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

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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.

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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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Comments

  1. This is something we teach in our home – gratitude, something I need to focus on more. But in general my toddler is not picky, she’ll mostly eat anything. I tried giving her buckwheat honey the other day and she would have nothing of it because she wasn’t used to honey tasting this way. I bring up ‘Africa’ often when she refuses to eat something, I tell her about hungry children, and more often than not it makes her eat what she doesn’t really want as she realizes she should be grateful for the food we have. :) We haven’t had the opportunity to grow our own yet, but she does cook with me often.

  2. For those that feel bad, because there kids are picky eaters, and there is literally nothing they can do about it: Yes there have been peaky eaters 70 Years ago (I do not know about 100 :). My father in low is one. He did not grow up on much food, but still he IS a picky eater. My husband was very picky as a child, but when we married, he decided (grown ups can do this) to eat everything I make. Our kids are picky eater too, and I know how hard it is. I have tried many thing, and came to the conclusion, that there are people who are picky eaters! I hope they will follow there dad, when grown up (not there grandfather) and eat a healthy diet, but this will be there choice. Hang in there mom if you do have picky kids, and do not feel bad with posts like this. Our life is hard enough already.
    This being said, I do think it is important to try everything, and the advises are good – I am just missing some grace in there, because there are exceptions too.

    • I have to agree! We have “done all the right things” (breastfeeding, real food, etc.)also. We don’t offer a different meal. Kid #1 is not terribly picky but kid #2 is fairly picky. She just is. There isn’t a perfect formula for avoiding picky eaters because God created each of these children differently. Grace is good!

  3. Readers might enjoy the post I wrote about raising hearty, non-picky eaters.
    http://fimby.tougas.net/raising-non-picky-eaters

    We employ a similar strategy and in my post I talk about what we did when the food that is saved in the fridge is not eaten.

    Having laid that foundation when our kids are toddlers we now have incredibly healthy, hearty and grateful eaters. They are sincerely grateful for the pots of soup I cook for supper and it is so satisfying.

    • Great post, Renee! Can I copy it and use it as a preface to my post, pretending I wrote it? Hahaha, totally kidding…but seriously, your approach is just like ours. You brought up a number of excellent points that I should have thought to include in my explanation of our approach. I was way too vague! I think that would have prevented some of the negative comments here. :) For example, we as mothers don’t want to set our children up for failure. We offer food in small servings and take our families’ preferences into consideration in meal planning. Like in all areas of parenting, we do the hard things because it results in a gain in the long run, for our children’s sake. No mother wants to see her child go without food, but like you, once (maybe twice) is all it takes to send the message that we eat what mama serves and are not to be picky or wasteful.

  4. I admittedly put veggies in other foods, but it is less of me trying to hide it and more just trying to up the nutritional value. I would never lie to my son about his food. We actually just started a basic nutritional lesson with our 2 year old about how certain foods make us big and strong. It has made denying his cookie requests much easier :)

    Funny thing i thought about when you mentioned flour. My son gets so excited when i get out the wheat and loves to help me grind it. Last time we were at the store i was picking up some white flour and he got so mad because it was not the right kind and we had flour at home!

    • That’s great that he’s so involved and aware of that!

      I do the same thing to up the nutritional value. I’m always thinking of creative ways to boost the nutrient content by adding things, but I don’t hide it, as you mentioned you don’t do, either. :)

  5. One of the things I do is to serve a very small portion to my children. We often over estimate how much they actually need to eat in one sitting. Its much less daunting to have a small amount of food on the plate as well. If they want more they can always ask for seconds.

    • GREAT point, Angela! You know, I should have mentioned that in the post. We as a culture are so used to eating more than we need to, and I wonder if some of the struggle parents have is due to expecting children to eat TOO much. We serve small amounts and allow them seconds if they wish.

      My children have differing appetites and I also adjust their first serving accordingly. My 5 year old eats like a horse, so he gets a large serving to begin with. My 4 year old eats even less than my 2 year old, and his plate reflects that. My older two have varying appetites and they dish up their food accordingly.

  6. Amen, amen, and amen! It is so refreshing to read this! This is mostly (not the gardening part – I have a black thumb) how I raised my kids (ages 15-29 now) and they all love fruits and veggies and whole grains and dislike fast food. The only thing I would add to what you wrote is that I think baby food veggies are a good back-up to have around when baby is hungry but mama hasn’t had time to fix dinner yet. I’ve seen some moms who rely solely on table food end up not feeding baby veggies regularly because of this.

    • You raised yours well! :) And good point about the veggies. I do puree/mash up/dice up veggies and keep them stocked for that baby/toddler stage because like you said….mama can get busy and dinner doesn’t always happen as/when planned. On gardening, I wouldn’t say I have a green thumb, as it’s a skill I’m very slowly learning, more and more each year. :)

  7. AMEN! “Yucky” is not the same as “poisonous”. I don’t have kids yet but I plan on using the same WISE rules as my mom:
    1. No after dinner desserts or snacking if you didn’t eat your dinner (how do you you have an appetite for a snack/dessert if you had no appetite for your meal?)
    2. If I make something you don’t like to eat, you must still take a “no thank you” helping of at least 2 forkfuls. (Variety is good and trying something won’t kill you) .
    3. Mom makes one meal and one meal only. (Mom is not a short order cook). Unless you have a bona fide food allergy, you eat what everyone else eats.
    4. If you put it in your mouth and just start chewing, you won’t notice how “too yellow” “too smelly” “too slimy” or “too whatever else” it is.

    As a result, I am an adult who LOVES wide variety of food. I’m a great guest – I’ll eat whatever you feel like serving. I know how to eat well balanced meals. And I appreciate the effort made when others cook for me.

    • Now, don’t forget this when your children come along! There will be a lot of pressure from mainstream experts and such pressuring you to do things otherwise. Just maintain this no-nonsense approach and you’ll be one step ahead. :)

  8. Since we started GAPS, and our food choices have been more limited than usual, my kids will gobble up anything and grateful for it! I’ve been blessed to not have had to deal withthis much and I chalk it up to extended breastfeeding and not using tasteless jarred foods. I pureed for a short time and then used out “babyfood grinder” to just grindup whatever we were eating. But my SIL dealt with it by making a “thankfulness bite” a rule. Thay had to take at least one bite of everything b/c mama worked hard to prepare it, and no complaining! It must’ve worked b/c they eat literally anything now. :)

  9. I’d just like to offer up how we handle meals where our younger son doesn’t want to eat (our older son will pretty much eat anything even if he doesn’t really like it). If he doesn’t want to eat, we don’t make him eat. Period. What I make is what there is to eat, and it should be his choice what he puts in his body while it’s our responsibility to serve what we think is appropriate at the time. He doesn’t get to eat anything else later except for his dinner. I don’t save it and give it to him at the next meal. Frankly, I don’t want to continue on dealing with it and battling about it. Plus, some things just don’t save well, and who wants to eat something with a bad texture to it? So, we’re pretty matter-of-fact about it and have been working on being grateful for what we have and not getting dragged into long conversations about it. We tell him “you don’t have to eat, but you may not complain about the food” and he’s doing so much better about it. My personal belief is when the meal’s over, make it all be over and start fresh at the next one!

    • It seems that you have a very balanced approach to this!

    • I appreciate your approach. So much of picky eating I believe is about power struggles and this removes that from the equation.

    • Kimberly, I’ve never had a power struggle over meals and have only had to save a plate for the next meal once or twice with each child, and that was simply to make a point. We’ve always been matter-of-fact about it and don’t engage in argument over it. The message is received quickly this way, but if my children were to put up a fight over it, I think I’d reconsider and follow something along the lines of your approach, as I do believe not making a big deal over it is crucial.

  10. Christine says:

    Right here with you, Jennifer. And my oldest (3 1/2) loves to help in the garden & prepare foods, but so far there’s no corresponding interest in tasting the food. It’s actually quite the opposite. When we picked our first strawberry (his favorite food) last summer, he cried and put it back in the garden!

  11. Kathleen K says:

    Our children are a little older now, ranging from 7-13. At one point our oldest ate no vegetables, a few fruits, little meat, mostly just white flour products. It was during that time that I began to “wake up” to the whole foods idea. While our boys were little, we served new foods with familiar foods, 2-3 bites of each one on the plate, certainly not enough to fill them up. After cleaning their plate, they could have 2nds of whatever they wanted, even thirds. If they refused to eat, we saved it for later, with one child going 24-36 hours without food before hunger caved in his willpower. I kept reintroducing the food, over and over. Eventually, true food dislikes emerged–my husband and I abhor lima beans, one child won’t touch nuts of any kind, two intensely dislike mushrooms. We still serve foods with nuts and mushrooms (I’m the cook, and Mama don’t do limas!), and they must be polite about it–no flinging it across the room please! (Or hiding it under the napkin or feeding it to the dog!

    I try to keep in mind, there is a very real difference between a healthy child who is a whiny picky eater (“I don’t like that”) and a child with digestive issues. Digestive issues aren’t “picky eaters” because of some sinfully selfish reason. They need help! (May I suggest looking into the GAPS diet by Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride)

    As for our oldest and “pickiest” eater–he’ll eat anything that is real food, preferring vegetables (hey, he makes himself salads at breakfast and lunch!) and meats. He shuns most white flour products, having figured out those foods make him feel bad.

    • I appreciate the distinction you made between “picky eaters” and those who have allergies and other digestive issues. This is hard as a parent and I don’t want someone standing in judgement over us as we do our best to help this particular child.

    • My method is very similar to yours with the 2-3 bites and no more food until it’s gone. So far my son who just turned 2 has only gone two evenings without food. By morning the hunger wins. The reason we use this as our method is because when I was three my parents tell me how I refused to eat what was served to me for a full day from breakfast through dinner. After that day I would eat anything they put in front of me. I think knowing that my parents did that to me and I suffered no consequence helped me to realize early on that missing some meals (or a full days worth of food) is not going to cause harm.

      We’re starting to teach our son now about where food comes from and how to be thankful to God for what he has given us. We’re also starting to emphasize gratitude and eat what is being served when we are at someone else’s house.

      • I’m saddened reading Kathleen and Sara’s comments. 24-36 hours before their will caved in? Children going two evenings without food? That it happened to you with suffering no consequences?

        I see several. Notably that you can be cold to your child’s needs and desires. And you’ll serve your family things that they don’t like, but not things you don’t like.

        Would you treat a guest in your house the same way? Would you want to be treated that way? Does God treat you that way?

        • Michele-
          Your comments seem to highlight the very focal points of this blog post.
          Mainly, that a child’s needs and his desires are VERY different. A wise parent differentiates between the two, and acts accordingly. This post is NOT discussing food allergies or sensitivities (a child’s nutritional NEEDS), it is discussing willfully picky children who refuse to eat because they dislike the taste of certain foods (a child’s DESIRES).
          Also, a child going a meal, or even 2 days without food will not suffer physical consequences. If you are going to drag God into it….. How long did Jesus fast in the desert? Jesus let people sit on a mountaintop listening to him ALL DAY long before offering them food- and fed the same two foods to five thousand people.

          • Children absolutely will suffer starving for two or three days. Jesus fasted as per his own choice as an adult, not a growing child whose brain and body were growing daily. Apples and oranges, as it were. Furthermore, Jesus was not at any point expected to offer anyone food. It was understood that each person or family was responsible for their own needs. But His message being so compelling, people neglected the daily rhythms of their life and would have had to leave to find food as suddenly it was gone. Rather than having them leave, and perhaps not come back, He chose to turn it into a demonstration of God’s generosity and power. Again, apples and oranges. The people wouldn’t have starved for lack of His generosity nor did they expect Him to provide for them.

            “11“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” Luke 11

      • On the other hand, I was that kid that would have simply starved. I had food aversions, and I’m so glad my mom was wise to this. Hunger does not always win out. In my little child’s mind, asking me to eat slimy mushy things was equated with asking me to eat slugs and feces. I’d starve to death first. If your parents required YOU to eat feces, I’m sure you’d struggle as well. Even if of course, it wasn’t feces but merely meatloaf. If it looked that way, had the same texture as far as you could tell, and smelled that way, and seemed that way, how cruel.

        • It’s not withholding food when the child has the choice to eat what’s served. If they do refuse to eat what’s served, going a meal or even a day without food is not going to have any lasting consequences. When children are sick, for example, their bodies naturally fast and that is a good thing. If a child has a choice to eat the food that was served to him but chooses not to, the ball is in his court. I can’t imagine hunger not winning out, unless there is some underlying legitimate condition, which would be known. I think I’ve only ever had to do this once or twice with each child and by the next meal, they were ready to eat and understood the concept of not wasting what has been provided for us to eat.

          Yes, I was trying to point out that children’s desires and needs are not always aligned and that we as parents must meet their needs even when we go against their desires…as in all areas of parenting. I did not go into the complexities of food allergies or sensitivities because those things are the exception to the norm and should be handled as parents see fit according to each individual circumstance. I was addressing the willful pickiness that is undeniable evident in today’s culture.

          • Okay, I’m posting as anonymously as I can, b/c I’m sure I’ll get some flack for this. We have been dealing with our three year old being a picky eater, so this post is timely, but not very helpful to me.
            We have tried everything you mentioned, and most of the different suggestions in the comments and it’s just not helping. We have three other kids that eat what I make, regardless of whether or not they like it, so we’ve had some success (and they were relatively picky).

            However, recently in an absolute last ditch effort with our three year old, we tried serving her the same meal (fresh portions) for three days. For every meal time. She missed three breakfasts, three lunches, and three dinners, and during that time, only had a few bites of salad and water.

            It finally got to the point that she was saying she didn’t want to eat, she would rather take a nap or go to bed and didn’t want to come to the table anymore for meals. She wasn’t interested in any rewards for eating the 4 bites we were trying to get her to try.
            She had decided she wasn’t going to eat it, and was going to starve herself.

            What do you do then? When we saw how lethargic she was getting we just gave up and let her eat the things she wanted from what we were all having. (Everyone else got served different meals during this time).

            It was a huge battle of wills, and I feel like we lost. The meal we were trying to get her to just TRY was something she SHOULD have liked (simple meals with ingredients she normally likes, if you’re curious, it was chicken enchiladas and scalloped corn). She just didn’t like the look of it and was willing to starve herself to prove it.

            What do you do then?

            • Hi S.

              Have you talked with your pediatrician about your daughter’s pickiness? My son had an oversensitive palate and food textures were really hard for him process because it causes sensory overload. We kept track of what we presented him during the time, and his response. We ended up having to see a specialist and were able to tone down the sensory overload throuhgh different techniques.

              Food allergies could also cause a child to consistently refuse food. Wheat, milk, corn, and soy are all allergies that are hard to avoid unless you make everything from scratch avoiding those foods. It may be worth looking into to see if this may be an underlying issue.

              Also, I think you are doing the best you can and this sounds like a very challenging situation. Don’t give up, and keep working with your daughter. Maybe keeping a food journal of what she will and won’t eat will help you pinpoint or rule out allergy issues. I hope you are soon able to break through this pickiness or find the underlying cause of her refusal to eat.

          • I realize that there is a difference between willful pickiness and true aversion. There are lots of battles to fight and many ways to teach gratefulness. Mealtimes are, for me, times that should be focused on family and togetherness and therefore not a time for battling. Many of my friends grew up with parents who were strict about this…forcing them to clear their plates, or serving the same meal repeatedly, etc. It didn’t turn out well for them in adulthood, nor did it teach them to be grateful. Almost all of them continue to be picky eaters or have some kind of food issue (when food is associated with control, as in, a battle of the wills, it can grease the wheels for conditions like bulimia). In contrast, I outgrew my pickiness except for a few true food aversions. My mom never made it an issue. And I am definitely very grateful for what we have. My older daughter was extremely picky, to the point we had to give her nutritional supplements (as per her doctor’s advice) and special “chocolate milk”. She is a very humble and grateful ten year old who, today, eats a wide variety of things and willingly tries new things frequently, as well as willingly eating a portion of things she doesn’t care for but I’ve served. My younger daughter has just begun doing this as well. She’s more stubborn, so it took her longer to come around.

            I don’t know what the state or country laws are like where you live, but here, a friend of a friend just was prosecuted for withholding food from their daughter, who died of malnourishment. They contend that they simply served the food and she refused to eat it. It turns out, it didn’t matter what their intentions were; she wasn’t getting food, and it caused her to be malnourished. She was malnourished to the point of weakness that contributed to her death.

            I totally get your heart in this, and I appreciate that every kid and family is different. And, therefore, just because you can’t imagine hunger not winning out unless there was an underlying issue doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Furthermore, your example of a body naturally fasting during illness…well, that doesn’t happen with every illness or every kid. And even so, that’s either part of the illness and actually not a good thing, or the child’s own body defending itself. Internal, not external causes.

            My main message is that whether by a child’s foolishness or a parent’s choice, withholding food is not good parenting. And I think we should be mindful of the admonition of the Lord, both in Luke 11 from earlier and how we are commanded not to frustrate our children and set them up for failure. I want mealtimes in my home to be full of peace and togetherness and laughter. I don’t wish to create an atmosphere of clashing wills when there doesn’t need to be. Children present plenty of opportunity to teach them they are not in charge, God is, and to be grateful and humble without us having to take a basic necessity of life and basic function of family and make a battleground out of it.

            • I actually think it was only about 2 1/2 days of missed meals, she ate dinner on the third day, and did have a few things in between. But she definitely debunked my “a kid will eat anything if hungry enough” theory. I used to judge other moms that maintained that wasn’t true for their kids, so I guess this is my punishment.

              I’m not sure if it could be sensitivity or palette issues, but with five kids I think I’ve got a good handle on when it’s defiance vs. a real issue, and it seems an awful lot like defiance. And I’m pretty positive we are not dealing with food allergies.

              She basically won’t eat anything that is a food mix, no casseroles, no burritos, no rice and beans, salad and pizza are about the only things where food is allowed to touch. If it’s mixed up, it looks funny and she won’t even touch it. Even if she likes all the particular ingredients.

              It may not be hard to serve healthy food with those limitations, but with five kids it’s much more time intensive and I didn’t “cater” to the other ones, and they learned to eat.

          • By the way, I don’t hold any animosity toward anyone here. My opinions are just different, and I feel strongly about them. I hope that is what is coming across. There is value in discourse, but I don’t want anyone to feel judged. It’s hard to state a strong, opposing opinion with grace, and I’m not always the best at that.

            • I think some of the people who responded are not understanding the method that we use at our house. At no point has my son ever been malnourished, nor suffered from any side effects from missing dinner on the two seperate occassions this has occurred. In many countries eating only two meals a day is common and a third meal (our dinner) is considered over board. Mrs. Taft mentioned parents who were charged for their daughters death, and in my opinion those parents missed the mark. There are real medical reasons for people to not eat, and those should be followed up on, and treated as such, medical conditions and not willful pickiness.

              Also, there seem to be many assumptions that because I have my son try 2-3 bites of a food (not clear the plate or anything) that it causes psychological consequences and is also not in character with God. I would argue that by giving him a choice as to what he wants to eat and letting him know the consequences beforehand if he chooses not to at least try the food presented to him, he is learning proper boundaries and gaining a healthier perspective then those who nag their children to try food without ever having any consequences.

              In response to this being uncharacteristic of God, I respectfully disagree. There have been many times in my life where I had to suffer temporarily (miss a meal or a few) because of my willfull disobedience (at least try what God laid before me), and God withheld what I wanted (dessert) until I showed him gratitude for providing for me, even in a way that I did not like (dinner). I would go into more detail, but it’s some very personal experiences that I had.

              When it comes down to it, a loving and caring parent will recognize when the child is being willful or if there is more to the issue. With our son, he did suffer food aversions when he first started on solid foods. Instead of starving him, we sought out the help we needed to oversome his sensitivities. Sometimes you can work through them, sometimes you have to make adjustments.

              I know this is a sensitive subject for many, but we have to respectfully disagree with each other and not accuse some parents of being cold-hearted, or causing malnutrition their children just because their method of teaching gratitude is different.

  12. Thanks for this post! I’ve wondered, too, whether kids were *always* picky eaters or if this is a new thing in our affluent culture. Those all sound like good tips for encouraging gratitude.

    We’ve recently started our 7-month old on solids. In an attempt to encourage a more adventurous palate, we’re practicing baby-led weaning — i.e. letting her feed herself (no purees) as much as she wants. We hope that by letting her control her own eating right from the start, she will see dinnertime as a relaxed and enjoyable time to learn and experiment.

    • This worked with our son, now 5 1/2. He eats until he is full, eats what he likes, eats at dinner, is welcome to a snack between meals, has likes, has dislikes. Just like a regular human!

    • I should have explained when we start the “not wasting, saving for next meal if not eaten” rule. With our babies/toddlers, we let them be the guide, as you described. If they are raised solely on breast milk, their appetites are effective gauges once they move on to solids. It’s when things like high fructose corn syrup (or even fructose in fruit juices when served frequently) and enriched/altered foods are served that our bodies lack the ability to be guided by appetite. I agree, dinnertime should be relaxed and enjoyable! :) It is that way in our home, too.

  13. I appreciate this post a lot. I don’t have any children yet (we are ttc), but I grew up incredibly picky! My parents were terrified to have me eat new foods. So they let me pick. I grew up on literally Eggo waffles, Chocolate Pop Tarts, Chicken fingers, & Cheese pizza. My only veggie I would eat was ketchup and the only fruit I would eat were bananas. So sad! It wasn’t until I met my husband that I started being forced to try new foods and venture out. I just wish my parents had a much better approach. Now I’m not a picky eater at all (except pickled foods lol). Now I love veggies, fruit, different kinds of meats, and even sushi :)

  14. Lydia {Violette Rain} says:

    Thanks so much for a great post! This is exactly how I was raised and I don’t remember I or my 4 siblings ever having any problems with whole food – we never knew there was anything else! Whole wheat, brown rice and lots of fresh veggies were the norm, and to this day, beyond the health benefits, they are my taste preference since they are what my palate was developed on (completely agree about white flour/rice being flavorless – so many other yummy, interesting options to be had!:) I LOVED cookbooks and was cooking and baking on my own from age 6 or 7 and I have fond memories of eating beet leaves, snow peas, tomatoes and corn outside in my dad’s garden straight from the plants – and it was considered a treat to be savored! :) I am now 29 years old and still love all these things. I am grateful for the foundation I received and looking forward to passing on a love of real food to my own children! :)

    • Lydia, you are very fortunate to have been raised on real food! Not many in our generation are…which is part of this pickiness problem in children today. I did enjoy mostly home-cooked meals growing up (yum!), but they were not what I strive for with my own family today. I, too, love cookbooks, but I have a strange problem with following recipes. I always have to tweak them. I’m odd like that. :)

  15. This is a great post. One thing I find that we do is talk about the food that we are going to eat at other’s houses before we go…talk about how the person went to time and effort to make it and we are to be thankful no matter what it is. We talk about how it is important to be greatful for it. (Often times its not the same as food at our house.) I don’t mention the negatives about the food but just that the person went to time and effort to make it. They seem to get this concept better at home since they help/see me do it. Also when out its often unfamiliar things like I said eg. white bread or something like that.

    • That’s great that you talk about the food you’re going to eat as guests and give your children a reminder to be grateful for it. I have done this, but I don’t do it enough. My children sometimes ask me after if I liked the food served on certain occasions. I usually say yes, as I do! But sometimes, I will admit that I didn’t particularly care for it but that I was very grateful for it and for their hospitality. After all, eating unfamiliar food can take some getting used to.

  16. At first when I read this I thought, “Don’t judge me, lady. You’re no better than me.” But once I could look past the slightly judgmental tone (or maybe it was just my own insecurities…?) of this post I really liked it. This is kind of what I’m trying to do with the girls, show them where food comes from and hope to foster gratitude for that food. I’m totally guilty of hiding healthy stuff in snack food (ahem… spinach brownies), but after reading this I agree that maybe that’s not always the best idea. I want them to WANT to eat good, healthy foods, not be fooled into it.

    • I agree. When I talk to my children about WHY we eat certain things they are fine with it. We don’t give kids enough credit sometimes, I think. Also, if you raise them this way from the start if you can, I think it does make a difference. Eg, green smoothies are normal, I don’t need to “hide” it in there. But, that said, for moms who didn’t start their kids this way, and they are working on changing their kid’s eating habits, perhaps sometimes hiding things in the food and sometimes talking about it and teaching about why and gratitude (giving a balance rather than ALWAYS having it be a battle) is a good start and then gradually changing it.

  17. Kate in NY says:

    I am not a line-chef who caters to each family member’s individual preferences; I make one meal for dinner, and those who do not like it are welcome to have fruit or cereal instead. We talk a lot about how lucky we are to have these options; one of my children was adopted from Africa when he was 7, and so we have a very real frame of reference in that respect. But I would never force my child to eat something he or she truly didn’t want to. I am a very adventurous eater, but even so, there are some foods that simply don’t appeal to me: yogurt, tuna fish, peaches. My husband is completely disgusted by cheese of any kind – he actually gags when he smells it! And my son from Ethiopia finds chocolate and sweet foods repulsive (if only that were true of me!) As grown-ups, we would never eat foods that repelled us unless we had to – so it seems unfair to demand that of children. I have seen the palates of my own kids grow more and more sophisticated with time, and they hardly ever go for the cereal option these days – they are far more likely to try (and enjoy) the paella or the Ethiopian chicken or the spicy Thai noodles. But I think it is important for them to feel in control of what goes into their bodies, and there are enough power struggles to contend with in parenting – - – this is one I would rather not engage in.

    • I appreciate your stance. In our house, too ,we have various “issues” – my husband is West-African and has his own preferences (many that have rubbed off on us, but not all); my youngest has bad allergies; and I am vegetarian while my family eats meat. All this to say that meals in our household take a little more work, and respect for individual needs and preferences, than in some households. We are not dishonoring God nor demonstrating lack of compassion for the starving of the world by doing our best to meet the needs of our family, in a healthy and caring way.

    • I don’t think we should ever engage in a power struggle over food. That is one thing I was making a point to avoid. We all have food preferences that we grow into as adults, and as parents we see these emerge in our children as they get older and can take these into consideration at dinnertime, as you described.

  18. As a child I was forced to eat many things I did not like and this made meal time miserable. As an adult, through allergy testing, I found that most of what I refused was food that I am allergic to. Some I knew I had a definite and immediate reaction, others were delayed or subtle as to the reaction. One of my children hated peanut butter but could not give a clear reason why but when tested did indeed have allergies to peanuts and like me other rejected foods were allegans! I do incourage mine to try new foods and retry ones they have not liked before. i also try to cook foods in a different manner, such as, instead of boiling okra lightly stir frying it.

    • Growing up, my family hunted and grew a big garden. My mom made her own bread and we almost never (and I mean about once/yr) at at a restaurant – no fast food. We had to eat what we were served and I was so grossed out by most meat. When I left home I became a vegan and later a vegetarian. Meat still grosses me out! If my children are disgusted by something, I don’t offer junk food, but a healthy alternative (for instance, beans instead of chicken). I do see this as part of respecting the individual and teaching them to listen to their own bodies.

  19. We had a really hard time introducing my son to solid foods. It was determined he actually had an oversensitive palate, causing many texture aversions. Instead of pushing solid food on him, we nursed him longer and supplemented with milk based formula, since my supply had been drying up. We skipped the “baby foods” and introduced him gradually to mashed veggies, or cooked beans. He’s now almost two and will eat just about anything. Some days he is very picky about what he’ll eat, but I stand behind the food I’ve prepared. We make chewing our food fun with “nom, nom, nom” sounds, and bobbling our heads slightly (yes I participate too!). If that doesn’t help him finish his plate then I just take him down and when he’s hungry again he gets another go at his dinner plate.

    I don’t force him to eat anything, yet our method so far has resulted in a little boy who loves to help make dinner, eat fresh veggies, beans, whole grains, salads, and thinks of fruit as his dessert. With what we’ve been through with him, I understand there can be legitimate psychological barriers with food, and extra effort from us and more patience at the dinner table has brought our son to a place where he truly enjoys wholesome foods.

    • Great method! Standing behind the food you prepare, but at the same time not forcing him to eat are two essentials to what I believe has led to success at dinnertime in our home, too. I consider our approach a no-nonsense, no biggie approach. We don’t push food on our children or bribe them. We just maintain a value for being grateful for what we do have and an expectation for not wasting it. (If it’s eaten at the next meal, fine.) :)

  20. I have to agree with Jennifer that many of the whole foods posts on the web can be very judgemental. It’s sad when they also have to be combined with a sense of spiritual superiority.

    • I wonder if you have any idea how judgemental you sound in this comment? Maybe it wasn’t intentional, but it’s there. Try not to get your back up because someone mentions wanting to do their best for the Lord, and you might not sense judgement, but rather a passion to do and share what they believe to be the best option, rather than just good enough. Not looking for a fight. Just saying.

    • I did not intend to come across as judgmental or spiritually superior. I simply want to point out the bigger picture. While many parents are overly concerned about their child’s interaction with food (some very well-intentioned, I might say), it can be easy to forget how fortunate we are. This attitude is very evident in this generation of young people and I hope we as parents can start to make some changes while our children are still young.

      Many mothers are on a journey to healthier food/whole food/real food as a result of health issues from growing up in a fast food culture grown on corn and soy. What might be perceived as judgmental may in some cases be a frustration with the system that stole their health. Certainly, there may be some who are judgmental, but I think it’s unfair to make such a sweeping statement.

  21. I appreciate this post. I have had some picky eaters, but have always believed that it is my job as a parent to work with them and make them like most food over time. In general, I make the children eat a small portion of what they do not like, and they will not get dessert if they have not eaten it. I have seen big results! I do not like unthankfulness, and I have also run into many children who complain when they come to my home for a visit. I have seen even older children, 10+, picking over good, home-cooked meals, and frankly, it is an offense to the cook. Their parents will reward them, nonetheless, with a hearty dessert afterwards, and I just think it is sad. Recently I had a child in my home who would not even touch my homemade chicken soup. Unfortunately, he went hungry ’til the next meal. I don’t force other people’s children to eat my food. They will just go hungry while they are in my home if that is their choice. ;-)

    • My husband and I have friends who do the same with their 3 older children. The kids don’t need to eat dinner, but get plenty of dessert. I understand that children can be more distracted at other people’s houses, but when we’re at their place my son always eats his dinner before he gets dessert. I know they worked hard to prepare dinner for us, and I want to teach my son gratitude for the gifts we receive from others as well as our Father.

      • Sara, you brought up a good point, that children can be distracted when visiting others. I find it more challenging to follow through with our “method” when in others’ company. I do my best, though. I’m glad my older children will gladly eat whatever is served to them when visiting others, even if they don’t particularly care for it. I’m working on making sure my youngest are just as polite and grateful. :)

    • I understand! I run into the same problem sometimes, with other children picking at my home-cooked meals. I think it is true that nothing tastes quite like the meals a child’s own mother cooks for them, but regardless, I want to grow little grateful hearts, a sense of gratitude for whatever is graciously provided. This used to be so common, but these days it seems children are not taught these manners and this sense of gratitude, and instead they are allowed to be picky.

  22. I think this is an excellent point to ponder as so many of our kids are raised on prepackaged or fast food meals. It is definitely important that children be taught from a young age about the importance of nutrition, and more importantly gratitude.
    However, I will also say that there is a growing number of these “picky eaters” because of disorders such as autism, where children will only eat certain foods because they are unable to handle the texture of others. This is not a discipline or gratitude issue. It is a grossly overlooked sensory issue, which for some children can be painful. My son is one in this lot. His selective diet consists of bananas, homemade almond flour pancakes, fruit and veggie smoothies, and bacon. We give him no prepackaged or store bought meals due to food allergies, but also because of food sensory issues.
    I just thought I would put this out there, because it’s easy to misjudge mine, and many others, situation without being educated on other possibilities.

    • Thank you for bringing that to our attention. Yes, that is true that sometimes it’s not a matter of being picky or not being grateful. On a similar note, there are also allergies that can come into play.

  23. This information was very helpful to me. My husband and I are not picky eaters and our first son had no problem eating what we gave him. When our second little boy came along we expected the same, but were completely surprised to find just the opposite.

    The ideas about involving children in the whole process completely makes sense to me and I can’t wait to get the cookbooks out! :)

    • Yes, one child can differ so much from his/her siblings in this area. Four of my children eat whatever is put in front of them and pretty much always have, but I have one child who is a little more difficult. He’s not picky. He will eat just about anything, but he eats a lot less. I’m glad you’re encouraged to get the cookbooks out for them! I can hear my two year old now…”Mama, make”, when he comes to something that looks yummy. :)

  24. I’m always interested to read articles about picky eaters, as we have several in our home – however, I believe you are fortunate in that your children tend to eat most things you serve. I also breastfed, and still have very picky eaters – they just don’t even want to try anything that “looks” like they might not like it, and even if they prepare it, it doesn’t matter – they enjoy preparing, but still don’t want to eat it :) I also believe we try to cultivate gratitude in our home, but still – picky eaters! So, sometimes, even when you’re trying to do the “right” things, children may still be picky eaters. So, my biggest question is about how to handle those mealtimes when the kids simply refuse to try something or take more than a bite? I would love anyone’s advice on that topic, as we have differing opinions in our home about the best way to approach this. Lately I have felt a bit of discouragement and frustration with some of the whole foods posts on the web, as they sometimes feel so judgemental. I am careful about checking ingredients in my baby foods, and still used Gerber – most of which often listed only the primary ingredient plus a little vitamin C perhaps. I hear and appreciate what you are saying, but I think it is important to realize that we’re all at different stages of learning and trying to make healthy changes in our families diets, and the standard line for some may not be the same for others, and that’s OK.

    • Hi Jennifer,

      When my son refuses to try something we don’t force it. However, he doesn’t get anything elseo that evening either. From what I’ve read, children and adults alike need to try a food about 10 times before they can determine if they like it or not, so the rule is that you have to try it (2-3 bites) each time it is served. If he does try it and truly doesn’t like it, I just make sure he finshes the other food on his plate and then he gets his fruit for dessert later in the evening. If he doesn’t try a particular food and comes to me hungry later, I give him what he didn’t try earlier. Most times, when he hungry he’s more willing to try something new, and often I find he actually likes what he avoided at dinner time.

      The whole foods diet is definately a long journey and every family is different for how long it takes to adjust. My family has been working on it for years, and still last week we had canned manwich to make some sloppy joes. None of us have it perfect, but I do try to serve my family the best food that we can afford.

      • Thanks Sara – I like your approach and have tried it, but without success, so I’d like to ask you about it a bit more – are your children willing to try the required 2-3 bites? And if not, what do you do? I have also read that it takes multiple tries to start to “like” a food. Some of our children are willing to eat and try things, and others are not. When we have tried to institute the rule of at least “trying” something (one or two bites), there is refusal, tears, and if we kept bringing it back they literally would not eat anything for more than a day. (And this is not just about “weird” things – this is about everyday veggies, or meats – all very normal foods – they will literally sit at the table and eat nothing, so, of course, my concern is their nutritional intake rather than just a desire to accustom them to more exotic foods). We definitely don’t feel right about disciplining their refusal to eat foods, but hence, we are stuck here in this “no-eating” phase! :)
        I appreciate your comments about the journey that healthy eating is – it really is a journey. I think part of what I am reacting against is the notion that if anything comes out of a jar or a commercial company than it is “bad”. Unless I am missing something, I’ve seen many commercially-prepared foods that have no “bad” ingredients, or very few, so I feel that to write them all off in one big swoop is an over-reaction and a result of “hype”. I like your comment about the manwich ;) – I think its important for us to remember that it is not the end of the world to occasionally consume foods that are on the “bad” list :) Food, like most things in life, needs to be approached within perspective of the greater picture, and I think if we strive for improvement with healthy eating, but keep it in balance with the rest of life, we will be the better for it.

        • Hi Jennifer,

          Here’s some more details of our method. I have just the one little boy now and he’s 2, so our approach is to first eat the food with him from his plate, and make it into a bit of a game. We make funny noices when chewing, and bobble our heads around. Usually that works, but not always. If he flat out refuses to try the food we don’t force it. I never want to see him crying over food (not that it doesn’t happen). I simply say, that’s ok but he doesn’t get any other foods, then we release him from the table (that also includes having seconds of other foods on his plate).

          When he comes to me hungry later, which almost always happens, I offer him the food left on his plate for “dessert”. If he still refuses then I again remind him that because he didn’t try it, he cannot have anything else and follow through. Once he tries the one or two bites he can either finish his plate from dinner, or if he doesn’t like it have some fruit for dessert.

          There have been nights where he went to bed without dinner and throwing tantrums over not wanting to try the foods, but I think we’ve only had that happen twice. Same with your kids, sometimes the food he refuses to try is a basic food we’ve had before. After the second time he went to bed without dinner, he has been willing to try the food at some point in the evening. I’ve found introducing for an after dinner snack sometimes works better since he is hungrier from not having a full dinner. I’m not as concerned about the lack of nutrition, missing a meal or two is not the end of the world for him. If I noticed that there were certain types of foods that he consistently refused to eat, I would probably look into allergy or sensory problems associated with those foods as a next step. We’re not at that point yet though. Good luck with working with your kids!!

    • Jennifer, that’s great that you’re working on them in these ways and that you see the value in cultivating a heart of gratitude! We can’t force a heart of gratitude, just like we can’t change their hearts, or ultimately, their behavior, in any other area. We can only be consistent and faithful in our parenting and do our best, with the Lord’s wisdom and strength. It sounds like that’s what you’re doing. :) And the tips I mentioned are not meant to be a guaranteed method, just what has works really well for us.

  25. Just wanted to briefly comment on your article. It was a very encouraging article for the “typical” mom and kids. There can certainly be lots of kids who just go through developmental phases where they act picky, for pretty “normal” reasons. However, many kids today struggle with food issues, for reasons that are FAR from normal, and parents might not recognize them. Children who seem to self-limit to foods high in sugars, processed carbs, or dairy might be doing so because they have a problem with yeast (which craves sugars/carbs), have sensory issues (a pediatric Occupational Therapist can diagnose and treat this), a feeding disorder due to developmental problems such as autism (some kids who are mildly affected might go undiagnosed), or have Leaky Gut Syndrome due to repeated use of antibiotics or other reasons. Some kids might have heavy metal toxicity or a zinc deficiency (determined by hair and blood tests), which warp their sense of taste and smell, causing them to self-limit foods (my own son has both of these issues, and we’ve been struggling for several years now). Pickiness is NOT always due to a behavioral problem or a power struggle, and is often completely outside the child’s ability to control. It is NOT their “choice” to act this way. I thought my son was just being obnoxious, until one day my older son’s girlfriend ate dinner with us, and commented on my son’s bright white fingernails (we later learned that this was a skign of zinc deficiency). It was only then I realized there was an actual problem. This was child #8 of 9 for me, so I was not an inexperienced parent. But I had NO idea about any of these things until after I finally caught on that there was a problem. Just wanted to share my own experience, and maybe help some family recognize something they hadn’t before.

    • Wow, Marilyn, THANK YOU, this may explain a lot in my child’s case. I have a son who, at age 11, is super ridiculously picky, has been since day one (would only ever drink from the breast, not even accepting breast milk from a bottle) and I have tried EVERYTHING, for 12 years, to broaden his horizons. He has an older brother who always ate anything that was put in front of him with no hesitation, so this has been hard to accept. He seems to *want* to get over his pickiness, but he truly seems unable to, and I think, especially after reading your post, that it could be at least partially something medical. For one thing, he complains that some foods are too hard to swallow–I mean, things like carrots and any kind of meat. And his tonsils are HUGE. And I wonder if there is a connection there. I so appreciate your insight, I think we need to look further into his issues. I don’t know really what else to do at this point. I am tired of blaming myself; I don’t think this can possibly be 100% parental failure. His “eating problem,” as he calls it, has been a constant source of worry for me, and I do not know where to turn at this point.

    • There certainly are other issues that can affect appetite and willingness to eat. Our food supply is not what it used to be and as a result we have an epidemic of allergies and behavioral problems (not anyone to blame…well, besides the changing face of farming and our food supply)… and of course,, like you mentioned, the overuse of antibiotics (and vaccines) and such. For some parents, dinnertime is a struggle. However, every parent knows their own children and can avoid problem foods, large servings sizes, etc. and can approach food preparation and dinner time with legitimate needs in mind. We can still raise our children to be grateful and to not waste food, regardless of any unique individual needs. And when in the company of others, legitimate food intolerances/allergies or other behavioral issues are typically brought the the host’s attention, at least in my experience.

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