like so that he is still eating with us if it turns out he doesn’t like something. If he decides not to try something, the consequence is that he is not able to have anything else to eat after dinner. This means that he misses out on his after-dinner “treat” which is sometimes a dessert or sometimes just yogurt or applesauce.

      Reply
  • Emily T. August 24,

    Thank you for this awesome post! These are the rules I have raised my children with from the beginning, and though my children (all young adults and teens now) all have a few things they don’t like, they choose to eat many different foods and will politely try anything served to them. And like yours, my children are not angels or perfect, but like you pointed out in this post–It really is all about good manners. I get many ?s about how I managed to raise kids that eat anything. From now on I will share your five concise rules.

    Reply
  • Elena August 24,

    Great post! My only question when I read strategies like this is WHEN to institute them. For example, I have a 2.5 year old and a 1 year old… sometimes my 2.5 year old still has great difficulty understanding what I am trying to teach so I try to limit my requirements to just a few things (e.g. no hitting, no screaming inside, etc.). Should I add this to the mix with the risk of overwhelming him? Or wait until he is three?

    Reply
  • musiclover August 24,

    great ideas!! will definitely need to try this on my girls…do you think this will work on husbands too? haha they are definitely learning to be picky from him!

    Reply
  • Anonymous August 24,

    This is a wonderful read and full of great tips. My son is 16-months-old and eats EVERYTHING. But I firmly believe it is because we did Baby Led Weaning to start him on solids. We began by putting food from our plates onto his food tray, so that it was clear we were all eating the same meal.

    Reply
  • reccewife August 24,

    These are great tips, thanks for sharing!
    I would like to mention, though, that there is a disorder called Selective Eating Disorder, and those children will actually put themselves into the hospital before they eat foods outside their chosen few. People always say ‘they won’t starve themselves’ and for most kids, that’s true and parents need to hear it, but it CAN happen! I have 2 pickey eaters that would totally benefit from this advice, and one who would end up very ill (and who has in fact ended up in hospital because of it).
    It’s hard as a parent to know most people think you should have just ‘stuck to your guns’ when it’s nothing we did but just who he is.
    Just for those parents who have special kids like mine, it’s nice to be acknowledged that sometimes it’s not quite as ‘easy’ as that.
    But honestly, I did really like this article and I think that on average, it would be a help to many many parents worried about feeding, me included! My other 2 could benefit from more variety :)

    Reply
    • Ulviyye March 29,

      / Congratulations, Randa, that’s awesome. And I’ve aalwys thought single-syllable names are more masculine, like Jack, Mike, Matt, Steve, Joe and Mark of course, right? A quick google search turned up these, all pretty good:

      Reply
  • Mandy August 24,

    I have a twelve year old extremely picky son and a nine year old daughter who will eat almost anything. We have tried so many ways to get my son to eat, including almost six months of his going to bed with no supper because he would not eat what I served at dinner. He isn’t rude about it, and will taste a bite but has often thrown up at the table also. He will say he is not hungry but then at bedtime he would be sad and I felt like a horrible mother because I was sending my child to bed hungry. I guess the main problem is our not “sticking to our guns” on one method for long enough. (??) Is there any hope for a child this old? I am not buying the “he’ll grow out if it” line and this has been an honest prayer request of mine for years. Any help is appreciated and I can handle tough love!

    Reply
    • Danidelion April 10,

      A twelve year old is old enough to comprehend the consequences of not choosing to eat the specified foods. Nobody is too old to learn consequences. However, is it the same things that are causing him to throw up, consistently?Or is it just things that are different in general? In my husband’s family, when he was a picky child, if he refused to eat what was for dinner because they “didn’t like it”, and wouldn’t try it…. that same plate of food would be wrapped up, and offered the next time that he complained that he was hungry, and if it went bad before he was willing to eat it, or he intentionally dropped in on the floor, or it disappeared, she’d make more of it, just because of it, because there was no reason he didn’t want to eat it, except that he didn’t like the food. He learned eventually, that most foods, even the ones you don’t like, taste much better the first time around, when they’re freshly prepared… and if he wasn’t going to win the battle, he might as well just eat what was offered.

      Growing up myself personally, my parents required us to take three bites of each item that was being served for supper. If we didn’t like it after that, we didn’t have to eat any more, but nobody got to get up and leave the table unless they ate their three bites of whatever it was they didn’t like…. and if you were refusing to even take your three bites, you could go to bed at suppertime without eating if you preferred… something that almost never happened. My mother relented on occasion, to give a child who refused supper a piece of dry bread and a glass of milk at bedtime, but nothing palatable or attractive, so that there was still no reward for refusing the food. Spankings were also involved on occasion, if stubbornness was the issue. All of the children in my family grew up to be well-rounded in our food choices, and willing to try new things.

      Reply
  • Katrice August 24,

    When our boys were young (they are now 16 & 13), we adopted and enforced the “no thank you bite” rule. Whenever I cooked something new or it was different looking, they had to have a “no thank you bite” to try it. Nine times out of ten, they asked for more. They also were told that when eating at someone else’s house they were to eat what was put in front of them and to not say ewww, I don’t like that! Thankfully they are still good eaters today!

    Reply
  • Leah August 25,

    I appreciate most of what this article has to say. As someone who is not a picky eater and usually loves to try new things, I think it’s wonderful to be able to introduce our children to the many tastes and textures our world has to offer!

    That being said, I cannot agree with the idea that pickiness=rude. It was mentioned in point 4 and many commenters also echoed this idea. I think how a person handles their pickiness can be rude (“eww that’s gross” and throwing fits are examples), but being picky in itself is not rude. A person is allowed to like or dislike whatever they choose (granted children need more tries at food simply because their tastes are always changing as they grow). My husband is prime example of this. He is an extremely picky eater (and not by choice might I add as his body gags due to certain textures). However, he will never tell you your food is gross and he always finds ways around his pickiness so as not to cause problems. He will often eat the food given him despite the fact he doesn’t like it, without a word of complaint. And if it’s a food that he can’t suppress his reflexes easily, he passes it as an allergy (it might as well be since his body won’t take it). As a picky eater he is not rude but actually quite considerate. That’s what I hope to instill in my children…that even if there are foods they don’t like (after giving those foods a fair try), they can still be considerate of those who made it.

    Reply
  • Echo August 27,

    I really like the idea of the 3 try rule, because it offers a good balance between having to try food and not having to eat food they can’t stand. I personally do not like hot dogs, the last time I ate them was at least 5 years ago when my brother was in the hospital so we had to spend some time at a friend’s house. In most cases, I would rather skip a meal or eat only the sides. However, when you allow children to decide that they won’t eat something because of a dislike, then you open the gateway for them to use it as an excuse to indulge their love of pbj’s. So I congratulate you on the genius of this idea.

    Reply
  • Alma August 28,

    I grew up in a family where we didn’t have any choice with food. We would eat our meal or “starve”, financially speaking my parents couldn’t afford more than that. Anyway, that taught me to be not a picky eater. Now I have my own family I give my kids more options when it comes to food, but I know some of them are not the healthiest and I need to change my approach before the become really picky. I notice that there is a great amount of parents that spoil their children and at the same time don’t to to their kids any favor with food choices they give them. My sister in law for example. She would give her 3 year old chicken tenders and fries for dinner instead of the delicious dinner my mother in law would prepare. She would just eat that, pretty much every single time we would go to my in laws for dinner. I couldn’t believe it. Anyway, I really appreciate your post, I know I’m still on time to make changes, before it gets too difficult. Thanks!

    Reply
  • Anonymous August 28,

    Does this work for husbands too? :) when he isn’t home the kids do pretty well, but if dad isn’t eating it they won’t either.

    Reply
  • Marvelyn August 29,

    I agree with all of this, but it is hard when the other parent isn’t enforcing it. My husband grew up a picky eater so much so that his parents use to swing through McDonalds to get him food before they went to a restaurant! As an adult he’ll eat pretty much anything so his philosophy is “she’ll grow out of it.” Grrrr. I have tried this but can’t get any traction since hubby gives in–not all of the time–but often enough that we can’t be consistent. How do I combat that?!

    Reply
  • Anita August 29,

    I have a small suggestion for Rebecca. She stated her daughter would only eat snack type foods. My son went through a phase like this and I was able to partly mitigate it with a special lunch container. I used Ziplock three component lunch containers and had him help me ‘pack’ it. Even though it was at home, just before lunch, the special container was enough of a thrill to get him to sit and eat. I’m sure that would work with any type of special container and you’d be surprised how exciting healthy foods are when they’re in a neat package. Maybe in bite sized pieces.

    Reply
  • Priscilla August 29,

    Have you noticed the Pedia-whatever advertisements on this topic? The commercial goes something like this, “Moms, is your picky eater getting the nutrients they need? Here. Give them this synthetic drink and then you don’t have to worry.” Fade to sweet image of mom putting a happy child to bed.

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 31,

      LOL I haven’t seen those but oh. my.

      Reply
    • Rose September 5,

      It hurt my heart to read this comment. My 8 year old son has major oral sensory issues and gets most of his nutrition from Pediasure. We tried just not giving him the few things he eats in order to make him hungry enough. Our doctor said “he won’t starve”. We almost had to take him to the hospital because he WAS starving. I spoke with an occupational therapist and she said in a child with severe oral sensory sensitivities do not starve them. I even read an article on a child in Britain, I believe, who all of a sudden stopped eating. Her parents begged the doctors to help her and they refused, saying she wouldn’t starve and would eventually get hungry enough to eat. She died. Now, obviously, this is NOT the norm…but to simply laugh at a parent who is doing the best they can with what they have is just flat out mean. I sincerely appreciate this article because my sons younger siblings have started to follow suit and I hope to incorporate some of these in their daily lives. The tricky part is dealing with the “why doesn’t he have to eat it” and so on.
      I just want to encourage moms out there…if you have a child who you suspect or who has been diagnosed with some sort of disorder in this area…please do not refuse them food without strict supervision of a pediatrician.
      There are some awesome points here. Thank you for sharing your story, it does give hope!

      Reply
      • Rose September 5,

        I forgot to mention. When we refused to let my son have the foods he eats he became extremely lethargic, hisbeyes were sunken in and he started to throw up stomach bile. That’s when I realized this would NOT work for him. Also, in case anyone is wondering, he also gags VERY easily. When trying a bite of chicken once he gagged probably 30 times before throwing up. He spit up a lot as a baby. Often he’ll tell us new foods make him feel cold. (Goosebumps I guess?) Brushing his teeth is a nightmare…every. single.time. The list goes on. :-(

        Reply
        • Rachel December 16,

          I agree rose, there are great tips above, but just like everything in parenting, it is not all cut and dry. I have worked very hard to not have picky eaters, but my 5 year old is still relatively picky. Like your son, he literally starves himself if he doesn’t like a food/is afraid of a food–not just one meal, but one meal after another until he gets ill. So while he still doesn’t get to eat a separate meal from everyone else, I do make sure he at least has some food he likes for a couple meals a day.

          The food pickiness is a sensitive subject for me because it’s hard to listen to parents tell you to do this and that and you’ll have a great eater (although doing such things can certainly help prevent it much of the time). I try to relax about it and not get offended, but it requires a lot of pep talking to myself after I’ve done everything under the son to help my children eat a well varied diet and there is still pickiness going on.

          Reply
        • Jamie January 10,

          That sounds like an oral sensory issue. I have a hard time brushing my teeth too. In general I am not a picky eater, but I have noticed that on occasion something will make me gag when I try to eat it. When that happens, I know it is time to go see the Dr because it means I have a sinus infection or cold going on.
          As kids, we were raised with the clean your plate rule, but if there was something we did not like (very few and far between), we had to eat at least one bite. To this day, I cannot stand the taste or the smell of bell peppers, tuna casserole (although I love tuna salad), or cooked green olives (think on a pizza, but I do love them straight out of a jar).

          Reply
  • amy spencer August 29,

    I love the idea in theory… but I have what we like to call ‘a puker’. Yeah. One bite that is of a taste or texture he can’t tolerate and he pukes. On the table. On his lap. On the floor. Behind his hand spewing out the sides. Luckily, I’m what they call a sympathetic puker so as soon as I see him go I’m off to the races too. It’s a friggin party at our house. Due to the puking Eli is picky…and since he gets to be picky our daughter gets to be picky too because it’s ‘not fair’. I’ll share your post with my sister though… maybe it can save her.

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 31,

      Wow that sounds tough Amy! Definitely a different level of pickiness that I’m not sure I would know how to deal with!

      Reply
    • Anonymous September 13,

      Amy, have you had him checked out for any physical problems in his throat or sensory issues that might be causing it?

      Reply
      • Kathy December 12,

        My niece was like that. An insanely picky kid (literally only ate 5 foods, and all kinds of health problems because of it), puked when she didn’t like something. My sister sent her to stay the summer with our family. Turned out to be totally a manipulative trick. When I made her clean it up and enforced consequences for not eating what and when the family ate, her pickiness and “sensitive gag reflex” disappeared. She learned to try and like so many new foods while she was here that she was amazed!

        Reply
  • Afton September 1,

    I agree with all of these rules! I read a book called French Kids Eat Everything, and while I didn’t agree with everything in the book, it definitely opened my eyes and motivated me to monitor my toddler’s eating habits better. I basically cut out all snacks (except a closely monitored snack of fruit in the mid-morning) when she was 18 months old and it has helped soooooo much in her eating her meals. LIke you said, it is easier said than done. Basically they have to learn that it is ok to be hungry for a little while before their next meal, which is not an easy thing to teach an 18 month old.

    Reply
    • Anonymous January 10,

      Also, Do not buy what you do not want your kids to eat.

      Reply
  • Melissa Jones September 3,

    I have a problem I wonder if anyone can help me with. My two year old (will be three in November) eats nothing but chicken nuggets, Nutella sandwiches, and plain white rice. I tried the ‘you eat what we all eat’ and the ‘if you don’t eat this meal, you don’t eat’ deals and my son went LITERALLY THREE FULL DAYS without eating ANYTHING just drinking a glass of milk or water at meal times. Out of sheer stubbornness he starved himself, and when he finally took two bites out of a meal I cooked, he cried the whole time and then threw it up. Into the plate of food. Any advice for a child this picky? He used to eat everything I put in front of him. Now he eats nothing. Any help is welcome and appreciated.

    Reply
  • Anonymous September 4,

    Love the blog but what happens if it has went to far and say your kids are 9 and 11 . Meal time is not very happy now days

    Reply
  • Candace September 6,

    I love

    Reply
  • Talynn September 6,

    This was a great read and I’ll have to re-read this as time goes on. What would you suggest for an 18 month old picky eater? She once loved veggies- then a year hit and she wasn’t having any of it. I continue to offer but it’s a no go. So same rules for such a little one?

    Reply
  • Katie September 7,

    This is a great article. In our house we have one amazing eater, and an almost 2 year old that eats a very small amount of foods….how would you suggest we handle someone his age?

    Reply
  • Christiana September 8,

    THANK YOU for this post! It is so clear and step by step! I follow these rules (without ever having clearly formulated them) and can say that they absolutely work! I am passing this on to every new parent. My only difference is that my kids have to taste a “suspect” food 3 times AT the meal. They are allowed to leave it uneaten after that. The reason I give them is that their taste buds need to first taste the new taste, then actually taste the food, and finally make an opinion. Often, the new food gets eaten! Oh, and I add that if they like it, they have to keep the frown that is on their face and not giggle…which also works like a charm. ;)

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup September 9,

      I absolutely agree with you on the 3 taste rule AT the meal! Love the frown rule too! :-)

      Reply
  • Jennifer September 9,

    My 7 year old son ate everything when he was little,but now only eats a few things.If we try to make him try a bite of anything new he literly makes himself throw up. I have tried the let him be hungry thing,but he will just not eat until he gets sick from not eating.He is underweight for his age and height but because of how extreme his resistance is to diffent foods his doctor says to just keep giving him the few things he wants to eat and she monitors his health closely. So some kids cannot be convinced so easily.It does have to be said that he is on medication for other bahavior and other issues.So please know even with trying and trying this is an issue some parents cannot overcome.

    Reply
  • Sara September 9,

    I love this!! It is my mission to raise a non picky eater. My sister and I were raised that way and my son (who is only 4 months old) will be the same!

    Reply
  • Laura September 10,

    Great article. Many of these things we are already doing. However–big no on “clear your plates”. Definitely not. My son has to eat an acceptable amount, but rarely cleans his plate.

    Reply
  • Sam September 13,

    I have trouble with all this advice that a child will eat eventually and will not starve themselves… I have a VERY strong-willed 3 year old. She was initially a really good eater but we’ve been struggling with her eating for 18 months. I got some advice from the local early child health centre nurses to stop making separate meals and just give her what we eat and then stop giving her morning and afternoon snacks… so I followed their advice and my child practically stopped eating. 3 weeks later I realised her clothes were hanging on her, she was miserable and having constant tantrums and I put her on a scale – she’d lost over 3 kgs!! Needless to say I reverted back to how I was feeding her before (not unhealthily I might add, just no variety and not very convenient for me).

    Reply
    • Cathy Brown December 7,

      I also have some bad experiences when I applied that old advice. All my children are very slender. One child went to bed without supper when she refused to eat it. By morning, she hadn’t eaten since the previous lunch; she was shaking and could barely walk to the kitchen. Never again! We make it a balance – serving a new food or an undesirable food along side a small portion of something she will eat. Also, serving the unfavorable dish first, requiring 3 or 5 good bites of it before a favorable part of the meal, makes it more manageable. A small requirement with a pre-determined limit makes it easier for some children to tolerate.

      Reply
  • Supriya September 14,

    Hi Ruth,I am Supriya from India.First of all ,let me tell you, its been 1 month I am following your blog and since then I have just started admiring you. I just love all your articles,they are so genuine and you write so meaningful that I enjoy and learn every word from it. You sometimes just speak my mind. I have 3 years Son “Arnav”, and I want the same upbringing for him that you are giving to your girls. Ruth just love you for that.
    Love to your Angels …! Take care n keep writing.
    Thanks,
    Supriya.

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup September 15,

      Thank you so much for your sweet comment Supriya! You made my day!

      Reply
  • Linda September 15,

    Hi Ruth,

    Loved this article about picky eaters. I pretty much have been doing your plan as well for years. It really works, though I empathize with your comments about reinforcement. It’s tiring to have to revisit old territory every week, but I’m sticking to my guns. My one area of difficulty relates to spicy Asian food. I love to stir-fry and sometimes the spices can’t be added at the table. Have you had to tackle spicy foods with your kids? What did you do?

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup September 20,

      We give them spicy foods in small doses. They are getting better & better about trying more. They LOVE pepper–the more the better, just like me and my husband! :-)

      Reply
    • Andreia November 11,

      Can you make two different versions of the same food; kinda in the same vein as Mild and Spicy Salsa? Cook up all the veggies, noodles, meat, add a moderate amount of the spices, then before serving, pull out half the meal and add a bit more spice to that half. It might be a good negotiation until you can either go full spice for everyone, or submit to half spice for the adults too.

      Reply
  • SJS September 16,

    Great article. Far too many picky and unhealthy kids out there. Parents do not need to be a short-order cook and give so many options. It can be challenging, but it is worth it in the end. We do all of the things you mentioned. Except, my Son tries three bites every time. No matter how many times he has had it.
    I do not force spicy foods, because as a kid I remember things tasting so much hotter. It is true that as adults our taste-buds sort of ‘mellow’, so we can handle spicier and stronger tasting foods. We also do NOT make him clean his plate.
    This is a bad habit of mine and likely why I need to lose 10 pounds. I feel it leads to over-eating. However, if he does not eat his dinner, he is not entitled to a snack before bedtime. We’ve been doing all of these things since day one and he is generally a pleasure to dine with :)

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  • Allison September 17,

    I absolutely love this. Respect is probably the number one rule that I try to teach my 3 girls. I try to also teach them that there are plenty of other kids that don’t have food to eat and that they should be grateful for having food on their plates. I agree that kids won’t be hurt by missing a meal. My daughters have missed dinner before and went to bed and the next day at dinner, they would tell me that they were sorry for not liking and eating what I had made. Of course I explained to them that it is okay to not like something but it is not okay to be disrespectful and make someone feel bad because they have different taste buds.

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  • Danielle September 24,

    Ruth, at what age did I you implement these rules? My son is just over two years old and stubborn as a mule. He has a small amount of meals and foods he likes a typically won’t try new things but is also not talking a lot yet so it’s hard for him to verbalize his frustrations. Suggestions would be great!

    Reply
  • Tina October 3,

    Just found this on Pinterest! Great read! Curious your thoughts on when it’s age appropriate for this approach? My 15 month old twins are relatively picky…one more than the other. At this point they seem to young to reason with or explain some of these rules. I have contemplated letting them go to be hungry if they don’t like what I serve but it just seems unfair when they don’t understand the concept of “get what you get and don’t throw a fit” etc. My husband struggle and go back and forth with what to do! Would love your thoughts…

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup October 4,

      I don’t think it is ever to early to start, though with some modifications. I think the earlier you can get your kids used to the idea of a variety of food, the better! With 15 month olds I probably wouldn’t make a big deal about eating one certain thing, but just keep re-introducing the same foods, even if they wouldn’t touch it the last time. Sometime kids are just scared of what is new, but if you try again they are more open to it. Good luck!

      Reply
  • Mandy October 4,

    I made my sons baby food and he is an excellent eater-mostly. He has his days as does everyone else. His first food was pureed avocados. He has eaten everything from tofu, avocado, kale, turnips, mango, apricots, quinoa, beets, millet, couscous, etc. He rarely turns something away and when he does I try and find out why-was it too cold? not enough flavor? too hard to chew? has he had too many snacks too close to mealtime? etc. If he seems to dislike something at first I will try to cook it another way the next time. I mix fruits and veggies into oatmeal, pancakes, muffins, waffles, etc. He eats better when I let him feed himself as well. He is 17 months old and is super healthy. I am very proud of what I have accomplished with him but it is exhausting. Always cooking and then the cleanup. Making as much as possible ahead of time because you never know when you will need to grab something and go. I work full time too so I do most of that when he has gone to bed so I can be up to almost midnight a lot of nights and back up at 5:30 to get ready for work. Some staples I keep on hand are organic baby food puree pouches, freeze dried blueberries and strawberries, Stonyfield Yo Babies yogurt and either Gerber puffs or graham crackers. I know the last 2 are not organic or homemade but I don’t know about you but the idea of making my own crackers is daunting. I at least try to find whole grain and organic most of the time. Anyways-I say kudos! Recognizing when your child has an issue and then actually addressing it puts you way ahead of the game because most people would just not even bother. I know way too many parents that don’t care-like my in-laws. My husband is the world’s pickiest eater and refuses to change. Thats probably why I try so hard to make sure my son has the best start possible. I congratulate all the other parents out there for caring what goes into their children.

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  • Kelly Coogle October 8,

    What happens if your child actually isn’t hungry? Do they still have to choke down food and “clean” their plate?

    Reply
  • Bethany October 15,

    I love that you wrote a post on this subject! These are the rules in our house. I only have one child. She is 3. But I started very early giving her what we ate. She was asking for it to try, so why not? I chose not to accommodate her and we chose to eat healthy based upon my celiac disease diagnoses. We hardly go out to eat, since finances wont allow. So having a a healthy homemade meal every night became the norm for us. I have never met a 3 year old that loves salmon as much as my daughter does. And when it comes to snack time, she asks for produce. She is no angel, but I know that in most cases I have it easier than other parents because of my choices.

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  • MELISSA HILDEBRAND October 23,

    I understand that you are not a professional and are only sharing your personal experiences that have worked for you, but I am curious at what age you started implementing these guidelines. My daughter is 9 months old and I feel like that is too young to implement these guidelines that might lead to a hungry baby. But at what point does it become appropriate?

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  • Genbii Toko Mainan October 23,

    This every parent must read. I will try these tips for my children. Thanks!

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  • Ashlee @ thecrunchymoose October 29,

    Great tips! Pinned & fb shared!

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  • Deanna November 4,

    For starters, thank you so much for sharing your advice on picky eaters. After a divorce and being a new single mom to an 8 year old, I’ve been running into some issues. I feel it may not be as much of a struggle some days, however to throw a wrench into my dilemma, my son is a juvenile diabetic. We always need to keep crackers, candy and juice boxes at the ready for when his blood sugar drops low, and cheese sticks for when his numbers are running too high. ‘

    Recently, he is refusing to try anything new. I need to stand my ground with him, but at the same time, if his blood sugar gets low, I have to give in with the sweet stuff to save his life. UGH. Can you possibly help this mom out with some tips or advice?

    Reply
    • Korinne Wiese November 19,

      When are 4 year old gets too stubborn, we tell her she will have what is being served until she tries it. If that doesn’t work she gets ONE saltine cracker before bed. It is amazing how one nibble can keep the body satisfied all night (I do this with my self just to get to sleep).

      Reply
    • DanidelionRN April 10,

      There are foods that will make a person’s blood sugar go up, or will be less likely to affect their blood sugar levels, that come in lots of different varieties. For low blood sugar, juice works, but so will some dried fruit if it’s not too low yet, (yes, in an emergent situation, the fight about pickiness doesn’t really have a place), and some of those glucose tablets probably don’t taste the greatest, but they’d work too- and probably be less of a “treat”. Crackers are really not a great choice for blood sugar, unless you couple them with something else, like some cheese, or peanut butter, or other protein to help the blood sugar STAY up- otherwise you just get to have an even bigger sugar roller coaster. You could also choose some sweet stuff that isn’t his favorite (juice that isn’t a variety that he is fond of, for instance) as the “medicine” for low blood sugar, as opposed to things that he likes, to break the connection between his sugar getting low, and getting to eat the things he wants to eat.
      Complex carbohydrates and proteins and healthy fats are the best for blood sugar levels, and whole fruits are better for diabetics than fruit juices- because of the fruits having fewer added sugars, and more fiber. Maybe exchange apple juice for apples; orange juice for orange slices, etc? Bananas will raise blood sugar pretty effectively too- they have some fairly simple sugars and a high sugar content. Feed your little boy a banana, for the sugar when it is on the low side… and then make whatever other food there is, include something new for him to try?

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  • Anonymous November 5,

    You are teaching your kids that their opinion doent matter by saying this food is yummy regardless if they like it or not. Being polite is one thing but Shame on you for teaching your kids to lie.

    Reply
  • Jessica B. November 17,

    How old were your children when you started enforcing these rules? My son is 4 and lives on maybe 10 items,mainly carbs. My main issue is that my husband is picky and doesn’t eat much variety and hates to hear our son cry then gives up. So I just have to figure out how to get him on board.

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  • Korinne Wiese November 19,

    I love this article! One thing that I would like to add is that we have found that sometimes letting choose their own serving size (within reason) and dinnerware helps alot. It helps them feel in control of something about meals.

    I absolutely H.A.T.E. it when the doctors say it is just a phase and will pass. We have proof in our family that it is a power play and not a phase. 2 of my sister-in-laws are ridiculously picky eaters (they will only eat about 10 types of food and they must be a certain brand and cooked just so) and the are 33 and 18 and it continues to get worse. Watching my younger sister-in-law grow up, we have seen how much of a handicap it can be. The two of them have to eat before they go visit people because they MIGHT not like the food and even then they will pack their own snacks. They have also been known to leave gatherings to go get their own food because they did not like what was being served.

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  • Amanda November 24,

    I love this advice. It gives me hope that if I keep at it, eventually my kids will learn to eat new things. The biggest thing that I struggle with is the fact that it is extremely physically and emotionally draining to deal with food tantrums 3 times a day, every single day! Which is why I give in as often as I do! Just gotta keep working on it I guess!

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  • megan December 1,

    I really want to do this but my daughter will literally gag and vomit when I force her to try new foods (including things she used to eat but now won’t). Any tips regarding that? Thx!

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  • jaz December 5,

    Can I send my husband to you for a while?! This is totally how I feel, but if I were to do this, he would just go in the kitchen and make some kind of macaroni or junk out of a box and leave a mess for me to clean up! :-/ We don’t have kids together, but he has a 9 year old daughter who lives with us. They lived with his parents before we got married bc he works a lot of nights and early mornings, and his mon prertty much ruined her on eating anything. She is the pickiest kid. Drives me crazy. She’ll say she doesn’t like something before she ever tries it, or shell make an awful face, pick off the tiniest possible crumb which doesnr even give her a taste and say she doesn’t like it. Like you, Id say “you eat what we eat”, but unfoetunately I’d have to fight with him more than her!

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  • Haley December 6,

    I try very hard to stick to these rules myself. However I have come across resistance from my son’s teachers. He is a late talker and they would all like to say he’s autistic but no diagnosis as of yet. I don’t think he is personally and well I’m the only one with him 24/7. The teachers think choices and option will facilitate speech and everyone looks at me like I’m a horrible parent when I tell them he only gets what I make him for dinner. He is so picky, no sensory issues with food he’s just plain picky. Does anyone have tips for nonverbal toddlers? I stick to my guns but I can’t break through with him!

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  • Cathy Brown December 7,

    Thank you for your wonderful advice! I have five wonderful blessings, one of whom is extremely picky. A few tips that have worked for us: 1) If someone complains about a food that is served, they get an extra portion. 2) They must always be thankful for the “good” food. This is not asking them to lie; the food is healthy, unspoiled, and safe to eat, so it is ‘good’ food. They don’t have to say they like something when they don’t. 3) Each child is allowed one “exception” – something they don’t ever have to eat. If that meal is served, they are permitted to prepare their own sandwich or leftovers. This does not apply when we are visiting others though. Two of my children have abandoned their exception because they’ve found it’s easier to eat it than make their own. 4) The children frequently help prepare some part of the meal; they see the work that goes into it and are more willing to want to eat the fruit of their labors. 5) Serve vegetables first. After those are eaten, the rest of the meal is served. Hunger makes the veggies easier to eat, especially when there have been no snacks for a couple of hours.

    I hope some of these tips will help someone. I still have a very picky eater and I’ll continue to try to show her how wonderful good food can be! Thank you for your terrific post.

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  • Gabrielle December 9,

    Hi, I was wondering at what age you feel you can start with these tactics? My son is only 14 months old but has a very limited “palate”. We offer him different things all the time and he either flat out refuses or puts one bite in his mouth and spits back out. I just worry that 14 months is too young and he won’t understand. Plus he’s kind of a peanut and so it’s really critical that he eats. I know I’m probably making textbook excuses and enabling him but back to the original question- what age?

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  • lindsay December 16,

    These are great tips, but I encourage people who haven’t had much luck to look into something called sensorial oral sequential. Some kids will starve themselves rather than try new foods, because they have sensorial issues or a psychological fear of new foods (or a conditioned response against foods that made them gag when they tried solid foods too early). It’s not picky eating–it’s a medical condition.

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  • Leah December 18,

    I was determined to have good eaters…children who would grow up loving healthy foods and a variety of things they have tried at least once in their lifetime! My strategy is simple. If they don’t eat the food they’ve been given at any given meal, they are allowed to leave the table after everyone else is finished eating. Then, they may not eat anything else until the food they didn’t eat before is gone. I have even packed up plates from other people’s homes and taken them home with us! Consistency is key. My kids know that if they don’t eat their food, they won’t get anything else until they do. If you have room for a cookie, you have room for the healthy stuff on your plate :-)

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  • mandy January 1,

    I, myself, am a pretty picky eater. So thank you! Maybe I can get my girls on board if we do this together. But I have to admit that I know some things will never be served at MY table.

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  • jen January 1,

    My first child ate baby food and then ate everything I ate. He never turned anything down. He was an only child, and he passed away when he was 11. Now I have an almost 5 YO & just turned 6 YO. They ate NO baby food. I made everything fresh and organic. I ground rice in quinoa for their cereals, roasted fresh veggies and fruits and a variety of meats. I puree’d everything fine at first, then mashed, then made them little toddler servings of soups and casseroles for in between meals. They would gladly pick up the bite sized meats and veggies and never refused anything! They have eaten fruits and veggies that I never tried until I made them for them! UNTIL>>> I sent them to daycare for about 1 1/2 years. Now, they team up and feed off each other’s overly dramatic refusal of EVERYTHING but spaghetti, mac n cheese, fish sticks, nuggets, fries, plain meat cut in chunks… and broccoli! Yep, hey love broccoli. That’s all the youngest would eat at Christmas dinner! My husband and I have removed all snack items. There are some hidden in a tote for times when they have been following the rules and eating what we eat, and we have to take a long drive, we will offer peanut butter crackers or something similar… They refuse almost everything we eat. Sometimes I can convince them that something is similar to something else, same ingredients, just made differently, and they will try it… but it’s usually a fiasco where you’d swear I was making them eat worms. I have resorted to ‘sneaky chef’ tactics to get nutrition into them… If I make pancakes or baked goods, you’d better believe there’s some hidden fruits and veggies in there! And no, I don’t see it as deceit, who gives someone an ingredient list with a muffin? So what if mine have seeds and nuts and fruit and veggies ground up in them? I’ve never gotten anything but raves over my muffins… up next? Burgers with veggies ground and mixed in. Until they eat them willingly, I will continue to mask them so that when we do have our own raised meat ground and cooked as burgers, they are getting some veggies too!

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  • Jackie Morris January 5,

    My kids both eat quite well, I started ‘finger food’ at about 9 months – cooked broccoli, bits of banana, bits of bread, cheese, whatever. Before that they ate home cooked food mushed up, which meant it always had a bit of texture. Eldest totally adventurous, youngest can be very fussy (wouldn’t eat pasta – surely everyone likes pasta!) but as long as they eat their veg we don’t stress too much, and I try and keep a mental tally of carbs, protein, sugar etc. to keep it balanced. Both mine used to sick up a lot, but we tried to see it as a positive (never going to choke with such a good gag relex) and it never upset them, so we just wiped it up and carried on. And if they don’t eat it, that’s cos they aren’t hungry, so we just take it way and that’s the end of mealtime. But kindly, you know, not as a punishment, just that’s the facts. Neither eat egg, though, despite bribes, shouting, etc etc. so now I just occasionally suggest it but don’t push it, cos we are all allowed not to like some food – I hate kidney, for example.

    Now they are 9 and 7 and the more adventurous one wants to try ‘grown up’ food (we do have a separate meal as they didn’t used to like chilli and we do, so now it’s seen as aspirational to try it). We regularly have joint meals, and I regularly don’t let them have have what they want at a restaurant but instead have what has more nutritional value. Which they moan about, but then they might get pudding. Though less and less likely these days, cos there is so much sugary stuff around I try to limit it to twice a day or so. Obviously all the caveats apply that my kids don’t have medical conditions etc. but are broadly doing OK on the eating front, and maybe they would’ve been like that anyway, but if any of this helps then I am pleased to have written it.

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  • Emily January 7,

    Great tips! I have 2 great eaters and we are very similar in our techniques! A comment on snacks that work for us – kids NEED snacks daily, but they don’t need treats. We started making this change in vocabulary from the very beginning. Now, when my kid asks for a snack, he knows that a yes means yogurt, a piece of fruit, a granola bar. Treats come in special occasions – ice cream for good grades, etcetera. We don’t even put that stuff in our home to tempt – if an occasion deserves a treat, celebrate it with a trip to the ice cream place or candy store. Also, to battle pre-dinner snacking, have the vegetable or fruit that you are putting with dinner finished first and they can start with that if they are too hungry to wait for the whole meal. Even of they have 1 other thing on their plate at mealtime, you know that the “snack” was a part of the meal anyway!
    Another idea is to cook with the kids – any involvement that my kids can get in the meal preparation makes them PROUD of the product and so much more willing to try it – because they made it, they won’t be quick to insult it. :)

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  • Anonymous January 9,

    wow! Well said! I will be trying this with our twin 2 year olds. They are the worst eaters. My oldest on the other hand love his veggies. Thank God!

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  • Zan January 9,

    The plain pasta sure sounds like my kids…………..I am tired of hearing, “I want pasta” for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Well, at least she eats a lot of veges, cucumbers, carrots, corn, even lettuce..so I guess I should not complain.

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  • Suzanne Huber January 9,

    My oldest, now 3, has had a distaste for solids since he started on them (from breast milk to solids). He would put food in his mouth, try it, and spit it out with the same “yuck” face I used to make as a picky eating child. He will eat breakfast, but most days he refuses what we serve for lunch or dinner. Day care has him try a variety of foods that they have in their kitchen, and he doesn’t like anything. For a week or two, he ate quesadillas. Now he won’t. He used to eat Top Ramen. That phase was about 6 months. Now he won’t. For a month, he loved peanut butter sandwiches. Now he won’t have anything to do with slices of bread. There are days he eats breakfast only, no snacks or anything. I once was at Costco. I saw a child younger than he in a stroller eating the pizza crust from his dad’s pizza. I remember thinking how happy I would be if he would try that. My doctor says he is healthy, and not to worry about it. I can’t get him to even try a bite of food. In the past, my husband has forced him to try something. What reassures me is the days when I test him. When he hasn’t eaten lunch and we are going to sit down for dinner, I offer him sweets and snacks. He won’t take them. That’s my comfort. If he won’t take the junk foods, I know he is simply not hungry, so I let it go. I now have a 14 month old son who eats EVERYTHING. They are complete opposites. I am hoping that little brother will be a model to our eldest.

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  • Amanda January 9,

    My step son was the pickiest of all. At the age of 6 his diet consisted of Mac and cheese, ramen noodles, rice and cheese, and pizza…but only chuck e cheese pizza. When his father and I married, my rules consisted of what you have listed above plus “if you don’t eat what is cooked, then u don’t eat”. 6 years later, he eats every vegetable (loves Brussels sprout)., Chinese food, seafood, tacos, spaghetti, and loves spiced foods. Thank you for allowing me to feel not like a terrible mom lol.

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  • Deanna January 9,

    Thank you so much for all this. I have an 8 year old son… picky eater and we’re working on trying new things and I’m hoping to implement what you’ve shared here. However, my biggest road block is that my son is also a juvenile diabetic and we have to keep close tabs on carbs, sugar and insulin. When his blood sugar is low, he gets sugar to bring him back up quickly. The one rule I wouldn’t be able to apply here is letting him go hungry, because he would die :( . Any suggestions?

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  • Annette Kraft January 10,

    This is an excellent guide to feeding our children and (hopefully) avoiding the picky eater syndrome. I will say that with my 2 oldest, I caved and catered all the time. They were picky eaters for sure – one still is, while the oldest has become much more adventurous. With my second two (there is a large age gap between the two oldest and the two youngest), I applied the theory some have already mentioned, I never fed them baby food, they ate what we ate. Since I started a small, at home, catering business when they were small, out meals became more diverse. We installed the 5 try rule (much like your 3 try), I would present something 5 different times, typically prepared different ways, and if they truly didn’t like it after the 5th try – we didn’t (and don’t) make them eat it. We have had pretty good success with this – our biggest exceptions have been kale (which neither I nor my husband care for either) and mushrooms for one of my girls. The other thing I try REALLY hard to do, is to get them involved in the shopping and preparation of meals. I have definitely found that if they help pick it out and help prepare it, they are far more likely to eat it. – There will be kids that none of this stuff works with, I have several friends with children who have sensory issues and food is a big battle for them, they also try not to cater, but in their case sometimes it is necessary to “give in”. – Thanks for the article Ruth.

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  • Michelle Brewer January 10,

    One thing I think we forget to teach children about is attitudes towards food. Consider this: when you see talk shows or intervention shows where the topic is obesity, at some point the conversation always turns to WHY is this person obese. Yes, sometimes they really are uneducated about good food choices, but usually there is something more going on. Like being an emotional eater, turning to food for comfort, eating unhealthy foods to reward themselves or to celebrate something. Food is just food, for the purpose of nourishing our bodies. This occurred to me when my first child was just under a year old, and I was chatting with a coworker boasting a bit about how I made all of my own baby food and introduced him to a wide variety. She had always struggled with weight and said the trouble for her started when she was young and her mom would promise ice cream after shopping as a reward for being good. So, in our home we never use food as a reward. We call treats, treats, but you don’t get one for being good. Its just a once in a while treat that’s ok in moderation as long as we are taking care of our bodies and eating well generally. The other advice we are given as adults is to eat several small meals

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  • Michelle Brewer January 10,

    So I think several healthy snacks throughout the day are fine, although not too close to dinner or right after. I think we should teach kids to eat until they’re full, and not just to eat a specific amount. We have never made seperate meals, but you gave some great ideas on how to undo that habit. The other big thing that I think has helped us is to not make a big deal about veggies in the first place. Don’t act like your child won’t like veggies or just assume that kids don’t . Don’t even mention them and certainly don’t give a lot of praise if you see a child eating veggies. We act like: why wouldn’t you eat them? When you single out veggies I think you you open up the idea that they are different, a possible future power struggle. I always figured there are kids in some cultures that eat scorpions as a delicacy, my kids can eat certainly eat peas without making a big deal of it. If they don’t like something on their plate I don’t call a lot of attention to it but I do serve it again so they get another opportunity. I don’t think they have to like everthing ( I don’t).

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  • SawyersMommy January 11,

    I have a 6 year old son that ate everything as a baby (baby food) but started choking and gagging once we moved up to chunkier baby foods. We ended up having to keep him on the smooth stuff for much longer than normal and eventually skipped the chunky baby foods and went straight to finger foods. He started refusing most foods, only eating very few items. We later found out he has Sensory Integration Dysfunction and can’t handle certain textures/tastes/smells, etc. So now we have a 6 year old who eats only bean and cheese burritos and crackers. He will not eat any fruits, vegetables, sweets…well basically anything else. His pediatrician told him that he is limited to one burrito per meal with no cheese unless he eats some kind of fruit or vegetable. He tried apple, got one small bite down with a lot of effort. Tried a second bite, started gagging and threw up. Tried green beans with basically the same result. Better luck with the banana. He actually ate a whole banana and got two burritos. This happened for two days and then he couldn’t stomach banana so we skipped a day. We tried orange and he couldn’t eat it, but he loved squeezing the juice into his mouth. I know it’s not actually the same as eating the fruit, but it’s something. I am going to keep trying like the author, but I’m really sick of cleaning up vomit at the dinner table (the silver lining is I’m losing weight because I can’t eat after that happens) LOL.

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    • erin January 19,

      is it a texture thing? beans, cheese, tortillas, bananas. all soft mild foods. mashed avocados with tortilla chips? or in the burrito? applesauce instead of apples? mashed sweet potato with butter? I wish you well! hope that maybe one of my ideas might work.

      Reply
  • F Williams January 13,

    You are absolutely correct with this. It is the way I was raised and it is the way we are raising our 3 girls. I had one of my girls who was born picky…about everything. At age 6, she is even coming around now with a desire to make healthy choices about food. She is certainly willing to eat a whole lot more than many of her peers.

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  • Sara January 16,

    Actually, just to give you a different perspective, there ARE children who will literally starve themselves. I have one. He is autistic, has sensory processing disorder, and has a feeding disorder. A feeding disorder is when a child is picky to the point that he or she refuses to eat or drink entirely. Even picky eaters will at least eat something. My child has a feeding tube because of this. It is a true medical problem, and usually goes hand-in-hand with other things. So this would not work with ALL children, as you say. From reading many of the comments on this post, especially from parents who have children with sensory problems and such, it seems that not all children will eat when you make them. It is not always as simple as it sounds. I am just happy when my child takes a bite of anything. I can’t imagine him eating an entire meal. We have had to have a lot of feeding therapy, and there are thousands of other children who need it as well. Anyway, just felt like that needed to be said!

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  • Anonymous January 18,

    Wow!!! This is exactly what we practice at home! It is even better since we home school now. Thanks for putting it out there for others!!! It is amazing how rude some children and adults can be.
    Thanks

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  • erin January 19,

    if your kids are used to an afternoon snack a nice alternative is just to put out some raw veggies, no dip. think broccoli, carrot sticks, celery, peppers etc. won’t ruin dinner, extra veggies in their diets.

    my kids are not allowed to say they don’t like it. if they are asked if they like it or not, they are allowed to say “it’s not my favorite”

    it takes a lot of patience. patience i don’t have most days. i just have to trust that if i keep powering through, i will end up with teenagers and adult children who have healthy ideas about food.

    they are allowed to have one food they don’t like and don’t have to eat. every other food they must take at least one thank you bite of every time. i don’t let them leave the table unless they have taken at least one bite of everything. can’t decide you don’t like it if you haven’t tried it.

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  • Rebecca Carter February 4,

    I like what you posted!! I have several picky eaters and I decided one day to just let them serve themselves with the rule that you have to have some of everything and eat whatever you take. I have had no complaints about food since! :)

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  • Summer February 5,

    Thank you so much for sharing! I am encouraged by the honesty and all the comments of others that have the same issues they are working through with their kiddos. It helps to know I’m not alone!

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  • Erin February 8,

    We’re still working on this with 3 children ages 8, 5 & 3. A few strategies we’ve found that work:
    We have one child who will try anything if he can’t see it (the one who is the most likely to say, “this looks gross”) Sometimes he needs to get over how it LOOKS and realize he likes how it TASTES We do “open your mouth and close your eyes and you will get a big surprise” for the first bite. I’m kind of the same way. If veggies are hidden in a tortilla, I’ll eat them, but I don’t want to look at them!
    I will often include fruit or a veggie I know they like, like carrot sticks or edamame. If they eat nothing else at least they got some vitamins and minerals.
    We also say you have to try a new food.
    My husband and I like our food spicier than the kids. The oldest is a super taster. If there is ANY spice, he’ll go running for a drink of water. Rather than make a separate meal, I’ll hold aside some parts of the meal, say some plain chicken or noodles. It’s really not any harder and we’re all eating the same thing. We do still make him try a bite of the entire thing. Kind of like pizza-he’s a plain cheese kid, so often if we make or have frozen pizza when we have very little time to eat, we’ll just do cheese and everyone else can add their toppings. It’s customized and respectful of their likes, but not a separate meal. Baked Potatoes and tacos are great for this as well.
    I make notes in my recipe books. I’ll ask, esp the oldest what his thoughts are when we try a new recipe. He’s allowed to say “it’s not my favorite” but not anything outright derogatory because the little ones pick up on that right away and won’t try it. Because he knows I make these notes, he’s started offering suggestions like, “maybe add a little more coconut” or “how about trying to add some broth because it was a little thick?”
    Get the kids in the kitchen and shopping with you! They are more likely to taste it if they cooked it or bought it. Esp the farmer’s markets in the summer.
    It’s still an ongoing battle, but these shifts have helped us a little and might help others out there.

    Reply
  • Kate February 9,

    Great tips – thank you. I think I possibly struggle with this tough approach because of my own picky eating habits as a kid. My mother was ruthless and strong willed. No junk, no juice, no cordial, no sweet biscuits or sugary cereal and meat with three veg or salad for dinner every single night. My packed lunch was always healthy and on the adventurous side. We were allowed some money to buy junk food from the school canteen once a year on our birthday. There was only water for us to drink apart from one cup of skim milk per day. Desert was buttermilk or yoghurt, never any real sweets. Still, I must have been even more stubborn because every day my dinner didn’t get eaten (I remember well the dinner time arguments) and every day my healthy lunch got tossed in the bin (usually when the teacher wasn’t looking). I rarely got sick but was extremely skinny and tiny for my age. My eating habits didn’t change until I grew up and left home. All through high school I never remember eating lunch at all and even as an adult I found it very easy to skip meals and survive on toast and coffee. Now, funnily enough, I have a picky eater of my own and need to do something to turn it around. I’ll definitely take on board some of these tips – just because they didn’t work so well for me doesn’t mean they won’t work for my own kids. I tend to compromise a lot and be sneaky with hiding some veg in there somewhere and cooking over and over again the few healthy foods they do eat. Lol, there must be hope.

    Reply
  • Stephanie February 11,

    I really needed this, especially today. Some changes are to be in order for my little ones very soon. Thank you!!

    Reply
  • Erin February 16,

    How young is too young? My daughter is 3 but already a nightmare when it comes to eating.

    Reply
  • Deana February 16,

    Two things really bug me about this post. First of all, you state that, “Amazingly enough, we have yet to find something that they haven’t absolutely loved after the third try, even when the first try resulted in tears.” Really? After three tries, they have “absolutely loved” every food you’ve ever asked them to try? I would imagine those are very unusual results. And secondly, you say you instruct your children to tell hosts, “Thank you for this yummy food!” What if they truly did not like the food? In my opinion, you could teach manners without sending a mixed message about honesty. Why make them say it’s yummy? Couldn’t they just be expected to politely thank the host for dinner? I really enjoy some of your posts, but sometimes (as with this one) I feel that control issues come into play.

    Reply
    • Anonymous February 21,

      Hi Ruth,
      I read your post today about kindness regarding online comments. I realize you likely have not/will not read my comment, but I just wanted to say I am sorry if my words in the above comment sound snarky. I truly didn’t mean any offense. It really bothers me when bloggers use exaggerated language or make claims that sound a little too good to be true. Your blog post may be completely honest, so I’m not judging there. I just want to point out that it’s not unreasonable for bloggers to be held accountable by their readers when their stories seem a little too perfect. And when they give advice that readers truly disagree with, it’s totally appropriate for a reader to respond in disagreement. But I agree with you that kindness and respect should always accompany those correspondences. :)

      Reply
  • Lea February 16,

    I have a child with Asperger’s & I am having trouble determining whether his resistance to certain foods is picky or Aspy! If he eats anything that doesn’t have the texture it should, like fish sticks that are too soft, he throws up. No fit, no complaints, just can’t keep it down. He eats mostly raw veggies, fruits & very little meat unless it’s chicken or turkey or fish. The issues are with soups, or pastas, & red meat. Rarely will he eat carbs so should I even worry? I get thumbs ups from parents in restaurants!

    Reply
    • Anonymous February 16,

      Is he a blood type A? Sounds like he may be…

      Reply
    • Brooke February 17,

      I think it is more than likely because your son has Asperger’s. I, too, have a child with Asperger’s. Although I make him try things, he is VERY picky. My other three are not. I didn’t anything differently with him. It’s the texture. He just can’t handle some things. He has enough other struggles that he has had to overcome and has do amazing. He’s a straight A student and although he’ll never be outgoing, he gets along with his peers now and ‘works well in groups.’ This was hard work!! So, even though I make him try things, he only has to have a tiny bit each time. The things that make him puke? We nix those. No red meat here, either. He loves pasta though!! :)

      Reply
  • Valerie February 19,

    Many times at our house I serve the same food but “deconstructed”. If we are having burritos I serve our 3 year old all the parts and he happily eats away! If I put it all together he comes unglued and does not “like it”! I have always refused to cook separate meals but will compromise with this!

    Reply
  • Deborah February 20,

    Thanks for your article… really helpful. I have 3 year old twins and they are both picky in choice of food, but my son will eat his meals most of the times without complaint. He is just resistant to trying new foods. My daughter on the other hand is really extreme picky eater. She eats her dinner in such small bites that she takes an hour to finish her food. an attempt to put a bigger spoonful in her mouth and she spits it out saying ‘Too much!”. is it too late for me to implement any of the changes you talked? i read that for kids who are problem eaters, the go to bed hungry method will not work… they will just go to bed hungry. Any perspective on this?

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup February 21,

      Dealing with a picky eater can be very difficult sometimes. As a parent you know your child best and sometimes it might be ok for her to go to bed without eating all the food on her dinner plate. Talk with your Doctor if you have concerns about her health due to her picky eating.

      Reply
  • Meredith February 22,

    How did you approach breakfast and lunch? A lot of this is what I’ve tried with my kids, but they simply go hungry at dinner then enjoy their breakfast of cereal, oatmeal, etc and lunch of sandwiches, then don’t eat dinner.

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup February 24,

      Adding new foods to your children’s current approved repertoire of favorites can be difficult but remember to take it one step at a time. Maybe on the week-ends plan a special breakfast or lunch menu. Have your children pick out new fruits and vegetables they might be interested in and then allow them (if appropriate) to help clean, chop and cook their new found food. You could also plan a night where you have breakfast for dinner.

      Reply
  • Megan February 23,

    I agreed with most of this entry. I really like the rules that you’ve established and they sound like they’ve been effective. I plan to implement these with my children. There were a few things that I didn’t totally agree with, which came in at the hypothetical conversation at the end. I’m concerned it isn’t the best to teach children that they have to clean their plate. In my opinion I think a better alternative is to teach them to eat until they’re full, even if they don’t like it. Children need to learn self-control when it comes to food and they should be able to sense when they’ve had enough. I think it’s awesome that you’ve focused on their manners, but was wondering if it would be better to teach them to say, “Thank you for this food.” instead of “Thank you for this yummy food.” even when they don’t think it’s yummy. This way they can be truthful and still polite. Also, I’m curious if you let there be room for actually really not liking something. For example, after their third try (which is a great rule) and they still don’t like it, do you still make them eat it? I just ask because there are certain foods that I don’t like and I think that it’s okay. I don’t enjoy most vegetables, but I force myself to eat them because they’re good for me, but there are a couple that I really can’t stand and I think it’s okay to not eat them. I would however eat these things if they were served to me at another person’s home. Thank you for sharing your ideas, I think it sounds like a well-rounded plan. I hope that this doesn’t come off as being overly critical, that wasn’t my intention, I just thought I’d give my feedback and I’d love to hear if you had any responses.

    Reply
  • Vicky February 24,

    While there are some great ideas in there, there are some that I’m not so sure I agree with. It has been proven that having small snacks are actually good, just not an hour before dinner. My kids come home from school ravenous and waiting from lunch to dinner just doesn’t work. They are actually more likely to eat dinner if they’ve had a snack, always healthy though, otherwise they have gotten so hungry and so grumpy they do not want to eat what has been put in front of them. We eat a snack when they get home from school at 2:45, and eat dinner around 6:00. There are no snacks after 3:30. Also, and this may sound strange, I wouldn’t tell my kids to say “thank you for the yummy food”. It wasn’t yummy; it was gross. Don’t lie, just say “thank you for dinner” and leave it at that. Be grateful (still showing good manners) for the food, but don’t lie. (Let’s not encourage grandma to make that nasty meal again next time you visit!)
    When we’re out someplace with new food, I try to limit the amount of food on their plates, this way it is not as obvious if they only eat a couple of bites of their meal. I don’t, and I see that you don’t either, believe in the clean plate club. Some relatives or friends do not think this way, I figure they can always have seconds.

    Reply
  • Anonymous February 27,

    It is so refreshing to read about parents that set healthy boundaries and stick to them! As a preschool teacher, I am constantly dealing with parents that allow their children to be in full control, and then wonder why their children constantly misbehave and don’t listen. Way to go Ruth!

    Reply
  • Sarah March 9,

    Sick to death of hearing about parents forcing their kids to eat stuff they don’t like. Why don’t they make an effort to cook meals their children enjoy. Kids can have discerning pallets too. Would an adult be consistently forced to eat food it doesn’t like?? Of course not, so why can’t kids be afforded the same courtesy. No wonder society is full of people with eating disorders!

    Reply
    • AR August 13,

      Yes! Yes! Yes! Eating Disorders! This article does not address eating disorders. Don’t get your feeding information from blogs people! I am sure she means well, but there are dietitians who know a lot more than moms writing blogs. I have had an eating disorder for twenty years and am finally getting help. The information my therapist and dietitian are giving me is completely different from what is commonly given in this country.

      Reply
  • L H April 1,

    Loved this article!!! Thank you so much for sharing!

    Reply
  • Anonymous April 4,

    Thank you for posting these suggestions. My brother is muuuuuuch younger than me and I watched my parents give into his picky eating for years. He’s 18 now and still says “I don’t like this it’s gross” it’s embarrassing. Waiting till your child is older and can be reasonable doesn’t work because the older they get the better they become at convincing you they’re too scared to eat it.

    Reply
  • Anonymous April 26,

    Great tips! I landed on a phrase that works like magic in avoiding the “I’m hungry” 30 minutes (or less) after finishing a meal. I tell my three year old when he’s served an average sized meal for him “Finish that or no snacks later” if he starts to get up and walk away before finishing. It’s not a threat, just a choice. If he’s not hungry, that’s fine, he leaves the table to play. But if he hears it phrased that way, he can finish what he needs so that he isn’t asking for food a half hour later. Sounds a little counterintuitive but it works. (And the snacks later are only fruit, nuts or veggie squeeze packs).

    Reply
  • G. G. Lori April 28,

    Great post! My first son (now 34) was an incredibly picky eater as a kid, and when his younger brother started refusing food because of him, I knew it was time to work to get this under control! We never made separate meals, nor did we have chicken nuggets in our house EVER, but one thing that worked for us was that they could remove one kind of food from their plate and then must eat the rest. I cooked a lot of casseroles ( we were pretty broke!) so there were a variety of veggies in each meal…. So one kid would remove all mushroom, another all zucchini, and the youngest hated onions — he would pick out every single diced onion off hiss plate! I started slicing them so he wouldn’t take an hour to accomplish this :-). This taught them that I respected their serious dislikes (mine are asparagus and Brusselsprouts and huband’s was raw tomatoes) and to this day the oldest kid won’t eat mushrooms and the second moves zucchini to the side. The youngest got over the onion thing, luckily.

    We did offer veggie or fruit snacks a couple hours before dinner but it didn’t seem to cause issues with hunger for dinner. And we always ate together at the dinner table together and we all stayed at the table until we were all finished… Gentle Peer pressure to finish up so the others could play or read worked too! And I always gave my kids the foods we were eating when they were babies… They could finger paint with them, or separate them into piles or whatever, but some did make it into their mouths and that is how we introduced solids. The youngest stole the spoon from the retried beans for our make-your-own taco dinner at five months and that was how he started solids… Months younger than his brothers.

    And parents need to clean up their eating habits, too. All my kids are married to extremely picky women and now the grandkids are mimicking Mom and are extremely picky! When they’re at our house, that doesn’t fly and they will eat other stuff after a while. Good luck to all of you! Just keep trying different ideas ( give ach at least a full week before you scrap it) and don’t give up! It’s worth all your effort.

    Reply
  • Bronwyn Joy May 4,

    Oh! And can I add one more? Water only! No juice, milk, etc.

    Two more: dropping desserts. We used to have battles when we served dessert. So we stopped. You’re either hungry and you eat, or you’re not and you don’t. No negotiating over what and how much and BUT I DON’T LIKE IT (except the “must try a bit” rule).

    I think we often underestimate how much a normal appetite can vary from one meal to the next. I know sometimes I’m just not hungry at lunch (dinner/breakfast/etc) so I might eat barely anything (or even nothing) and happily go through til the next meal. Our kids must be the same and it’s too easy to panic about it.

    Reply
  • Greg May 27,

    Ruth – What age did you start these 5 tips with your children? I have 21 month old that won’t try any new foods. He only seems to like bread/carb based products and won’t touch fruit or vegetables. I’d like to try your suggestions, but have two main questions. 1. Do you remove all options? If my son does not eat a meal, that’s it? 2. How long should I allow him to go before offering him food that he likes? I’m concerned if he goes multiple days without eating what we offer him for meals. Looking forward to your response.

    Reply
  • Jillian June 11,

    What about husbands that refuse to eat vegetables? Mine has an extremely limited taste palate…and includes only pickles, corn on the cob, and the occasional apple as the only fruits and veggies he will touch!
    He is the pickiest person I know, and lives off burgers, pizza, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets for 80-90% of meals! HELP!!! I know this is unhealthy and it worries me. It also prevents me from making home cooked meals, and influences my negative eating habits.
    Suggestions please! He absolutely refuses to try new foods!

    Reply
  • Lonna July 10,

    Ugh. These are great ideas, but not plausible when your kid is underweight. Bad habits beget bad habits, but the bottom line is he must get calories. It’s a catch 22. I feel so stuck. :(

    Reply
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  • ashley August 7,

    I have used the moto “you get what you get anf you don’t throw a fit” in our house since day one. My 7 year old does have some foods she still won’t eat, but for the most part, she eats mostly everything we put in front of her! Thanks for the post though! With baby #2 on the way, its a good reminder!

    Reply
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