Why are kids so picky?

Can someone please explain at what point in history it was decided that children’s menus would only offer the following?

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  • Hamburger/Cheeseburger with French Fries (or Chips)
  • Hot Dog/Corn Dog with French Fries (or Chips)
  • Chicken Fingers with French Fries (or Chips)
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Cheese Pizza
  • Plain Pasta

Sure my kids would gladly devour any of these choices, but I often wonder when it was decided that kids need a special, separate meal in the first place? Since when can’t they just eat what the adults are eating? Has it always been this way? Surely not.

It amazes me when we go to birthday parties and the food served to kids consists of pizza and cake. How is that possibly being passed off as a “complete meal” for our next generation? Where are the fruit and vegetables? When was it decided that kids would only eat a handful of simple (and somewhat bland) foods? I understand that pizza is usually a crowd pleaser, but how and when did things get to be so limited?

How did children end up with such a limited palate?

I too used to be guilty of thinking kids had a very limited palate. Not long after embarking upon our “100 Days of Real Food” pledge it dawned on me that I had never before offered my daughters a salad because…they are kids after all! That is honestly the only reason (other than the fact that we didn’t eat salad all the much in the old days), but I just assumed they wouldn’t be interested because “kids don’t like salads”…right? Well you should have seen how shocked I was when I finally offered my children a salad and saw my older daughter actually eating it. And liking it! It took much longer for my younger daughter to come around, but after lots of repeated exposure she eventually became open to the idea of salad (and more importantly began to expect it as a norm at our family dinners). That was definitely a lesson learned for me.

One thing I’ve noticed is that many kids these days will only eat foods if they look a certain way (i.e. familiar). If there is a variation from the norm then the whole meal could be a flop. Why is that? I’ll never forget this one instance (long before our real food days) when my parents were babysitting my 3-year-old niece. They knew she liked and would eat Kraft Macaroni & Cheese so that was the plan for her dinner. But what they didn’t know was since they bought Kraft “Shells” Macaroni & Cheese instead of the traditional variety that all hell would break loose. Has anyone had a similar experience?

Do your kids willingly try new foods?

It’s no secret that food is a big part of my life and one of the things I am interested in is other people’s food choices. I am curious what choices they make and why. One thing I’ve noticed is that when I am preparing food in the kitchen and I offer my children a bite of something, they almost always take me up on it. Usually it’s something I know they love like a piece of parmesan cheese, a bite of pesto, or a roasted cashew, but I admit I occasionally take advantage of the situation and slip a piece of olive in their mouths just to be sure they still don’t like it. They’ll make a face and spit it out, but thankfully it doesn’t stop them from coming back. :)

I’ve also noticed when I offer other kids a little bite of something as well they are almost always very much against the idea of taking the sample (usually before they even know what it is). Maybe it’s because I am not their mom and they’re scared what that “Organic Miss Lisa” might try to make them eat, but their response is dramatically different than what I am used to with my own children. I bring this up because I am curious about other’s experiences when you offer your own children new foods or bites of what you might be eating. Do they act like it is straight-up poison?

Can a picky eater really be converted?

Our younger daughter used to be extremely picky so I totally get it. It was much easier and much less time consuming (and also much less likely that food would be wasted) if I only offered her what I knew she would eat. I recently came across a document I’d typed up – for the same babysitting grandparents mentioned above – that was a complete list of all the foods my younger daughter would eat (she was 3 at the time). Let me tell you that it was a very short list with a mere 31 items on it including Spaghettio’s, Goldfish, Graham Crackers, only 1 dish containing meat (spaghetti sauce), 5 types of fruit, and only 1 vegetable (frozen peas).

Looking back I am amazed at how far this child has come. She was one of those that would spit out her baby food before she knew it was fun to annoy mommy by not liking anything. Her palate was dramatically different than our older daughter’s from day one. But after two years (since taking our pledge) of repeatedly offering her a variety of different foods she thankfully now has a broader palate than most adults. I will be the first to tell you it has not been easy, and many months passed before any of our efforts started to pay off. But since this is one of my only first-hand examples of watching a child’s eating habits change over time, I wonder if I can really attribute the change in her to something we’ve done or if she would have grown out of that picky phase on her own regardless?

What’s your opinion?

So I’d love to open this up for discussion….what is everyone else’s experience/input on children’s eating habits these days? Why are so many kids so incredibly picky and is it possible to change their preferences? I wonder what it was like a hundred years ago (or even now in other countries)…have kids always been catered to with a limited variety of special, separate meals?? Do we only give kids pizza and hot dogs because that’s all they’ll eat or do they only eat pizza and hot dogs because that’s all we give them? How can we break this cycle?

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420 thoughts on “Why are kids so picky?”

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  1. Michelle Christine


    I do think that you can attribute your youngest child’s changes to our journey as a family. :) I also hate the kids’ meal menus! There are so many fun options they could offer. Fruit kabobs for example!

    I think families wind up with restricted eaters for a wide variety of reasons. Overall today, children are more indulged and food is no exception. Some adults are fairly limited eaters and they on their poor habits. In other cases, families may have more serious stress they are dealing with than their child’s eating habits. When a parent is trying to cope with depression, addiction, or lack of income, they might not have the energy to focus on wholesome meals.

    I think we could make a serious difference by working on our school breakfast and lunch programs. Sadly, most school menus are similar to the kids’ menu you posted. I love it when I read about schools that are growing gardens and serving vegetables to their students! I do not approve of most meals served at my school and my children bring their lunch. However, one positive move is the school has implemented some “taste tests”. For example, they will offer red peppers vs. green peppers. All students are offered a taste, and they tally up votes for a winner. It seems to me that schools could be of real help in teaching the importance of variety in our diet and also in promoting a willingness to try new foods.

    For parents struggling to balance picky eaters with the family menu, I did read some great common sense advice. Make the meal and make sure there is one food on the table your child likes. Perhaps you serve steak, broccoli, salad, and macaroni and cheese. Your child is given a small serving of each food and required to try a bite of each before he can have a second serving of his preferred food (mac and cheese). No alternate meals. I thought it might be helpful to some.

  2. I struggle at restaurants too and a lot of the time I just ask for an extra plate and give mine food off my and my husbands plates. My kids eat everything. I cannot name a food that almost 3yr old won’t eat, and loves spicy food. My 9 mo old seems to be following. They eat what we eat, and we eat as much real food as possible, other kids in our peer group eat goldfish and fruit snacks at the park. Mine eat raw nuts and seeds. we don’t puree, we mash and cut into extremely small pieces. I do indulge from time to time, but make it clear not to expect it. I have no idea why my kids don’t appear to be picky. I say its bc I won’t let them, and offer a variety of food, but I have to also believe its also about their temperment.

    I think parenting is hard and we want to make what’s easy with the least resistance. We may also struggle with what to make. I struggle too, i am not a chef and have my own issues with food! I also think at young ages there are a lot of power struggles going on with different things and that leads to parents thinking their kids are picky eaters when really it might be more about them taking control of their body through food.

    I also think our kids diets have changed bc we have changed how we look at food. To me, it seems like we ( at least americans) don’t look at food as scarce or as a necessity to survive. We need a rich variety to be and stay healthy, and that’s definitely not how i see food advertised. our choices are made based on what is marketed to us, trendy, tastes good, and easy and cheap to buy and make.

    I say to myself to just do the best you can. Without physically forcing my kids to eat what I want them to, I cant do much. I try to envision the best possible scenario, then set my expectations really low and work from there. All I can really do is offer healthy foods, and set the example.

  3. When I was growing up (a long time ago) my mom gave my brother and me one food that we didn’t have to eat at dinner. I chose beans and my brother chose liver (yup, we ate liver back then) Whenever we had those foods for dinner, my mom made a separate dinner for us. For all other foods–we had to have just a little. I hated peas, too, so I only would find two or three peas on my plate. When I asked why I had to eat those peas, Mom would say “Grown-ups like all kinds of food and you never know when you’ll be grown up enough to like them.” Well, that made me willing to try–and three peas was do-able. I grew up to like almost everything–including beans and peas. Another trick my mom used was making us “eat in a circle”. You had to take a bite of each food going around your plate so you couldn’t fill up on the food you liked best and be too full to want the rest.

    I think the fact that we didn’t have sodas, or very many snacks, if any, contributed to our good appetites. My mom stayed at home and every family dinner was 6 components: meat, starch, vegetable (sometimes two), salad, bread and dessert. No one in our family was fat or overweight. My mom was a from-scratch fabulous cook and with all that variety at each meal, you couldn’t really overeat. I might add that if we had ever whined or said “yuk” to food served to us, we probably would have been kindly asked to leave the table.

  4. In our house, the kids (I have 1 daughter and 1 son) eat what we eat. They always have. They never have a special menu except for when they are with their cousins who get a special menu (chicken nuggets with mac and cheese vs. stew, hmmmm).

    We have seen the macaroni phenomenon several times. Don’t mess with the shapes!

    We definitely see food preferences between each of our children. My son can hide several plates of pasta in his belly, and we call our daughter the “carnitor” (a reference to Disney’s Dinosaur) she has always been a meat eater. They both have a wide a palate for kids. Their favorite is meal Daddy’s taco salad. However, if you ask them what they want, all of the sudden they are VERY picky. We have fully loaded pizzas at home, but when Grandma gives them a choice of what they want on their pizza it’s cheese and ham and nothing else. It always leave me shaking my head.

    One thing we do that helps with mealtime is that our kitchen is closed between meals. Unless mom or dad offer a special snack, they have to wait until meal time. The kitchen is not self-serve and it is not Burger King, you can’t have it your way. So when meal time comes they are ready to eat. If they don’t eat at the meal time, unless they are willing to eat their leftovers, they have to wait until the next meal. If they give the food a good try then they will be able to move on, but if they get rude or ornery about the meal and don’t try it, then they see their plate again.

    I’ve seen families who claim their kids won’t eat what they make for dinner, but will let them have a “healthy” fruit roll up within minutes of a meal because they are hungry.

    It’s all about teaching the kids to make choices. Sure you can have the treat, but you have to eat the provided meal first. Sometimes the treat isn’t worth it, sometimes we have “party rules,” and sometimes they give it a good enough try we can move on. They know the rules and we ALL follow the rules, even mom and dad.

  5. I’ve always wondered why kids were cornered into eating the crap that’s on kid’s menus. I refused to take the kid’s menu when I was little, and my parents didn’t make me order off of it. I always loved trying new foods and ate almost everything. But now that I have a little one, who likes to eat but is barely cutting her first tooth, I see how the habits of feeding carbs gets established. The easiest things to feed her are cereals (we do whole grain organic baby cereals) and organic puffs when we are on the go. When we are at a restaurant, often the only thing that is soft enough for her to eat (she has a bad gag reflex) is the bread. I didn’t even want to feed her grains but we fell into the habit and they keep her happy and full. I make a conscientious effort to feed her fruits and veggies but I can see how people fall into the trap of giving carb-heavy processed foods to their kids because it’s just easier, and then those kids become accustomed to those foods.

  6. Our five year old twins are both extremely picky, but about completely different foods! For breakfast and lunch, I cater to their tastes, then for dinner we have the family meal. More often than not, they both walk up to the table, look at their plates and start crying about how they don’ like it! I am going to try your trick about offering bites in the kitchen while I cook and see if that helps!

    I did chat with my grandmother once about picky eaters, she said she has a brother who would only ever eat roasted chicken and potatoes. He would never eat the other options presented, so her mom, my Granny, made a “Don’s chicken” every Sunday and that was his food for the week!

  7. Children who are picky eaters is a first world problem. There is no child on the planet who would starve if given a variety of healthy foods.

    We serve dinner (what my husband and I who are foodies eat). When they were babies, we used an immersion blender to puree what we were eating. We will tone down the hot-spice, but otherwise, they eat the same food we ate before we had children.

    We don’t make a fuss, but there are no alternatives–never have been. We’re just matter of fact about it, and so they even try to negotiate. If they don’t want to eat, it is totally fine, and we don’t snack, so they wait until the next meal for more food. Our sons are 7 and 15 now and with very rare exceptions, they eat everything on their plate without a question. They’re not over weight–they’re healthy, fit and active. When we go out to restaurants and they are served a children’s menu, they’re almost insulted–“who would want to eat that?”

    1. Some have intolerances. I was never able to digest most meat. It always upset my stomach. My parents still ordered me to eat it, & when they stopped, I stopped eating all of it, because I was tired of feeling sick, & figured maybe I wasn’t made to eat it. Later tried chicken, which had been tolerable, again, but it was then intolerable. Didn’t bother to try the other things that had been—veal, shellfish, swordfish, perch, bologna, & hot-dogs. Felt sick just thinking about them. If my parents hadn’t ordered me to eat things that upset my stomach, maybe I would still be able to eat those several kinds of meat.

      And some cannot chew. My younger girl took a couple wks to move from nursing by instinct to nursing by volition. Very painful to me. Nurse thought she was tongue-tied, dr determined she wasn’t, so she was taking a long time just to learn that. She started solids, thinned, smooth Cream of Wheat at 7 mos. (& she had been ½ mo. overdue too) when she MIGHT have been ready, but she gagged & couldn’t swallow it. All she could swallow was strained purées & thin baby-cereal. I tried giving her both soft & crunchy foods when she was 12 mos., & tried countless times helping her with, & demonstrating myself, chewing, but she wasn’t able to chew. More gagging & inability to swallow. She had silicone feeders but just sucked berries out of them & tore at them with her teeth. And she smashed bananas & soft cookies against her palate with her tongue. She had to still be on stage-2 food (mixed purées), then I read a vibrating teether can teach babies to bite, so got her 1 & she finally started learning to chew at 20 mos. But then she could be on only stage-3 food, purées with soft lumps, also things like applesauce & mashed potatoes. Only by 2 she could chew toast, baby-puffs, the softest Gerber toddler foods, & slivers of soft fruit without skin. Now she’s 3½ & can chew, e.g., lunch-meat in a sandwich, & raw apples, but can’t handle more complex textures (e.g. egg salad) or tough things. Things are somewhat more difficult because she has the FPIES allergy, to oats, rye, & all derivatives. I’m trying to make the textures of her favorite things slightly more complex, gradually, but it’s hard to come up with ideas. 1 of the reasons I ended up on this pg. Dr says keep trying new foods 1 at a time, nurse says purée things until she outgrows the phase, dentist says nothing wrong with her teeth, just texture sensitivity. She’s super-sensitive about clothes too (often has tantrums over them, not whiny, bratty tantrums, but agitated, stressed-out tantrums): HATES pants, tolerates shorts occasionally, leggings sometimes, likes dresses & skirts but changes outfits several times a day & often goes around the house in just underpants, complains about taffeta dresses but as of a few days ago loves wearing a particular 1 but only unbuttoned, barely tolerates jackets, insisted on wearing boots to church last Sun. but then took them off (so I had to carry her) & was super-bad & spent almost all the time running around the foyer & crying in the restrm (no baby rm there—but I think she was starting a mild allergic reaction, because she’s had slight diarrhea/incontinence since then)… Exhausting. And I have chronic mono already. So I don’t fight her, just make sure she is wearing A dress or skirt to church, & SOME kind of outfit when going anywhere else.

      I didn’t make the younger daughter into a picky eater because I was doing the same things I did with the older one, only the younger one’s development was slowing me down. The older one had thinned Cream of Wheat at almost 6 mos.: no problem. Some purées for a little bit, then the same food as everyone, coarsely ground in a baby-food mill. Then was chewing steak at 18 mos., 2 mos. before the other could chew a single thing. Loved grilled chicken, broccoli, green olives, & banana peppers. Except for zwieback toast as a baby, did not eat “kids’ food”. Was not at all picky & only clothes-battle is now that she’s 14 & has an outgrown favorite skirt too tight & above the knee that she still keeps wearing to church. (I should throw it away.)

      Younger 1 was in the NICU for 1 wk with chorio & feeding tube at 1 time, & I read something about that possibly making them sensitive. Anyone have advice on this texture/chewing problem? Looking for very simple things, because of my exhaustion. We eat a lot of scrambled eggs & whole-wheat pancakes, for example. And I make boiled & roasted vegetables, & sandwiches.

  8. When growing up I was forced to eat whatever was placed in front of me and all of it, I became very creative at hiding food in cuffs of pants, napkins and water glasses. Needless to say, I made a vow I would never to that to my children. We do have a one bite policy and they were required one bite. They also knew we were going to try one new recipe a week and we have all laughed when it was not successful and we ended up with peanut butter and jelly. But they are all grown up and try new things on a regular basis. These habits are now being past on to grandchildren and the exact remarks I made to my children I now hear grandchildren echoing. I have a granddaughter who when she was only four they were at the supermarket and her mom said what do you want for dinner tonight and replied ” a nice piece of fish grilled with some roasted broccoli” many people were inquiring how my daughter got her to eat fish. Too funny! Now if I could get my husband to try snails LOL

  9. We have been trying this at home, but when they really battle the only other option we give is a peanut sandwich with whole grain bread and organic sugar free peanut butter. they do have to try the meal before we make the sandwhich.

  10. I have three kids, when they were babies and toddlers we gave them everything…Broccoli. Fish. Avocados. Spinach leaves. Squash. etc. etc. (Except for my youngest who even as a baby would literally gag and sometimes even vomit if he ate most green vegetables.) At some point along the way they diverged. My eldest will try anything. She will eat salad, tons of veggies and fruits, most any meat, loves spicy foods, stews, casseroles etc. My youngest is a carnivore who will also eat most fruits but not any veggies. My middle has an extremely limited diet and would sit and cry rather than try one bite of a food she didn’t want to try. One thing I learned early on is that no amount of pleading cajoling begging or insisting will change their eating habits. So, I just try not to have unhealthy stuff in the house, and I give them control over what they will eat and not eat, I don’t make separate meals but they are able to get themselves something else (within reason) if they don’t like what’s for dinner, They all seem healthy so that’s what most important, but I do worry that middle’s mostly carb and cheese diet will catch up to her eventually ( she does eat a few fruits). I keep offering a variety of foods. She is in high school now and I see baby steps of progress. Every now and then she will try something new and about 50% of the time she actually likes it. Small victories!

  11. How much have you dealt with autistic kids with sensory processing disorder?? All of what you say sounds great but my dear boy is wired WAAAAY differently. One of the few things he’ll eat is honey ham from SAMs Club. You could buy 20 different honey hams from 20 different stores and he can 100% of the time which one is from SAMs. How do you conquer something like that?!

    1. Good point! Never thought about kids menus before. It does seem to always consist of french fries, mac and cheese and chicken tenders. With more awareness and demand this can change. If people buy it then the restaurants will supply it. Much work needs to be done.

    2. Michelle Christine

      I also have a child with autism. Prior to his diagnosis, he would vomit all over the high chair tray anytime we gave him fruits and vegetables. It seemed to be the firm texture caused him to gag and vomit. To this day (age 14), he is a restricted eater. Mac and cheese is one of his main foods. However, we did at least transition him from Kraft Easy Mac to Annie’s Easy Mac. I did this by making both for dinner and serving 1/4 Annie’s and 3/4 Kraft, mixed together. I gradually increased the percentage of Annie’s. It took a month to get him to the point of eating the new brand. :) Hang in there.

  12. I really appreciated a little advice I received when my son was just starting out solids; don’t comment on food. Don’t praise good eating. Don’t criticize “bad” or picky eating. Offer variety and don’t fuss about it. It’s worked well for our little family.

  13. I guess because we run a very strict household and our children have few choices in anything, they never questioned what we ate. My kids eat what is put before them and no one ever complains. They eat any kind of vegetable or weird casserole that I make. They would eat salad every day. They love raw veggies and we use mostly natural sweeteners and use them sparingly. They love any new recipe that I make. If I make something and my youngest(which is autistic) decides that he doesn’t want to even try it then all I have to mention is that he will forfeit his snack and he is not only trying it but eating it all. I think that each of my boys have one thing that they don’t particularly like but would eat if they had too. My daughters will eat anything and love healthy foods. My youngest tried to go through a picky stage but I would have none of it. I don’t make special foods of any kind. I make one meal for everyone and everyone eats it. We remind them that no matter how bad it might taste at this meal, it will not taste better at the next one. At our house, what you don’t eat for this meal, will be served to you the next. Only one of mine had to have supper for breakfast and that never happened again. I know it sounds harsh but we feel that meal time is a precious time for our family and we do not want it to be a battlefield every time we come to the table. Our kids are all really healthy and happy. They are servants to others and tell me all the time that I am the best cook ever!! Tried double chocolate coconut brownies with a white chocolate glaze tonight for the first time and they were a huge hit!!! Made with healthy coconut flour and maple syrup. I try to remind parents that your kids usually(not always) act like you expect them to act. If you sit down to the table with the expectation that everyone will have to eat what is before them, then they learn to eat what is before them.

  14. Continue “this is what we are having, if you don’t want it, you can have an apple”.
    I do not cater to the kids. They have been eating what we eat from day one and if they don’t want it, they have the chance to choose one more fruit orveggie

  15. I have an 8 year old daughter with autism- she is extremely picky thanks to sensory issues (she will throw up at the smell of chocolate- she doesn’t even have to see it), but lately she has been more and more willing to try new things. I’ve started by working with the foods/sensory experiences I know she can manage, then making healthier/cleaner variations of them. “If you like this, then let’s try this.” It’s worked remarkably well!

  16. I have two boys. My oldest is 6 1/2 and my youngest just turned five. My youngest is a selective eater. He loves cheese pizza, so I make it from scratch, and try to make it as healthy as I can. With that being said, he does eat a variety of vegetables and fruit. He dislikes broccoli and cauliflower and seems to have a general dislike for most meats. He loves his candy and would eat it all the time if allowed. My oldest will try just about anything and likes most foods unless they are really spicy. I’ve noticed that the older they get, the more adventurous they are with their food. My husband and I enjoy different types of food and I love to cook so we are always trying new things. I try to introduce new fruits and vegetables to my children often and keep offering them even if they dislike them at first in the event that they decide that they want to give the item another try. We do talk to them regularly about how important it is to eat healhty and to indulge in moderation. My oldest understands and makes good choices and doesn’t complain much about his friends at school having processed treats. I remember reading on a daycare website a quote from one of the instructors about what good is offering healthy food if it doesn’t get eaten. But I am of the opinion that if you only offer healthy whole foods, while they might not eat everything that is offered what they do choose to eat will be good for them. After all, they will have dislikes just as we adults do.

  17. I’ve read that it takes about a dozen introductions to a new food to develop a taste for it. I have found this to be true for myself as well. I didn’t eat salad until I was 26. After reading that, I challenged myself to eat a few greens each day for 2 weeks. It worked for my husband too. We have been eating salad since then. Our kids eat almost anything because we just keep putting the food in front of them and make sure they taste a little. I think most parents just give up too soon and go back to the kids menu items.

  18. I had two extremely picky eaters. I’m not sure exactly how they got that way, except that part of it was some sensory issues for my son (he was averse to certain textures, like rice), and part of it was that I couldn’t bring myself to do anything as drastic as tell the kids “if you don’t eat what’s served for dinner, there is nothing else to eat until breakfast tomorrow”.

    What we ended up doing was creating a system where each child got to choose the menu one night a week (within reason), but only if they ate what was served–without complaining–the other five nights of the week. We went as far as to develop this into a point system where they earned points by eating well and could not choose their meal without the required number of points. Being able to choose a meal was highly motivating to our children, and I must say it solved the picky eating problem almost overnight. We did allow each child to choose one food that they never ever have to eat, and there would be no loss of points for avoiding that one food.

    They found out that some of the foods they thought they would hate, they actually liked. Who knew??? Now they are both pretty well-rounded eaters and have added some new favorites. My 13-year-old son will often choose something like crepes or fish on his night. He’s found out he loves Indian food.

  19. My oldest son was picky from 6 months wouldn’t eat veg but I didn’t give in to only give him goods he would eat I just kept offering what ever we ate. But when I was pregnant with my 2nd I felt ill didn’t feel like cooking I would make his dinner seperate and cook what I knew he would eat. This made it worse and he got worse. Now he’s 6 and from about age 4 I change back to how it was before basically this is what we’re having for dinner and that’s it as well as taking about being healthy and eating for health. Now he is eating better than ever and is much more willing to try new foods last night he ate Lemon sole for the first time and loved it it’s a slow process but where getting there.

  20. I wish I had a clear cut answer. My daughter who is almost four eats a very limited diet. When she was under two she ate salmon and hummus and all kinds of things. Then she just changed and didn’t want it. I think I made a mistake by fixing her something else if she didn’t want it. Sometimes I tell her, well this is dinner, if you don’t want it, then you can have an apple and peanut butter and be done. She is so resistant to vegetables. She will try them, but will most likely spit them out and I do put them on her plate. I have a one year old who eats everything right now and I am hoping that it lasts. I constantly feel like I am failing in this area as I thought it would be so much easier. : /

    1. Don’t offer an apple and peanut butter. Try having at least one item they like with the items they do not, so they get some nutrition. They may leave the table hungry but can have only what is offered until the next meal. No snacks. Eventually they will try more because they know its the only option. I also give choices. Make 4 vegetables and require them to try 3, They feel like they are making choices. Reward trying new foods by allowing them to pick the next meal or a favorite treat.

  21. I have often wondered if picky eating comes from a sense of control on the child’s part, as in its one area of their life that they have control over. I had a picky eater in my middle son, he would literally vomit if you made him eat something that he didn’t want too. We waited till he was 7 & we explained that he had to try new things as his diet was becoming very limited with him cutting out more & more foods. Meal times were always a trial but as he got older he was eating most things. I have 2 Grandsons now with a very limited diet, it’s difficult when they stay with us as I don’t want their visits to be memories of food battles, one will eat things for me that he refuses at home & the other won’t eat things I make that his Mum makes at home. I just try to hide puréed vegges in their food & although it’s not perfect it’s better than nothing!

  22. Today’s children are in my honest opinion spoiled. When I was a child, my mom cooked and at dinner we would all sit and eat whatever she cooked with no complaints or ugly faces or attitudes, it was not tolerated or acceptable because since we were babies we ate whatever was given to us by our parents.

    Today’s children feel like they are entitled to a “choice” in what they eat. And well meaning parents spoil their children’s sense of humility and thankfulness without even realizing it.

    In the 40’s when war rations were in the United States, families were blessed to have real meat once a month. Children then were respectful and eat whatever was set before them. I sometimes miss the good old simpler times.

  23. My children have always been required to eat what they were given. Was it a struggle sometimes? Yes, but we stayed consistent and they ate. If kids are hungry, they will eat eventually. Now at ages 11 and 12 they eat (and love) things that i wont eat. I grew up being catered to at meal times and really wish i wouldnt have been. My kids love most things from all food groups. In my opinion we all need to cater less and demand more.

  24. My oldest daughter has always been picky. We get her to try everything by calling it a food adventure. She is very sensitive to textures, and I sometimes wonder if her fear of foods comes from the fact that she had a cleft palate as a baby which meant food would go into her sinuses and momentarily block her airways sometimes, so food may have been traumatic for her. She would only eat pureed foods until she was three. We’ve worked hard to make eating less emotional for her, but she still gags on a lot of delicious food. We don’t force her to eat it as that could lead to unhealthy attitudes about food and family in our opinion.

    My second loves food overall but has the occassional meltdown when a ffod she thinks she moght not like is on her plate. Sometimes the task is just to get her to have the food on their plate without crying about it. But a few minutes later, she eats it and asks for more.

    My third, 11 months, was begging for food early and gets upset if we don’t immediately give him exactly what is on pir plates. He is adventurous and aggressive by nature, especially at meal times.

  25. Our kids are too young to really know if they’ll outgrow their pickiness. But I’m grateful for this blog and other sources that repeat the same info – offer a healthy variety of foods! I was super picky up until my 20’s and my parents never catered to me, just offered the same food the rest of them were eating. I just didn’t want to eat most of it. No amount of coaxing, talking about nutritional benefits or any other method they attempted would change my mind. Thankfully my mom snuck in lots of veggies or added nutrients so I was healthy! That’s the approach we’re taking – offer lots, sneak in lots, but we sure don’t get upset over food.

  26. I ate a wide variety while the kids were in the womb. I gave them a wide variety when they were young and was so happy at the various foods they would eat and be willing to try. That lasted the first 5 years and it’s been downhill ever since. Foods they used to gobble up are now yucky. My adventurous eaters take quite a bit of cohersion to try something new. Even tried and true meals become won’t touch it or make the gagging/dying face with every bite. And it feeds off one another (God forbid you like something no one else does). Food is a constant battle in our house now. Sometimes I keep up the good fight, others not so well. One thing is for sure, every time I believe I have it all figured out, I’m proven I haven’t got a clue :-)

  27. I am REALLY struggling with this. My kids definitely have preferences but they eat more variety than most kids I see these days and they are fairly willing to try new things. But my stepson is extremely picky and it causes a lot of food stress in the house. I know when they are over that he won’t eat 98% of what I put in front of him and I need to make special meals. I do keep offering different foods but it’s nearly impossible to feed 7 people on a budget when one of them eats probably 25 different foods, only one of which is a vegetable and maybe 5 of which are fruits. I guess all I can do is keep offering and hope it gets better but in the mean time, food is given WAY more space in my brain than it should.

  28. I thankfully only have one who I consider picky and he is not that picky in the grand scheme of things. What has helped is our pediatrician told him she has a rule, you have to try two bites of everything on your plate. If you don’t like it after two bites that’s ok, you don’t have to finish. But the next time mom serves it, you have to try two bites again because tastes change. It has worked for a few foods.

  29. I honestly believe that picky is as picky does. If you eat real food while baby is in the womb, and raise them on homemade real food then the will not be picky. That doesn’t mean they won’t need convincing but I don’t think they will be “picky”.

    1. Well I can tell you wholeheartedly that this is not true :(. We have never eaten fast food, and don’t eat processed food, and for a while my son was not picky, but then around 2.5 he just hit that picky phase and hasn’t grown out of it yet. He will march into the kitchen and start crying about dinner before he even knows what it is. He has a few meals/snacks that he likes (and I am lucky that they are pretty healthy, although limited), but everything else involves a fit. If anyone finds a real answer to this PLEASE pass it on! (or if you can tell me when this phase will end!!

    2. Not true. I have twin boys and ate EXTREMELY healthfully while pregnant with them. (Easy to do, as I had no appetite and all foods turned my stomach.)

      One of our sons is a pretty good eater for a 3-year-old, not picky at all, while our other son has been VERY particular and difficult to feed from day one of starting on solid foods.

      If your child(ren) haven’t been picky, count your blessings, but don’t take too much credit. You’ve been lucky!

  30. My 3 kids are not picky eaters, for which I am very grateful. However, my son’s best friend is very picky. He is 10 and only eats chicken nuggets, pancakes, pizza, and tacos. I keep chicken nuggets in my freezer just for him to eat when he comes over, but I serve it to him grudgingly and with my other kids asking why they can’t have some. I want him to enjoy coming over, and I like him very much, but I feel uncomfortable with making him eat what we’re eating when I know he won’t eat it. I wonder if there are any ideas for helping picky eater friends. Maybe I am a pushover and need to be more strict with him, but I would love some other ideas.

  31. I tutor in a second grade class and once brought in zucchini bread. Even though more than half of the kids had never had zucchini, every single one tried it. All but two loved it! I even had kids telling me they were going to ask their parents for zucchini. I think they liked me, trusted me and were enthusiastic about trying something about which both their teacher and I were excited. However, had many of them been offered it at home, I doubt they would have tried it.

    I feel like we determine our kids’ expectations about food. Mine are not picky, love to try new things and even like sharing their weird food likes. But my husband and I have always introduced new foods, encouraged them to always try new things, and not made food a battle. Our meals are pleasant, strong bonding opportunities and I know that I can take them anywhere and they will eat well, kids menu or not!

  32. I have always been a picky eater. My mom always cooked a variety of things and if they contained meat, onions, or peppers I would still be sitting at the dinner table past bed time. My daughter, who is 12, is that way with fruits and veggies. She has a very small list of things she likes. I continue to make a variety of items and have never made a seperate meal for her. She does eat what I make but she let’s me know she doesn’t like it. If I let her, she would have mac and cheese every meal. I think that’s where some parents become lazy. As adults we know a child can not be healthy by eating nothing but processed foods so why let them make that choice? I doubt many people would allow their 3 yr old to smoke or drink because they throw a fit so why let them make the choicr of what nourishment they need.

  33. We started our transition to real food just over a year ago. While my kids would always eat a steamed veggie ( broc or green beans mostly) most other veggies or real foods were a no. My oldest balked at the idea of a salad so the first one he got was literally one piece of lettuce. And he ate it! It took a solid 9 months of repeated countless offerings but I am proud to say he will now eat a full bowl of salad with at least tomato and cucumber added. As happy as this makes me I also feel guilty that 6 years went by before I even offered it to him( and the little ones). He also has a naturally picky palate so he has been my hardest sell overall and he still fusses about many foods I offer but we are getting there!!!

  34. Our kids have tried to be picky eaters. To overcome this, our meal rule is we serve at least one serving of each item we make for dinner. For example 1/2 cup organic brown rice, a small salad and 4oz of whatever meat we have prepared. They have a choice to eat or not. If they finish everything on their plate they can have more of their choice and can have dessert. If they choose not to eat something they don’t like, they cannot have seconds or dessert. Plus we find that limiting after school snacks to fruit or veggie keeps them hungry enough that the meal tastes fabulous. If they really don’t like something, we will purposely serve a much smaller portion of that item (i.e, 1 brussel sprout, or a smaller portion of Quinoa). After choking down a roasted brussel sprout, my son now asks for them. It works for us, and our kids are loving more and more foods they resisted before. I also find that if they help prepare the food, they want to eat it.

    Our kids order salads with balsamic vinegar and oil when we go out to eat, as a favorite staple. They think its a treat!

  35. My husband is a problem feeder, where the mere thought of trying something unfamiliar leads to FOUR INFANT sized bites and a look of disgust. He will eat the children’s menu foods without a fuss — these are easy to prepare, do not take a act of congress to make and are perfect for his tastebuds. I’ve worked so hard on getting our 3.5yo to accept nutritious foods to often find myself taking one hundred steps back after a night of daddy daycare. Thank goodness she’s a healthy eater and does not balk at fruits/veggies. I’ve often received “you don’t allow her to eat off the children’s menu” comments. It’s not that I don’t allow her, she will often determine that, in roughly 95% of the occasions, she’s complaining that her food is too hot, or she’s eating off my plate. Needless to say, her non-verbal request for healthy foods has been received.

  36. My 4 year old just devoured zucchini and yellow squash at dinner and told me she loved it. I’ve made the dish hundreds of times and have never been able to get her to eat it. I think perhaps continuing to offer food and waiting a season to try them again (since they are out of season) may have dinner the trick. Similar to your kids and olives. I also was told by the nutritionist at a school I worked at that getting kids to try things at least 11 times can help train their palate.

  37. My kids, 11 & 14 now, will try almost anything. Our policy is they have to try it 7 different times and still not like it before I’ll let them not eat it. They are very adventurous eaters, which comes in handy when we travel. When we travel to a place/country with different flavors than they are used to, I’ll cook some recipes in the months or weeks leading up to the trip so they are familiar with the flavors.

  38. Whenever we have an event with lots of children, I always have a large fruit plate and a large veggie tray, and it always gets eaten – to the dismay of many parents. Believe it or not, I have often had pizza leftover, and all the fruits and veggies devoured. It’s strangely satisfying to watch a child gobble up bell pepper strips when their mom has silently informed you that “my child doesn’t eat vegetables.” This is one area where peer pressure seems to be a good thing!

    At home, getting kids to try new things is not as easy; it takes a lot of parental backbone to offer up new foods (or to prepare only one meal that the whole family is supposed to eat), but I agree with Olivia, it’s often a parental issue, not a child issue. If your child knows that a bit of whining or complaining gets them ‘out of’ eating broccoli and a nice piping hot bowl of mac and cheese, you can bet that’s what will happen. If kids are hungry enough, they’ll eat what you prepare, if not, they weren’t that hungry to begin with. But, here’s the rub, you HAVE to be strong enough to see it through – meal after meal, day after day, week after week. It isn’t easy at first.

    I try to have one thing I know everyone will like, especially when I am introducing new foods, so no one goes completely hungry in case it’s not a hit. But that doesn’t mean you get to eat half a loaf of bread instead of eating the rest of the meal, you still only get one serving. Another thing that works well, in our house, is to put out a bowl of cut up veggies, or some fruit (bonus points for it being a new/unusual item), while I am preparing dinner – it’s amazing how fast those fresh veggie disappear before dinner vs. sitting on their plate and being the last thing eaten (if eaten at all) when served with dinner!

    1. Yes I do this too. I often have a little helper in the kitchen watching me chop and prepare dinner. He usually wants to taste everything Im chopping, (including raw chicken) and I’ll often leave some raw veggies on a plate and he will eat these while waiting for dinner.

  39. I love restaurants that offer “lighter Fare” options instead of kids menus. Perks are two fold, they get real food in their size portions and I can eat off that menu as well instead of a papa-sized portion.