52 responses to “How Do You Stop Caring?”

  1. Kelly

    I should start by saying I don’t have kids. I can’t even imagine how frustrating this is for you as a parent. But I was a kid, and a picky one at that. I just didn’t like eating. Period. It bored me, and nothing tasted good. Granted, I grew up with my grandfather throwing already bad food into a pot and boiling it to make it worse, but there was almost nothing I’d eat. Everyone worried I’d starve. Until I was almost 30, I lived on mostly cheese, peanut butter, bread, and chicken – fried, of course. And here I am now, almost 40, and I love a large variety of foods. I love them because I learned to love them on my own. I have very distinct memories of being watched while I ate. It embarrassed me to the point of tears. I don’t like attention – never did – and that was the worst kind. My gag reflex was on high-alert in those situations. I didn’t want to disappoint my family. I didn’t want to be “bad,” but those foods would not stay for long in my body. For me, what worked was people finally leaving me along about it. I’m not saying that’s what will work for you, but people making a big deal about what I eat never convinced me to like anything. It wasn’t until my now husband made a comment about my picky habits and then asked if that hurt my feelings, that I started opening myself up to new foods. I don’t think it has to take quite that long, but it did for me. There are still things I just don’t like, but hundreds of new things I do.

    And I’m roasting squash this weekend, stuffing it with cannellini beans, and I. Can’t. Wait.

    Good luck, Debbie. We all know you’re doing your best for Harry. He does, too.

  2. Brooke

    I just asked my pediatrician the same question. Our whole family has gone minimally processed, full of fruits and veggies and the like. My 2 year old toddler is VERY picky and sounds a lot like your guy. The pediatrician asked me: “is he developmentally delayed?”, me: “no”, Dr. “starve him out”. He instructed me to keep offering the same food over and over until he ate it for a meal. For breakfast, snack, lunch, dinner. Everytime he says he is hungry, point him back to the same plate. The pediatrician related the story of his 4 year old who refused to eat his healthy breakfast. At snack the parents reoffered the plate. The child didn’t eat anything for 8 hours. At dinner the child still refused. The Dr. (dad) told the child that that would be his breakfast. The child looked at his parents silently and said “really” and his mother chimed in, “YEP”. The Dr. (dad) said that 5 minutes later the child came back and finished the whole plate, got seconds and then got thirds. He said we are the parents, we need to act like it. I agree with him. Since hearing that I haven’t had the “heart” or courage to do the same, but any day now I’m going to! I think you should give it a try. On a weekend maybe, when he isn’t getting free food at school.

    You’re right, what your doing now is only enabling the behavior. He knows he can push you and push you until you give in. 😉

    I am glad you wrote this. It is nice to know others are struggling with the same problem!

    1. Lucinda

      It’s a nice idea in theory and will work for some children. It would have worked for me. I was picky. But it wouldn’t have worked for my sister. I know because my parents tried. It would not work for my daughter either. Some kids are just that stubborn. I too was one of those people who finally started expanding my palette in my 30’s. I have a long way to go and it is compounded by intestinal bowel diseases, but at least I have a healthy relationship with food. I think that is the most important thing. You can win the battle but lose the war. I need to remember that with my own child. Good luck.

  3. dkzody

    Don’t make a war out of food. It’s not worth it. My mother always said, ‘if you’re hungry, you’ll eat it; otherwise, you can do without.” We never argued over food, I ate when I was hungry, and now I will eat almost anything, except in old age I’ve developed food allergies. I never made an issue out of food with our daughter who now has her own kids and seems to make a big deal out of food. I don’t get it. Maybe it’s this generation’s hang-up. offer healthy food, in a consistent manner, and kids will eat when they are hungry. How hard is that?

  4. Lyssa

    Debbie, I can hear in your post how painful this is — to see him being so picky, to have food become a battleground, to have him reject the meals you’ve put your heart into. Have you read Child of Mine by Ellyn Satter? We don’t follow her to the letter, but come fairly close. My kids sometimes gobble up things like raw kale salad and sometimes eat nothing but toast. But we almost never have any conflict over food. (We have plenty of conflict over other things, so don’t feel bad.) It’s liberating. Still, I find that I need to go back and re-read her book when I start getting worried about my very skinny oldest son or my top-of-the-charts middle one. This stuff doesn’t just come naturally, I find. Anyways, it sounds like you know the basics of what you need to do but need some support to do it.

    Here’s Ellyn Satter’s website: http://www.ellynsatter.com/

    And here’s a blog by someone who works with her: http://familyfeedingdynamics.com/

  5. Lyssa

    I forgot to say that I LOVE your redesign. Congrats!

  6. Lisa

    My 2.5 year old has just recently started to give me trouble about what he wants to eat. I’ve found that with him it’s mostly a control thing. If I tell him what I’m going to give him, he refuses. If I put several healthy choices on the table in front of him, and then ignore him, he usually eats several of them. My husband and I eat with him, but we try not to make a big deal about what food he is or isn’t eating.

    I’ve also found that sometimes I have to give in a little just to get him to the table. Sometimes he gets his dessert first, and while he’s eating that I put out other dinner choices, and when he finishes his dessert he’s already started the eating process, is still hungry, and picks up some of my choices. Tonight, for example, I got him to the table by giving him a small cup of root beer (a treat), and then put out potatoes, green beans, and applesauce. He wound up only drinking about half of the root beer, eating a few potatoes, most of the beans, and all of the applesauce. 2 nights ago I offered him the same meal, but I put out the food and tried to get him to eat it right away. That night we had a 30 minute struggle that included 2 time-outs and ended in me giving in to Halloween candy for dinner. Tonight was much better 🙂

    I know my son is younger, and the situation is different, but not making a big deal out of it and letting him chose from several options seems to work best for us. Good luck!

  7. Sue

    I have the exact same problem with my 3 year old son, and am going through the same emotions and guilt tripping. My son absolutely refuses to eat fruit and vegetables. He will drink smoothies though, so I’ve been able to get fruit into him that way. Food battles with my son seem to bring out the worst in me and I turn into this horrible ogre of a mum. I’ll be reading all the replies in here with great interest.

  8. Beth

    Oh man. I can hear the frustration in your voice! You have it all figured out, mentally. The problem is in enacting the solution. (You know; stop caring, stop cajoling, stop watching, stop negotiating.)

    Is there any chance you can absent yourself from mealtimes with Harry, even for a few nights? Is his dad around at dinnertime and would he agree to play by the rules that you think you want to have for family meals even if you can’t make yourself do it?

    I wonder if just having a bit of a break, and getting to hear about how this new strategy is going instead of having to live it for the first little while, would be enough to break the pattern.

    Oh, and a nugget from Child of Mine regarding dessert – to offer it (in whatever portion you decide) alongside dinner, but seconds aren’t allowed (whereas they would be for everything else you serve).

    He may very well only eat the dessert for a while, but it eliminates the battle of having to eat XYZ to get a ‘reward’ since that sets up the foods in opposition to each other (the squash must be bad because I have to eat it in order to get the good stuff!)

  9. Jesse

    Ok,I thought of Mommie Dearest when I read that comment too!
    My kids aren’t picky eaters, though they do go through picky phases, so I can’t offer you too much on how to deal with that aspect of things. However, even though they tend to eat plenty of fruits and proteins, carbs and veggies throughout a week, I *still*do the no dessert thing when they haven’t eaten a dinner that seems good enough in my eyes. I too know that is the wrong thing to do…to make food into a reward…but like you I can’t seem to stop myself. The one thing that has helped is to take the concept of dessert completely off the table. When my kids, my older one especially, start to constantly whine about dessert day after day and eat only an amount of food that they believe will entitle them to dessert, I declare that we no longer are having dessert. typically within a few days that no longer becomes a battle during dinner, and we will continue for a few weeks without dessert until we start to loosen up again. (incidentally we do this for tv also…when they start whining constantly about wanting to watch tv, we simply go tv-free for a while until they are weaned of the habit. There is a lot of whining the first few days but then they magically just stop asking). Of course the problem comes and goes, but it always feels good to take that “reward” off the table for a while…they start to eat just for eating’s sake, there isn’t any whining, and we can reset our expectations as parents as well.

  10. Jan

    Okay, so I’m a little different. Through odd circumstances, my daughter and grandson are living with us temporarily. It bothers all of us that he doesn’t eat. He’s 5. His diet consists of dry toast or sometimes jam, “plain” pasta, a few bites of tomato or green beans, and yogurt. On the odd day he’ll do us a favour and drink chocolate milk. It bothers his mom, but she tries not to play games with him, as my hubby does. And I try not to say anything, but ask him more than once if he wants this or that. He used to eat EVERYTHING! And then he found out he can drive us crazy with his tricks. And it does. This, from a grandmother who raised two kids of our own. But when mine were little, there was always something on the table they liked, among the “new” foods. Somehow we managed, and they grew up. I have a problem, as does my hubby, with keeping my mouth closed while he’s eating, and watching his meals go into the garbage. I know if he’s hungry he will try stuff, but usually it’s a no. But they do grow up, Debbie, and with the help of your wonderful recipes, we will all learn that. I love your apple cake, overnight steel cut oatmeal and chicken soup from bones!
    Good luck, it will all happen eventually. I predict, around 8 years old.

  11. Jan

    Oh, and screaming at him will push him to protest more; anger doesn’t usually cut it in any circumstance…don’t waste your energy being angry. Just leave it on the table, don’t say anything, let him choose what he wants, and don’t make a big deal of dessert. I’ve learned, as an overweight person, not to use food as a reward. Try a sticker or chart if you have to, but not sweets. We only have fruit for dessert or nuts sometimes.

  12. Faith Nelson

    *nods* It’s really easy, as parents, for food to become a battleground because we ARE held responsible for what they do and don’t eat to an unreasonable degree. I held a nagging fear in the back of my head that someone was going to call Child Protective Services on me because my youngest would NOT eat in front of other people. She could. not. do. it. She’d gag and end up running off to throw up everything she’d choked down and then some if forced to it.

    She had good food available to her. She at when she was hungry. She didn’t when she wasn’t. Given the battle much of the population has with that concept, I think that alone is a win.

    This battle is really within you, as a parent. It’ll be easier once you figure out what it is about his pickiness that’s threatening to you – whether it’s the feel of rejection or the worries about perceptions of others, you’ll figure it out. As far as him – if you wouldn’t want someone saying it to you, don’t say it to him, which alone will defuse the battle a lot. =) He’ll figure out his own relationship with food. It’ll go a lot easier when it’s not forced – which you already know.

  13. NoPotCooking

    My 13 year old son still eats almost no vegetables. I’ve stopped fighting to make him try every last thing I make and the rule is there must be a full serving of fruit or veg consumed at dinner. Often he eats a banana or blackberries. This same child will go out to dinner w/ his grandparents and eat squid, quail, and snails. Yet eating a green bean is the last thing in the world he would do. I don’t get it and I don’t know how to fix it. My 19 yo daughter will taste just about anything so I can only hope he will get that way too. When I met my husband (at the young age of 17) he came from a processed food, orange box house with a mom who couldn’t cook to save her soul. There were lots of things he thought he didn’t like or wouldn’t eat and 25 years later, he will eat anything I make. I can only hope it is a maturity issue. No advice, just sympathy.

  14. Bee

    Hi Debbie,

    I can so relate to what you are saying. 🙁

    My middle son (I have three – aged 8, 6 and 6.) does not eat fruit and vegetables. He eats pasta, rice, meat…. and of course anything that contains sugar. I also try not to worry. Of course we limit his sugar intake but it’s a strain on our relationship and it will increase his dislike for real food if we force him to eat it.

    What I have observed with my oldest son – who is picky but not half as bad as the other one – is that once there is no pressure and he feels relaxed and curious he will start trying – on his own and at his own time. Slowely and surely our oldest is discovering all sorts of foods and he is getting more and more curious – so I trust this will happen to the other one too.

    What I have also figured out is that my kids often need to know what’s in a dish, i.e. what the ingredients are, what they taste like in their raw form, etc. So I try and let them “help” to show them what goes into a specific dish. That way my son has learnt to appreciate vegetable lasagne. he tried out all the vegetables, the bechamel, the pasta, the cheese – and was proud of the result. Now he loves lasagne…

    Bee

  15. Bee

    Me again:

    How come they get peanut butter and jelly at school? And what do you mean by suggesting that this is HEALTHIER than the hot stuff they get?

    My sons’ school cantines offer good, healthy, nutritious (very often whole wheat etc.) food and, quite frankly, I suppose parents would run berserk if that wasn’t the case. I can’t believe that kids get unhealthy food at school – this is terrible!

    Don’t misunderstand me – my sons would love peanut butter and jelly (although you don’t get either here) – but that’s not the point is it? It’s like giving them nutella for lunch. And we do have that here in Austria/Europe. (Yummmie!)

    Bee

  16. Jane Boursaw

    Oh, this is frustrating. I’m trying to remember if it’s a generational thing in my family. I do remember shunning Brussel sprouts and hiding them on the shelf below the table for the dog to come by and eat them. And I remember sitting at the table by myself long after everyone else had left, because I was supposed to eat various things I hated. But I don’t think I’m scarred when it comes to food. Yes, I have issues (I love sugar, for one thing), but I also love Brussel sprouts and peas and other things I didn’t as a kid. Maybe it’s not as scarring as we think when it comes to our own kids…

  17. Jess

    Harry and my kids exhibit the EXACT same behavior. I realized that when we get home from work and school the kids are already hungry and behavior worsens if I force them to wait until dinner is ready. So we start with something we call a “crunch plate” and they eat it while watching some tv while I am in the kitchen cooking dinner. The crunch plate consists of food that make big crunching sounds, i.e.: raw carrots, red pepper, celery, cucumber, apple slices, a few crackers and sometimes cheese. Rule one of crunch club: No crunching and the TV goes off. When dinner is ready we don’t sweat it too much because we know they ate vegetables prior to dinner. For dinner we typically serve a blander, base version of whatever the grownups are eating.

    Doesn’t always work— the other night both kids had a major freakout/meltdown because I made something new that they didn’t ask for. That was a nightmare. But typically the crunch plate does help.

    I still use dessert as a bargaining chip. I know I’m not supposed to.

    1. Jess

      Just want to clarify my post: IF there is not crunching the tv goes off.

  18. Hannah @Cooking Manager

    Hi Debbie,
    How frustrating. It is SO hard to change our behavior as parents.
    I highly recommend the book My Child Won’t Eat by Carlos Gonzalez. My friend was taking her son to eat fast food every day for lunch. She said the book changed her life. It will calm you down about his diet.
    Gonzalez recommends never forcing a child to eat. Put out the food (only 2-3 small portions of healthy foods) on the plate at each meal and get involved in something else. Make no comment about what the child is eating or how much (I know it’s hard!).

    The child eventually eats healthy foods if that is all he is offered. Gonzalez says his elderly father detests vegetables and has refused them his whole life! Kids can get what they need as long as they are offered healthy foods.
    I am not sure how dessert got into the picture–2yos have no need for dessert. Can you make an announcement, with your husband present, that you are only having dessert once a week from now on? Then this battle will be nearly eliminated.

  19. Bee

    Thanks for your reply, Debbie.

    To me the thought that kids get unhealthy, processed food at school is more than upsetting. School is such an important place – in many respects. Well, things are clearly different here. They get fresh food, prepared by a cook who is supervised by a nutrition expert.

    Naturally, this doesn’t meant that my kids always eat what they get but it’s either that or an empty stomach.

    In addition, there is no way they can get away with sweets. If they brought some to school, there’d be a note from the teacher on the same day reminding parents that this was against the principles of the school board.

    For birthdays they get a birthday cake, of course, which is great.

    Best, Bee

    P.S.: To show that I really live on a different planet: In supermarkets here you don’t get any cake mixtures. I first came across those on my first trip to America aged 24. Again, I find it terrifying that you buy a ready-made mixture to produce something as simple as a chocolate cake. 🙂

  20. Bee

    I see.

    Hmmm, part of the dilemma that you – and other health-conscious and food-loving parents – might be facing is that kids get two types of foods every day (say, fish fingers and french fries at school and milo casserole with vegetables – one of my favourite dishes at the moment – at home).

    And saturated fats in combination with salt and/or sugar are a powerful mixture which you can get hooked on easily.

    Bee

  21. Mercy

    I know the feeling of trying to get a picky eater to eat. My son was always a good eater until he turned 3 1/2, then he just quit eating. At first I forced, got mad, etc. Nothing. The more I pushed him to eat, the less he ate. He actually lost a lot of weight because of it.
    Then I stopped and thought about it, because I realised that he wasn’t refusing all foods or all meals – the problem was he didn’t like to rush. He had just started school and had to get up earlier and eat faster in the morning than he was used to and he didn’t like it. On weekends he ate better than weekday mornings.
    So I quit forcing him to eat breakfast and made sure to pack a filling snack for him instead. Sure enough, after a few days, he slowly began eating breakfast again, though he seems to have almost given up on milk. He does eat yoghurt so I don’t worry about that.
    Now that he has adjusted to school, he eats better in the mornings. I found the morning power struggle just wasn’t worth losing my sanity and his happiness for.
    We all struggle with getting veggies into our kids. Mine only truly like raw carrots and cucumbers. Other than that, they tend to pick out the veggies, even when they are mixed into other food. But I still serve it, and at times I can get it into them. I never serve desert, but sometimes offer a cookie or sweet treat if they finish their dinner. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. If they don’t eat, I don’t make a big deal out of it. I just state calmly that there is no treat, and at times they have chosen to not have a treat rather than eat dinner. They won’t starve. Sometimes you just have to pick your battles, and while kids eating habits can be frustrating for us cause we want them to eat well, it is something they have control over, not us.

  22. RedinNC

    I hate holding dessert out as a reward for cleaning a plate. This is why my husband and I invented a term: The Tyranny of the Goody Bag. Kid goes to birthday party and inevitably comes home with bag of candy. Or goes trick or treating. So then there’s candy in the house, which changes the whole dinner equation. Kid is obsessed with figuring out exactly how much (little) he can get away with eating and still get candy after. Blech. Normally there is no dessert so he knows he’s got to eat dinner if he’s hungry. Luckily this Halloween we instituted a new policy of kid picks out 10 pieces of candy then all the rest are put in the mailbox for the mailman to take to kids who didn’t get any candy. The mailman is responsible for a lot at my house!

  23. Mary Beth Sancomb-Moran

    Man, I feel your pain. My 5-year old granddaughter is playing this game (and I do think it’s a game) and refuses to eat most food in the world.

    “I don’t like that.”
    “Have you ever tried it?”
    “No.”
    “Then how do you know?”
    “I just do.”

    Sigh. I came from the “eat what’s on your plate” kind of family, and this makes me crazy. And I kind of take it personally, which is ridiculous, I know.

    We started with the “just take one bite” thing. She took one bite, dramatically gagged, and then proceeded to throw it up. At the table. ON ME.

    We finally decided that it wasn’t worth making mealtime this drama. Our tactic is that if she doesn’t want what we’re having for dinner, she may have a peanut butter sandwich. Those are her only options. Period.

    That seems to be working pretty well. And we’re no longer making the food thing (and her) the focus of every dinner. We figure there’s enough protein in peanut butter that she’ll be okay. And we’re banking on the idea that she’ll grow out of this nonsense.

    Courage! 😉

  24. Andria

    I should preface this by saying I don’t have children, but I worked in childcare a for quite a while. I found that the easiest way to get a kid to try something new was to not mention that it’s new or different. Put it on his plate with other familiar foods, and let him see you guys eating it and enjoying it, and he’ll probably pick it up and try. Or maybe he won’t. Kids are picky eaters, and they are STUBBORN. Don’t make it harder for yourself. He’ll add things to his diet gradually, just keep having the choices available.

  25. Terry

    I had the world’s pickiest eater! He would only eat pasta with butter and (some) raw veggies. So we had a lot of pasta-type meals, and while I was fixing dinner (right after we got home from after school care) I set out the cucumbers, broccoli with ranch dip, apple slices, string cheese for them to chow down on while I fixed dinner. He was picky picky picky until he got into high school and extracurricular activites (speech and debate, which involved a lot of travelling to tournaments without Mama) – THEN he tried and liked! everything!!!!!!! Peer pressure was a wonderful thing. We joke together now about what a fussy fussy boy he was (he just turned 22 and seems healthy LOL). Every once in a while when he was with other family he would get told “you’re going to eat what we give you” and usually he would. But I just never went in that direction…and it turned out ok. But I refused to turn it into a battle, preferring to wait for bigger battles (although we occasionally had control issues, altogether it ended up not being too bad over the course of two decades).
    A friend of ours let her grade school daughter pour a bowl of cereal if she didn’t want to eat the feasts we fixed – and daughter ended up loving a wide variety of things too. I didn’t have kids at the time and was rather horrified, but her Mom and Dad refused to let it become an issue.
    If they are growing ok, then he’ll be ok. It’s so hard to let it go though!!!

  26. A. C. Parker

    Hey, I feel for you. With me, the food demons raise their heads around breakfast and lunch. That damned lunch M-F during school hours. I was trying to make lunches that were fun to eat, mix things up a bit… at some point we fell into the turkey sandwich rut. Day after day. But then then sandwiches started coming back home. Ditto the carrots and anything else healthy that I put in (even if it’s all that’s in there). There’s a lunch at school, but my son says it’s disgusting and the one day he forgot his lunch at home (it was all I could do to not walk it back over there for him… didn’t want to “rescue” him from his irresponsibility and yet couldn’t imagine him not eating)… I called to arrange the school lunch for him for the day: he refused to eat it. So, I’m still packing. I am lucky in that, when dinner rolls around, usually I can get him to eat some green or orange veggies. But it’s weird… stuff he ate in abundance when he was a toddler are foods he won’t touch now no matter what. And yes, there’s always that question: how much do I have to eat to get dessert? Ugh. It feels like steps backwards and I’ve been thrown by it because I got smug I guess–thinking that if he was a good eater when he was really little, it would just get better. Ha. Yet he did suggest trying a new restaurant last night when we were out, and he does make some healthy choices all on his own: no soda, for instance. He said he’s the only one in class who doesn’t drink it! The hardest part in this, and I go through it all the time with other things… is knowing what problems are (and whose they are!) but just not knowing how to implement solutions. Good luck!!! (Oh, and… I have to admit, I was not that adventurous of an eater at his age, either–he’s 8–but now I love food. No one in my house made an issue out of it, and I did not have to clean my plate or anything. But there was only 1 dinner served to everyone, like it or leave it.) It will get better… eventually.

  27. Liz

    I too live with a picky eater. She is now 13, and continues to fill that role in our house. She is a “white foodie eater” and loves her dessert. We quickly gave up on the battlefront (with 3 kids time for battles was limited) and our pediatrician reassured us that what she ate at each meal was much less important than what she ate over the course of a week. This gave us the freedom to relax..Putting out healthy food to graze (carrots, apple slices, mini cucumbers) worked well. We still need to remember that kids’ taste buds are much more sensitive than ours and prepare her a plain version of what we are eating. As a teen she totally recognizes that she should be eating more variety and now requests green beans, grapes, zucchini and yellow squash (among others). Best if all, she brought home a new cookbook and is currently figuring out what to make from it tomorrow. Patience, and knowing that you will have a great story to tell when he is grown should get you far!

  28. Truce in the Picky Eater War | altdotlife: Build your own village

    […] weeks ago I posted a desperate plea for help in dealing with Harry’s eating habits, and you answered with compassion and genuinely helpful […]

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