The Control Freak’s Guide to picky eating kids

Though it pains me to admit: after having three children, I’ve learned that I can not really control what a child will and won’t eat. But I do have influence over the options that are available, and so I focus on that. At the end of this post, I will share my battle-tested strategies for dealing with picky eating children.


Before I try to boss you around, I want to share my picky eating credentials. Kid 1 was a pretty good eater and we were extremely neurotic, dedicated first-time parents (not that there’s anything wrong with that), hell-bent on getting him to eat every bite blob of food on his spoon. He ate a very healthy balance of fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins. As of age ten, he won’t eat cooked fruit (apple pie – WTW?!) or plain cheese pizza, preferring vegetables on his pizza to the point of pouting at parties where only cheese is available. He’s a little bit picky but mostly a terrific eater of many foods. And yes, we are those food a**holes who serve kale salads to our kids on the regular. Kid 1 eats them with relish and wants to make sure we are properly massaging each leaf. (Not actual relish made of pickles.)

Kid 2 was also a pretty good eater from the start. Rather than force the “clean your plate” mentality of our own childhoods, we had evolved as parents to encourage a “Try-It Bite” for every new food, and then left it up to him as to whether he would eat more. He was a frequent eater of frozen waffles and plain yogurt but also ingested a healthy combination of other foods. If anything, he opened up our eyes about a broader range of possibilities for nutritious foods. He prefers plain pizza to veggie, but he always eats the broccoli we offer on the side.

Picky kids make for cranky cooks - solutions for picky eatersKid 3 has been a picky eater from the womb. He was a voracious nurser that required formula supplementation almost immediately. I should have known that we couldn’t rest on our good experience. He developed a penchant for dairy and carbs (plain cheese quesadillas and cheese pizza are his perfect foods) such that I couldn’t even get him to eat fruit without disguising it as a cracker (thanks to Trader Joe’s freeze dried strawberries, he now eats the real thing). The “Try-It Bite” has devolved into the “No-Thank-You Lick”. It took us 3-5 times of offering ice cream before he would even put it to his lips. I’ve caught myself doing a happy dance when he ate his first dinosaur-shaped chicken nugget, because he had never agreed to try chicken before!

Because our picky kid was our third kid, I had no choice but to accept this as a thing about HIM rather than a thing about ME. I am positive if my first child had been the one to turn up his nose at a grape or carrot, I would have blamed myself.

Having experienced two kids who will eat anything and one who will not, I have some mantras and reminders I give myself and my husband to help us stay sane.

Tips for parents of selective eaters: (more…)

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