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Let’s ban the phrase “picky eater”

It goes like this: Kids are picky eaters. They won’t eat food that’s green, brown or good for them. They are strong-willed little creatures who cannot be swayed. We must give up, give in, and feed them nothing but juice, crackers and white-bread sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

Sigh. Is anyone else as tired of the term “picky eater” as I am?

To be clear: I understand that many children have serious food allergies or sensory issues that make them painfully averse to certain foods. But that’s something else entirely. And even then, I’d argue that calling them “picky eaters” diminishes these children’s very real challenges.

It’s a phrase that has been overused to the point of cliche, becoming a catch-all and crutch whenever a child refuses something new or a parent is too tired to argue (been there) or when a fast-food stop or children’s menu is the quickest path to appeasement. Food manufacturers and cookbook publishers have gotten rich persuading parents to sate kids’ picky appetites by feeding them vitamin-fortified junk or hiding spinach in their brownies.

But I just can’t get on board with that. Real, whole foods (not jacked-up semblances) are the best source of nutrients. And if you want to put veggies in your baked goods, go for it. Maybe even hold off on the truth if you really think your kid will balk at tasting it. But then fess up and point out why spinach is a good thing even when it’s not in a brownie.

Young children go on strikes (refusing certain foods) and jags (eating only certain foods). Older kids have the added influence of marketing and friends. And all kids — and adults — have foods they just don’t like. I get that. I also understand that it sometimes takes finessing to get kids to embrace good food. But that starts with educating kids, not labeling them “picky” and throwing up our hands.

To that end, I’d like to highlight a few cooking/eating resources that I think get it right:

  • Food with Kid Appeal, a blog written by Jenna Pepper, a mother of two, is spot-on in its message that kids should be taught how food affects their bodies. Jenna offers really good, low-fuss recipes, but her real strength is the companion advice that relates each recipe’s ingredients to how kids grow and develop. This mushroom post is a great example. (Though how ironic that when I went to check these links, I saw she’d just written a post about… picky eaters. At least it’s about “recovering” picky eaters.) 

  • This Eat Real round-up from Liz Snyder, a mom and food activist, is one of the smartest and most useful pieces I’ve seen on raising healthy eaters. I’m not sure how active or updated the rest of her site is, but this list is timeless. It’s long, but worth the read.

  • Everyone talks about how letting kids help in the kitchen will turn them into lifelong foodies. Sounds great, but we all know the reality can be messy and frustrating. That’s why I like this short post from Jamie Martin at Steady Mom. (One tip: When baking, give your child her own bowl and small amounts of each ingredient. Genius.)

  • Speaking of cooking, ChopChop, a new magazine founded by cookbook author Sally Sampson, packages healthy recipes and food facts in an appealing, readable quarterly aimed at kids ages 5-12. I have a few quibbles, notably the recommendation to use canola oil (which is almost always genetically modified and not nearly as healthful as olive oil, which the magazine also suggests), and the emphasis on skim milk (junk food, not saturated fat, is the problem). But the debut issue also features an interview with Orren Fox, the young chicken farmer I mentioned in a post last month. (It helps that Orren is interviewed by Susan Orlean, one of my favorite writers, and apparently a chicken farmer herself.) Overall the magazine is a great resource sending the right message: Kids will eat real food. 

What do you think about this picky-eater business? Time to retire that tired phrase? Any other resources to recommend?

With this post, I’m participating in Real Food Wednesdays and Fight Back Fridays, where bloggers come together to post links on topics related to eating and learning about real food.

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{ 50 comments… add one }

  • Jody Mace April 13, 2010, 8:55 am

    First, I’ll say that kids who are presented only healthful, whole foods will certainly eat them and like them. No doubt about that. And the links in the post are good and useful. That said I think there are a couple other factors in play. Kids ARE more likely to be picky eaters, and it’s not just because of adult coddling. They have way more tastebuds, which is why in GENERAL they have stronger negative reactions to some foods. So if a kid has a strong negative reaction to broccoli, for example, I think we should trust them that it tastes really, really bad to them. I remember as a kid tasting a lima bean and I can’t even describe how vile it was to me. When I eat a lima bean now it’s ok. But that’s mostly because I don’t have as many taste buds as I used to! So, compared to adults, kids have stronger negative reactions to foods, and they have the reactions to more foods. I think that’s what it means when we say that kids are “picky eaters.” I don’t think that gives parents carte blanche to give up and just feed them white bread sandwiches. But I think we should keep this in mind.

    • Christina April 13, 2010, 1:41 pm

      Great point. Yes, definitely, we should respect kids’ likes/dislikes. For that reason (and many others), I don’t believe in forcing food. I do, though, believe in at least trying/tasting.

      Not sure where the term “picky eater” originated, but the problem is that it’s come to trivialize legitimate food obstacles like what you describe. So I’d rather we just talk about food choices without the labeling.

  • Denise Schipani April 13, 2010, 9:01 am

    I agree completely. I admit that I’ve been guilty of making or offering so-called “kid foods” to my boys. I do compel them to try certain things, and we don’t do fast food except as a VERY rare treat. I will buy the occasional package of chicken nuggets. More often, I make my own with chicken tenders and panko bread crumbs. I wish they’d eat eggplant and zucchini, but for now, I’m happy and relieved that they scarf down broccoli, carrots, and peas. I’d love it if they ate foodsthattouch, but for now, I’m pleased they love my meatballs, my chicken soup, my fish. Small battles. I’m heartened by the fact that I was a horribly picky eater, and I turned out fine, in part, or mostly, because eating good food was non-negotiable in our house. (I blogged about that here: http://www.confessionsofameanmommy.com/yes-you-do-have-to-eat-your-vegetables/ )

    And also,I realize now, because these other so-called “kid friendly” options simply didn’t exist when I was a kid. But again, I do agree that parents too often start out by giving in — instead of offering whole-food options (or, gasp!, requiring their children to eat what the family’s eating), they go right for what’s easy, which as you point out paint kids unfairly with the “he won’t eat THAT” brush. Small example: my husband and I always ate whole-grain bread before kids. It never occurred to me to start buying soft white bread when I had kids. I just gave them the bread we had. They have no idea that gushy Wonder Bread exists.

    Good post!


    • Christina April 13, 2010, 1:45 pm

      I think you hit on a key difference between when we were growing up and now: The concept of “kid food” just didn’t exist. Not like it does today, anyway. And of course the stuff that was around wasn’t nearly as nasty as what’s marketed to kids/parents today.

  • Diane April 13, 2010, 6:59 pm

    Maia eats pretty much everything but I really noticed the picky eater phenom when we started hosting play dates. For our first lunch I made all these cool little sandwiches (with brown bread & veggie spread etc cut into shapes with cookie cutters-I was so proud). Two of the kids informed me that they knew by looking they wouldn’t like it. One explain she didn’t like anything green and the other told me she only ate beige food -and did I have mac and cheese…
    Interestly, we’ve met very few picky eaters in the countries we’ve traveled to.

    • Christina April 14, 2010, 4:16 pm

      It is interesting, isn’t it, that this tends to be a very American phenomenon? Hmmm, could that have anything to do with the fact that the U.S. leads the world in processed food?

      • lisa April 16, 2010, 5:54 pm

        I absolutely agree with that statement. The MSG in fast food & processed foods is not only addictive but I think this “flavor enhancer” makes it harder for kids to enjoy/want real food. They’re so used to the artificial kind.

  • Samantha April 13, 2010, 8:31 pm

    Well, I am a foodie and am batting 1 for two in the children-who-eat-anything department. My daughter, 7, has always tried and liked almost anything, from sushi to calamari to broccoli and arugula, my son, 4.5, however, likes mostly white food and refuses to try nearly anything unless you promise him some sort of reward. The past two weeks I tried to get him to try two new things a day with the ridiculous reward of continuing our donut ritual (he gets a donut, i get coffee, everyone is happy- this happens twice a week before preschool). Well, he tried grapefruit and literally gagged. As he did with everything else, blueberries, strawberries, apples (no gag but didn’t like it), bananas, all somewhat kid friendly foods.

    I did what I could and now I have officially given up. My doctor is not worried. He is healthy and growing. He eats peanut butter and honey on whole wheat bread (without crusts, tyvm), drinks milk, cranberry juice and apple cider and that has got to be the sum total of his nutritional repertoire at the moment, along with a multivitamin.

    I think, like my husband, he is a ‘supertaster’. I think he is super sensitive to a certain chemical in certain foods. http://health.howstuffworks.com/taste4.htm – This is a link to a definition of this genetic tendency. The article here states that people are often influenced with what their mothers ate during pregnancy. I for one, think that is not true at all, or my son would be eating much better!

    So for now, I am hanging up the apron for this little boy and hoping he sustains himself well enough on what I can provide for him that he will tolerate. For what it’s worth, I buy organic peanut butter, and draw the line at Peter Pan, which he prefers, and get local honey and Monk’s bread, organic milk and local cider when available.

    At least I have one of my kids to enjoy sushi night with since my husband won’t touch the stuff!

    • Christina April 14, 2010, 4:59 pm

      Have you heard the song “John Lee Supertaster” by They Might Be Giants? I think you and your supertaster would like it.

      • Julie@teachinggoodeaters April 3, 2012, 9:23 pm

        I realize that this was written some time ago, but I still thought I would comment in case it could be of help to anyone else… I recently read a book called, “What’s Eating Your Child.” In the book, the author mentions that the “super tasting” phenomenon is actually caused by a zink deficiency- it might be worth exploring.

  • Kelly April 14, 2010, 10:38 am

    Thanks for the great resources!

  • Pamela April 14, 2010, 3:00 pm

    Jody- Thanks for sharing the info about little kids having more taste buds. I didn’t know that and it explains a lot.

    Samantha- I am also continually amazed by how differently my 2 kids eat even though we have always offered them similar foods and certainly eat! Seeing these differences really demonstrates to me how much of their eating habits and food preferences are nature not nurture. We let my son, the “picky eater,” have pretty much whatever he wants from a daily selection of super-healthy, whole, homemade foods and don’t worry about it! (My husband is one of the most adventurous eaters I know and yet his brother claims that growing up he would only eat pizza and meat loaf for many years.)

    • Christina April 14, 2010, 4:56 pm

      On nature vs. nurture: Clearly kids are inclined to like/dislike certain foods. But I’d argue that nurture comes into play in terms of what parents offer their children. Foods that are wholesome and minimally processed (homemade or not) are always going to serve kids better than the junked-up alternatives. But those are not the kinds of go-to “kids-will-eat-only-these” foods most people mean when they talk about having “picky eaters.” You know what I mean? I think it’s also good to remember that the foods we ate as kids — even if they were just pizza and meatloaf — likely had far fewer ingredients and additives than their 2010 versions.

  • Laura April 15, 2010, 1:00 pm

    I’m really glad to find other mothers that are concerned about what their children are eating. I’m a working mom and it has been a real struggle for me to make sure my child is eating healthy because of day care and the food they serve. I send food with him a lot but my husband is concerned with him being marked as the “weird kid” who doesn’t eat what everyone else is eating. Sometimes I feel like he’s not getting enough but I have to constantly remind myslef he doesn’t eat as much as we do, so it’s all right. One thing I have noticed though, he prefers real food over the processed food I try to give him when I’m in a hurry (i.e. kid’s meals from a drive-thru). When I hear someone talk about kid friendly food, I have to shake my head. I serve my child what we are eating and strongly encourage him to try it by taking 1 bite – thats all. Another thing I have noticed that if we are all sitting at the table and enjoying each other’s company, he eats more and will try more. I wonder how many picky eaters are eating with their families at a table and how many are eating in front of a TV?

    • Christina April 15, 2010, 1:09 pm

      Welcome, Laura. We also worried about our daughter being the “weird” kid, but we ultimately decided there was a valuable life lesson (or two) in letting her bring her own food. I wrote about that here if you didn’t see it already.

  • Raine April 15, 2010, 1:05 pm

    This is a great post, and I agree with many of the things said here. But I also agree that that kids do need to become accustomed to eating many foods and it takes time. I know many children who will only eat five things and then I know many who will eat a variety of things. How exactly those situations come to be is probably dependent largely upon several factors – the kinds of foods available to children in their homes, what they eat when they are not at home – such as at school or family and friend’s homes, their parents attitudes about foods, and probably to some extent, genetics. I think by grown-up years most kids even out and will eat a good variety of things – regardless of how they ate as a child. I’m a good example – my Mom cooked mostly from scratch when I was growing up and I was fairly picky. I remember hating steak and vegetables, and then as I got older and could eat processed foods more I felt like I was liberated and ate more of those things as much as I could. Of course, after years and years of eating like that, I paid for it and my health suffered a great deal until I changed my whole way of eating about 5 years ago. It’s been a profound change that I can’t recommend enough to others.

    My son eats a pretty good variety of foods, but still hates salad and some vegetables. And we have a really healthy diet in our home. He doesn’t eat processed foods very often and I try to make sure when he goes somewhere else and will be eating something other than what I would normally offer him that it is minimized.

    I do notice that when kids eat real food they get hungry less frequently and have fewer breakdowns and mood issues. My son used to throw the most horrible tantrums imaginable when he was under 5. Some people might just attribute that to his being less mature, but even now if he eats something processed, it has an effect on his feeling of well-being within one day of consuming it – whether that is some emotional outburst or a stomach issue, or even a cold or flu. My son is understanding this much more as he gets older, which makes it easier for him to want to eat well so that he stays feeling good.

    • Christina April 15, 2010, 1:16 pm

      Raine, nice to see you here. I recently found and have enjoyed your blog. I think you’re right about how food affects behavior. Sadly, too many people write off tantrums/meltdowns/hyperactivity as simply par for the course. Or, worse, they look for solutions involving medication (needed sometimes, but not nearly as often as it’s prescribed). But so much of that can be traced to what kids eat. (Well, and lack of sleep, but that’s a whole other subject.)

  • emily April 16, 2010, 9:58 am

    well said! kids are picky because they, like adults, become addicted to crap-in-a-box processed sugary foods, not because they are inherently picky. it doesnt make sense to me that we would be designed as humans to want to only eat bad for us foods. I think that we are not made to have so much junk available and we just cant handle it. if parents could just wake up and stop buying junk and crackers, refined foods, candy, soda etc i bet theyd find that their kids were no longer quite so “picky”.

  • Jenn April 16, 2010, 11:34 am

    So it’s long been a belief of mine that so many of kids’ food “pickiness” stems from the fact that parents treat certain foods differently. Either they have an aversion themselves or they expect a child to react badly to a food and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Kids are perceptive — they pick up on our attitudes about food. My mom used to pick the lima beans out of her soup and put them on my plate. Now, I was strong-willed enough to decide for myself what I did and didn’t like and there was literally one dinner I completely refused to eat (a casserole made with Campbell’s broccoli and cheese soup — ick). My sister, on the other hand, was the worst about refusing to eat things.

    Now, I think my mom’s attitudes about food started with her parents making her sit at the table all night until she finished her peas. Why do that to a child? It’s not going to make them like the peas. Why not offer a beautiful variety of vegetables, each presented as a delicious option, so that you know that if your kid happens to dislike one veggie, no harm done, he can have more of something different the next night? To this day, my mother resists eating enough vegetables, even though she managed to teach me to eat them at least twice a day.

    • Christina April 16, 2010, 8:58 pm

      “They expect a child to react badly to a food and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.” You nailed it!

  • Nicole Cormier, RD, LDN April 17, 2010, 10:02 am

    I see about 10 “picky-eaters” per week. They are sent to me from their pediatricians. I don’t use the word picky for the most part, but do agree it is overused today. I find myself giving the same spiel over and over, which is pretty similiar to what is mentioned in this blog. Education is the most powerful tool and when kids hear it from someone else besides Mom, it seems to work for the most part. I do let families know to focus on each step or bite as a huge success. Being consistent, staying positive, and having fun is important to remember. I am working towards getting less and less Moms choosing to cook seperate meals at dinner. Great Blog!

    • Christina April 19, 2010, 11:45 am

      Interesting point about food education being more effective when it comes from someone besides a parent. I suspect that’s more of an issue in households where healthful eating has not been the norm. I like to think that if parents make thoughtful eating a regular part of the conversation, then kids grow up accustomed to the concept (even if they don’t always practice it). And one of the most powerful influences for kids is what parents themselves eat, so if a parent changes his/her habits, that goes a long way toward getting kids on board.

  • Anna @ Sacred Appetite April 19, 2010, 6:06 pm

    Kids become picky BECAUSE their parents urge them to eat. Parents who are overactive and over-involved in their kids eating create exactly what they’re afraid of because their afraid of it: kids who won’t eat. Requiring kids to taste things, making them clean their plates, offering bribes to eat, eat a certain number of bites of something–these are all counterproductive strategies. That and being afraid they won’t eat, afraid they’ll be hungry, which leads them to offer anything to get them to eat, including “kids foods” that kids are thought to like, junky stuff. If you provide all good, acceptable foods and try to make things tasty and attractive, and get off their backs, then kids’ natural appetites lead them to eat, with no problems whatsoever. It’s the pushing that IS the problem. Rewarding them or punishing or just bugging them to eat or differentiating between the foods you want them to eat and the ones they want to eat is like drinking salt water when you’re dying of thirst. Parents need to do their jobs and then just let kids be free to eat or not. They are born knowing exactly how much and what they need. They lose those abilities and get balky because parents control what doesn’t need controlling (what and how much they put in their mouths) while often not controlling what does need to be controlled: regular meals, the right foods only, good behavior at the table.

    • Christina April 19, 2010, 6:34 pm

      I’ve heard variations of this argument before, and agree with most of it; i.e., no bribing, forcing, cleaning plates or rewarding. But I don’t see anything wrong with asking kids to taste something, so long as that’s all it is: a request, not an edict. I also think it’s fine (and important) to distinguish between foods we want kids to eat and those we don’t. We can’t always ensure that we’ll be the ones providing those “right foods,” so for kids to learn to get along in the world without us, they need to have the knowledge to make good choices themselves. It is a fine balance, though, between offering that education and being neurotic about it.

  • Anna @ Sacred Appetite April 20, 2010, 8:47 am

    I would say it’s fine and good to distinguish between the foods you want them to eat and don’t want them to eat, but I see often this separation comes up between the ones WE want them to eat (healthy, yucky) and the ones THEY want to eat (unhealthy, yummy). Then it’s a battle. I think also it’s better not to ask a kid to eat (or even taste) anything. There just isn’t any reason to do so. If they’re hungry and we feed them good food, then the best approach is to let them be, give them their freedom to eat or not. A child is likelier to try food if nobody’s breathing down his neck, and likelier to like it and want to eat it again if it’s all done free will. Allowing them to approach foods on their own because THEY want to, not because WE want them to, is going to work a lot better long term. We can also orchestrate their WANTING to try just about anything by casually making it available when they’re really hungry, and not pestering them. By asking them to try something, we already alert them that it’s probably not something they would WANT to try, but one of those things WE want them to eat (therefore not good in its own merits). The more we push food, even if it’s subtle, the more they will tend to be resistant. It’s better to actually limit access to food than to ever push it upon them. Any kind of force feeding and pushing is unnecessary and accomplishes exactly the opposite of what we want it to. I certainly think we should educate kids about what junk food does to you, as graphically as necessary. But having good experience with healthy foods (without being pushed or manipulated) is the best first foundation for good eating long term, on their own.

    • Christina April 20, 2010, 9:31 am

      Sounds like we agree on the basics. If kids understand that healthy food is also tasty food, they will choose that food on its own merits.

  • Jessica April 21, 2010, 10:49 pm

    I have a suggestion for talking to young ones about their food and getting a balance of healthy items.

    Our two year old son will usually like the sweet things the best and only want to eat that one piece of the meal. For example, we will grill kabobs with peppers, onion, mushrooms, pineapple along with grilled meat/fish and something like asparagus or beans and rice. My son will eat all the food and enjoy it but always goes to eat all the pineapple first and spends the rest of the meal begging for mom or dad’s pineapple. So the suggestion first is that we don’t believe in bribing with foods but we do say something like “when you finish the food you have you can have more if you are still hungry” so if the first plate is finish he gets a new plate with new pineapple. We also use eating time to talk about how we can’t eat just one type of food and need a balance of different foods. We explain that some foods go to help our eye balls work better and some help our muscles, our bones, etc.

    On some days when we have patience to cut and mix all his food before we give it to him this helps get the balance in naturally so that he has a spoonful of food with a pineapple on it and that pleases everyone. However, this also means that we will be spoon feeding him dinner because he still doesn’t want to take charge of his own utensil.

  • Anna @ Sacred Appetite April 22, 2010, 10:19 am

    Jessica, the more you try to control what and how much your child actually puts in his mouth of what you serve, the more he will respond with asserting himself about his own eating, in negative ways. He will take foolish freedom if he can’t have the freedom he should have: (http://sacredappetite.wordpress.com/2009/12/17/foolish-freedom-why-some-kids-refuse-to-eat-even-to-the-point-of-harming-themselves/). If you push him to eat more of the rest of the dish in order to get another portion of pineapple, then he will not be free to just eat. If he’s not free, he will seize freedom in ways you probably won’t like and won’t be good for him, either. I would restrict the pineapple only in the sense that there is a limited amount and no, I am not going to give you mine, and everybody wants some. You can have your part but other people want theirs. And leave it at that. He should be free to eat (or not) whatever is available and figure out for himself the solution to his hunger. After he finished his pineapple, if nobody is giving theirs up to him, and realizes that he’s still hungry, he will want to eat other things, if he knows he’s not going to have other snacks available a half hour after the meal. Don’t allow him to pester people for pineapple. But don’t ask him to eat anything either. If you make him eat his whole dish when all he wants is the pineapple, in order to get more pineapple, then he sees the rest of the dish as a means to an end, and he’s eating because he must in order to get something else (a form of force feeding), instead of eating because he’s hungry. Kids need to be allowed to be hungry or to eat for themselves. The more parents leave the eating itself up to kids, the better. We must control what foods are available, not give them junk, provide regular meals and snacks, without random eating, and insist on good behavior at the table. If kids aren’t in charge of their own eating, though, pickiness and resistance and neurotic food behaviors are the result. Kids are capable of getting themselves fed and their needs met on their own, if not interfered with. These negotiations at the table are counterproductive. Purposeful leaving alone is the most effectively policy for kids’ eating once you’ve done your job.

    Dr. Spock has a wonderful solution to kids who are old enough but don’t want to feed themselves. I had the same problem with my now-19-year-old. I wrote about it here: http://sacredappetite.wordpress.com/2009/01/02/the-best-way-to-the-stomach-is-through-the-heart/

    • Christina April 22, 2010, 11:15 am

      Anna, I appreciate your contributions to this conversation, but I think we need to be careful with this one-size-fits-all strategy. Clearly you feel passionately about this, and it’s been effective for you, but I don’t believe there is one absolute right way to feed kids or teach them about food. Nor do I believe that the simple act of discussing food or setting some ground rules constitutes a restriction so oppressive that it’s damaging or counterproductive.

      I have a lot of other thoughts on this subject and its proponents, which I’ll cover in a future blog post, but for now I feel the need to defend Jessica. She’s not forcing her son to eat his food. In fact she noted that he “will eat all the food and enjoy it.” She’s also careful to tell him that he can have more if he’s hungry (not as a reward or simply because he finished the first plate).

      But, most importantly, what she’s doing is working for her family. It may not be exactly what I would do, or what someone else would do, but food education and appreciation can take many forms. And I think we need to respect that.

  • Anna @ Sacred Appetite April 22, 2010, 12:21 pm

    Sorry I came on too strong. Hope no one is offended. Good feedback for me….

    • Christina April 22, 2010, 2:53 pm

      It’s all part of the conversation — getting people thinking and talking about these issues. And that’s a good thing.

  • Maryann @ Raise Healthy Eaters April 23, 2010, 12:34 am

    When I saw the title of this post I couldn’t believe someone else said what I’m always thinking: let’s not label kids as picky eaters. My three-year old is typical — is afraid of new foods and is erratic with eating. But in her eyes she loves all food. She’ll tell me “I love fruits and vegetables!” I say “I know you do.” But she doesn’t eat many vegetables. But I know some day she’ll expand her eating as long as I give her the opportunity to learn to like a variety of foods. But if I label her a “picky eater” she’s more likely to grow into a picky eater.

    We don’t call 2-year olds illiterate because we know they will learn to read and write. I think we need to have more confidence that our children will learnto like a vareity of healthy foods in this same way. But I don’t blame parents at all. There’s little education about this important topic. I’m planning a series on this (sorry Christina, I might call it picky eating) on my site http://www.RaiseHealthyEaters.com. Hopefully it can help put things in perspective for parents that are struggling.

    • Christina April 23, 2010, 10:09 am

      Love the illiteracy analogy. Thanks for sharing that. And I’ll look forward to the series. (Maybe look at this as an opportunity to coin a new phrase?)

  • Amy Hemmert April 23, 2010, 6:38 pm

    Great post! The term “picky eater” has bothered me for a very long time, even though I use it. When a parent says, “I need help feeding my picky eater,” we tend to offer suggestions, but it seems the “picky eater” label needs to be addressed as well, especially if the child begins to think of herself as a picky eater.

    • Christina April 26, 2010, 2:18 pm

      Amy, so nice to see you here. We’re big Laptop Lunch fans in this house.

  • Amy Hemmert April 27, 2010, 12:13 pm

    Excellent! Come join us on Facebook when you have a free moment at http://www.facebook.com/LaptopLunches. Looking forward to reading your posts!

  • sarah henry May 5, 2010, 3:54 pm

    Hey Christina,

    Covered this very topic with my readers last year — even asked them to come up with a new term. Choosy chowhound was a favorite.

    Thought you and your readers might like to see one of the pieces I did on the subject, which I find fascinating:

    • Christina May 5, 2010, 4:21 pm

      Sarah, great to see you here, and thanks for the link. Fascinating, indeed. I will admit to some skepticism about “nutrition” research in general, which too often views fortified/added nutrients as on par with whole-food nutrients. But there’s certainly truth to the fact that kids who are regularly offered good, wholesome foods usually sort it out themselves. The key, of course, is offering that good food in the first place, and not the “kid food” that exists hand in hand with the term “picky eater.”

      Love “choosy chowhound”!

  • Rachel Huddleston June 2, 2010, 12:43 pm

    From a Mom of 4 ages 8, 5, 4, and 2. :) a “trick” that I use when I have had a long day, which is occasionally the case, and the kids are grouchy. Dinner and a Movie night in our house is a big hit. We pick a Disney movie and name our dinner after it:
    Movie: Finding Nemo
    Dinner: Dory’s Clam Chowder with homemade Bruce Bread

    And, coming soon:
    Movie: Pete’s Dragon
    Dinner: Pete’s Dragon Breath Chili

    • Christina June 2, 2010, 12:52 pm

      Very clever, Rachel! So glad you stopped by.

  • Libbie July 6, 2010, 1:04 am

    I just discovered your blog & I LOVE it! I admit I’ve used the term picky eater referring to my 2 year old ;) But deep down I know he is like this because I’ve caved too many times & let him eat what he wanted, simply because it was easier (and I have a 1 yr old to feed at the same time!) When he was a baby he loved the veggie baby food I fed him, but once he graduated to finger foods it was all over. And then once his baby sister arrived, I just gave up. I didn’t even bother putting veg’s on his plate because I didn’t want to argue about it. So he would get pasta, potatoes or rice as sides but that’s it. I do not make him a different meal or anything, he still gets what we are having, chicken & rice, or steak & baked potato, I just don’t bother with the veg’s. He does LOVE fruit, thank goodness, and eats it with almost every meal and as snacks. My question is, how do I undo the damage? How do I get him to start eating veggies now? Or even just more seasoned food I’d like to cook for us like stir-frys? I’ve had people tell me to just put it on his plate, and if he won’t eat it, he doesn’t eat. But I can’t stand the thought of him just not eating. The ironic part is I buy only organic & local when possible, so I’m cooking really fresh delicious veggies that he won’t eat! Any suggestions? Thanks! Btw, you should have a facebook page for your blog!

    • Christina July 6, 2010, 9:44 pm

      Libbie, so glad you found the blog. And thanks! Your kids are so young that I wouldn’t worry in the least about being able to turn them into more adventurous eaters. You (and they) have plenty of time. I’d just keep offering veggies and the more seasoned food at every meal. Not as the only item, but as one of several choices. So in addition to the chicken and rice, offer some veggies. Or if you’re doing a stir-fry, start off with some simple ingredients and mild spices for the kids, then add more spice for the adults. And offer them a taste of yours in addition to what they’re eating. That sort of thing.

      I’m not a fan of “eat-this-or-eat-nothing.” So by offering the new items in addition to items you know the kids like (as part of the family meal, not by special order), you avoid that ultimatum while still exposing them to new foods. They may not eat the new foods right away, but keep offering them and, eventually, they probably will.

      I also don’t believe in forcing kids to try new foods (or forcing them to eat anything, for that matter). But I don’t see anything wrong with asking a child to at least taste something. We personally have had good luck with the “one-bite” rule, and I know lots of other parents who have as well.

      It also helps a lot if your kids see you enjoying the food you want them to eat. Maryann mentioned how her daughter eventually came to eat salads after a long period of refusing them. We had the exact same situation with our now 6-year-old. Tess has been a veggie eater from the beginning (being raised vegetarian, that sort of came with the territory), but she used to turn up her nose at salads. I distinctly remember the day that changed. Like Maryann’s daughter, Tess was about 3. We were at a restaurant, where I’d ordered a salad. Tess reached over, took a bite, then another and another. Before I knew it, she’d eaten the salad almost entirely herself. Today, salads are one of her favorite foods. She even likes plain lettuce.

      If someone had told me, when Tess was 2, that she’d one day be eating lettuce right out of the spinner, I’d have laughed and laughed. My point? Learning to eat and enjoy new foods can take time. So go easy on yourself.

      And on the Facebook page: I know, I really need to get on that. I’m hoping to have one up and running by the fall. Thanks for mentioning it.

  • Maryann @ Raise Healthy Eaters July 6, 2010, 9:45 am


    My name is Maryann and I’m running a picky eating series over at my blog, http://www.raisehealthyeaters.com. This article may be of particular interest to you http://www.raisehealthyeaters.com/2010/06/things-picky-eaters-wish-their-parents-knew/ I doubt at this age your son is picky because of you. It’s very normal for kids at this age not to be interested in veggies. That doesn’t mean he won’t eat them. Kids just need time and exposure to learn to like vegetables. So I would make them available without pushing. If he’s old enough (some veggies are choking harzards), try raw veggies with dip. A recent study showed young kids prefer curnchy veggies and are more likely to be eaten when served as the first course.

    My 3-year old, also a fruit lover, just ate salad for the fist time after seeing it (and playing with it) for 1.5 years.

    I want to use some real-life examples for my next two article in the series. If you are interested in sharing your story email me at maryann.jacobsen@gmail.com

  • Cheryl Arkison December 30, 2010, 5:30 pm

    I’m with you, but how is a magazine like Chop Chop or any speciality ‘cooking with kids’ book any different than a kids menu? Or any other marketing scheme for picky eaters?

    • Christina December 30, 2010, 8:45 pm

      Cheryl, if it’s truly a marketing scheme (like those ridiculous hide-the-veggie cookbooks), then I don’t think there is much difference between that and a conventional kids’ menu. But if the magazine or cookbook is aimed simply at getting kids to cook (using real food, not so-called “kid food”), then I don’t see a problem with that. Kind of like a kids’ menu that’s really just smaller portions of the regular menu. Personally, I don’t gravitate toward specialty cooking-with-kids pubs, but if they promote real food and don’t treat kids like idiots, then I think they can be useful for a lot of people.

  • One Hungry Mama January 15, 2011, 9:02 pm

    AMEN! i love this post. thank you!

  • Dorothy Vande Kieft January 20, 2011, 12:33 pm

    THANK YOU! I am sick and tired of being told that my severely food-allergic son is “picky”. I’ve had doctor after doctor talk about how “picky” my son is. It makes me mad enough to spit nails. I even wrote about it earlier in 2010


    To say that a child whose very first bite of table food made him swell is “picky” is ridiculous. Or that a child that had to be TAUGHT to eat by a specialist–and that took until he was 30 months od–is PICKY is absurd.

    I prefer the term “reluctant”. My son is a reluctant eater. He has learned that food makes him sick and thus, he isn’t willing to put new things in his mouth. We get excited when he eats a banana or takes a bite of an apple and his reluctance to try other foods just show the memory power that food can have.

    Thank you–and I will be sharing this!

    • Christina January 20, 2011, 8:35 pm

      Wow, Dorothy, that’s kind of stunning that even doctors call your son “picky.” Just shows how easy it is to fall into that rut, even for people who should realize that calling a food-allergic child “picky” trivializes very real issues.

  • Kristin January 20, 2011, 12:33 pm

    Wonderful post! I’m so glad that someone posted this, I read it and now I can enjoy another blog :)

    At our house, our children aged 2 and 9 months eat almost everything we prepare, I’ve been blessed with good eating children. There are times when my 2 year old is a little hesitant, but we have one rule when it comes to trying new foods the “no thank you” bite. I’m shocked by how sometimes the one bite rule works! My daughter tries it and says “mm that’s good, I like it”. When she doesn’t like it, we don’t force her to eat it. But a few weeks later I will try the meal again and see if she changes her mind, sometimes its just the day. Even with her favourite meals she might not want it that moment.

    I know that my body craves certain foods at times, like a good green salad or a hearty soup, so I try to listen to what my children are saying. When it comes to snack time they are usually allowed to chose a good healthy snack (we do not have processed foods in our house). And I ask her what she would like for lunches that week and try to incorporate them. But I’m still learning. So thank you for your point of view on the subject!

  • laura macgregor January 6, 2013, 1:12 am

    What a great conversation. My kids are big now, and after some early experiments with pickiness (at least on the part of my son) they are now incredibly adventurous eaters. One approach we used when they were little, in addition to the many good ideas other contributors mentioned, was to require good manners about food. Besides the basics of sitting nicely, saying please & thanks,etc, we suggested that taking a bite of a new food was just being respectful to the cook, and also let them know that if there was a part of the meal they didn’t care for, they were welcome to set it aside without comment. What they were never allowed to do was to say food was “yucky” just because they didn’t like it. This attitude of being grateful for the work of the kitchen,regardless of how much the child liked the end result, was part of what made family meals happy times.

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