• Mon, Sep 16 - 4:06 pm ET

15 Signs Your Kid Is An Insanely Picky Eater

When it comes to kids and picky eating, there’s picky eating and then PICKY EATING. Parents who have had near breakdowns in the kitchen or watched their child for signs of starvation know exactly what I’m talking about. Texture, color, and consistency aversions are challenging enough but try intersections of all three, along with flavor aversions. Some pick eaters can make their predilections into near Olympic sports, with you just looking to clear the bar.

1. You spend the large part of your day boiling pasta

boiled pasta

(photo:  angus mcdiarmid)

2. Your have more crackers in your pantry than a doomsday prepper mom

animal crackers

(photo:  stinky_harriet)

3. You’ve taken back more dishes than your waitress cousin

4. You routinely find yourself begrudging that pees are green

5. You’re totally cool with your kid eating nuggets and fries because at least they’re eating

6. You make a mental note every time your kid tries something new and doesn’t throw a tantrum

7. You often find yourself eating piles and piles of white rice (because your kid rejected them)

white rice

(photo: Calgary Reviews)

8. You breathe fire at your partner when they fail to purchase the “right” box of graham crackers

graham crackers

(photo:  DJBattery)

9. You mindlessly throw slabs of butter. On anything.

10. When you watch The Devil Wears Prada, you identify with Andrea Sachs

11. You laugh when people ask you what your kid’s favorite foods are

12. You get irked when your mom friends go on and on about how much their kids eat

13. When your kid consumes an entire meal, you feel you’ve earned a parenting medal

14. When your kid actually tells you something tastes good, you’re flattered

15. When someone offers you a recipe that they swear all kids like, you’re all:

Share This Post:
  • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

    I know one mom who gets her kids (2 and 4) to eat new things by bringing out snacks for herself and eating them in front of them. After they take an interest, she asks if they would like a taste. No pressure with new foods, I think, is the secret. These boys now love things like vegetables and humous.
    Probably didn’t hurt she studied behavioural science in college. I intend to emulate this practice when the time comes.
    Today on Facebook, interestingly enough, a friend was lamenting his GF’s 14-year-old daughter only wants nuggets and Kraft dinner. Mom always caves and makes it. So I’m thinking while no pressure to try foods is good, not being a bland short order cook would also be important. Eat the food or don’t eat the food, but this is what there is for dinner.
    I’m really hoping this strategy will work for me. A little hardassery is sometimes necessary, but oh so hard.

    • Aldonza

      My Dad still talks about how when he was a kid, he had to eat whatever was on the table but his younger brother who was the baby of the family used to get a McDonald’s hamburger every night because he refused to eat anything else.

    • HaydenT

      If my son loses interest, all I have to do is start eating it right off his tray and sounding like it is the most delicious thing EVER. Works almost all of the time.

      To be fair, though, I don’t have a picky eater. I made sure I ate (and eat) a wide variety of things in varying flavor profiles while I was pregnant, as well as being super dedicated to breast milk. He didn’t have anything but breast milk until he was six months old, so by the time we brought out the ‘real’ food, he was raring to go.

      No rice anything, no crackers, no bread, no sugar, no goddamn teething biscuits no matter how many people recommended them; I made sure to mix up textures and feeding; we also eat plenty of ethnic cuisine. (My ex-boyfriend was Indian and I fell in LOVE with Indian food. Oh my god, New Jersey, YUM.)

      My theory was, as long as your child isn’t a super taster (which you can tell by if they won’t eat chocolate) that picky eating is a result of family norms and food and flavor exposure.

    • Toaster

      I firmly disagree that there’s a magical formula for non-picky kids beyond offering a variety of healthy, flavorful foods, setting a good example by eating these foods yourself, and not pressuring them to eat. I did everything you list there and my preschooler still goes through hideously picky phases because he’s a kid and that’s what many of them do.

    • Sara610

      I agree with your point, but I think there’s a difference between a preschooler going through normal phases (and my 2-year-old daughter goes through them too–she’s just coming out of a months-long vegetable-hating phase) and older kids/teens/adults who have set patterns that have been reinforced through parental accommodation.

      I read an article about how a lot of older kids who are picky eaters, end up that way because when they went through those normal toddler/preschool phases of refusing a certain food, the parents just figure, “Well, I guess he doesn’t like xyz food anymore” and stop offering it, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The article was saying that the important thing is to just keep offering a variety of foods, model eating those foods for your kids, and unless there’s a physiological component to the pickiness (which is rare) the kid will usually start eating those foods again.

    • HaydenT

      The toddler phase of of being a picky eater is related to a evolved survival skill. Once kids are mobile and independent, they can put anything in their mouths, much of which is poisonous. Having them be ‘picky’ at that stage is a protective measure until they have more experience and knowledge about what they should eat. That is why it is important to make sure that the foods you want them to eat are what they are eating well-before that stage.

    • JAN

      I have two children hat I treated the same way (both breastfed with a highly varied diet). One eats everything, and I mean, everything. The other is very selective but his selectivity doesn’t vary much. I actually bought some of the test strips to see if you’re a non-taster (me and my daughter, we eat anything), a taster (my husband), and a super taster, my son who eats a world of bland (and nope, he doesn’t like chocolate). So definitely not all behavioral.

    • Toaster

      Hah, making something for myself is how I get my older kid to eat a lot of stuff. “I would share this kale smoothie with you, but I’m making it for ME! WEll, if you insist..”

    • Sara610

      Haha! My daughter will refuse to eat something that’s on her plate, but then if I sit down with her, with THE EXACT SAME THING on my plate, she wants some just because it’s on my plate. So I’ve used that too…… :)

  • Elieureste

    Mine don’t even eat pasta. Toast and yogurt are faves.

  • TwentiSomething Mom

    Mine wants home cooked meals only. No Annie’s boxed mac and cheese or ravioli on those days I (God forbid) am too tired to make a full meal from scratch after work. Only fresh, grated and home made sauces for him.

    • Koa_Beck

      Such palates!

    • Wendy

      See the problem here is at some point you didn’t open a can and made an actual dinner and now the kid got all accustomed to it and shit. What the hell? Luckily my kids rarely have to face this, seeing as I can barely cook :)

    • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

      So, on one hand: Yay nutrition and food appreciation!
      On the other hand: Bloody hell, I’m too tired for this shit tonight.

  • alice

    I know I’m being a super judgmental bitch, especially having no children of my own, but: I just don’t get the “short order cook” approach to feeding picky eaters. How is it possible that a six year old ONLY likes hot dogs and pasta with butter?

    And since when did “going to bed hungry” equal child abuse?

    And for the love of god, why can’t we have firm minimum requirements for dessert?!?! “eat this much of your plate and you can have dessert” … “okay, fine, just half of that.” … “fine, just take three bites.” …. “whatever, here’s your dessert”

    WTF! NO DESSERT! NOOOOOO!

    go ahead and say it: wait till you have kids!

    oh i’m waiting (with oysters and avocado toasts…)

    • DatNanny

      I rarely say this, but I think this is one of the few things you really don’t get until you’re fully in charge of a child every day. A super picky child will just. not. eat. Morning until night, a few bites here and there until you’re tearing your hair out and panicking that they’re truly starving themselves. And with young children, they haven’t fully developed the cognitive processes that actually allow you to recognize what your body needs. A child won’t understand that they feel bad because they are hungry; they’ll be cranky, they’ll act out, they’ll run around, but they don’t have the connect with their body yet to realize that is hunger. If you just let them not eat, you end up with a squirming ball of meltdown tantrum that can’t be resolved because their basic needs aren’t being met.

      Picky eating is also a developmental stage in itself, and ignoring it, forcing a child to eat, is more developmentally damaging in the long run than letting them express that stage by choosing what and how they want to eat. Ignoring stages always backfires.

      So, it’s very possible, and usually the more you push the more they resist.

    • alice

      that’s fair. i’m coming from this thinking only of kids that are like 5+ years old. I don’t really think i would forcefeed a 3 year old chicken parm. :)

      but a 5 – 12 year old can eat what’s made for dinner, or go hungry, in my opinion. and i know plenty who REFUSE to eat what’s made. and whose parents simply state: “oh, he only eats cheese sandwiches” – I don’t agree with this at all. 5 is too old to be throwing a tantrum over cheese sandwiches for dinner. in my opinion.

    • Kelby Johnson

      I fed my daughter every kind of baby food there was when she was old enough to finally eat baby food, however, she is an extremely picky eater. I’ve tried so many different things to get her to try new food and she just won’t do it. Forcing her ends up with her in meltdown mode and me frazzled and frustrated. It’s just not worth it to fight with her every single night about something so I always cook at least one thing I know she will eat. She may only have corn for dinner, or even sometimes only french fries, but at least she has something in her belly. My son on the other hand will eat and try anything you put in front of him. They have both been exposed to the same kinds of food, she just won’t do it.

      Like DatNanny said, it really is something you just don’t get until you’ve lived it.

  • Emmali Lucia

    So I’m reading this and I can’t help but wonder, when did the tides turn and make it so that toddlers are now officially running the show?

    If you have a toddler that has a temper tantrum in the middle of the grocery store because he wants a toy, are you going to give it to him? I get being exasperated and horrified that someone will accuse you of child abuse/neglect/endangerment (Has anyone else noticed that “Child Abuse” is the new witch? Everyone’s scared of being accused of doing it, some people are losing their kids over it, but very rarely are people actually doing it). But for God’s sake sometimes you have to put your foot down.

    When I was a child if I didn’t want to eat something for whatever reason I didn’t eat. I was never a picky eater because I knew my mother wasn’t going to run back into the kitchen and make me whatever I desired. I ate what was in front of me or I didn’t eat at all, and honestly, of all the things that messed with my psyche (Watching WAY TOO MUCH TELEVISION was one of them), going to bed hungry once or twice because I was being a brat really didn’t affect me.

    • Rachel Sea

      That works with kids where their food rejections are behavioral, but there is a genetic component to some of this. Not all taste buds are created equal, and people who have extremely sensitive taste receptors will reject food that isn’t bland.

      When I was a kid, I ate everything, I’d try things that even my parents thought were too weird, like extremely ethnic foods made from organ meat, or having tentacles. There was nothing I wouldn’t try, and almost nothing I didn’t like. My sister, on the other hand, is VERY particular and if her food is not to her taste, she won’t eat it.

    • Andrea

      The problem is when you have a kid who has ZERO body fat, they are in the 1 percentile in growth (or falling off the chart) and you can’t really afford for them to be hungry.

      I have no problem sending my oldest to bed with no dinner, cuz that’s not really gonna affect him, but my youngest is a different story.

    • Kelby Johnson

      This. So much this. My daughter has never been a big eater, so when we do find something she likes and will actually eat, we buy it in bulk!

    • MommyK

      Agree! Same situation with my son, plus the doctor and health nurses were always on my case for him being “too small” for his age. So at a certain point, you are desperate for your 1.5 yr old to just eat something. When he can understand more, he will be sitting at the table until those veggies are eaten. But for now, just eat something, kid. I can definitely relate to this list. Mine won’t drink juice or cold milk, won’t eat veggies, ice cream, any fruit besides Motts applesauce, waffles in any flavour besides cinnamon, I could go on forever! I was a picky kid too, so he’s my karma :)

    • Aldonza

      My Mom used to make dinner and that was what was on the table. Sometimes, it meant that my brother or I ate mostly bread sticks or apple salad for dinner, but that was the food that was available to eat. She was good with options though. There’d be whatever the main dish was, a veggie, usually some sort of salad and maybe rolls. We were never forced to eat something, but my Mom never made different food just because we didn’t necessarily like something, and we knew that.

    • meteor_echo

      Well, the problem can go deeper than that. I ate the foods I disliked, but I threw them up right after I ate them because they made me feel sick. So, if I weren’t ~running the show~, I’d be dead if starvation right now. My parents just learned to cook a big portion of something I liked, then rationing it out to me for several days. Problem solved.

    • Maddi Holmes

      I 100% agree with you on this, my mum let my brother choose what he ate and now he’s 24 and hasn’t eaten what can be recognised in a vegetable since I can remember. He eats deep fried and unhealthy crap and had to have a gastric bypass at the age of 22 because he weighs 140kg. I was the youngest and mum had put her foot down on everything and I wasn’t allowed to be bratty and now I’m the only one of my siblings that will try any new food just to see if I like it.

    • Sara610

      I agree with you to a certain extent. My aunt has always accommodated my cousin’s picky eating–for YEARS as a kid, he only ate hot dogs, grilled cheese and French fries. And she never made him eat anything else. I remember one time, our grandmother invited us all over for a big family dinner, and she had prepared a beautiful roast chicken with potatoes and vegetables. He (keep in mind, he was at least 8 or 9 years old at the time) took one look at it, declared that it looked “gross”, and my aunt jumped right up to make him a grilled-cheese sandwich. The result is that now, at the age of 17, he’s only marginally better.

      And yes, he runs the show in that household in every other way as well.
      My own parents were much more strict. We weren’t forced to eat anything, but the meal was what was served and they weren’t making anything else. Once we got to be teens, they started the “you can make yourself a PB&J if you don’t like the meal”, but by that point we were all pretty well-rounded eaters so we rarely took that option.

      I will say, though, what others have pointed out. Sometimes it runs deeper than simply being spoiled, no matter what the parents do. My SIL has two kids who she’s raised exactly the same way–she doesn’t cater to their whims, doesn’t cook them special meals, etc. The younger son is a fantastic eater, but the older is one of the pickiest eaters I’ve ever seen. Not because of anything she did or didn’t do, but just because it’s who she is. She does the best she can, and he’s not in any danger of starving so she’s fine with letting him decide how much of any given food to eat.

    • Blueathena623

      I think its one thing to cater to kids during a developmental phase, but to be careful that it doesn’t last too long. My sisters’s friend has two girls, age 11 and 8. The 11 year old eats, like, 5 foods (pasta, Kraft Mac and chees, white bread, cream cheese, and rice.) the 8 year old is also picky, although she can be coaxed to try more things if big sister isn’t there. Every meal is a power struggle, to the point where you want to slap all of them. Of course, the girls will eat desert foods. So the kids will eat bread and cream sandwiches, and then a slice of cake. And then will be hungry later on, and their mom will give them another piece of cake because she’s worried about them being hungry. Some of her family members have actually distanced themselves because its so frustrating to watch.

    • Flmom

      When my oldest son was a toddler he used to scream for hours if I tried to make him it something he didn’t like. When he did eat it, most times the texture of the food made him gag and vomit. He was scared he would get sick, so he refused to eat it. This went on for months, the doctor, my mil, even my husband didn’t believe me that he just wouldn’t eat. So, I gave in, he wanted baby food, he got baby food. He ate it until he was five. Now, he will eat other things and I can even get him to try new things with some coaxing. Sometimes, parents are just working with what they are dealt with.

      Now my youngest will eat anything I put in front of him. Thank God.

  • Tea

    I believe it is “Peas” not “pees”… at least I hope it is…

    • Rachel Sea

      When pees are green it’s time to call a doctor.

  • G.E. Phillips

    I just managed, tonight, to get my 3 1/2 year old to eat cheese raviolis for the first time! I did this by calling them “dumplings” (not that he’s ever eaten dumplings, either, but he likes the word because he thinks that’s what baby dump trucks are called) and by allowing him to eat them on the couch (normally prohibited) while naked from the waist down.

    And I feel FANTASTIC about it!

    • Ashley

      “he thinks that’s what baby dump trucks are called”

      That. Is adorable.

  • Jockarama

    I personally am the pickiest eater you’ll ever meet. I’ve been that way my whole life. I have three kids and I have tried to make it a point to not put them what I go through in life (never get invited over to dinner any more with friends, only 3 things you feel comfortable eating, etc). My three kids are completely different. My oldest is moderately picky, my middle will eat anything…and I do mean anything, and my youngest is pretty average for a kid. My husband is picky, but in a completely different way than I am, SO for every meal, I end up cooking between 3 and 5 different things. I won’t eat what my husband will eat and vice versa and I’d prefer my kids eat well-rounded meals, so I will make them something healthier. It sucks- but I can’t change how I eat. I have massive aversions to colors and textures.

  • Athena A

    My mom was a bit too accommodating with food too when I was growing up. I didn’t like rice and my brother didn’t like potatoes, so often she made both to please us. Ridiculous really, I like rice now, so after some ‘I don’t want it’ tantrums I’m sure I would have eaten it. I’m not saying force your kid to eat a giant pile of Brussels sprouts, but just make them at least try a few so they learn to try new things. Nobody’s going to like everything, but some people really are way too picky. I still am a bit picky, but I’ve learned to eat lots of new things. Still hate broccoli and Brussels sprouts though :P A friend of mine is insanely picky, as an adult, and only because she was indulged all the time. She pretty much only likes frites and chicken and rice. Try cooking for that girl, pasta, no, pizza no, any veggies no, fruit no, any meat besides chicken no. Mental, and not really healthy. She’s the same with drinks. When going out all she’ll drink is Smirnoff Ice, so annoying.

  • 88Mwife

    If I could go back in time and warn my mother-in-law I would. My husband refuses to eat: anything white and creamy (instant mashed potatoes, alfredo sauce, ranch, ricotta, sour cream, etc), onions, beans (of any kind), pineapple, chicken with the bones still in it, cherries, broccoli, peas, any food that is slightly foreign (Chinese, Mexican, German, etc), sausage, any kind of white fish. and waffles. This list is a heavily modified one, because I told him I refuse to have children with a man who would be on their side in the ‘Eat your damn vegetables’ argument. Most of the remaining issues are texture ones, which I know I won’t be able to change.

  • xdiva

    When I was young, around 6 years old or so, my parents sat me down and gave me one “freebie” food that I wouldn’t be forced to eat. They had this system for themselves, as well. (For me, I hated meatloaf. For Dad, liver and onions, mostly because grandma always burned the lima beans. For Mom, cow tongue.)
    Otherwise, as their motto went, “You will eat it and you will like it or you will have it for breakfast tomorrow.” This is the only reason I ever learned to love salad.

  • Alanna Jorgensen

    My kid will eat most anything if you make the food “talk” and have it tell her how much it would like to be eaten. I should probably be concerned…

  • Pingback: 5 Moms Who Love Their Kids But Hate Being A Mom - Mommyish

  • Pingback: My Kid Is A Picky Eater, But I'm Trying No To Enable Her

  • Pingback: Toddlers Are Pickier Eaters Than Infants So Don't Be Smug