Dinner was the battlefield. It was my son vs. a carrot.
And my son was winning.
I don’t remember when all this “picky eating” business started. All I remember is on my son’s 1st Birthday, I woke up early and made him a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs & french toast complete with a candle in it. Excited, I placed my son in his high chair, handed him a fork, and stood prepared with a camera to get a shot of his VERY FIRST BREAKFAST as a ONE year old!!
He refused to eat it.
I encouraged, I begged, I pleaded (well, as much as you can with a one year old) to no avail. That kid wouldn’t take one bite. *sigh* I finally convinced him to “act” like he was going to eat it. “Please”, I said. “Just please hold this fork like this so I can take a picture. Stay there. One, two, three. CHEESE!”
He was somewhat convincing. (well, as much as you can expect a one year old to be)
Is your child a picky eater or is it something more serious?
After a couple years of ‘picky eating’, we learned that many picky eaters are actually dealing with a complex issue known as a sensory processing disorder.
This disorder is also known as, “I hate textures and weird looking things and weird smells, and plus I’m really stubborn so don’t even think about it – itis”
Kids with a sensory processing disorder typically aren’t the kids who feed their green beans to the dog.
They’re the kids who can’t even touch the green beans, smell them, talk about them, or look at them without gagging. These are also the kids who don’t do well in a battle of the wills when it comes to food. ‘Cause there’ll be barf. Every time.
We learned very quickly that my son wasn’t just some picky eater, he was dealing with a sensory disorder.
Because food involves all of our senses – see the food, touch the food, smell the food, taste the food, and even hearing the food as we chew it – eating can be very difficult for kids with sensory disorders.
It definitely took some time to ease our son out of it, but hopefully, you can learn from my mistakes and get your child on the right track towards eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods.
What NOT to do. (Seriously, don’t try these):
Whether your child is a picky eater, or dealing with a sensory disorder, you can bet that these things are just going to make it worse.
- Do NOT make dinner a battle of wills. The “sit there until you eat your dinner” strategy will only turn your evening into “who can be stubborn the longest”. I get why so many parents try this, and why we did as well, but in the end, forcing your child to eat won’t make him not be picky. Think of the principle you’re trying to teach. Your purpose is NOT to teach your child that you have power over him/her. Your purpose is to teach your child to love a variety of foods, and to of course, get some good nutrition in there as well.
- Do NOT become a short order cook. Preparing a meal separate from the family meal sends the message to your child that it’s not important to try new foods. They learn to take the easy route instead of doing something that feels a little bit uncomfortable.
- Do NOT reduce your families meal choices based on your child’s preferences. I’m sorry, but as cute as your child is, they do not get to make the meal decision for everybody in the family. Watch yourself on this one, because if you have a particularly difficult eater, you might be doing this without even realizing it.
- Do NOT let mealtime become bargaining/bribing time. Not only is counterproductive to the principle you’re trying to teach, it also makes mealtime annoying for you and everybody else.
- Do NOT allow excessive snacking. Hunger is a BIG motivator. We live in a world where kids expect snacks after 15 minutes of chasing a soccer ball. It’s time to cut that habit now. In our home, we don’t have a morning snack, but we allow a small mid-afternoon snack. That’s it. But let me add that our real food lifestyle has helped us feel nourished so we don’t really want to snack.
Reversing Picky Eating Habits:
- Do institute some rules in your home. Ours were:
- Everybody sits at the table at mealtime whether they are planning on eating or not.
- Nobody is allowed to make a “yucky” face, or say a bad thing about dinner. Mom made the meal, and we need to have manners and not hurt her feelings. Even if we think it looks like a pile of poo, we say, “Thanks for making dinner, Mom! It looks delicious!” (I’m a BIG believer in positive affirmations. If you say something is gross, it will be. If you say it’s good, it will be.)
- You don’t have to eat your entire meal, but you do have to try it. At least a couple bites of each dish will suffice.
- No dinner? No dessert. And “trying” a couple bites does not count as eating your dinner.
- Be okay with your child going to bed hungry should they choose to only “try” dinner and that’s it.
- Keep trying and don’t give up!
Additional Sensory Disorder Tips:
- Allow your child to “change” his meal slightly. My son ironically doesn’t like spaghetti although he loves pasta and red sauce. For him, it’s “slimy”. He uses a piece of garlic toast, and places the spaghetti on top to create a “pizza”.
- If your child wants food to not touch, let him serve himself. By touching & smelling the food as he serves himself, he is working on some sensory issues before he even eats.
- If you child has severe sensory disorders, and his diet is already limited in variety, try cooking his favorite foods in different ways. For example, if he likes macaroni and cheese, make it with many different pastas, then with different sauces. Work your way slowly around so he can eventually expand his variety of favorite foods.
- Focus on improving your child’s sensory disorder at times NOT associated with food. Children with sensory disorders often feel “uncomfortable” in their own skin. For my son, massaging him & hugging him in the evenings was a good way to get him more comfortable with his body.
The best advice I can give is to keep trying and don’t give up. Even if your kid is gagging at the sight of a carrot, trust me, it can get better! My son eats pretty much everything now, except for a few things we realize are personal preferences. It’s amazing how much he’s been able to improve!
This is good basic advice, but if the kiddo has a Sensory Processing Disorder or suspect one or eats less than 10 foods, then they should seek out an Occupational Therapist. Every state has a free or low cost program for kids 0-3 (called Early Steps in FL). This program is required for states to have, federal mandate by the way. Even if your kid is older than three, they will typically give you a list of who they contract with for the therapy. We worked with an O.T. and she was wonderful. My son eats more than 10 foods now and she helped us figure out how to help him.
One other thing to mention is that some kids who have a hard time chewing (like mine) may want to look into possible muscle undertone or motor apraxia. Motor apraxia means the muscles move fine, but it takes extra work to get them to do what they want it to, affects their speech too. A doc pegged my son on motor apraxia and when his speech therapist started the apraxia techniques, his speech took off too. 🙂
Literally, 2 years later to the exact day and I’m reading your comment like, I need to make a note of this!! I just wanted to say thank you SO very much for your insight. My 5yr old lmao me wrestling with motor apraxia, something I’ve never heard of and you also touched on a few other points that we may be contending with. So thank you, I’ll be moving onward feeling a lot better with having some things I can look into and serve as my launching pad. Many, many thanks and sending God’s blessing your way!! ❤
Hello thank u so much for this article my son is 5 he’s extremely picky he won’t even try chocolate milk or soda or most candies not that I want him eating that but seriously if he tried those I’d feel victorious! I need all the help I can get. Do I start this all at once but change overnight? I am a single mom I’m not picky at all but we used to live with my mom n she did the “any food better than going to bed hungry”. Food is such a huge battle and I end up giving in can u pls help me? When he was young he ate everything then one day he has spaghetti he didn’t want it and threw it up. Then other foods he would gag. He even eats peanut butter sandwiches no jelly. His teeth are perfect dentist is happy but it’s so difficult going anywhere because I feel like a horrible mom saying o he won’t eat that. Can you tell me what’s better these steps little by little or all at once?
Yes, it can be very frustrating. First make sure your child doesn’t have sensory issues, and then you can start using these suggestions all at once, if you are comfortable with that, or just incorporate some when you feel you are ready. You know yourself and your child better than anyone, so knowing what will work best is what you feel good about doing.
Best wishes! Just keep trying and don’t give it!
Thank you -Bobbi (DaNelle’s Assistant)
My son won’t eat anything but chicken nuggets sometimes pizza, sometimes eggs no fruits or vegetables nothing else what do I do??
If Your child is having problems like these you should definitely check if they have a tounge tie!
Thank you for the article DaNelle! It really helped a lot. My 3.5 year son wont eat anything if it is not oatmeal, brown sugar and fruits. He used to love boiled eggs, but not anymore. He refuses to try new things, and he spits them if they got inside his mouth. I see some people here mention they blended the food for the kids when they started to eat, and so did us. My husband even used to chew the food for our son and then give it to him, so now he is not used to chew! So he is not used to the different textures and flavors. If you have some ideas on how to introduce kids to flavors, textures, colors and smells at the table and far from it, they will be more than welcome! Greetings from Ecuador 🙂
Hi Fernanda, My mom is from Ecuador. Viva Ecuador. My son is also a picky eater. He won’t eat any veggies and no fruit either. I only get him to eat ground beef with rice and gerber the stage 2 pureed. The only gerber flavors allowed is Turkey Rice. My son is 2 and he isn’t eating enough calories. Now he has become slightly anemic.
Okay so I’m trying to get some advice on my stepson. He’s now 8, when I met him he was 4 years old. He lives full time with my husband, myself and our 1 year old daughter. (He very rarely sees his mother) Well to start off he was born premature like I think a month early due to his mother doing drugs while pregnant and smoking cigarettes. He’s got speech issues and social problems in school, was diagnosed at age 4 with ADHD and he still has toilet training issues now at 8 years old (like sometimes when I do laundry he has poop stains in his underware from not wiping or his pants smell of pee.) His grandparents also only fed him pediasure milk drink until he was 6 years old saying that was all the nutrition he needed from the vitamins in it (don’t even at me started on the grandparents) Anyways his diet is appalling and I’ve been fighting it for the last 4 years but finally have given up and stopped caring about how he eats now. His diet consists of ONLY eating chicken nuggets (foster farms) or McDonald’s chicken nuggets, plain cheese burgers with bacon from McDonald’s only (I don’t buy him fast food, his grandparents only feed him fast food, nothing else.), McDonald’s French fries only, he eats certain kinds of fruit only like Mandarin oranges in the small plastic containers, ice cream or all sweets, pepperoni or cheese pizza only from little Cesar’s or Costco, Mac and cheese (box kind only), fried chicken or BBQ chicken with no BBQ sauce on the chicken, grilled cheese sandwiches (crust cut off) and frozen waffles (only cinnamon or chocolate chip) chocolate chip, peanut butter chocolate chip or smores granola bars and peanut butter/jelly sandwich and yogurt but only certain flavors. Nothing can be homemade or healthy or he won’t eat it. He literally gags and throws up if it’s healthy or homemade. So I’ve tried everything on trying to get him to eat the meals we all eat. Starving him out, take one bite, feeding him myself, punishment, eat this now or you don’t get anything else ECT, you name it I’ve tried it. He’s had 2 different pediatrics doctors they both say the same thing blah blah he’ll eventually eat when he’s hungry ECT ect. Okay so what to do when he literally can’t eat anything except the food’s listed or he throws up? I stopped caring because honestly I don’t want to deal with it any longer so every night he eats 8 chicken nuggets only and 2 or 3 cookies and breakfast is his frozen waffles. I wonder if he’s got some kind of sensory disorder or just been fed junk his whole life? Anyone have some advice? Thanks so much.
hey Ashley! Did you get any replies? My son is 11 and as a baby he ate everything. I pureed our food and froze it in ice cube trays and he didn’t have a problem until he turned 2! Now his food choices look just like your stepsons! I serve small portions with one thing on the plate that I know he likes, one bite rule, just try it, go to bed hungry, I have tried everything and honestly don’t know what else to do. When he was little, i made the mistake of offering apple sauce or yogurt when he didn’t eat since I figured they were healthy but at 11, he is still happy with a glass of milk and apple sauce! I have created this and I need to fix it. Similar to you, his doctor has always said, “He will eat when he is ready. He i growing and healthy….blah blah” He isn’t healthy, his school work is affected and he needs to be healthy. I can’t hide things in smoothies and muffins when he goes off to high school. If you got any helpful advice, I would love to hear it. Thanks for your time [email protected]
Hi. I’m wondering if you made any progress with us. My son will be 12 years old next month, and it has only been chicken fingers and pizza for almost his whole young life . Maybe an occasional 1/2 hamburger. We have tried OT, and it simply didn’t work. I’m curious to find out if you made headway.
Saul Nadoff says
our son is 7, and going through similar issues. He always had other sensory issues as well. Have any of you found any solution?
If he is eating granola bars of only certain flavors or waffles of only certain flavors, and only (boxed) mac & cheese it is NOT a sensory issue it’s a CONTROL issue. He controls you to give him what he wants. He has been introduced to granola bars and once he was given a flavor he likes he refuses the original ones he had at first. The `throwing up’ is NOT a gag reflex he has learned to make himself gag/throw up to “show you” he controls what he wants and doesn’t want. Ever try making mac and cheese without showing him the box? Buy a burger from another restaurant and put it in a McD wrapper (he prob couldn’t tell the diff). Make regular meals and Let him throw his gagging tantrums but do not give him alt food and cut out sweets as they are rewards.(remove them from kitchen. If they aren’t there he can’t ask for them. if you don’t want to throw them away store in the garage but don’t let him SEE them.) Let him know they won’t show back up for a long time. He may go days or weeks without trying what you give him but he WILL figure out YOU control the food and he controls how much he eats. He will not starve it just wont happen. As for grandparents let him control THEM not you.
WOW YOU ARE SO WRONG. Stop giving you’re uneducated advice. It’s dangerous.
Yep, agreed MelMomof3. Parents these days want to diagnose EVERYTHING. Kids like what they know. And if its outside what they know and are never taught to handle it, they only stick with what they know and will fight tooth and nail to get what they want. Kids react emotionally, not rationally and too many parents put too much control in the kids hands thinking they will make rational decisions. You’re not wrong, your advice is not dangerous. Progressive modern parents just don’t like sane thinking.
That is not completely true. I have tried all sorts of “tricks”. Hiding other foods in fast food wrappers. My son can tell my smell and texture right away if I have tried to pull one over on him. It has to be something more than controlling the parents to give him what he wants.
Jana LeBaron says
Thank you for your post. I have a 3-year-old who I have wondered about a sensory processing disorder. He is a sweet, happy, social, fun-loving little guy until it comes to eating. Then it’s only bananas, yogurt, peanut butter and fruit (and anything high carb/sugar except for bread which he hates). He is extremely stimulated when he touches things that he thinks feel funny, like toads, fuzzy things. He actually had a fear of nutcrackers a year ago when he felt the fuzzy beard, and this last Christmas he was afraid of a little toy we would throw at the wall and it would stick (he felt the sticky part and it freaked him out).
We just started the GAPS diet on Monday and my little guy is wasting away. Do you know anything about this diet? It is supposed to help him in the long run…we have some health issues in our family and are convinced everyone would greatly benefit from doing it…including his aversion to most foods. We tried to just wait until he would eat the first day, but he spent 2.5 hours in his seat utterly refusing and turning down any reward we offered.
The diet is really strict and doesn’t allow for many options, especially in the intro diet which is mostly broth, meat, and vegetables. We tried giving him yogurt today with a small amount of broth mixed in and he gobbled it up. Then tonight when we offered him the same thing he refused to eat it saying it’s yucky, even though he’s continued to complain about hunger.
I am worried about his health and whether or not we should even continue keeping him on this diet. Please let me know your opinion. He gets so lethargic from hunger he won’t play at the park and just wants to cuddle and sleep. Any insight would be so helpful.
DaNelle Wolford says
Your little guy sounds just like my Ethan was. With the GAPS diet, I would be cautious to do this with a kid who is already a picky eater. The problem with that diet is that it is difficult to eat enough calories. I tried it myself a few years ago and lost 15 lbs. lower than my lowest weight, it was a bit scary. I wonder if you could first start with a whole foods diet or maybe primal diet, if you have to avoid grains. My kids eat a robust whole foods diet and are now not picky at all, chomping down on sauerkraut, etc. It’s a process, but you’ll get there!
i just read these comments and really relate, my son is 12 years old and a extremely picky eater, he only eats mac and cheese, bread and butter, chicken nuggets, a little bit of white rice, all bread and gallons of milk and mango juice, some ice cream also yogurt and he loves sweets, candies, chocolate. He is very overweight for his age 165 lbs and I feel so guilty, but i don’t know what to do, I think he has a sense problem since throughout his first year of age he had many ear infections. he is still sensitive to loud noise, don’t think he has a neurological issue since he is doing great at school and very bright in general, please any suggestions ?? thanks
HI Danielle, My question pertains to the article but I couldn’t find a place to comment directly. Due to my chronic illness, I am on a paleo diet that requires me to prepare all my own food (nothing processed–I even have to make my own nut milk to avoid stabilizers). My almost 5 year old has always been picky and won’t try new things. He limits his eating to very few foods and suffers chronic constipation despite eating vegetables, but he will only eat: raw carrots, peppers, raw peapods, and cooked green beans. I am tired of preparing his special veggies at dinner. Occasionally he decides he doesn’t like something anymore, but refuses to replace that hole with a new food; so the small variety is dwindling. He even refused a different brand of plain ham seasoned only with salt. He refuses to eat dinner and waits for breakfast when he can eat cereal or waffles. Finally I said, “Enough!” and today it is noon and he still hasn’t eaten because I am only offering him the food he refused to try the night before. It’s hell. Any tips?
DaNelle offers several great tips in her article. Give it another read through and see if you can incorporate any of them, as they are very helpful.
Beyond this super article, what I can offer you is my own advice from a person who has sensory issues and a daughter that has a couple very mild food allergies.
I grew up being “grossed out” by certain foods that had very little to do with taste or sight. It was the texture of the food that bothered me. What helped me is I studied food and learned about how its grown, processed, what it does for the body, etc. So learning more about what I didn’t like taught me to appreciate it and other foods, soon putting me on my way to wanting to learn about (and trying other foods). Sometimes we just need new worlds opened up to us, and the why’s and how’s explained to us.
As for my daughter, I learned she wasn’t being picky, she was allergic to certain foods, as they aggravated her digestive system and even her bladder. So look for a medical reason too. Sometimes we refuse things not knowing why, but just knowing we don’t want it. Instincts are a powerful thing. Don’t forget to listen to them.
The other thing that helped my whole family eat better and include more variety was family meal planning, shopping and cooking. No, the kids do not get to dictate this, they just get to voice an opinion. So they got 2-3 options and we went with what they said. Options can include what type of meat, veggie, dairy, etc. they wanted, to how they wanted them prepared. It was a joint effort, and joint reward when we created something great! We were all responsible and we were able to take a little pride it what we created.
I hope that helps and your son learns to eat more of a variety. I know it’s tough, but keep fighting the good fight. It will pay off. Thank you -Bobbi (DaNelle’s Assistant)
Hi my step daughter is 8 nearly 9.
The only thing she will eat is nuggets and chips. Not turkey nuggets ot anything else.
She will only eat fish fingers at my house if they have are shapped as a fish.
She only eats bread and butter on sandwiches for school we said we wouldtake her to the doctors if she sdont eat but she wants to go and laughs about it.
DaNelle Wolford says
That is really tough! I have heard that there are some eaters that limit their diet to just a few foods and that this could be something neurological they have going on. I would have a good talk with her and talk about what she doesn’t like and why to see if you can pinpoint textures/flavors she avoids. Then I’d try to expand her diet from there step by step, having her do the research (maybe on pinterest for recipes she thinks looks good) and having her go to the store with you to find fun things to try. And maybe having an incentive, like a game or fun purchase with each new food?
That’s pretty much kids. I don’t know where these super kids are that eat everything. Well, I have one out seven that will eat what I put in front of her 90% of the time. Just keep your kid fed, whatever she will eat. Keep trying to get her to try new foods but don’t worry about it if she doesn’t. She will become a teenager and then things will change. My three oldest are teens now and eat everything and love food, to the point where one wants to be a chef. I learned it’s just how kids are, and it will be ok I promise.
A few days ago my husband made chicken Alfredo and when we got home from a movie my 6 year old refused to go inside because “it smelled disgusting”. after 30 minutes I got him inside but he puked popcorn all over the stairs. Its totally hard to get this kid to try new things and I dislike giving him what he does like to eat because its not that great. I hope to try these tips today. 🙂
DaNelle Wolford says
Oh goodness. You’ve got a puker. That’s so tough! Mine was the same:) My best advice is to keep gently introducing foods and avoid creating battles over it to avoid the extreme reactions.
Jenn H. says
No kids here – I clicked through from Pinterest because *I’M* the picky eater, lol! I heard a lot of “oh, she’ll grow out of it” as a kid, but that never happened. Your suggestion that it may be a sensory disorder actually makes a lot of sense to me. There are still some foods that just the SMELL of makes me nauseous (green beans are the worst offender).
Your tips are pretty much how my parents dealt with the picky eaters in my family (2 out of 5 kids being picky isn’t horrible odds, right?), with one exception: Our dinners always had two vegetable sides – carrots and broccoli for example. You had to take some of each, but could have lots of one and just a tiny bit of the other if you wanted.
Natasha Wattleworth says
I have two boys 4 and 2 who both are extremely picky eaters. Both of them ate very well as infants but when the turned 18 months they have each been a struggle. When my 4 year old was 2 he was diagnosed with very large tonsils and at 2 1/2 he had them removed, so I’m not sure if this is where this struggle begin.
My 2 year old had frequent ear infections as an infant and had tubes placed at 11months. He is currently a year behind in language and cognition. He is seeing an OT and speech therapy to help get him caught up. They have never said he has a sensory issue, but we are going to be seeing a developmental pediatrician to get him further evaluated. He is also very very busy, and he has a hard time sitting down for a meal.
Both of my boys only likes a handful of foods, my youngest even fewer. The foods they usually will eat are of chicken nuggets, chicken fries, fish sticks, cheese pizza, raisins, apples, cereal, french toast sticks, quiche, and yogurt. Anytime I try to feed them something new its is just such a struggle to even keep the item on their plate. I am not really sure where to even start. When my kids don’t eat they are very cranky, so I end up giving them what they want.
Holly Hold says
Your children actually eat a great range of foods! My grandson: ketchup, saltine crackers—a certain brand, McDonald’s chicken nuggets w Barbq sauce & ketchup, corn dogs (& ketchup), soft vanilla ice cream, centers–only–of Grandma Sycamore’s white bread (only this brand, fresh, no crusts), cheddar cheese, Oreo vanilla cream cookies, cold water, root beer, Doritos Nacho chips, Lay’s reg, and wavy potato chips, hot dogs w ketchup, KitKat bars, plain chocolate, True Moo, bologna w ketchup. When starving, and if his Dad prepares: egg, ham & cheese sandwich on an English muffin, PB&J sandwich—this only when Mom doesn’t feed all day and its 10:15 pm….I’m crying, just writing this down.
If he likes ketchup so much, perhaps give him carrots… and ketchup on the side to dip it in, or celery and ketchup to dip them in… etc. etc… I know it sounds odd, but I have a friend that ate ketchup on EVERYTHING… even eggs. Her father bought her a case of ketchup for Xmas one year. Perhaps you could introduce different foods that way. Doesn’t mean he has to like it WITH the ketchup, but maybe he’ll then bite it/try it without… My son is very picky too.. for the longest time, he would only eat Grilled Cheese sandwiches pretty much. One day he didn’t want them anymore, he was FINALLY sick of them, and boy was I sick of making them – but then it went to Double Quarter Pounders from McDonald’s was his favorite food to focus on. When he was little, he would eat pretty much everything I gave him – almost… so I’m not sure when he got this pickiness, but it drives me crazy. A little while ago, he told me he wanted to try a sub and actually ordered spinach on it and liked it… so, I would say “baby steps”… my boy is 12 and still has issues – but we are working on them… I wish you the best of luck and I tell myself the same thing.. because we need it too!!!
I have a son born 3 months premature. (25 weeks). He has spd. We have a speech therapist that is specialized in feeding. We have had her for 5 months now with no progress. She told me today she is at a lose on what else to do with him. He only eats doritos nacho cheese flavor. Won’t eat any other flavor. Gram crackers the sheet kind not teddy grams. Use to eat cheez it’s but not gold fish. Oreo cookies mini size but not regular size ones. French fries, skinny like Mc Donald’s; but not any bigger than that. Eats hashbrowns but only the edges for the crunchy part. Ice cream but only vanilla. And thats all he eats nothing else. No meats, fruits or vegs besides potato products. Im really frustrated and don’t know if I need to keep the speech therapist or just wait to see if he will try anything else. Eating is his only real issue other than that the doctors says he is above average in intelligence for his age. I think this also has something to do with his eating. The therapist can not trick him trying new foods like the other kids. He catches the tricks she trys. Thanks for advice you might have.
Sounds like your kiddo is in need of an Occupational Therapist! An occupational therapist can work with kiddos who are very rigid with their diet and will only eat very specific foods and only certain brands of foods. I think it would be very helpful for you to get in touch with an occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory processing issues.
Codie….have you found anything that has worked for your child? This sounds EXACTLY like my son and the feeding therapist wants to put a feeding tube in him to get him the nutrients he needs, but we are trying everything we can to find another way to get him to eat better foods or just drink some pediasure. If you have had any luck or made any headway I would love to know what you did!! Thank you so much
Jo Ann says
I have a 3 year old grandson that is like all the picky kids , Im going to try shakes in a nutra bullet and add different stuff to see if he will drink it, Have him help me and maybe he will drink it. Im going to try sweet and that fruit and than veggies, Im going to fl to visit for two months pray this will work. Maybe freeze some stuff too . Wish me luck
Hi ,, can you please tell me what happened with your little one? Were you able to make any progress?
My stepson is nearly five and when I met him at 3 years old he would only eat Marmite on toast, chicken nuggets and pizza. With a lot of patience and long meal times we are gradually increasing his list of acceptable foods, but it is hard work. Pushing him to try something just leads to arguments but dishing his meal up with just one change such as a new veggie or cucumber cut into sticks instead of slices on the plate works best if we ignore any negative reaction and praise any positive one. He’ll now eat a few different fruits, raw carrots, cucumber and peppers and any root veg I can disguise as chips (celeriac this week, I’m in my thirties and have never eaten it before!) With him I think his picky eating has been a way of controlling the scary changes in his life, and we still have a long way to go. Never give up, they are worth keeping our cool for…!
I don’t know if you’ll ever read this because I can’t figure out how to reply directly to your comment. But I wanted to offer some support to you and your family. Your son sounds like a “classic” case of sensory integration disorder. This is a real condition (not just picky resting!) which stems, usually, from prematurity birth or complications at birth. Oftentimes, kids with autism have it, but it can manifest without autistic tendencies as well. Kids will often fixate on one to five foods, specifically white foods (pasta, bread), and dairy (cheese, milk).
My 2 1/2 year old daughter was 10 wks premature and has this condition. She works with an OT and speech therapist for all kinds of sensory work, not just food/eating related. It sounds like you’re doing a lot for your son to encourage him and give him good sensory input. We’ve had some success in getting her to eat more foods by incorporating the Wilbarger brushing protocol on a daily basis (just Google it for instructions). The idea being if they have proper sensory input it “calms” other issues. We get her to take a daily gummy vitamin, so you could try that too.
It’s a daily challenge. And I feel for you when well meaning parents just don’t get it. Hang in there. Find a group through your pediatric hospital. It can get better! We have to believe that. And please reply if you read this!
Thank you for your input. I will google the Wilbarger protocal….
We have tried everything with our seven year old son including saying “You don’t have to eat your entire meal, but you do have to try it.” Our son went 26 hours (this was around 4 year old) without eating and got so lethargic he couldn’t get up off the couch. We have done light therapy (12 consecutive days of therapy for 30 mins twice a day) and had him at the CT Children Medical Center Food Team for 6 months. They told us our son was the worst they’d ever seen (gee thanks). The only thing he’ll eat is peanut butter sandwiches (no jelly). Specific brand of peanut butter, specific type of break that has to be toasted to a very specific consistency with the crust cut off. Last month his school announced it’s a peanut free school.
For some kids it’s a battle just to be in the same room as a certain kind of food. Don’t force it, just ease him into it, the key thing here is patience and perseverance. It will take him a while before he can be okay to be in the same room as his meal. Another long time before he’s okay to sit with his meal in front of him. An even longer time before he’s interested enough to poke or play with his food. One day he might touch it to his tongue, or even take a bite. With my boy, I encourage him to play with his food, touch it with a finger, poke holes in it, put it on your nose, so he gets accustomed to the smell and the texture and comfortable enough to one day be brave enough to actually eat it. He does pretty well with eating when I feed him, then he basically eats whatever is on his plate (some of the time anyway). He’s also picky with what and how he eats his food, he doesn’t like meat but he’ll eat a sausage or sausage roll, tomato sauce has to go over everything, etc. What we’ve been trying is to dish up the same for him as for the rest of the family, but with one of his few favourite foods on the plate as well. He’s at the stage where he’ll take a bite of other foods, so I encourage him to try this and that, then have a bite of his favourite food, then another bite of this and that, etc. Drags meal times out but at the end of the day, he’s got a full(ish) tummy going to bed and he’s at least shown more interest in his food other than “YUCKY! *gag face* + cue meltdown. These are all tips we got from seminars held by occupational therapists for sensory disorders in young children. Best of luck!
Bahara, Gabe is still picky at 34 years old. He has been eating spaghetti occasionally which he would never touch before because of the texture. But it can’t have anything in it like onions or mushrooms. I never know what he will eat or not eat. You can’t second guess him. Good luck with your son. I hope you find some answers.
My fiancee is the same way. We have a very limited number of foods that he will eat and the brand’s always change. Of he like Dominos pizza today, then tomorrow he won’t touch it but will love Pizza Hut. Its like he can’t like more than one thing at a time. Plus he cant stand being near cheese. I remember going to Olive garden and he had to have his shirt over his nose and kept making comments about all of the foot cheese. I really wish that this were addressed when he was a kid because now as an adult he doesn’t have to choose to change.
What does he have on his pizza if he doesn’t like cheese?
I have a step son that is 9 years old. I’ve struggled for 4 years now with his eating. We only get him for the summer and his mom allows him to make the rules over his eating habits. He only eats junk like pizza, chicken nuggets, hot dogs and McDonalds. I’m a strick parent with my 2 children. I was brought up you eat what’s on the table or you go away hungry. And my children were brought up the same and have never had a problem with them. My step son will eat cheeseburgers from McDonalds but refuses to eat them when I cook them. He refuses to eat bread but will eat hot dog and hamburger buns. He won’t eat square cheese of any kind but will eat shredded cheese or the cheese that comes on his McDonalds meal. He refuses to eat light bread. But will eat biscuits in chocolate gravy. He refuses to try anything new and could care less if he goes to bed hungry because he knows he can just eat breakfast. Making him sit there and eat it doesn’t work because he will make himself throw up. I try to be nice about it but I feel its more of a I get what I want then not liking something. I’m at my breaking point please help.
I am so glad to know that I am not the only one with this issue. It still is very frustrating though. Recently, I found out that my 9 year old son is a Highly Sensitive Child. This means that he sees, hears, feels, and tastes more than the non highly sensitive individual. He was an excellent eater right up until he turned 13 months. Then he suddenly started gagging and throwing up on everything. He’s added to his list of ‘will eat’ over the years. It consists of certain chicken nuggets, bacon cooked just right, fried eggs, cooked just right, toast with butter, made just right, (cannot become soft or he’ll refuse), pasta with country crock. I tried once on vacation to use a different spread and he was able to taste it…he refused. He also eats oriental oodles of noodles, but will not eat pasta that is not ziti or spaghetti. Things like fettuccini or linguini, alphabet, bow tie, multigrain are a no go. More recently he began eating rice with curry sauce. Yesterday however, I mashed some cooked cauliflower with a fork into the sauce and mixed it all into the rice. He was able to tell, that the texture and flavor was off.
In addition to his food sensitivities, his clothing has to fit correctly. He will lose his mind if his socks are slightly twisted, or if the seam is not in the right place. His pants cannot touch his heels. His thermals need to be over his socks and he cannot wear arm bands at carnivals. These are just a few of his idiosyncrasies. It was much more frustrating when I did not know about his ‘diagnosis’. I just always thought he was over dramatic and could not stand it. I yelled at him often and we had battles everyday. Now I understand where he’s coming from, and am more patient with him. It is still frustrating but I keep trying him with new foods.
Emily, your son has Sensory Processing Disorder and/or signs of being on the autism spectrum. Get the book the Out of Sync Child because I think you will really see your son in this book and she gives a lot of solutions. There are clothing companies especially for kids like your son.
As for food, I think it is really hard. Rice with curry sauce is an extremely good mainstay!
You are doing a great job!
My son turned 2 years and 10 months old today and he’s been working with an Occupational Therapist for the past year to overcome his sensory related issues to touch and food. Even after a year of twice weekly therapy sessions and our family’s constant encouragement for him to try food, he will only drink milk and eat crackers. His therapist has been able to get him to finally touch a piece of celery and scoop applesauce with his fingers but it’s taken months to get him at this point. After 20 minutes of coercion, he will put the celery in an all done bowl. He refuses to touch other textures (today in therapy, we tried to make a gingerbread house with sticky frosting which he refused to do and he put up a fuss about playing with carrots and snow peas which are different vegetables than we’ve played with in the past). He is not interested in sitting through meals and he will get up from the dinner table and run around while we’re eating.
I first noticed something was wrong at 14 months – he only liked eating certain textures unlike his same aged peers who seemed to be voracious eaters. His pediatrician ignored me for a year when I brought it to her attention and told me to keep offering him food which I did and which he always refused. After a year of dealing with the stubborn pediatrician, I finally switched pediatricians to someone who listened and found a children’s clinic in my area that specialized in early intervention for sensory issues (0-3 years of age).
My son is not on the Autism spectrum even though he has these sensory issues. He has advanced communication skills for a two year old and he’s extremely intelligent which he uses to his advantage. Somedays, it’s literally like trying to reason with a grumpy 75 year old who’s set in his ways. He’s also very tall for his age group and is an active child. I can get him to eat chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, and cheese pizza. He will also only eat crackers – nothing else. Some weeks, he just wants to drink milk and won’t eat any food.
My parenting approach is to try to be as patient as possible with my child and his sensory issues surrounding eating. His therapist received approval from her boss to continue working with him until he turns 3 1/2. I’ve put him in a Montessori school twice per week that has older kids so he can see how they eat and that it’s okay to eat fruit and vegetables. My husband and I read books about food to him all of the time. He can tell us the name of every type of fruit, vegetable, or food imaginable and will even tell us what type of nutrients the food offers. For Christmas, I’m getting him a play kitchen – he loves playing with fake food and pretending to eat it but won’t touch the real thing. At home, we always try to get him to kiss non-preferred foods and spit food into an all done bowl. We’ve been encouraging him to do this for a year and he never wants to play along.
I’m thrilled to have a brilliant kiddo but this past year has been very stressful and I’m worried about my child’s eating habits constantly. I would love to meet moms who’ve been through this exact scenario and talk to them about how their kids fared so I can have some hope. It’s very rare to meet people who’ve experienced what my son is going through, however. When I mention the eating issues as a sensory issue to other moms, I either receive a vacant stare or some flippant response about feeding him veggie chips. People just aren’t educated about sensory issues and typical “mom” advice doesn’t apply to our situation.
Both my son’s are phenomenally pickly eaters, and seem to have sensory issues. We don’t have answers, but we can relate!
Saied Ohadi says
Thank you for sharing your story about your son, our son was diagnose with autism when he was 2 years old at that time he was eating different foods. But slowly he start refusing foods and now at age 7 years old he only drink Smoothie and specfic lentil chips. He does not want to eat or touch any other food, His mother makes him fresh smoothie every day with all kind nutrition, vegetables and vitamin blended for him. According to his doctor his height is way and much taller than any 7 year old and his weight is kind of normal but not as normal as regular 7 years old. He has not eaten any solid food for past 4 years only drink smootie between 4-6 bottle every day. Both me and his mom are worried that if one day he refuse to drink smoothie we don’t know what to do. I could find atone that has exact symptom that our son have, I hoping that someone out here have any solution for us. I have tired to teach him to try and touch different food by touching,smelling and even bite but he won’t swallow or eat. Sometimes i see him gag but i sat with him while i eat my food he drink his smoothie without gag. When he was younger we try to follow professionals force feed him but then we stop. His sensory issues surrounding eating caused him to refuse all the food eat he use to eat, for example every time he got sick he refused one food at a time until he refused them all except his smoothie in the specific bottle attach with special straw. Hoping someone out here will give us advise how to deal with his sensory issues surrounding eating. I free with you People just aren’t educated about sensory issues and typical “mom” advice doesn’t apply to our situation either.
Hi saied! Is there any chance your son could have a tongue tie? This could explain the need for a straw?
Heather D. says
Thank you SO much for posting this. Our son is a terribly picky eater and I’ve been at my wits end. We tried starting “no, thank you” bites on a suggestion from a co-worker, and even this brought tears. It’s good to have an idea of what may be going on so we know how to better approach it.
All three of my kids have been different and picky in their own way. Right now it’s my youngest daughter who is 11. She has decided (after being a previously good eater) that she no longer wants food to touch, and that she will never (ever) eat any sort of fish ever again (because fish are friends, not food). My son, however, was the worst. He went from eating all sorts of things as a toddler–to one day not wanting to eat anything. I couldn’t understand it. He wouldn’t even eat his favorites anymore (which we had a nice fight over because I had a pantry full of the stuff that he would no longer eat) and eventually he would only eat pizza and chicken nuggets. He would eat fruit and certain other snacks like yogurt and always would drink milk. However, when it came to dinner–he wouldn’t eat anything but pizza or chicken nuggets. You can imagine my dilemmas. I probably should have tried harder to get him to branch out–but after a horrible battle with him as a toddler, I wasn’t going to do that again. When he got around 4 years old, we realized that he had enlarged tonsils, even though he’d never had tonsillitis (which if he had, might have blocked his airways), we had his tonsils removed. This was when I figured out that he was only eating things that he didn’t mind chewing for a long time, because he had to chew things up well if he was going to be able to swallow them. The problem, however, is that even after he had the tonsils removed, he already established certain eating habits. Eventually he improved. I think having school lunches–with no snacks leading up to them–helped. He would be hungry enough that he had to eat what was on the menu–or be miserable in school the rest of the day. Then he started making his own food one summer while taking care of his sisters and realized that the sandwich world was infinite. He also had friends that he would go out with that would get him to try new things. Then the ultimate kicker when he was a teen, was when he got a girlfriend. He would eat dinner at her house and didn’t want to offend her mother, so he ate what they were serving. (Never seemed to bother him to offend me–but…) Now he’s 20, and eats stuff like sushi and lots of spicy food–things that I never thought he would try when he was only 4 or even 11. Also–while I did worry about how much protein and nutrients he was getting, and still do, apparently he turned out OK. He was never over-weight or under-weight. He is a little on the short side, but a lot of men on my side of the family are, so I don’t think that has anything to do with it. Anyway, I know I could have pushed more. Instead of pushing I just made sure that there weren’t things in the house like soda or junk food, and tried to keep healthy options around for my kids to eat when I wasn’t there. They will definitely go for those bananas, apples, oranges, carrots or yogurt if there aren’t any cookies or chips around. I did ask him when he was around 8 or 9 why he only liked certain things, and he told me that he didn’t like the texture of ground beef. Eventually (only after trying steak) he slowly got to where he would eat ground beef–but it’s still not his favorite…mostly because even though he likes the taste–he doesn’t like that it squeaks in his mouth as he’s chewing. At least now he can tell me these things and I don’t think it’s some great mystery.
I know this article is a couple years old, but I ran across it while frustrated and trying to figure out what on earth I could do to get my son to eat. As a new eater (when he was about 10 months old) I could easily get him to try new things, fruits, veggies and even some meats (a mix of finger foods and jar/or pureed things). In his early toddler years he loved hot dogs and macaroni (with cheese or without) he loved chicken; pretty much all the normal kid type foods. Then one day…. he just stopped. Rarely ate anything I’d offer, no matter what or how many times. Monkey platters sat ignored, even though I would strategically move them closer to where we were so he’d be more likely to stop, I’d try some, others would too, but not my son. We resorted to giving him carnation instant breakfast in his milk to make sure he got SOME nutrients.
Fast forward to age 5…. He LOVES helping me cook, asks questions all the time but refuses to try anything. On the extremely rare chance we do get him to try something, he’ll chew it then have to spit it out…. he’ll gag or sometimes vomit to prove his point. We’ve made very little headway, he gets “stuck” on something he does like and we’re so elated he tried something new that we’ll let him eat it a few too many times and then it becomes a “must”, and he wants that for every meal. I tell him if he eats this new favorite any other time than when it’s intended (its usually a breakfast food, i.e.: english muffins or toast or waffles) then he HAS to try something new… with no lasting changes (he does the gagging thing) because he inevitably will win the battle of wills, since he knows the game (gag) and that I hate to let him starve. His Pediatrician says keep trying, offering, cooking with, shopping with etc, and we do. We’ve stopped the carnation completely by the way and he only gets milk WITH a meal, after he has eaten…. …It’s just not changing. I feel like I’m failing him 🙁
*as a side note we have a 15 year old daughter who from day one has eaten anything we put in front of her, and picks out anything inside that might not be what she would want (mushrooms mainly) or makes her plate if she doesn’t want things touching.
My teen eats few things: bread, cheese, Mac & cheese, noodles with garlic and alfredo sauce, shrimp. Vegetables? Fried potatoes (as in French fries) and pumpkin if in muffins or pie. Fruit? Pomegranates and sometimes apples. She was always very picky since she was born (never took a bottle – she would only breast feed). She’d refuse meals for days when we told her she could eat whatever she wanted IF she’d try what we had on the table. Our pediatrician told us to “give in.” Family meals don’t help improve the situation. She’s a wonderful kid and seems to be thriving, but only vitamins are sustaining her physical needs. She stopped eating sweets. She says everything she tastes is very strong, and if she has the same food too much (besides the above foods), she won’t eat it. We’ve lost those foods she used to like (smoothies, banana bread, etc.) because of it. Her brother eats anything – we’ve raised them similarly. She was born this way. Suggestions?
DaNelle Wolford says
I would suggest to get her in the kitchen, smelling, chopping, and touching the food. Getting her in a closer relationship with food might help! It sounds like a sensory issue:)
It also helps if they cook with you. Helping get ingredients, pouring, storing, flipping pancakes, filling muffin tins and washing dishes. My son wants to help out and asks if there is something he can do or watch me make dinner. He’ll clean off table, sweep floor and set table. He is very proud of himself when we sit down together to eat and he helped make the dish. Thanks
Allaiyah Weyn says
Ooh, I forgot….You can make healthy sugarless/flourless cookies with oats, craisins, orange concentrate, pecans, almond milk, applesauce, & banana puree. Also good with chocolate chips.
Allaiyah Weyn says
You don’t really grow out of being a picky eater, you also don’t grow out of ADHD…You actually get worse with age.
The trick is not what you’re cooking, but how it’s prepared.
Meat: There’s 4 ways to get people to like the taste:
1)Marinate it in garlic, orange juice, sweet soy, honey, & either orange juice or chopped pineapple, then bake or grill it. Will turn a salmon hater into a salmon fan. Great on pork roast.
2)Coat it in flour, dip in buttermilk eggwash, coat with panko & cornflake crumbs, season with garlic, thyme, rosemary, granulated onion, marjoram, basil, & oregano. Best for fish, cubed pork, chicken, & chicken fried steak.
3)Slow cook it in a tomato sauce with large amounts of Hungarian paprika & caraway seeds. Best for stew meat & chicken.
Tomato soup: Make it with milk, sugar, & butter. This is really more of a desert. Goes great with cheddar panini (grilled cheese).
Cilantro or culantro: Never use it. Use basil & tarragon as a substitute. Use tarragon sparingly; it;s very potent. May not like tarragon at first, but unlike cilantro, you get used to it.
Veggies: Try green beans with bacon & almonds. Other safe-bets are steamed beets, honey glazed carrots, yams with butter, raw snap peas, & acorn squash with brown sugar or honey & pumpkin pie seasoning. For broccoli, make a gravy out of Cream of Golden Mushroom & orange concentrate. For cauliflower, make a roux & toss in Parmesan & white cheddar. Two ways for cabbage; 1)Boil it in beef broth with coriander seed, 2)chop it raw & let it sit in a dressing of Leonardo e Roberto vinegar (very thick & sweet), some mayo, chop up some apples, pineapple, & black grapes. For zucchini, bake or fry it in panko or steam chayote squash as a replacement. If you can find yucca cactus, it tastes better than french fries.
Don’t put pepper on things. Regardless of whether or not they like spiciness or not, it totally changes the flavor of food.
Don’t fry anything in Canola oil; it creates an unpleasant aftertaste.
Don’t put mushrooms, avocados, or uncooked tomatoes on anything if they don’t already like them.
So, basically, stop being a mealy-mouthed wuss where your children are concerned. They can eat what you prepare or go hungry. Simple. And if you insult the cook, you leave the table and go to your room. Done.
I so agree with you!
Thanks for this article! I have allowed myself to become a short order cook, but I’m busy rehabilitating myself. Ha! Ha! Ha! And after 9 years, some smoothies have become tolerable to my son where I make up for when he just tries his meal. Schools’ attitude towards diet and nutrition and what they sell at tuck shops and what they give as treats to the kids during the day etc. makes challenges harder, but it seems unavoidable.
yes well im 13 yrs old now an i dont know why and how i became a picky eater its just im scared to try new things. but i just want to know how to eat with me not being terrified of trying new things. im just really really scared to because i always puke when i smell of if i even set by it. just please help me and thanks for the tips i would love to hear some more thank you god bless all have a great day :DD.
DaNelle Wolford says
I would just try new foods a little at a time and gradually I’m sure you’ll enjoy a bigger variety!
It won’t be easy, but it just takes time for you to get comfortable with the foods. Learning to like to foods is like riding a bike or tying your shoe. It isn’t easy at first, but once you get it, it’s with you for life. If it helps, look up recipes with the new foods you’d like to try and sound good. It having people around makes you nervous, try the new foods alone. The worst thing can happen is you throwing up. But if you prepare yourself mentally beforehand, you’ll be able to handle that better. Food anxiety is a real thing, but if you are patient with yourself, and take time to think about what situations would make you the most comfortable when trying new foods, I think you’ll do great.
Good Luck! 🙂
Kay Daugherty says
My son is 30 and still eats like a picky 3 year old. I wish I had had some guidelines back when this all started. The pediatrician told me to wait him out. Ha! I’m glad there is something for other mother’s to read and feel like they are not alone.
Hi Kay, My son is 18 years old, and only eats few things. He eats pizza no tomato sauce, chicken fingers…only certain places, fries, get this he will eat calimari f ried. boxed mac and cheese, not homemade…i am at my wits end… he has shared with me he has fear of trying food, all thru years I have tried everything and results in him gagging and throwing up….
He wants help, don’t know where to go what to do…
have you found any relief? Please email me…
I also have an 18 year old son, with close to the same eating habits. He has asked me for help and I don’t know what to do either!
I need help. There is literally less than 10 things my daughter will eat for an actually meal. And they’re not the healthiest things. (PBJ, hot dogs, Mac and cheese etc). She likes broccoli most of the time which I just about the only vegetable. And she likes most fruits. So when you say it’s okay to let them go to bed hungry, what do you do in the morning? Breakfast is typically easier but I feel like letting her go hungry the night before is a “waste” and she’ll just realize she doesn’t have to eat dinner because she’ll get breakfast. Do I feed her the same dinner for each meal until she actually eats it? Or make her a breakfast I know she won’t care for? Help. I’m going crazy with the pickiness. She is 2 (26 months). Thanks.
DaNelle Wolford says
That’s a tough one Robin. I would probably make what she likes, but also make one thing at each meal she doesn’t like. Make it a rule that you have to try everything:)
I am just curious though…. What are the repercussions you have set for disobeying the rules? I.e. not trying a few bites of everything.
DaNelle Wolford says
Hi Jacob, I usually let them be hungry if that is their choice:)
Gloria Hendrickson says
Thank you so much! We’re going to enforce these. This definitely gave me a deeper understanding of what my son is going through and experiencing right now. Very much appreciated info!
OH! That made me laugh out loud – “it looks like a big pile of poo” – I have heard that SO MANY TIMES (must be a boy thing ’cause my girls haven’t said it!) And yes, I tell him that it is hurtful to me, the cook, because I spent time and love to make the food and that he could respect me by either a) not saying anything at all or b) to say, “Thanks mom for making dinner for us. My one son also had sensory issues and we’ve had the two bite rule for as long as I can remember, but I forgot all about the “touching, licking, bite then spit out…” as it’s been awhile since he’s been in therapy. Might have to go back to that! LOVE your blog!
Yea everyone always says the “try it” rule but how exactly do you get a stubborn toddler with little communication and reasoning to do this without an all out power struggle?
My son has been a picky eater since he was 5 years old. He ate everything back then. And then it started w/the refusal and gagging, etc. Now he’s 15 years old. He doesn’t like any kind of sauces, food can’t touch, doesn’t eat red meat because it stinks and looks gross, etc. He eats about 5 dinner-type items, like mac & cheese, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, plain pasta and fish sticks. And his diet consist of lots of empty carbs. I always have fresh fruit and veggies avail but it’s rare that he will eat those. Let’s just say, for example, he won’t touch an apple unless it’s already been peeled and sliced and then he will use a fork to eat it. He won’t peel it himself because it “feels” gross. I’ve even had gloves available but the gloves “feel” weird on his hands. So I either do that myself or buy the pre-bagged sliced apples so he gets it himself. Over the years, I’ve done all the no-no’s and then a friend suggested he had a sensory disorder because of the gagging he would do when he didn’t want to eat a particular food. He has in the past gone on an all liquid diet several times for over a month each time, just because. We’ve tried everything with him. I continue to make him a separate meal because, he has on several occasions, refused to eat, mal-nourishing himself and getting sick. So I have to meet him halfway. I’ve switched the family over to a gluten-free diet and cut out all processed sugars and artificial sweeteners. I’ve also remade the nuggets & fish sticks using almond flour and ground flax. Now he is going through a hormonal change (puberty). So when he gets sick or has breakouts of any kind and comes to me with concerns, I offer diet alternatives and explain that he is the only one in control of how good he wants to feel according to what he eats. So he has tried some new things because of those reasons. I have become creative when baking things like cookies, etc…throwing in gluten free flours and better organic ingredients. And with smoothies, he will drink them as long as I don’t tell him what’s in it besides the actual fruits (I put in probiotics, tumeric, flax oil, avocado and he can’t tell) Smoothies also cannot have any dairy base because he doesn’t like the thickness it creates so just fruit, and/or ice and water plus what I put in above). He has a problem with not getting enough fiber so I give him a supplement for that and when it comes to drinks, he drinks tea…hates water but will only drink it from an unopened bottle. No tap. Go figure on that one. We water down all juices when I buy them (not often) and milk. It’s an ongoing battle with the texture thing and I constantly worry over his future health. I have come to hate mealtime over the years even with all of the changes I’ve made. I actually will cringe when I have to prepare any kind of meal because there’s always something that he’s going to pick apart. It is definitely not easy and if it is bad for me, I can only imagine how bad it must be for him to live with this.
The most effective thing we have found is to get the kids involved in food prep themselves. Learning to add salt and spices, tasting as they go, gets them interested in how food tastes. They also appreciate how much effort goes into making a meal. (Husbands should cook at least once a week for the same reason. 😉 )
My daughter has very mild sensory processing disorder as well. (I like to think that the real food I’ve been feeding her since conception helped to prevent a more serious condition.) Still, we deal with the picky eater thing quite a bit. She is especially sensitive to texture and temperature of foods. Thanks for your post. It gives me hope that my girl will also get better.
I feel like I tried the going to bed hungry if you wont eat anything, but then it makes bed time a battle because he wants to eat (not dinner, but something) or wants to drink a lot of milk.
DaNelle Wolford says
It’s definitely a tough call. I’d trust in your instincts on this one. We only made new dishes once or twice a week to ease my son into it and to avoid making every night a battle.
I’m literally crying right now after reading this article and the responses to it. I too have a 2.5 year old son who exhibits all these behaviors. I’ve cried, pleaded, begged, for him to just try a bite. Now I’ve been pureeing veggies to add to baking, pasta sauce, and smoothies. I’ve become the short order cook as well as every meal except breakfast is a battle. I’m so excited to read this book and comforted to know I’m not alone. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. 🙂
Bonnie Hershey says
I love this list you have here and all the practical tips. Your last tip on sensory disorder–the one about focusing on improving their comfort in their own skin and not associate with food–this one was new to me. And it totally makes sense that it would help!
Thank you for sharing this resource!
Grayse Oyéresu says
I did a lot of research into “picky” eating, and the only concrete evidence I could find was that there’s no such thing. Kids know far better than we can fathom what they need. All you have to do is get to the base of the craving (if they say they want something that’s higher in sugar, give them fruit). I’ve only offered my son (age 2) the best whole, raw, organic vegan foods, and only the ones appropriate to his digestive strength (children actually cannot wholly process grains OR eggs until they’re about 5-6, and even then, eggs should only be eaten (in order to be effective nutrition) about twice a month or less). At the age of 1, my son ate a large variety of raw organic fruits, breast milk, and raw goat’s milk (because I couldn’t produce quiet enough). At the age of 2, he still largely eats raw goat’s milk and fruits, but I’ve eased him into (offered to him and he accepted) non-starchy vegetables as well. He is strong and full of clean energy, like all other raw foodist babies/children I’ve met. They know their needs, it is only our job to give them what they need, not falsely manipulate them.
Good post! I have a picky eater that is now 12. He is so much better than he used to be, but when given something new or something that he thinks looks funny, he may sit at the table staring at it for a long time before trying to eat it. We did a lot of the same rules as you have listed. I think the most important one for us was that, mom is not a short order cook! That one I think made the biggest difference in him trying new foods.
Stefanie Tweedy says
We did food therapy for over a year. He is 12 now and they have talked about having to put a feeding tube in if he doesn’t start eating!!
We still do what my hubby calls “make out”therapy. We have to “kiss” the food first. Because if you can’t even hold it or touch it to your lips then its not going down. Then we lick it..this may take several weeks. Then we roll it around on our tongue and in our mouth. Then we chew and then we swallow. We then pray it stays down. It takes awhile but it will work. They found out with my son a part of his disorder was because he was extremely OCD! It’s a control thing and a fear! He is terrified of food! It’s so hard…his started with IBS and bleeding and the blood and tummy aches scared him and that on top of the sensory issues is a night mare!!!
I would also add that for future kiddos, try to start them on different foods when they are just starting solids. We start solids later than recommended (around 8 months) to make food allergies less likely and give their digestion more time to develop. One benefit is that you don’t have to bother with pureeing anything but just handing them a large chunk of whatever is on your plate to just gnaw on.
As they start actually chewing and digesting more, don’t start with sweet baby foods or grain cereals, but instead do egg yolks, meat, and veggies so they don’t just crave a sweet taste.
And be sure to get fermented foods into them as soon as possible so that they will develop their palate to expect a sour taste. Every culture has sour foods (that kids are expected to eat) but we just dump sugar in ours (e.g. yogurt.)
Also it’s entertaining to boot. They make that crazy sour face but keep putting it in because it’s instinctual and they want to be eating like everyone else. We’ve started all four of our kids this way and they are all great eaters.
Angelina hart says
I just want to put this out there… You are describing my 12 yr old perfectly. I did what you mentioned, but that left us with years of struggles at the table. Because the whole ‘2 bites’ thing is a struggle! every meal. Often tears were involved and it was exhausting. I had heard about the GAPS diet for years but resisted it because she was already so picky. But at 10 her allergies got so bad I got desperate. When I finally read the book, I found my daughter on nearly every page. It was very difficult to make the shift, but sure enough, her tastes and food preferences changed. The foods many of these children crave are due to an imbalance in their digestive system and the pickiness and even the SPD piece is just the symptom of the larger issue. I wished I had done this diet when she was 2 rather than 10! If you think watching your 2 yr old cry at the table, a 10 yr old is MUCH harder! Packing up snacks to go to a friend’s house, lunch at school, navigating bday parties are all much more challenging when they are older. I really wish I would have addressees this earlier in her life and looked more deeply at the cause and not just how to deal with the symptom. It remains an ongoing challenge for us. If she were allowed to make all her own food choices, she would eat white noodles and dried mangoes exclusively. It’s not an easy road…lots of love to all the families out there dealing with this! and ps, when we travel to other countries, her diet expands exponentially- no complaining, tries things freely and eats very well. I do think our food is literally toxic in this country exasperating the problems for these kids. :(.
Thank-you for this article! It described my 3year old daughter to a T. I have always said that she wasn’t just being ‘picky’, it has been all about the colours, textures, smells, sounds etc but I had never heard of this Sensory Disorder. I am so glad I came across this & have confirmed what I already knew about my daughter. Thank-you.
Hi, my 25 year old was the pickiest eater, gagged and threw up all the time, he lived on white bread, cheese, mac and cheese, cheese pizza, apples, grapes and plain noodles, my friends and family gave me a hard time, saying that he would be slow, short and sickly, well let me lay some fears to rest, he’s over 6ft tall, was valedictorian at grad in high school, has a degree in biochemistry and is a Captain in the air force, I made separate meals for him most nights when he was young, as he got older he learned to cook the things he liked for himself. Now he eats a much bigger variety of foods (thanks in part to an asian fiancee), he still gags if he tries to eat certain food, lettuce being a big one, he tries often and nearly vomits every time, some kids just cannot eat what we want them to, I didn’t want to give in and make him his own meals but it was the only way to manage, he’s the oldest of my 4 boys and the others are much better eaters and eat most things.
There’s hope! I have a 10yo who was so picky for years. We have followed rules similar to yours over the years. I have seen such a major turnaround in his eating habits in the past few years. I think it just took lots of patience, sticking to the rules, and also his own maturity. There are times he doesn’t eat a lot, but he’s healthy and growing so I’ve learned to not worry any more. As he’s getting older, I’m teaching him more about how to cook and why certain foods are healthy (or not healthy).
This is my son. He is 7. How do you find help? What do I ask for?
DaNelle Wolford says
If he’s really bad, you can try to find a specialist in Sensory Processing Disorders, or just start slow with some of the tips I have listed. Good luck!
I have a very picky eater with sensory processing disorder. Meal times are horrible. He won’t try new things. Absolutely refuses , cries, screams, gags, pukes, etc. homemade Mac and cheese? No way. Spaghetti? Only plain noodles with butter. Veggies? Only broccoli and green beans. He will eat fruit, but only bananas, apples, strawberries, grapes, watermelon, melon, oranges, and peaches. I have tried everything on your list, and nothing works. So, I do cave and make him something he will eat because I felt horrible when I made him eat what I made for me, it’s just the two of us, and he went a whole day without eating!!! I will keep trying your suggestions, and hope one day he will not be a picky eater!!
Hi Cheri, To me it sounds like you / your son are doing quite well! At least he is eating some things from each food group, especially that he eats some veggies and a number of different fruits. I don’t know how old he is but it sounds like he could be on his way already to eating a wider variety of foods! Although my daughter is too young for any of this yet, I like the rule of “taking two bites” of the new food. That might expand his foods, too.
Holly S. says
Food Neophobia is a real treatable diagnosis. This goes way beyond picky eating. Our son suffers tremendously. Duke University hospital is the only place we found doing research and helping kids over come this issue. It’s a work in process everyday. Duke has good information to look at.
Wow …..I’ve been reading all you “Real Foodies” blogs for a year and half now and I have never seen anyone mention sensory processing disorder. Our son who is almost two was diagnosed with SPD at around 2 months old when he refused breast and bottle – needless to say, it was a nightmare. We have been struggling with his eating since we started him on solids and are still struggling to this day! I was so thankful to have found WAPF when he was just about to start rice cereal (eeek!) – which persuaded me to feed eggs, raw milk, meats, fats, and no grains.
But as we’re reaching his second birthday we are only at about 10 different foods he’ll even let go near his mouth. If he doesn’t recognize it or want it at that moment, he spits it out. Or he’ll just “hold out” until we give him what he wants…this could be days folks (of course with little bits in between but no full meals). Some SPD kids don’t perceive eating as a solution to their hunger pains and are just irritable all the time. Right now its’ homemade ice cream with every meal while eating other bits of eggs, meats, avocado, veggies in between ice cream bites …. when he was a year old, he would only eat bacon – 3 meals a day for 3 months, oh and butter. (Thankfully we source the best meats/dairy we can find)
Another tip I would add would be to not start distraction feeding …. as parent’s we’re always worried that our children and not eating enough (rightfully so when they haven’t eating much the whole day) but in our personal attempts to get more food into our son, we’ve fallen into the trap of distraction / follow around feeding that now we don’t know how to get out of.
So… did your son go to OT to help with his food sensitivities, or was it just your suggestions above? Did this start when he was really young? Do you believe he partially grew out of it with being able to speak? Our son isn’t speaking which also adds to all of our frustrations.
Anyways – thanks for the tips, I’m going to try these.
Love your blog and the “realness” behind your stories. Can’t wait for our own backyard chickens and goats : )
DaNelle Wolford says
He didn’t go to OT, but we started young around 2-3 with these principles. He’s now 10 and eats everything! Yes, he definitely grew out of it as time went by, but I don’t know if speaking played a role or not.
I’m no expert, but if your son has got pretty serious food sensitivities and is delayed in his speech (although there are many kids who don’t speak til 2!), you may want to consider the possibility that he is somewhere on the autism spectrum? Again, I am not an expert, and you know your child! But it occurred to me while reading the comments that it might be helpful to point out. If he also has serious sleep problems, doesn’t play pretend, has trouble with eye contact, etc., you might consider asking a professional. The younger a child is diagnosed (assuming the diagnosis is correct) the more effective the therapy for things like speech and sensory are likely to be. You sound like an amazing mom – keep going!
Wendy, two things that helped us make the switch (and its hard because kids usually associate “organic” with “yuck”) was to show them that the ingredients in those things were the same except for the chemicals/preservatives. Now my kids say “yuck” to chemicals. My kids still don’t like the sprouted grain bread that my husband and I eat, so I started to make homemade bread in the bread maker. It was white (unbleached flour) bread, but it was a start in the right direction because I knew what was in it! And they loved it. Then we went to sourdough and for some reason, they now prefer that. I buy it from the bakery section of our grocery store. Carbs are extremely addictive so its hard for kids to give up their mac n’ cheese (I substitute rice noodles now so it looks the same). They also really love labels. I think that is also a huge thing to get over– not seeing the logos that are so familiar! Two things can taste alike but if the label is different, they think it tastes different (thanks Advertising!). Maybe take labels off the ketchup and mustard?
I totally agree with Beth. I am still working on changing our household over from the S.A.D. to the healthy wholesome REAL food diet. In the process, my daughter’s and husband’s favorite packages have begun to disappear from the pantry. The still eat what I serve, but I hear a LOT of whining about how there is nothing to eat when the pantry, fridge and freezer are all FULL of delicious, nutritious food.
My daughter is older and capable of taking care of herself (I wouldn’t recommend leaving a young child to fend for themselves), but I also make it known that we eat dinner as a family whether or not you’re hungry. If you don’t want/like what I’ve cooked; you’re welcome to make yourself a sandwich or go hungry. It’s funny how neither of them have lost a ton of weight and I haven’t seen many sandwiches happening either. Eventually they get hungry and they eat. Most times, they eat what I cooked because it’s a lot easier than trying to find or prepare something else. I made it a point from the beginning not to cater to food whims in my family. I’m fine if they want to make a sandwich; but that’s the only other option.
HELP needed! I think I have a picky eater but she’s 13. This past summer I started changing over everything to organic, natural wholesome foods. I didnt go crazy, just replaced. AS we ran out of mustard and ketchup I replaced it with an organic version. As I ran out of canned veggies I replaced them with fresh. NOW, she wont eat anything. She wont even try most things and what she does she “hates”. I’ve tried all the above: this is dinner this is what you eat. Im trying to prepare healthy foods so we are. You get a new iphone for your bday in May if you at least try it. No saying its gross just try and move on if you truely cant eat it. Nothing has worked. Nothing. She wont eat breakfast cause she hates eggs and I only have whole grain bread. She wants Bunny Bread back. She wont eat at school nor pack her lunch. She eats once she gets home but its not real food. Dinner is about the same as the rest of the day unless I give in and make food (ie mac n cheese) that she will eat. Sooooo, anyone have advice for a PICKY TEENAGER?!! :0)
Sarah K says
Wendy, not to be a downer, but there is a slight possibility it’s not just the food itself. Your daughter may be experimenting with anorexia, and disguising it under the pretense of despising your food switch. I don’t know you, your daughter, your family, not trying to put anything on you, but I was anorexic as a teen and some of the things you mentioned raised a red flag to me. I don’t know how you would know or even go about bringing it up, and I hate to think of this causing you undue stress, but I can’t NOT say something when I recognize signs. I wouldn’t be alive today if someone hadn’t started asking me about my relationship with food. There’s a lot of resources out there!
All the best, Wendy!
Hi! Just a couple things….maybe you could let her choose one meal a week for your family, even bending the new eating rules a little for her, if she will plan it and help make it. You can search recipes online together, talk about nutrition, and she can learn about cooking. You can say that no box foods allowed but you’re happy to cook something with her that sounds good to her. Second…this sounds like such a normal 13 year old thing to me. My friend’s sister who was 14 came to visit me once, when I was in my first apartment on my own after college. Her sister ate nothing – and I do mean NOTHING – but chicken strips and french fries. No fruit or veg. So she was uncertain what to do when I served a spinach salad with strawberries, pasta with tomato cream sauce, and bread with goat cheese and marinera. She reluctantly tried the bread and exclaimed “Hey! This is like PIZZA bread!” I know if I had been her mother, she would have refused to even touch it 🙂 This same girl, a few years later, was serving in the Peace Corps over seas. She as been to more countries and eaten more exotic foods than I could ever dream of. Oh, and she mentioned to me the other day that she just loves goat cheese.
My husband is the one with the picky attitude and It might be rubbing off on our son. How do I change his way of thinking/eating? He wont eat anything “green”, no rice whatsoever, barely fruit and corn – maybe – on occasion. Otherwise its sweets, meat, pasta, cheese, fat, WHITE bread and an occasional potato. I think the only way he’ll change is something life threatening.
Sounds like my husband!!!
Oh I meant our farmers chicken:) Still trying to get out of the subdivision so we can raise our own!
Becky Webb says
We do this! Great post!
Ok, already loved your blog for real food advice and dreams of one day having critters and a homestead, and now you post this! Our four year old is developmentally delayed with sensory issues and while he’s finally started getting messy with fingerpaint, he still will only eat peanut butter and honey sandwiches, chicken nuggets (we do make them from our farmed pasture raised chicken when we can, otherwise it’s insanely expensive Applegate organic strips), and for some reason he loves Annie’s spinach feta wraps. That’s it! It is a constant source of stress/worry, and I was furious when my husband and brother in law would not stop bugging him to eat a piece of pizza the other night. I try to not constantly tell people how to treat him, but its so hard when I know that the more you press it the more he’ll dig his heels in. Thank you so much for all the tips!!
I had only heard of sensory disorders in regards to wearing clothing– this is very interesting! My pet peeve is picky eaters and of course, I’m raising two of them! 😉 I read a while ago about having them eat two bites of everything and it does work. They are teenagers now and while they don’t eat everything, they do eat a lot more because they’ve tried a large variety of things. My son loves broccoli and asparagus! He’d never known that if he wasn’t told to take two bites when he was younger. My cooking has definitely improved too because I knew I needed to introduce them to more so their diet wouldn’t be so limited. I have a sister-in-law that never eats vegetables and it always alarmed me that she would exclude a whole food group! So, when my kids only eat two bites of the zucchini and yellow squash, I’m having a little party inside my head because they tried it!
It’s like you knew I needed this. I have a 2.5 year old that was an excellent eater up until about 9 months ago but sadly your description is now spot-on. Only the past week have I convinced him to even try a few things on his dinner plate and he spits them right back out – it’s like he made the decision to spit before he put it in his mouth. Just last night I told my husband we need to set some ground rules before our next meal together so we can be on the same page. Thank you so much for the inspiration.
kristy smith says
Daphne, my son has had huge sensory issues, including around foods. he is now almost 6 and is very proud of himself when (on a day that he is coping with life) he tries and even swallows a new food, or a previously disliked one.
We have gotten to this point (still a long way to go of course) by following his OTs directions to follow some steps to get him used to the sight, smell, taste and texture of different foods. each step has no expectation to actually eat anything.
1. having food on the table but not on his own plate.
2. having it on his plate.
3. let him play with his food with his hands.
4. sniff the food
5. lick the food
6. bite the food and then spit it out onto plate or into a bin (whatever you find most acceptable)
7. chew the food and then spit it out.
8 chew and swallow one bite of the food.
I know it sounds horrible and goes against what we try to teach our children about table manners, but if we allow them to become comfortable with the foods they are far more likely to progress. my son takes a few steps forward and even eats his whole meal sometimes, but then will still have bad days/weeks where we just encourage him to lick something on his plate. when we can see he is finding it hard we just make sure we praise any attempt he makes to interact with his food in anyway. the key is being positive and trusting your child. and of course not letting them fill up on rubbish 🙂 good luck!
Jenn Purdy says
We did the same therapy routine with my son. I noticed food aversions before 12 months of age. We did food therapy from ages 4-5, upon which he graduated on his 5th birthday and was very proud of himself. The therapy team was an OT and a speech therapist. His first session was playing with the food. He set the various foods up into a baseball game on the table. The therapist was calling her colleagues in to see it! Then they formed a group of 4 boys of similar age and the boys did well helping each other. It made all the difference. He’s 14 and he still won’t eat fruit, but there’s nothing he can’t get from vegetables, which he eats a lot of. He also out grew other sensory problems like shirt tags and touching grass.
I had to pursue my own treatment for him. The pediatrician paid no regard to my concerns on multiple visits, and when he was 2 we moved to a new city, so there was time finding a new doctor to talk to. I knew something was wrong and I kept pursuing it until I found someone who would help us an not tell me I was just over reacting or that Jack was just typically “picky.” Be your own advocate!
Allyson Frankman says
We went through the same thing with our son. Luckily the early intervention center in our city had a great occupational therapist specializing in feeding disorders. I don’t know what we would have done without those counselling sessions. The 8 steps really worked, even though sometimes we would spend WEEKS on one of the first few steps. Three years later, we can skip most of those steps almost all of the time. He is willing to try most new foods – at least one bite.
I’ve also learned how integrated all of his sensory issues are, so I have a much better chance at feeding a new food to him at home when it’s just our family. If we are travelling or at a relatives with lots of people, he’s so sensory overloaded he CAN’T try new foods because he can’t take any other assault to his senses.
Allyson Frankman says
Oh, one more thing. Even though I don’t make made-to-order meals, I do make sure that at every meal there is at least one of his preferred foods for everyone to eat that he can fill up on. A bowl of apple slices, or grapes, etc. If he knows he can eat something he is comfortable with (apple slices) than try a bit of stirfry is less intimidating to him.
thank you so much for this .. my son just turned 3 and he has a sensory disorder for the past 2 years he only eaters peanut butter and jelly, fries, and most any fruit, oh and dry cereal. i have been pushing for his therapy to include meal therapy but it hasn’t happened yet so i want to thank you very much for posting this so i have something to try with him.
Daphne I am going through the exact same thing! I dont know what to do! Since he turned 2, he has gotten more and more picky, and now in the last month he wont eat anything but toast with butter and jam, noodles and yogurt. Oh and some cucumbers here and there. Coincidentally he has really started to assert himself in many ways this past month so maybe it is about that…but my husband and I are worried. It is so stressful when he wont eat, it really makes you worry! He has started to complain about the kitchen being “stinky” (from chopping onions etc I’m guessing) so maybe it IS a sensory overload thing. He definitely is sensitive at the playground, if too much is going on he really backs off and just wants to “watch.” I try to sneak things into his noodles or mashed into his toast but he immediately picks up on it and then thats it, he wont touch anything the rest of the meal. I do try to sneak bone broth or grass fed gelatin into the rice (if he decides he will eat rice) or the pasta sauce and so far that has worked. Anyway this article was helpful, good luck to you
I have only one thing to add to this list. And that is what I just did! LOL
I printed your ‘rules’ and we are going to go over them with our kids tonite at dinner. I prepare every single meal that my family eats and it really does hurt when they regurgitate it onto the plate. Not to mention ruin everyone else’s meal …. but I think by going over the rules of what is acceptable and what isn’t makes a difference with kids. Then they KNOW what to expect at dinner and what IS expected from them too.
Thanks for the post!