Kids who are picky eaters

>>You make a lot of interesting and exotic foods. Do your kids eat all of it, or are they picky eaters? What is your policy in terms of if kids don’t like a certain food?  Or if they’re not picky eaters, how do you ensure that?<<

Yes, my kids eat what I make.  I don’t see any reason they shouldn’t!  I try to make foods that my kids will enjoy, and they have the ability to enjoy a wide variety of foods, so that makes it easier to make foods they like!  None of them are picky eaters at all and it’s not because they were born with a genetic tendency to eat what is put on the table. :)

The reason they have the ability to enjoy so many foods is because they’ve been given the opportunity on a regular basis without any emotional overtones attached to their eating habits.  I remember years ago a good friend used to always tell me how picky her children were, and how ‘lucky’ I was that my kids weren’t picky.  One day she was at our house and since it was getting late for our young children, I served an early dinner for all of them.  It was egg pancakes, something my kids always enjoyed and her ‘picky’ four or five year old daughter was gobbling it up.  My friend started exclaiming to me, with her daughter sitting right there, “I can’t believe she’s eating this!  She never eats anything.  She’s so picky, I can’t get her to eat anything.  I can’t believe it!”  And right on cue, her daughter suddenly stopped eating and told her mother she didn’t like it.  It was so obvious that the problem wasn’t the child or the way she ate, but her mother paying too much attention to it; the child got a lot of attention as well as a feeling of power because of her ‘pickiness’.

Here’s my general approach to food: Don’t make a big deal of it and neither will they.  Food is just food.  Kids learn very quickly when the mother has a lot of emotion invested in their eating habits.  I serve the food, and if they’re hungry, they’ll eat.  I rarely insist on them eating if they don’t feel like it.  (They do have to sit at the table with everyone, whether they’re choosing to eat or not, since mealtime isn’t about just the food; it’s a time for family togetherness and connection.)  If they don’t want what I’m serving (and don’t think that they absolutely love every single dish I make – nope!), that’s fine with me.  We have three meals a day and if they’re not hungry right at that moment, then they can eat when the next meal comes along.  I don’t make a second dinner for someone who doesn’t want what everyone else is having, and they don’t have the alternative of making themselves a sandwich or eating a bowl of cereal.  What I serve is what the choice is.

Does that sound harsh? I don’t think it is. It’s a simple biological reality – the body gives a person signals as to when to eat.  Hunger is the best spice.  :)  If they don’t feel like eating, I understand that’s not what their body needs right then.  I don’t like every food, and I don’t expect them to. I don’t put food on my children’s plates except when they’re small – we put out serving bowls in the center of the table and everyone takes as much or as little as they want.  I’ve sometimes suggested that they take just a small amount of something new that they’re not sure they’ll like.  I don’t insist they finish everything on their plates, but I also want them to learn not to be wasteful, so I don’t want them to heap their plates full and then end up throwing most of it away.

I categorized this under frugal strategies because the willingness to eat a wide variety of foods means you can utilize whatever ingredients are affordable at that time, without worrying that someone will turn up their nose at it.  I so often heard people say they could never cook like I do because their families are so picky that they wouldn’t eat beans, or they have to have meat every night.  Picky children weren’t created in a vacuum and it’s a situation that can be changed.


20 thoughts on “Kids who are picky eaters

  1. Your kids aren’t allowed to make themselves anything at all? Not even the older ones? I can’t imagine a teenager being forbidden to make a sandwich or cook something for themselves.

  2. I totally agree with you and have the same attitude regarding food.
    My 2 year old son eats ANYHING! Beans, veggies, grapes, etc. I don’t think I ever made a food that he didn’t like. (Ok, he actually doesnt like straight undiluted whole grain techina, but when Abba is eating some with his cereal, even though my son says he doesn’t like it he insists on sharing Abba’s bowl- guess he doesnt dislike it that much. And he doesnt care for hot peppers.)
    I just had guests for shabbos and these guests were shocked that my son was crying for more cabbage; they said “Which 2 year old asks for cabbage? They ask for candies and treats.”
    I firmly believe that the reason my son is not a picky eater at all is because of the attitude I have towards food in the house.
    I never fed him with a spoon. I let him feed himself solids from the time he was old enough to hold things and sit up in a high chair. It never was me forcing him to eat; food never became a power struggle. I put out food; if he wanted it, he ate it.
    Same goes for now. I never force him to eat anything. I make it available, and if he’s hungry, he eats.
    He doesnt know that he “isnt supposed to like beans”. 😛 He loves beans, any kind really. (Even likes to eat them raw. ;))
    People tell me “Oh, he’s only not picky now. But once he is older and goes to gan, trust me, he’ll become a picky eater.” I think not. A- because i’m gonna homeschool iy’h. 😛 And B- because i think attitude in the house makes much more of a difference than peer pressure when it comes to this.

    And I like what you said about letting kids serve themselves. I think parents do a disservice to their kids when they serve them, force them to eat the food even if they don’t care for it, and encourage kids to be members of the “clean plate club”. That just teaches your body to ignore its hunger and satiation signs, and makes for eating disorders, like overeating and undereating issues.
    Teach kids that you take as much as you plan on eating, that bal tashchis is an aveira, but don’t force them to eat if they’re not hungry.
    I agree with having everyone sit at the table, even if “they’re not hungry” because family time is important even if you’re not hungry.
    And I agree, the kitchen isn’t a restaurant. Deciding “I want cereal or a sandwich instead” is not an option.

    I plan on doing two things differently though to what you said.
    I’ll let each kid pick one food they don’t care for, and i’ll try to limit making that, but not promise i’ll never make it. Like if my son says he doesnt like a certain red lentil dish, i’ll try not to make it a daily dish, but can’t promise I won’t. I’ll just try to take that into consideration when i plan my menus. But they’re only allowed to have ONE thing on that list. If they want to add something else to the list, the first food comes off the list.
    Second thing i plan on doing different is- if a kid takes too much food even though he was warned not to, and then its too much for him to finish, i’ll have that kid eat that at the next meal, to teach the kid that food isnt something we waste. Not to force them to finish it at that meal when they’re not hungry, but to teach the kids to take a little at a time and not “eat with your eyes instead of your stomach” and be a little more careful the next time.

    Do you agree with doing any of those two things?
    I’m inexperienced with this, and if you think those arent good ideas for whatever reasons, i’d love to hear why.

  3. Masha – Welcome! I just read your comment to my dd13 and she burst out laughing. Did you just start reading my blog? Because if you’ve been reading for a while you’d know that my kids do the bulk of the cooking in the house, and also know that making things ‘forbidden’ isn’t my approach in chinuch.

    The kids have input into the planning of the weekly menu, but they’re not usually sitting with me when I do it. Sometimes it happens later in the week that I’m planning to make a particular dish and they ask me if I could make something else, and I’m open to changing the plan. But once the food is made, everyone is expected to eat it. Yes, even teenagers, and yes, even me and dh. Lunch is our most flexible meal, and I’m generally fine with whatever they want to make, as long as we have the ingredients for it!

  4. Mamamoomoo – I wouldn’t do either of the things you suggested. The first one is logistically too complicated, and I find things run more smoothly when I keep them as simple as possible. If each child had one preferred ingredient to avoid, and there are nine children who can choose, it would start getting very hard to find a recipe that didn’t call for any of those things!

    Regarding your second point – to me that’s turning food into a punishment. Eating should be a pleasant experience, not a chore and time for discipline. When I was a kid, I remember sitting for a long time at the table and not being allowed to leave until I was done, and I also remember being served my leftovers the next morning. I only remember each of those things happening once, but it’s not a nice memory. If something isn’t palatable warm, is it going to be better cold? My kids do generally eat all their food but sometimes small amounts are leftover and wasted – ds3 in particular is at the stage of not having any concept of how much he can actually eat, so we try to help him moderate his servings. But I understand that kids will sometimes not like something and though I don’t want them to waste food or make taking food they’re not going to eat a habit, I won’t force them to finish. The chumash says that when the Jews packed for their travels the food was according to the needs of little children, and Rashi comments that the nature of little children is to waste food so they took more than they technically needed (sorry, no time to look up exactly where this was). So it’s normal for small children to waste food, but as they get older you can gently direct them and guide them as far as appropriate helping sizes.

  5. Hi Aviva. I have been reading for a while and really enjoying your blog. To clarify, what I meant was, suppose for some reason someone doesn’t want is prepared that day (maybe they have a stomach ache and want something really bland, for example). Can they make an individual dish for themselves?
    Thanks for sharing with us about how you run your household!

  6. Re: eating at the next meal. I remember having to eat my leftover rice krispies in milk later on when it was even mushier at 4 or 5. It was disgusting. That’s partially why I didn’t finish it to begin with — I couldn’t stand the mushiness. I’m not really all for that. I do tell my children though that if they aren’t finishing something they asked for (that I know they like — e.g. a peach) that means they aren’t hungry and can’t ask for a different snack or what not…this is basically only an issue at their grandparents’ house when they see all these foods that appeal to them, but they don’t know how to limit themselves to their appetite. I have no interest in feeding them 1 bite of everything, so I ask them to choose what they want for lunch, and what they want for snack, and that way we don’t end up eating the whole day long.

    My kids also eat basically anything because I never forced them to eat what I felt like they should. I never bought into the baby food market, and my kids have enjoyed eating what adults eat from when they started solids…my son at 9 months was eating a meal of cauliflower and salmon at my parents’ house I remember! The one exception is texture — my sensitive son doesn’t care for very smooth textures (well, except for in ice cream :)) — no yogurt, for example. He once wanted pudding since he saw others were eating it, but I knew he wouldn’t like it because of the texture, so I decided for him it was worth it to get one to show that he doesn’t need to have what others have. Sure enough, he tried it, didn’t like it, and from now on calls it “junk” 😛 There are a few things here and there each boy doesn’t care for, but it’s usually ok in the way I make meals. For instance, my older son used to like broccoli but stopped (I think it’s a mushiness issue again) so in last night’s stir fry, I just didn’t take it out of the pan to serve him. My baby on the other hand ate everything I gave her (rice, pepper, broccoli, green beans, onions, chicken, walnuts, and whatever else I forgot about). She’s only 13 months old, eating solids for less than 5 months, but she eats how we eat because that is how she learned to eat. I did spoon feed her, unlike mamamoo’s philosophy, because we were outside and I had no tray for her 😉 Inside, in her highchair, I prefer not to spoonfeed her so I have time to eat for myself, but my toddler spoonfeeds her of his own initiative (he’s a cute one). Nevertheless, I watch her cues, and if she’s shaking her head because she doesn’t want something (typically due to not being hungry more than taste preferences), I don’t force her. I don’t think there is one method that needs to be done, as long as the bottom line is not making food an issue. No point in battling it. Kids will eat.

    My soapbox: homeschooling is not for me, at least not at this point. Orientation was today. Lunch should be healthy. Nice. Snack is social time. Sometimes a junkier, “cooler” snack is better socially. WHAT?! I’m sorry, but I have no interest in giving my son a fruit roll up because of peer pressure. No, I don’t have to give him tomato slices (her example), but a peach diced up is a treat for him (usually he eats it whole)…We’ll see how long my system lasts. I don’t mind making him muffins if I can so he can eat something “noshy” without sacrificing my values in filling up his appetite with something worth it. But I don’t want to get in the habit of needing to when I can’t promise to keep up with it…Sigh. The other thing that irritated me is that they serve milk. Great. I let him have about 10 ounces a day total and this is where he’ll get it. But then the teacher mentioned they have white milk and chocolate milk. My son does fine on white milk, but I have a feeling school is going to ruin that for him :(

  7. Aviva, good point about the leftovers. Perhaps it would be a better idea to just suggest “There is more in the pot. If you want more later, i’ll make sure to set some aside for you for later, but no need to take it all at once.”
    And I would never serve leftover cereal. UCH!!! Mushy cereal is the one food i actually cannot stand! (Fortunately for me, my husband prefers mushy cereal, so if my cereal gets mushy, he eats it up gladly!)
    Nor would I give them the food cold. I meant reheated, of course. But perhaps what ln said is best. No asking for something else if you didnt first finish what you took. But not the next meal. Perhaps at a snack if you didnt listen and took more than was suggested, you can eat the leftovers instead of something snacky. But not the next meal.
    I’m still trying to perfect my shita towards food. I just really dont want to waste, but i don’t want food to be a battle either.
    Gotta find the proper balance, really…

  8. We also don’t let the kids take more until they’ve finished what they took. That eliminates a lot of the problem. They know there’s BH plenty of food when they want it, but the time to eat is at mealtime.

    Most of parenting is about finding balance. I think a parent should be cautious about predetermining a shita – it’s too easy to get stuck on an approach just because in advance we’ve determined that’s how everything has to be handled.

  9. I run my mealtime very similar to yours, and I notice over time my oldest who was much more particular when he was younger now has a much better appetite. However, I do think that when raising children there are 2 components nature and nurture. My daughter age 2, is extremely particular, and being that she doesn’t talk much, does make a huge deal over everything including food. I think it is a sensory issue as well as a strong willed character of hers. So it may be that in your family your children’s nature is more easy going etc. and as a result mealtime is easier. Not all parents whose children are particular is it through fault of their own.

    1. Hi, Yehudis – welcome and thanks for your comment! I agree that kids are all born with their own unique natures and tendencies. When talking about any aspect of parenting, it’s never about blame but looking for what we can do that will be most effective given whatever circumstances we’re dealing with.

      As an aside, I’ve been told many times that my kids are the way they are because they all were born easy/’good’ kids. As any parent of several children will agree, the likelihood of having nine children who are all placid and easy going is very unlikely. So I do have to comment here that people tend to undervalue the role of nurture.

  10. Hi Aviva. I know this post was from last year, but I’ve been slowly trying to read through your archives, and this is what I’m up to.

    Do you have any advice on how to go from picky eating/food battles to more of what you described? Just stop telling them that they have to eat dinner when they say they don’t like it?

    My main concern is my 9yo daughter. She doesn’t seem to eat much, and what she will eat is definitely not on the healthier side. She’s been having a lot of health problems (mono, strep – the ped wants to take out her tonsils since she gets it so often, unidentified stomachaches and headaches).

    I’ve been paying attention (I think) to what you’ve written about whole fats, etc., and have started buying whole dairy products. I already buy whole wheat bread, pasta, etc., although not all snacks are whole wheat. Today I bought coconut oil, coconut milk and shredded coconut. Now I just have to use them in a way that she’ll eat it. When it comes to veggies, though, the only ones she’ll eat are cucumbers and baby carrots.

    I try serving healthy options. We insist on at least one or two bites, but she often refuses after barely letting her tongue touch the food. When we tell her that she can’t make anything else for dinner (she already know this), she basically says, oh, well. She gets home from school at 4:15, and has a snack, usually not that large. But I think that it probably fills her up enough to not care about missing dinner at 6:00.

    The only think I can think of is to try to have dinner ready when she comes home (which is not easy since I have an almost 1yo and a 2yo at home with me). Then I can tell her, okay, this is dinner. Eat it now, and you can have a snack later when we all eat dinner. Otherwise, you can eat it with us, or go hungry.

    The problem with this is that my 11yo son has the opposite problem. He is slightly overweight. If dinner is ready when he gets home from school, then he’ll happily eat it then. But then he’ll want to eat it again when we have our family dinner. I know this because when I’ve mentioned this suggestion before, he asked if he’d be able to eat what’s for dinner again later with Tatty. Which is why I’ve veered away from this option.

    I know that if my meals were healthy enough, that wouldn’t matter, but I need to work in changes to our menu slowly. (Btw, ds11 loves the veggie burgers that I make from your recipe for veggie meatloaf. One of the comments was a suggestion to wrap it in parchment paper in a loaf/roll before baking, and then slice it into burgers.)

    Just to complicate things further, I am very, very limited in what I can eat because my nursing baby is sensitive to a lot of foods. This means that I can’t usually eat whatever I’ve made for dinner for everyone else. (No dairy, chicken, turkey (I don’t eat red meat), orange veggies, cucumbers, oatmeal, corn, chick peas, etc., etc.) So she sees me not only not eating what I made for dinner, but then eating something else that she would prefer – bagels, pasta, egg salad, tuna.

    I know she need a healthier diet to help boost her immune system, but I’m stumped on how to do it without boosting the food battles instead of diminishing them. Any suggestions?


    1. Hi, Mayira, welcome!

      If your daughter isn’t hungry at dinner, you have two choices: a) don’t insist she eat, but make sure the snack she has when she comes in is a solid protein/fat mix, something that will feed her brain and body, or b) what you suggested, not give her a snack when she comes in. As far as your son, carbohydrates are easily overeaten – the brain doesn’t register it’s full until too much has been ingested – so I’d suggest minimizing the pastas, breads, etc, and instead serving more proteins and fats. When a person eats enough fat, it turns off the ‘hungry’ button in the brain. So give him a good snack like what your daughter has (look for grain-free recipes in my archive to get some ideas), and then have dinner for everyone at the regular time.

      As far as you eating different food than everyone else, you can tell her that Mommy needs to eat something different and leave it at that. You don’t have to explain and justify yourself. But if you can eat foods that are as similar as possible to the family, it will make life easier for you! The attitude to take towards food is to be matter of fact, and trust that if they’re hungry, they’ll eat. If all they have to choose from is good food, they’ll eat good food! If they can wait until snack time or lunch for something they consider better, then they will. So minimize the temptation to make poor food choices by making all of the choices the best that you can.

      Lots of luck!

  11. Every time I read something like “if they’re hungry, they’ll eat'” I think, you haven’t met my 14yr old. I have ten kids and some of them are picky eaters and some of them are not. I was (and still am but to a lesser extent) a picky eater and my husband was not, and I truly believe some of it is genetic. My 14yr old daughter is the hardest to feed because she would truly starve before eating certain foods. I think we all have foods we like, foods we don’t especially care for but will eat anyway and foods we would have to be starving to contemplate eating. She just has far too many foods in that last category. I’m sure there must be a sensory component, but in the end, if I don’t let her eat something different from the family, she’ll go hungry, and often.

    I’m glad your methods work for your family. I don’t think they would work for mine.

    1. What I wrote is based on my experience with healthy children. Obviously if someone has a medical concern they need to take that into account. For example, I’d never say that if someone has a child who is celiac that they should eat grains or gluten just because that’s what you’re making for everyone else!

      I have a couple of friends who sound just like you described your fourteen year old daughter, and I know what you mean. In this situation, I wonder if there’s a gut dysbiosis issue or something else at the root of it. I really think that the human body has an inherent desire to keep itself alive so if a person isn’t eating enough to do that, then something is wrong. You’re probably right that part of it is genetic, but it might be the core issue underneath that is passing down to the child that causes the sensitivity.

      I know that a lot of people have sensory issues that make eating an issue for them – they’re very sensitive to textures, flavors – and I would look for the core way to address those sensory concerns.

      Also, once a person reaches a point of not eating so much, they lose their desire to eat. They can be starving and literally not want anything because the body shuts down the appetite message.

      The human body is complex and fascinating and there’s no one size fits all answer to everything. But what I wrote is how I’ve encouraged my children to develop more adventurous palates. :)

  12. My question is: I have an older daughter who is an amazing eater, to a fault. She wants to eat all the time, asks for seconds, or even thirds. She eats when she bored, playing, walking by the fridge, and basically every second of the day. We don’t really know how to limit her eating or how to say no. Our younger daughter won’t touch a thing on her plate. She could go days without eating. She just plan doesn’t think about food. I love your idea of serving platters but then my question becomes, how do I stop my older one from over eating all of the good food and bad? If I were to serve steak, a simple pasta dish, and a veggies…. My oldest would eat all of the pasta, a little steak and a few veggies. My youngest would eat pasta and that’s it. How do you become comfortable with them eating like this? It stresses me out just to think about it. Any suggestions?

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