Dealing With a Picky Eater
I love your column and your blog — I’m so glad you write all that you do because in addition to pure entertainment (deodorant drama!!), you always give great advice. And now I really need some.
My son, at 13 months, is turning out to be SUCH a picky eater. I’m completely baffled. He only wants to eat pureed veggies and fruits (with the exception of bananas — he loves them. I swear the kid is part monkey.)
He’ll usually eat chicken or turkey, most breads and cracker-type snacks, but no actual veggies. I’ve tried green beans, corn, peas, spinach, lima beans, squash, and avocados among others. He either refuses to touch it or if he puts it in his mouth, he then spits it out immediately. And here’s the weird thing, usually I can take the exact same veggies or fruits and throw them in the food processor to puree them, and then he’ll scarf them down. I asked my pediatrician about it and she said so just keep trying (that whole bit I keep reading about kids needing to try something 10-14 times before they decide to like it). And that’s fine, I guess, but in the mean time he needs to be eating healthy stuff and I’m worried that I’m not helping by continuing to let him have purees. I realize he could have texture issues, but I don’t have any clue how to tackle that.
My husband and I eat a fair amount of vegetables in front of him. And when he won’t try something, we always eat a piece of whatever it is so he can see us eating it. And each time my son then picks up a piece and tries to make us eat another one as if to say “okay, if you like it so much, just eat the rest.”
Somehow I feel like we’re on the path to having a kid that refuses to eat anything but ketchup-soaked chicken nuggets (even though I know that’s a bit premature.) But I’d like to make sure I’m not missing something obvious here and I’d love any advice you can provide.
Thanks so much!
“Ketchup-soaked chicken nuggets.” HA HA HA HA.
HA HA HA HA HA HA.
You know what my 4.5 year old won’t eat? Chicken nuggets. Or ketchup. Hamburgers. Meatballs. Turkey. Fish. Lunch meat. Beans. Rice. Vegetables or fruit (fresh or cooked, pureed or sauced). He once ate nothing but peanut-butter sandwich crackers for a month. He only recently decided to eat a FRENCH FRY for the first time ever, and this was a victory of like, raw asparagus spear proportions. He will reject foods on the 10th try; he will reject foods on the 30th try. He will not use a fork or spoon voluntarily; he will not tolerate foods being mixed up or dipped in anything. He will watch me prepare his foods like a hawk to make sure I’m not trying to sneak anything extra in, ever since he realized I was putting pureed veggies his macaroni and cheese. He’s lived on a diet of milk, breads, pasta, cheese, nuts and dry cereal for years, and we’re JUST NOW managing to get him to at least taste new foods. He still doesn’t like them, but he’s putting them in his mouth and swallowing them without gagging. Much.
I’m not telling you this to scare you, but more to underline a point that 1) I am probably not the best person to give you advice here, and 2) Noah remains on the 95th percentile for height and 50th for weight, and is perfectly solidly healthy.
Of course I wish he would eat more foods. I wish we had more freedom to go to different restaurants as a family. I wish I could stop hiding fruits and green vegetables in gross-colored smoothies everyday. (He will thankfully drink them without protest, but only if I serve them in a “Dora cup.” And don’t get me started on his attachment to the sippy cup and the Great Big Boy Cup Wars of 2009.)
But he’s FINE. He’s HEALTHY. He’s STRONG. He’s GROWING. That is what’s really important, and the thing I have to remind myself at dinnertime every. night. when he flat-out refuses to eat a single thing on his plate and willingly chooses to go to bed hungry. Again. Oh my God.
(On the other side of the spectrum, there’s Ezra. Who is just now starting to exert some picky-ish preferences and reject some of the things he used to eat, but still generally will eat whatever is in front of him when he realizes we’re not going to make him something else. He eats a really nice variety of fruits and veggies and meats and grains and textures, uses a fork and a spoon, has a seemingly bottomless appetite…and is barely hanging on to the 10th percentile for weight. I DO NOT UNDERSTAND CHILDREN SOMETIMES AT ALL YOU GUYS.)
The best and only ADVICE I can give you is to buy Ellyn Satter’s book How to Get Your Kid to Eat: But Not Too Much. It’s a great book, even though (obviously) it didn’t really change the course of Noah’s diet all that much. It did keep me from losing my mind over it though, and stopped me from making some food-related mistakes. (Playing short-order cook, where you cook separate kiddie meals and/or immediately whip up a replacement for every rejected food, being the most serious.) The book basically stems from one tenet: You are responsible for putting food in front of your child, and that’s IT. It’s all them, after that. Whether they eat, how much they eat, etc.
What if Your Child’s Not Just Being Picky?
As for the possibility of texture issues — well, I should have advice, but I don’t have that much. Most kids have some texture aversions (hell, most adults still have some), and as long as your son isn’t demonstrating actual problems with his oral motor skills (problems with chewing, gagging, choking, drooling), I would bet he WILL outgrow most of them. Noah’s issues turned out to be something a little more serious (he had oral hypersensitivity to the point it was classified as oral aversion for awhile), and did require therapy. Textures no longer bother him so much — we’re now just honestly stuck in the “I don’t wanna try new things” stalemate, which is tougher because he REMEMBERS all the choking and gagging from a year or two ago.
It’s always a tough call to know whether your accommodations are helping or hurting — particularly after you’ve had your wrist slapped by Satter for letting your kid rule the menu at home. I’d probably continue to offer the purees along with the unmolested veggie or fruit, and just view them as good practice for self-feeding with a spoon. Don’t make a big deal out of it — like sweeping the rejected food away mid-meal with an “OH FINE” and stepping away from the table to blend them. That’s giving your kid a sense of winning something, or getting his way. Just have the purees ready to go at the beginning of the meal and focus on getting your son to use a spoon. Maybe try gradually upping the thickness or changing the consistency by adding in some brown rice or oatmeal. Stimulating his mouth is a good thing too — let him play with an electric toothbrush and massage his cheeks and lips after diaper changes.
Noah’s Super Picky-Eater Dairy-Free Fruity Juice
And lastly, for all my fellow parents of picky eaters who are looking for a quick way to get a decent amount of veggies into their kid (that doesn’t involve adding minuscule amounts of chickpeas and beets to freaking chocolate brownies), here’s our smoothie recipe, aka The Reason My Child Doesn’t Have Scurvy:
1. Start with healthy ingredients. In a small single-serving blender, add small servings of frozen veggies: peas, spinach, lima beans, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. (I’ve occasionally used fresh but have to use less because the taste tends to be a bit more noticeable.) I usually fill this sized blender a little over halfway with vegetables.
2. Now, we camouflage. Top it off with generous chunks of fresh or frozen fruit: strawberries, pineapple, mango, etc. If your child likes a thicker smoothie, adding fresh banana or avocado works too.
3. Then add juice. I always use a veggie-based juice like Trader Joe’s Green Plant Beverage (don’t be scared, it’s super-sweet). Add juice all the way to the top. Blend. Serve in a non-clear straw cup with a lid, if your kid is easily squicked by Anything Green Looking.
Then go have yourself a glass of wine and tell yourself “it’s a phase, it’s a phase” four hundred dozen times.Published May 13, 2010. Last updated January 30, 2018.