Picky Eaters: Avoiding the Dinnertime Dilemma By Raising Children With a Heart of Gratitude

Written by Courtney, Contributing Writer

Picky eaters, finicky eaters, stubborn, selective. The notion of children being picky about their food is common these days. I’ve noticed that it’s tossed around as “normal” and accepted, even justified by some. Pop psychology and modern day experts in child development cite is as appropriate.

But is it?

I have to ask if this trend is something new or if young children were always “predisposed” to be picky eaters. One hundred years ago, did children reject the food their parents served them? And if so, did their parents abide, merely tossing their meal, food that was oftentimes grown and harvested with their own hands?

Some of this is cultural. Our affluent society doesn’t mind throwing food away. From restaurants to the produce section at the grocery store, fresh food is wasted on a regular basis and at an alarming rate. In many countries around the world, people have so much less and are so much more grateful. If a simple porridge is all that’s available or all that a family can afford, it is eaten with gratitude. While children in our culture are complaining about the taste of certain foods, there are children all over the world desperately wishing they had something, anything, to eat.

While parents in the modern developed world are obsessing over “scarring” their children if they push food onto them or introduce food in the wrong way, worrying about leaving a bad image of that food in their child’s mind for life, mothers in many underdeveloped countries are worrying about where to find their next meal or how to provide food for their child, period.

Kevin Carter's Starving African Child Pictures, Images and Photos

Photo Credit 

An image like the one above is not meant to stir up feelings of guilt or shame in our hearts. It’s not that we should clear our plates “because there are children in Africa who are starving”. Instead, images like the this should serve as a reminder of the reality that much of the world faces, a reality we don’t see on a day to day basis in our culture of abundance.

Our responses to heartbreaking images like this one should be compassion, prayer, and action. It should also serve as a reminder of the Lord’s many blessings, even the simple ones we may take for granted each evening as we gather around the dinner table. May we reconsider our own lifestyle choices and gain a renewed gratitude for what we do have.

Picky Eater Syndrome

In our society, have we become so comfortable with excess stuff that we’ve lost our sense of gratitude for the most basic human needs? Have we learned to get through life on our own or do we trust in our Heavenly Father for His provision? Are we so far removed from our food that we don’t realize the hard work that goes into taking it from seed to table?

I’m not trying to point fingers here. I fell prey to the “picky eater syndrome” with my first child. “Eat three more bites and then you can have this cookie.” I laugh as I look back. I am grateful for the many good intuitive choices I made as a young mother, namely to breastfeed and co-sleep, but this dinnertime defeat is not one of them!

It wasn’t until my third child came along that I wisened up. I had just come out of college, working toward degrees in elementary education and psychology. I went straight from the classroom to the home full-time. I was fed up with modern psychology and experts who claimed that we must cater to a child’s every whim and that we might mess them up for life if we, heaven forbid, do something like serve them food they do not like.

Don’t get me wrong. It is wise to consider how we introduce first foods and how we approach food in general. That does matter. But we can do that with a broader perspective,  a perspective that goes beyond the comforts of this culture that knows little about starving or genuine physical suffering.

 At that point, my husband and I started doing what made sense. We didn’t want to merely raise our children to be “good citizens” with “high self-esteem”. We wanted to raise God-honoring children with a heart of service for others and for the Lord. Children who depend on the Lord for wisdom and strength. Children who are grateful for what the Lord provides, not taking for granted even the simple things. This applies to all things, and the dinner table is certainly not excluded.

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Our approach to the dinner table looks like this:

A Healthy Foundation

Children who are breastfed are less likely to become picky eaters. The flavor of  breast milk  changes according to a mother’s diet. When I eat a variety of healthy food with a wide spectrum of flavor combinations, my babies are developing their palates.

When introducing first foods, we serve only real foods. No Gerber in this household! Synthetic processed food ruins little appetites and sets the stage for unhealthy eating patterns. We avoid that trap from the start.

From Seed to Table

At a young age, our children are involved in growing and preparing food. As babies in the Moby Wrap in the garden to picking lettuce and tomatoes for dinner as toddlers, our children get to see that amazing process of growing a plant from a seed. What toddler wouldn’t love snatching a bean straight off the vine and munching away right there in the yard? Sure, it means a lower yield in the end, but we’re just glad they’re embracing real food at an early age and learning to be grateful for what we have.

Someday, we hope to have chickens for eggs and meat, a cow for milk, and more! In the meantime, we take advantage of things like farm visits to expose my children to the hard work that goes into our food beyond what they learn from our humble garden.

In the kitchen, our children are involved in food preparation at a young age. They enjoy browsing through cookbooks even more than I do. Even as young as 2 and 3, they will sit down and admire the beautiful pictures of delicious food, and they will then, of course, ask me to help them make it!

There’s this silly idea that children prefer white bread and things made with white flour. Really? But it has no taste. No flavor! When children see me take berries of rye, wheat, or spelt, and turn it into flour, and when they help prepare meals from it, there’s not a single complaint. This is normal. White flour is not. White flour is the deviation from the norm.

We often pack as much healthy, wholesome food into dishes as possible, but we don’t deceptively hide healthy food in unhealthy food. That would be unproductive in terms of instilling healthy eating habits and wrong in that it’s dishonest.

At the Dinner Table

Dinner time is a special time each day. We all look forward to sitting down together, all distractions aside, and sharing about our days. When we pray and thank the Lord for the food before us, our children learn to be grateful.

Our children usually eat what’s on their plates and oftentimes ask for seconds (or if it’s our growing five year old, thirds). But if they claim they’re not hungry, that’s understandable, too. Little appetites can vary so much depending on how their bodies are growing.

If they claim to be full, we put their food away to be eaten at the next meal. We don’t make a big deal of it or force them to eat when they’re not hungry. Often, it is not that they’re not hungry but instead that they don’t want to eat a certain food, so we hardly every have to do this. It is a simple reminder that we eat what is served and food is not to be wasted.

We keep snacking to a minimum, and this helps to bring hungry tummies to the table! We’re snacking more right now, since I’m pregnant and can’t eat very much at one meal. Soon, though, we’ll go back to snacking only occasionally. When we eat healthy, whole foods, we find that we often stay full until the next meal. If we have something like a smoothie that contains just about everything, we are hardly ready to eat by the next meal.

It is my hope that by making wise food choices, I am teaching my children to be wise stewards of the Lord’s resources and His provision, and that they are learning to be grateful for what they have.

In what ways do you teach your children to be good stewards of what the Lord has provided?

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About Courtney

Courtney is passionate about natural and simple living. She believes in taking the time to nurture her family with nourishing food and healing through nature, knowing that God is the giver of life and that he has supplied us with ample resources for health and healing. She blogs at Simply Nurtured, where she shares her thoughts on raising a healthy family, with the belief that the foundation for a healthy life begins in the womb and in the early years. She also owns the Simply Nurtured Shop, where she sells natural products for mom and baby.

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  1. Thanks for this. I really appreciate your wisdom. I’ve been concerned with how to deal with this issue with my kids. Unfortunately my daughter has been picky since she was 6 months old and had low-weight issues for awhile. Now that she is older (2) and finally at a good weight, I have made a point to just give her what we are eating and if she doesn’t eat, then she doesn’t eat. She has recently started to surprise us by eating meat (even beef jerky!) and is slowly expanding her palate. My son, I feel, is suffering from ingratitude and this article will really help my husband and I address this issue.
    I have found that when my children participate in the “start to finish” process of creating food for their bellies, they are so much more willing to eat it. I really should let them browse through my cookbooks! What a great idea! :-)

  2. I think that you are stereotyping parents and children when you say that if children are picky, it’s because the parents aren’t teaching them properly. I have three children, the oldest is 14 and the youngest is 3, almost 4. They were all breastfed and we eat a whole foods diet. Only my 1st and 3rd child went through a picky phase, and it was at about the same age too. My youngest is currently in that phase. She loves to help me cook and garden, and she used to be excited to eat dinner every night and would eat literally anything. Then about a year ago things suddenly changed one day and she became picky. We aren’t going to force her to eat, that’s really impossible anyway. We aren’t going to starve her either. She doesn’t have food allergies or other issues. It IS just a phase that she is going through, and I fully expect her grow out of it just like my oldest did. In fact, I’m already seeing signs that she is coming out of it. There are a lot of reasons why children are picky, as others have mentioned, and it’s not fair blame parents across the board for that.

    • I didn’t get from this post that she was blaming parents for kid’s pickiness. I have 6 kids and only 1 is picky, so obviously it’s not my parenting style that caused it. For me however, how I *respond* to my daughter is very important. I have impressed upon her that pickiness can be a habit, and reflects a lack of gratitude. I talk with her about how it isn’t a horrible thing to eat something once in awhile that she doesn’t prefer because it shows thankfulness for the people who provided the food, as well as God who makes it grow. I don’t force her to eat things she doesn’t like (other than trying one bite).

      • And there’s nothing wrong with saying “ok, well, if that’s all you’re going to eat, then you will probably be hungry before our next meal” if you don’t want to serve it again. I will say that in our family, hunger makes previously despised foods look very, very tasty. (and I try to prepare foods in such a way that they’re actually yummy)

        • I just wanted to say that, having been raised by my very strict, Depression Era Grandfather, he never once forced me to eat a food I did not like. I was however, asked to have at least one “Thank you” bite of a food, even if I was absolutely positive that I had tried it before and knew that I did not like it. If I tried that one bite, and said “thank you” after eating it, he did not expect me to eat the rest of that item. Could I use this approach on an entire meal? I never tried. I knew that my Grandfather would not force me to eat a meal that I truly did not like, but if I got hungry later, he would remind me that I could always go back and try one more “thank you” bite of the meal I hadn’t finished earlier. If I was just flat out not hungry, I wasn’t going to eat, and he explained to me (as an adult) that he didn’t want to give me unhealthy eating habits by feeling ‘forced’ to finish whatever was on my plate. Now that I am a mom of 3, a 14 year old Autistic child-who has many food issues-, and 6 year old, and a 4 year old, they all know that they need to take at least a “Thank You” bite. I will not force my child to eat when they are not hungry, but if they are hungry later, they always have the option of having another “thank you” bite of the meal they hadn’t previously finished. More often than not, they do finish the meal. I also feel that by reinforcing the “thank you part, they do have a sense of appreciation for that food, even if it may not be something they ever develop a taste for.
          As for myself? I have never developed a taste for peas, but when serving them for dinner, I alway make sure to have a “thank you” bite at dinner, to show my children that you must always continue trying things you might now like–even if it is just a bite—no matter how old you are! And that is one of the best gifts I could ever give them!

  3. i love this! i agree! we have 4 kids and no picky eaters because it just isn’t an option. of course, like humans, they have favorites and things they don’t prefer, but i have never made a separate meal for a child than the family was making. i exclusively breastfeed to almost 12 months, so when they start eating it is mostly table food just in parts they can handle. i do the same thing with if they are too full to eat their meal, they have the choice to save it for the next meal and it usually isn’t an issue. i also try to give them a very small portion of something i know they may not love, but they have to eat it if they get a 2nd on something they do love. that usually helps too. kids can develop a wide palate if they are taught to try new things.

  4. That is my exact philosophy on food, and I agree with you 100%! I strive to do the same thing in my house. In fact, my daughter rejects white bread, she wants whole wheat. I remember feeling the same way when I was a kid – I couldn’t eat the wonder bread my friends’ families would offer me because it was too weird. The best appetite booster is going out to our CSA farm and picking our own food. The kids can’t wait to get home and eat it!

  5. Great post. A HEART attitude of thankfulness, gratitude, and general honor of others (as opposed to a self-centered heart) is definitely key. We have 10 children (9 of them are adopted) and not one of them has “food issues” of any kind. . . sure there are one or two foods that a few of them generally dislikes (cheese for one, olives for another) and we allow them to just graciously avoid those few items when they eat.

    I have a feeling that if families had more children and less money, these “issues” wouldn’t really be issues at all.

    Oh, AND, all of my adopted children were “picky eaters” when they arrived home to us – and they aren’t now. It is possible to encourage healthy eating habits and gracious attitudes towards the food one is served. If the issue is a heart that “wants what it wants,” that is a SIN issue, not a food issue and we should lovingly help our children to die to that sin, not continue to indulge them in it and make excuses about it.

    You aren’t being judgmental. You are being truthful. Continue on in truth.

  6. We have tried the same approach, and are still firm with our kids, but eating is a challenge. I breastfed each of our three older ones (#4 is just three days old!) till they were a year and a half, went straight to real food, often straight from my plate, we grow food and use whole grains, keep laying hens, and demonstrate healthy eating by eating healthy variety ourselves, but we still have kids who would rather go to bed than eat their dinner, no matter how colorful, tasty, or otherwise appealing their food is, or if they haven’t eaten for quite a while. The only upside is that our chickens are eating all the better for it, but I’d much rather our kids be eating it than the chickens. Perhaps age will help? We don’t often offer a second choice, they either eat what we have or they don’t eat, but I look forward to them eating well someday!


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