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Picky Eating & Mom Guilt

Picky Eating & Mom Guilt

By Amalah

Hi, Amy!

Thanks for answering my sunscreen question this summer. Blue Lizard sunscreen for the win!

I have a feeling I know what you are going to tell me but I still need to ask this question. I have a four-year-old who is extremely stubborn about food. He doesn’t seem to have texture issues and we can often get him to try a bite of something, which he will declare to be “good” and then rub his tummy obligingly and then refuse to eat the rest of. Mostly we make him things that we know he will eat, and I KNOW. I KNOW. I even bought the Ellyn Satter book. But he’s on a pretty steady diet of chicken nuggets and mac and cheese.

The thing is, I feel like Satter would work better if I could be in charge of what my son eats all day because I could make sure he got something he would eat. But we are two working parents and he is in daycare all day and he doesn’t eat there, either. They offer him many different kinds of foods, which he does not eat. “What did you have for lunch?” “They had meatloaf and green beans and mashed potatoes.” “What did you eat?” “Nothing.” Sometimes he eats the bread.

So we tend to make something we know he will eat for dinner, since it’s our one meal together and it keeps it from being a battle. I feel a certain amount of shame about it but I also literally don’t know what else to do. We started off so well with baby-led weaning and he ate what we ate but we do a lot of tomato-based soups in the winter and he wasn’t big on tomatoes or soup and we never got fully back on track.

I’m asking now because I feel like it gets worse in the winter and I wondered if you had any tips for us. Pickiness? Stubbornness? Texture issues that we aren’t paying attention to very well? Should I really let him go to bed hungry when he’s being hungry all day? My brother was kind of like this and now he’s a foodie so I confess I have been hoping it will just eventually work itself out, but we had a couple of Chinese food incidents that went badly (aka he wouldn’t eat anything) so I am disappointed and unsure about what to do.

Thank you!
Working Mom, Some Guilt

Mealtime Mom Guilt

Yep. You already know the answer. But let me try to put you at a little more ease with the answer. Consider this a similar nudge into a guilt-free zone like our recent sleep-training-guilt Smackdown.

So sure, some super picky kids grow up to be perfectly normal — or even adventurous — eaters. My husband and I are both prime examples, as we both had very limited acceptable food choices (and incredibly long lists of unacceptable foods) well into young adulthood. Neither of us would try anything new or weird or different until we were in our early 20s. TWENTIES!!!

Now, of course, we lovvvvvvvve food and cooking and trying new cuisines and ingredients. (Our new neighborhood has the most amazing Korean food! I can’t believe the number of dishes I’ve never tried before!) But oh my lands, look at how long it took and think about how many YEARS our parents had to put up with us and our pickiness. My mom rarely short-order cooked for me, but our family meals were DEFINITELY kept super limited and repetitive to accommodate my limited preferences. (And, okay, my Dad’s, because he honestly was pretty picky too.) I was rarely challenged or expected to eat outside my bland, mushy comfort zone, and once I became a teenager I actually got even WORSE, because I was able to just buy myself a slice of pizza a dozen times a week or skip the family dinner and make myself some boxed mac-n-cheese or a PB&J at 10 pm if I felt like it.

I can’t say for certain that one or more of my kids won’t make similar choices, once they gain more independence and aren’t relying on me to provide as many meals as I do right now. But I’m still happy we’ve had as many years as we’ve had where my kids 1) eat exactly what we eat, 2) understand that they either eat what we eat or go hungry, and 3) are no longer freaked out by the New or Different so we can take them to different restaurants and expose them to different cuisines. And for all of those things, we are completely indebted to the Satter Method.

Don’t worry about the daycare meals. The Satter Method starts at home, and dinnertime really is the best meal of the day to focus on. My kids tend to get whatever they want for breakfast, and eat lunch/snacks at school (either packed or school-provided, but either option is always super kid-friendly and non-challenging).  He’s not even eating at daycare, from the sound of it. So he’s coming home HUNGRY.

But he’s also coming home knowing that you will cave and give him chicken nuggets or mac-n-cheese, because he also knows that it stresses you out when he refuses to try anything different.

Time For a (Complete) Change

In my experience (and others, given the feedback I usually get whenever I discuss the Satter Method here), it’s really best to just rip off the band-aid and go Full Satter, going cold turkey on the short-order cooking or sneaking in boxed mac-n-cheese as a “side.” (Unless you guys are eating the mac-n-cheese as well, it doesn’t belong on the table. You both model for him by partaking and trying everything you’ve made, so even the kid-friendly sides/carbs need to be something you guys eat as well.)

And yes, like the pang of guilt over letting a baby cry in the crib for a few minutes, you do need to brace yourself for a couple nights of him going hungry. It’s…kind of how he’ll learn that his food whims will no longer be catered to and he’s (in Satter’s words) no longer allowed to “jerk you around at the table.” HE WILL NOT STARVE. Repeat that a million times. HE WILL NOT STARVE.

As I think I’ve written about before, you can insert a post-dinner and pre-bedtime “snack” at a set time every night if the hunger starts interfering with his sleep. He gets this snack regardless of whether he ate dinner or not — this is not a dessert or a “reward” for eating dinner. It is a set, HEALTHY snack, and can even be somewhat challenging, like a new kind of fruit or cheese. At dinner, you remind him that if he doesn’t eat anything, he will have to wait for that snacktime. If he skips dinner and sleeps fine, tell him he has to wait until breakfast.

Much like sleep training, we saw results in about three days. Our pickiest eater (who did have texture/oral motor issues as a toddler that I admittedly probably catered to/used as an excuse for far too long, because I completely underestimated him) gave up on night three and just ate what I put in front of him. It got steadily better after that, and before we knew it we’d completely assimilated his meals into ours and dinner was no longer a battle.

And that’s the thing. You’re short-order cooking for him because you don’t want dinnertime to be a battle, but the end result of the Satter Method STOPS dinnertime battles (and the white flag of nugget surrender) FOR GOOD. You just…gotta do it. Pick a night put your foot down and tell him he is a big boy and Mommy is not going to make him little boy food for dinner anymore. Then read and reread Satter until you have nerves of steel and the Division of Responsibility imprinted on the inside of your skull. (It is your job to put food in front of him. It is his job to eat it. IT IS HIS JOB TO EAT IT.) Ignore the whining, tantrumming, noodling over the chair in HOW DARE YOU SERVE NON-NUGGET CHICKEN misery. You do not engage, you do not care if he eats or not. (Even though duh, of course you care. He just can’t know that.)

He might not eat much. He might finally start eating the food at daycare instead. Which is fine! He has plenty of opportunities to eat and has regular access to food, so skipping a nutritionally questionable dinner of super processed kids’ food isn’t going to cause him any health problems. But by taking back control of your family meal together, you’ll be able to nurture better and more healthful eating habits that WILL actually benefit him in the long term…and allow you to let go of the guilt/shame you’re feeling about his eating. Which is HIS JOB, not yours, remember?  So it’s not your responsibility to feel guilt/shame/disappointment over it, either. You can absolutely course correct here, guilt-free, I promise.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Myriam

    October 14, 2015 at 10:59 am

    forcing, even positive reinforcement, is forcing, and DOES NOT WORK!

  • C

    October 14, 2015 at 11:21 am

    So… despite Amy’s picky eater caving on night three? Don’t give up even if he’s still not eating much after month three. Or over a year later. You are still doing YOUR job of providing the food and he’s not doing his job, but it’s HIS CHOICE.  

    Our picky eater is still picky at six. He is given what we eat. He still won’t touch a single vegetable (except a tiny sliver of carrot every 3-4 months or so, which he then declares bad.) BUT! He will suffer through eating a decent amount of the meat he doesn’t really care for. We make sure to offer a bread of some sort with each meal (he also will not eat pasta, rice or potato.) If he eats, great! And if he asks later, he can get a snack that night. If he doesn’t, fine! When he asks for the snack, sorry, you didn’t eat your dinner. Here, have a cup of milk. We don’t make a big deal of either one and he’s stopped whining because he knows the rules and knows what he has to do.

    (Bonus, he’s a HUGE breakfast eater and his lunchbox, which is jam packed with multiple fruit snacks and a sandwich each day, is emptied 95% of the time.)

    • Katie

      October 23, 2015 at 1:02 pm

      Doesn’t sound like forcing to me. More like – here’s what w e’re having…you can choose to eat it or not. Kids are smart. If the parent will give them what they really want after refusing a meal, they will do it over and over! Simple cause & effect.

      • Katie

        October 23, 2015 at 1:03 pm

        Sorry C – that was meant for Myriam 🙂

  • IrishCream

    October 14, 2015 at 11:30 am

    Thanks to Amy’s recommendation, I’ve been using the Satter approach with my kids, and it’s been really successful. For one thing, it takes all the stress out of family meals–I really, truly am not policing what they eat, and there’s no bickering or negotation over how much they’ve eaten or whether they’ve tried everything on their plates. 

    I don’t worry about anyone leaving the table hungry, either, thanks to the sandwich bread trick, which I got from Satter as well. If a kid really hates what’s on the menu that night, they can have plain bread. No butter or jam, no fancy white bread, but a slice (or more) of plain whole-wheat bread. 

    Plain bread is boring enough that there’s not a huge incentive to opt for bread over what I’ve cooked, filling enough that no one is going to starve, and it’s healthy enough (I buy the crunchy unsweetened high-fiber kind) that if they have just bread for dinner occasionally, it’s not a big deal from my perspective. You don’t have to make a production out of choosing bread instead of dinner; you can just put a basket on the table with a few slices so there’s no drama and no big reaction from you.

    Also, do you know for sure that he’s not eating at daycare? If it’s self-reported, he may be eating more than he admits to, because he’s figured out that he gets better food for dinner that way or because “nothing” is every kid’s go-to answer about their day. If he’s energetic and progressing along the growth charts at whatever his normal rate is, he’s not starving, and he and you will survive a few nights of him taking in fewer calories at dinner!

    • Original Poster

      October 15, 2015 at 10:36 am

      Yeah, sometimes he tells us he’s eaten more than he actually has for lunch because he knows that we want him to eat. Generally we hear from the staff that he ate nothing/next to nothing.

  • Tiffany

    October 14, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    Depending on your daycare policies, they might be willing to back you up on this, too. I work in childcare, and if it didn’t conflict with the centres policy, if you came to me with this problem & asked to support you, I’d fully support the Satter-ing. Might be worth asking them about. Best of luck!

    • Original Poster

      October 15, 2015 at 10:34 am

      I don’t think there’s anything they need to back us up on! They make the food (we can’t send food with him to this particular center) and he rejects it. Yesterday he ate one spaghetti noodle for lunch. 

  • KimCS

    October 14, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    Realize that your son is in a developmentally appropriate picky phase which should start to get better around 5-6 years old. I would recommend Satter with the realization that exposing him numerous times to the same food cooked differently may help overcome his picky tendencies.

  • Jodie

    October 14, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    My middle daughter has not met a boundary she won’t test 101 times just in case the first 100 were not predictive.  However, Satter SAVED OUR MEALTIMES.  We would make her her own dishes and she also made us FEED HER at 3.5 years old.  The division of duties was so helpful for us.  

    She still has foods she really just doesn’t care for (rice, most potato products, and a good chunk of vegiies), but will eat all meats and on the nights we serve ingredients she doesn’t like picks around them and doesn’t really complain.  

    It’s really helped us get back to a place where we love eating dinner together.

    • Carole

      October 15, 2015 at 9:05 am

      Yes! This is us. 3.5 year old that requests to be fed. Can I ask, did you go full Satter at the same time as you stopped feeding her? Or did you gradually stop feeding then Satterize your meals? 

      • Jodie

        October 16, 2015 at 11:42 am

        We did full Satter.  Actually, I think I read an advice smackdown post about it and my head went DING DING DING and we did it that night.  

        And yes, she was VERY hungry that night and mentioned it when she woke up for school that morning.  That night when I said “remember how you were so hungry this morning?  That’s because you chose not to eat.  Let’s make a different choice tonight.”  

        For us it took about two weeks for her to consistently get it.  She’d remember how hungry she was the day or two immediately following choosing not to eat but the third day she’d try to power struggle again.  

        Now she’s a pretty great eater (with some strong aversions aside) and meals are great again.

  • Lauren

    October 14, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    I’m a pediatric OT and I specialize in feeding and eating. Amy is spot on with her recommendations 🙂 I would also highly recommend the book “It’s Not About the Broccoli” by Dina Rose. It’s a very parent friendly, easy read about how to set better food habits as a family.

    A great place to start, is with what she calls the rotation rule— no 2 meals in a row are the same. This starts the habit of variety in a non-threatening way.
    Good luck!!!

  • kimm

    October 14, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    I know how you feel. We have a 4 yr old son who is very similar. He does eat more of a variety, but just not much. Has been like this since he was born, failure to thrive, had every test possible. Dr. Says he will just be skinny. But I worry about him all the time. We do say, 3 bites to leave the table, sometimes. But I have tried leaving it all up to him for a few weeks and he just will not eat,it does not bother him.

  • Claire

    October 15, 2015 at 3:36 am

    Satter works. I picked it when our oldest was wee based on Amy’s recommendations. Had a few blips along the way but yes, it means we have a 2yo and 3yo who will eat most things put in front of them. And seconds of soup! Weird kids – turns out we didn’t have enough for our tea after that one! If we give them something new to try, they do and don’t like it, then they can have toast/sandwich/something quick and bland.

    Our 2yo is super bossy and self confident and want to do it all herself. She’s also just a tiny bit stubborn… we started getting into the food battle with her. Then I kicked myself up the bum and stopped. It took one night of, oh, ok, no, you don’t want to eat that? You like every individual component on your plate but no, not having it? Ok, fine, no big deal, but we’re done here. She left the table when her brother finished. Complained most of the evening, had her milk before bed as per usual and has eaten like a champ ever since!

    Satter works, and it leads to happy, stress free meal times. I can’t praise it highly enough!

  • Kendra

    October 15, 2015 at 8:24 am

    Our 5 year old is the same way. She started the picky phase around 2.5 and is still picky. We follow the Satter method and she has gotten a little better and will try more foods now (like she at pancakes last night, seriously pancakes) but she has gotten worse in some areas like this month she has decided she won’t eat any type of meat. So some wins and some losses but meals are no longer a struggle. Her choices are what we have on the table and if she doesn’t want to eat anything then that is her choice. So while your child might not be adventurous as others who follow the Satter method at least you won’t be struggling during meal times any longer.

  • Original Poster

    October 15, 2015 at 10:32 am

    Original poster here! Last night we made homemade chicken nuggets that we all ate and he wouldn’t even touch them. He was already hangry because he did not eat the spaghetti he was offered at lunch (he doesn’t like tomato sauce) and he had a meltdown because he just wanted something to eat. He also woke up hungry at about 3:00am. It was a disaster and it was a bad time for our family. 

    I totally hear what you guys are saying but I feel like what everyone is missing is that our mealtimes have BEEN peaceful (except occasionally when we go out to eat which is honestly pretty rare). It’s not a huge struggle every night and we sit together and talk and have a nice time. Last night was a disaster. He’s a wreck when he gets so hungry and I don’t see how this can possibly solve that. 

    I don’t feel like we need the school to back us up in any way because they are doing exactly what you are saying – he’s offered many different foods there and he’s still choosing not to eat. It’s not just his self-reporting – in fact, sometimes he tells us he ate more than he really did (because he knows we want him to eat).

    I understand this advice but it seems deeply impractical when I don’t (and can’t) control his lunch. I have a hard time believing that all of you would let your child go without lunch and dinner just to prove a point, especially when it makes for miserable nights – the only time I get with my child. Who is sobbing that he is hungry.

    • Kendra

      October 15, 2015 at 1:27 pm

      I don’t let my child go without lunch or dinner, sometimes she chooses not to eat them. That is the difference. Like Amalah stated too, there are always healthy snacks to choose from. If our daughter chooses not to eat what we eat or what school is providing then she can always eat a healthy snack so she doesn’t go hungry. But she has learned quickly that I am not going to cook two meals at dinner every night.

      Also, regarding the spaghetti at school. Would your son eat the spaghetti without the sauce? My daughter won’t eat sauce either so we requested the school to give her the sauce on the side and then she will eat the noodles.

      • Original Poster

        October 15, 2015 at 7:35 pm

        We haven’t talked to them about adjusting his food. We have focused mostly on him being polite at school, saying thank you to the woman who cooks the food and telling her how much he appreciates her. Making sure he doesn’t push it away or say anything rude. 

        • Myriam

          October 16, 2015 at 1:41 pm

          Your meals have been peaceful, but it’s still not a long term solution. Improving his outlook on food in a safe environnement, at hom,e will help him navigate meals outside the home. I do think you need more than a blog post (however good it is) to really understand the method behind the madness. Be sure to always include a preferred food item as part of the meal, and serve bread and milk. Your child will have the option of filling up on these items. It’s ok if he doesn’t touch the chicken nugget, but he still won’t go to bed hungry, as he has other options already on the table (not presented as alternatives).

    • MR

      October 15, 2015 at 1:48 pm

      So, here is the thing. You can either continue the way you are which is nice and peaceful, but where he doesn’t eat. OR, you can take the harder route, which is going to disrupt things for a bit, but then he WILL start eating. Yeah, things are peaceful now, but obviously, not what you want or you would have written in. You can get to where dinners are peaceful and he is still eating, but you can’t do it without changing something first, which is going to cause some turmoil for a while. And, yeah, he will melt down the first few times. But, when he is crying that he is hungry, you reply that you offered him food, and he didn’t eat it. If he is TRULY hungry, he will eat whatever you give him. PERIOD. If he isn’t hungry enough to eat what you give him, he isn’t hungry, and you shouldn’t feel guilty over him not eating. Also, make sure that if you are putting food on his plate, that you are giving him very small portions. Kids are more willing and able to eat food if they are not overwhelmed by the quantity. For example, with your chicken nuggets, give him one to start. He can always have more if he is still hungry, but he just needs to start with one or two.

      • MR

        October 15, 2015 at 1:49 pm

        *wouldn’t have written in.

      • Original Poster

        October 15, 2015 at 7:32 pm

        Thank you!

    • Karen

      October 15, 2015 at 6:11 pm

      I totally get wanting peaceful mealtimes. It seems like there are a couple options here. You can continue as is and own it because that’s what works for your family, or you can change how he eats at your house and Amy’s answer and all the comments mention ideas for that. 

      I used to work. I get wanting evenings to be peaceful. I think this is really more of a parenting preference issue than anything. Once (at age 3.5, awful age) my daughter refused to get dressed for daycare so I took her in her pajamas. We never had that problem again. I know not everyone would do that. I don’t really sleep train my kids, but I do allow them to not eat if they are protesting dinner (although I do make exceptions, for example once I made chili that was way too spicy and there’s just nothing to be gained by dying on that hill). 

      Also, FWIW, I think it’s totally possible for your son to understand and meet your expectations for mealtimes (and just about anything else) at home even though he’s at daycare for lunch. 

      • Original Poster

        October 15, 2015 at 7:31 pm

        Thank you! We have done the pajamas to daycare more than once, but not recently. 

    • Caroline

      October 16, 2015 at 6:23 am

      I think the point Amy is making, and we can call it ”Satter” or we can call it ”parent in charge” or whatever, is that it is a rare child who doesn’t have some sort of deep psychological / physical problem at least, who will starve to death.
      Unfortunately they do cry. Oh dear. There we go. Being hungry and cross is… unfortunate. And of course a nice peaceful dinner is great and totally devoutly to be wished, but to get your kid eating what he’s given more or less, there is going to be some Mean Mommy involved. He is under the impression that he says what he’s given and he can just do as he wishes, and of course to some extent he can, as can we all, but he has lost sight of who it is that is in charge, and that’s you. You say ”here is the food. Eat or don’t, your choice”. He gets hysterical, you put him somewhere safe and out of earshot and that’s that. Repeat as necessary and make sure the daycare is on board (I imagine they would be). Now, this WILL mean some hissy and crying fits. He is making a personal choice to not eat or to eat. You are not making him ”go without”. He is electing to be a brat, basically, and will, if you are consistent, come around soon. It will mean sobbing and shrieking for a few days, yes. But the alternative is to accept what you evidently deem an issue, which is a deeply unhealthy, picky and difficult eater. There’s clear skies ahead, but first there’s going to be a storm… etcetera. It’s horrible being bad cop, but those are the options.

    • Tiffany

      October 16, 2015 at 7:14 am

      So, my kid is younger than yours and our dinnertime challenges aren’t the same, but I definitely DO notice that if he gets to the point of HANGRY, there’s an inability to think straight about what I’m offering him. 

      When mine gets into that kind of space, I try to find a way to give a little ground that doesn’t cede the central issue- last night in our house it was: No, you can’t have cookies instead of dinner  that triggered the meltdown and refusal to even come to the table.

      The meltdown ended, and he didn’t get cookies for dinner. But I did coax him to the table by putting one animal cracker on his plate and telling him he could have it with dinner if he came and sat at the table. Once he was at the table, I could offer him sides that he was willing to eat and that I felt did not defeat my purpose of not short order cooking or totally caving on the cookies issue.

      I KNOW you can get through this. Like some other people have said, it’s going to take upsetting the apple cart for a bit. And I think a lot of what Satter is really about is just buckling down and weathering the picky and willful stage without creating bad/unsustainable habits in the long term (kind of like the food version of getting through a sleep regression). Some of it is teaching them new habits, and some of it is flat-out waiting for them to outgrow it. 

  • Cristin

    October 15, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    To the OP,
    Try to think of it as you would sleep-training. It’s not going to work the first night
    It’s going to suck.
    Look at the big picture. If you follow through with Amy’s/Satter’s advice, you won’t have this problem anymore.
    I think it’s kind of funny you asked for advice and after one night said NO THIS WILL NEVER WORK. Be consistent. Or, keep in dealing with a picky kid who’s king of the castle. Hope this doesn’t sound too harsh. If you were my friend, I’d say the same thing!
    Good luck!

    • Hannah

      October 15, 2015 at 6:39 pm

      THIS. It’s not going to be easy, but you wrote in for a reason, right? You have to re – frame how you are thinking about meal times… you are not changing them to stick it to your son, or prove a point. You are changing them because you care about his health, and really, the lack of variety that he is eating is not healthy. And I say this while going through it… my son was down to maybe 8 accepted foods, plus snacks? It has not been easy the past few days, but it’s working. Normally my kiddo throws a fit about any new food on his plate, but tonight he looked at the squash and sliced sausage, shrugged and worked around them for the food he did want. 

    • Original Poster

      October 15, 2015 at 7:24 pm

      This is fair and not harsh. Thanks for your input.

    • Autumn

      October 16, 2015 at 12:19 am

      Totally agree with the sleep training analogy.

      One of the most liberating realizations I made as a parent was that I cannot make my children eat, sleep, pee, or poop.  I can give them the tools and opportunity, but I can’t physically make them do it.  

      OP, you are teaching the tools for healthy eating.  It can suck as much as potty training, though with less furniture cleaning I hope!

      The other plus side of following through with Amy/Satter’s method is they learn Mommy means what she says.  Going full Satter helped me develop my calm confidence to follow through on what I said behavior wise, and I’m now less angry and more calm since my now 4 year old believes if Mommy says this is dinner, she better eat it or not.  (We also have a fruit course after the meal instead of a desert course, so my fruit a holic will at least get something even if she’s picked at her whole meal.  Somedays have a heartier serving than others.) 

  • Amy Renee

    October 16, 2015 at 8:42 am

    One other thing I don’t think I’ve seen mentioned – it sounds like daycare is verbally reporting to you what he ate each day? It seems to me that your child may have caught on that not eating lunch is a way to get attention, and a thing you and the teacher discuss during pickup time. Especially if it’s the crux of the conversation: “How was his day?” “Oh, generally ok, but he only ate one spaghetti noodle for lunch”

    Is there any way you de-emphasize the food conversation? I’m thinking either having the teacher write you a note, email or text you, so you aren’t having this conversation out loud in front of your kid every day.

    I’m also wondering if another of Amy’s columns – “How To Solve Your Toddler Mealtime Battles With Snacks” might also help avoid the HANGRY/irrational battle at dinner. For instance, could you give him a string cheese every day when you pick him up from daycare, or put out some veggies and dip for him to snack on while you are making supper.

    Have you involved him in making food at all? Or for next year, involved him in a garden or you pick fruits or veggies? My sons’ daycare and elementary schools both have small gardens out back, and they make a big deal out of the harvest and preparing the food – kids that otherwise might turn their noses up at vegetables are willing to at least try the cucumber that they planted.

    Also, you mention he doesn’t eat lunch or dinner, but what about breakfast? Our pediatrician gave us the excellent advice that if a young kid gets one good solid meal a day, don’t worry so much about the rest, and not to worry so much about every meal being perfectly balanced but rather how the entire day balances as far as carbs/protein/fruits & veggies. That calmed me down a lot, because my kids typically will only eat well at either lunch or dinner, but almost never both. Can you get the daycare menu for the week and subtly plan around that? Look and say to yourself “ok, he’s going to hate lunch on Monday so I’ll make sure there is something he likes for dinner that night, but Tuesday lunch he might at least eat part of it, so that can be a night to try new foods. Wednesday’s veggie is broccoli, which he hates, so we’ll offer carrots at home, which he at least sometimes tolerates.”

    Last, as far as the Chinese food restaurant meltdown – once you have reached the idea of him trying new foods and are ready to branch out a little, I suggest two things. 1) See if there is a buffet around you, so he can see what he is being offered and make choices off of that. 2) Rename the foods to something he is familiar with. My kids turned up their noses at “lo mein” and “sweet and sour chicken” but will happily eat “Chinese Noodles” and “Chinese chicken nuggets with red dipping sauce” (sweet and sour with sauce on the side) and are now more willing to try other foods at the restaurant off our plates.

    Good luck out stubborning him, and I hope there aren’t more 3 am wakeups.

  • Susannah

    October 16, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    We are in the process of adopting our five year old picky eater from foster care. She was placed with us at age 3 and while we are very fortunate that she doesn’t show any food hoarding issues that are common among children in foster care, she is EXTREMELY picky. I’ve recently lost bananas and broccoli and those were my nutritional safety net with her.

    I’ve read Satter’s book and I’ve tried the method but its as if when we don’t make a Big Thing about dinner, she just looks for another battle. She’ll scream at us that we don’t love her because we aren’t making her eat (ouch… my heart). Snacks are hit and miss. I’ve recently been able to add cashews so I feel like that’s a good win. I need to just stick with it, don’t I? I’ve gone off Satter and that was probably a mistake…

    • Myriam

      October 19, 2015 at 9:37 am

      I don’t know much about attachment issues with adopted children, but my instinct is for you to keep at it. Tell her it’s because you love her that you don’t force her to eat. You want her to enjoy your company and eat the food she wants. At 5, she is old enough to understand why you changed your attitude. Tell her the old way was not working, and you want to try something new!

  • M.

    October 18, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    Has the Satter method not worked for anyone else? We have followed it for years and my son still eats nothing other than his (ever-narrowing) list of acceptable foods. I’ve actually asked this question to the Advice Smackdown but haven’t ever seen it answered. My mind boggles when I hear it took 3 days for Amy’s kids because we’re on probably our fourth year now and nothing has changed. Just wondered if we are the only family for which the Satter method just flat out hasn’t worked.

    • Kendra

      October 19, 2015 at 7:11 am

      You are not alone. We follow the Satter method as well and as I mentioned above it still isn’t unicorns and rainbows. We have been following the method for awhile now and my daughter still is SUPER picky. We always have one item on the table that we know she will eat (and sometimes that doesn’t even work) but other than that we do still follow the method because I am not going to be a short order cook. She has been willing to try more foods since we started but not a whole lot and then she will decide she will suddenly not like something she has ate FOREVER. But our meals aren’t a struggle. She knows that what is on the table is what her choices are. So the method has worked in that meals aren’t a struggle but it hasn’t worked in that she is still really picky.

  • Myriam

    October 19, 2015 at 9:51 am

    The method doesn’t promise a non-picky child. It promises a child that will have a good relationship with food, in the long term. Kids are resilient and eat more than what the strictly need in terms of nutrients. The method promises that, if you trust your child, it will work itself out, and to be patient in the meantime, even if it takes years.

  • bkwyrm

    October 27, 2015 at 12:33 am

    I love the idea of the Satter method and used it when the kids were toddlers/preschool with great success.  Now I have a 8 and 6 year old, both with Type 1 Diabetes, which means I have to precalculate the carbohydrates in each meal and dose insulin according to their individual insulin:carb ratio, while trying to keep carb counts down and avoid foods the make blood sugar get out of control (pizza! Mac and cheese! Pasta!). At this point, I feed them what they’ll eat, and if it’s chicken nuggets six nights in a row, fine.  They eat carrots and green beans and different kinds of fruit, they get some variety.
    What I realized a while ago is that it’s not so much taste OR texture with my T1Ds, it’s how they feel after eating a food.  Familiar foods, mom knows the carb content like the back of her hand, everyone gets a fingerstick blood test, mom gets out the calculator, figured out carbs and dosages, no soaring or crashing blood sugars afterwards (which are physically and emotionally miserable for my kids, and exhausting and scary for me).  I’ve been sneaking new foods in sideways, but it’s hard when not eating the new food means the kid HAS to be given something with an equivalent carb count and glycemic index to avoid low blood sugar. Not very conducive to trying new foods.
    I’m told this is common in kids with Type 1, and they’ll work it out or not but will not starve in the meantime.  I just wish I was allowed to hurl (empty) bottles of insulin at people when they make snooty comments about my kids eating McNuggets from across the street at a rehearsal dinner where there was nothing they’d eat on the menu and both of them were starting to go low.  Grrrrr.

  • Kim

    November 2, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    I’m late to the table, but I don’t do full Satter.  That much routine doesn’t work for me.  What I do about dinner is make whatever we are going to eat, and put out fresh vegetables that I know my children will eat.  They get served two mouthfuls of whatever we are eating, and a piece of bread.  If all they choose to eat is vegetables and bred that night, so be it.  If they want more bread, or dessert, they must eat the rest of what’s on their plate.  They don’t have to, it’s their decision, but if they want more bread (or melon or applesauce or french fries, you get the idea) they have to at least try what I made.
    My 4yo usually says fine and leaves the table.  My 8yo will usually wrestle it down, and sometimes she figures out she likes it.
    Blue Apron has been great for us with this because it’s gotten a wider variety of food on the table. But it’s solved the dinner arguments, even when we’re visiting grandparents.