What to Do With Picky Eaters

Picky Eaters


“Mama, I don’t want to try that.”

“Why can’t I have a hot dog?”

Grrrr…my parents can start laughing now – I managed to birth two picky eaters. It’s payback time for all of the foods I wouldn’t eat, I guess.

I’ve run into parents whose children will eat just about anything set in front of them. I cannot imagine that reality. Once when visiting San Francisco we took our niece and youngest nephew out for dinner. I stared as my then eight-year-old nephew ordered crab cakes. When asked if he wanted fries as a side he asked for steamed broccoli instead.

I just sat there and gaped at him, absolutely convinced the boy was an alien. He ate every bite of his crab cakes, by the way, and polished off all of the broccoli. Little weirdo. Neither his uncle or I have ever forgotten that. He was the exception to the rule.

Our daughter, however, is not as easy to feed.

Beans? No way. (this includes green beans)

Salad? Absolutely not.

Stir fry? Only if she gets to drown it in soy sauce.

Italian food? Forget it.

Her one redeeming quality is that she loves fruit. So I feed her a lot of fruit. Usually two different kinds with each meal. And I insist, absolute insist that she try a bite of the food she has pronounced “icky,” usually before she ever tries it.

A few weeks ago, my mom spent much of the weekend with us while her car was being worked on. I made a recipe I had been jonesing for – Old Settler’s Beans – and Emily threw the loudest and most ridiculous fit I have ever seen over our one-bite rule. Crying, yelling, it was unreal.

I am sure it had something to do with her available audience – having her grandmother there increased her chances (at least in her mind) that we would fold, give up having her try it, and let her eat what she wanted.


We stuck to our guns.

My mom took a very long smoke break outside and I joined her – we could hear Emily alternating between angry wails and sad ballyhooing inside. Nothing worked and eventually she took a bite – telling us how horribly, horribly awful it was for the next half hour.


It is moments like this when it becomes clear that it is time to take it to the next level…

Coming soon – the 3-bite rule

A big thank you to Victoria for her suggestion on this. I’m definitely implementing the 3-bite rule from now on.

Emily was talking, I’m sure of it. I could see her lips moving and a telltale pout, but all I could hear was whine, whine, whine. She had recently amped up her “just take one bite” resistance.

“I tried that last week.”

“I’ve had that and I don’t like it!”

“It smells bad.”

And on and on and on.

My daughter is a sweet, thoughtful, and kind girl. Except at the dinner table. Enter in a food she doesn’t like, or doesn’t think she will like and it is no holds barred, gloves off, bare knuckle fighting.

I glared at her and said, “You know, you are getting the three-bite rule soon. It starts on your birthday.” I then went back to eating as she stared at me, processing what I had just said.

What?!” Her voice held a particularly outraged tone to it.

“Yep, you are growing up, and with growing up come more responsibilities, and freedoms, and our expectations for you change as well.” I said, her dad nodded right along with me, “So effective October 4th, you will be expected to take three bites of a food before you refuse to eat it.”

She looked as if she was going to mutiny. Ah…happy days.

Note: We have already started requiring this, but we don’t actually say take three bites. She just ends up taking that many.

Encouraging truth? Or not?

I have noticed that Emily sometimes tells us she likes something when she really doesn’t. This has led to frustration for all. If I ask if she likes a particular meal, and she says yes, then I’m going to expect her to eat the food.

I realized two things from this:

  • Emily tells us she likes something to be nice
  • Emily tells us she likes something because she’s worried we will react negatively if she says she does not like it

I brought this up to my husband and suggested that we really need to have some consistency…of the positive kind. It can be frustrating when you have a picky eater. And we both tend to snap at her when she tells us she doesn’t like the food in front of her.

Kind of a Catch-22, don’t you think?

“Tell us the truth…why did you have to tell us the truth!?”

So at this point I’m trying to encourage honesty and tact – at the same time. If she is tired, or in a bad mood (rare, but it happens) there isn’t much tact involved. But for the most part, we are trying to get it to a basic…

“I’ve tried it and I’m sorry, I just don’t like it.”

Good enough, kid, good enough.

Progressing to the 5-bite rule

Our friend Victoria commented that at some point after establishing the 3-bite rule in their house with their eldest, it progressed to the 5-bite rule. “Now Zach eats just about everything.”

I’m going to give it a year, maybe two. If the pickiness doesn’t naturally go away with the 3-bite rule, then I may have to push a 5-bite rule. My thought on this is not punitive – but instead firmly based in reality. There will be times and situations when having more tolerant tastebuds will be necessary. Also, she’s little, so five bites is a heck of a lot for that little stomach. It means less worrying over whether or not she is getting balanced nutrition.

Secretly (well, not so secretly now!) I yearn for my daughter to be like her cousin Morgan, now 17. I don’t think Morgan has ever eaten at a fast food restaurant – at least when I first met him he looked horrified at the thought of actually consuming something they euphemistically call food at one of the big fast-food chains.

Now if I could only get Emily to like avocados and artichokes…


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