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Our 8 year old daughter has always been a picky eater - even as a baby we had a hard time convincing her to try different baby foods. We assumed she'd grow out of it, but it hasn't happened and it's becoming an increasing problem.

I guess we should be thankful that the range of foods she's willing to eat does include some healthy options like carrot and cucumber, so we're not as badly off as some. But her favourite things are pasta tossed in pesto, noodles tossed in soy sauce and various kinds of junk. Given the choice, she'd eat nothing else.

We're vegetarian so we're already limited - in fact we've got so desparate for her to broaden her range of foods that we've tried to get her to eat fish, but she refuses. Her mum & I both feel it's important to eat a meal together as a family, but at the same time we're not keen on cooking multiple different dishes for everyone. So we alternate between her pickyness being allowed to dictate the families' menu to a narrow and boring range of dishes, or serving things she dislikes which she will eat while making gagging faces and trying every trick in the book to get away from the table early.

Things she particularly dislikes which are particularly problematic include potato and melted cheese. This means eating out with friends is a nightmare, since other parents and establishments typically serve things popular with children like chips/fries and pizza. So she ends up not eating.

We've tried being nice about it and encouraging her to try new things. We've tried being nasty about it and making her eat things she doesn't like. We've tried carrot and stick by suggesting she could eat with her friends more often if she was happy eating different things. We've tried involving her more in menu planning and food preparation, both of which she greeted with boundless enthusiasm and then refused to eat anything unfamliar, even if she'd helped plan or make it.

Since we've made/encouraged her to repeatedly try things she doesn't like, she has had repeated exposure (yes, more than the magic 10-15 times) to a lot of the things she rejects, to no avail. Is there anything else we can try? Anything with a proven track record?

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Do you want her to grow up vegetarian as well? –  abhi Apr 22 at 20:24

4 Answers 4

Could it be a sensory processing issue? You've tried every single thing I've ever heard of for picky eaters (former picky eater here and mother to one that refuses to eat anything not processed within an inch of its life) and you're not seeing any results. Maybe it's time to bring in an occupational therapist that specializes in pediatric issues; they're usually trained in detecting sensory issues and can help you resolve them as a family.

FYI, my picky eater is an emetophobe; we've done hypnosis and it helped a bit but it's definitely an uphill battle. I wouldn't have thought to ask about that if I weren't a former emetophobe myself.

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Thanks for your suggestion. I'd be surprised if it was that serious an issue with us - her preferences are wildly inconsistent (she'll eat pesto from a jar, for instance, but not other basil-flavoured sauces). But it's worth looking in to to rule out. –  Matt Thrower Apr 23 at 8:17
    
Sensory issues are really tricky and often have no rhyme or reason evident to a lay-person. Consulting with a speech therapist that specializes in something like NDT and eating will be worth it, if only to rule out "obvious" things not apparent to you. –  longneck Apr 24 at 14:50

I am sure that some will not like what I have to say, they seem to prefer to have problems, rather than to accept they are just another person, but in any case I feel compelled to share my experience as a father of five.

We had/have a picky eater and spoke to our pediatrician at around this same age, perhaps a bit earlier. His advice was that when the child was hungry they would eat. Now I am sure that there are some cases where this would have been terrible advice, but in rather the majority of cases it is the right answer. With this advice I stopped forcing them to eat their food but refused to provide alternatives. This has been successful and my picky eaters now eat a wider variety of food.

My brother has picky eaters as well, who doesn't. However, he and his wife cater to them and make multiple meals frequently to satisfy them. At times they have come to visit, and we received a long list of what we needed to do to meet their needs. We however did what we always do and served the food that was for dinner, and left it at that. At the first threat of vomit we simply said we don't do that here, if you don't want to eat it you don't have to. There was no vomit and the meal was eaten.

Over the last year we made a significant change in our diet, that facilitated loosing a large amount of weight between me and my wife. We had seen the impact our diet was starting to have on our children as well and felt it important to help them learn to eat correctly with us. This was not met with enthusiasm as we switch from a plate predominately full of meats and starches, to one dominated by vegetables with a little meat. There were a few refusals to eat at first, but by and large the transition now has been successful. Our children now eat vegetables with us.

One final thought. Over the years I have learned that the adult palate and the childs are different, in some unfortunate ways. It seems the more bland food is the more likely a child is to enjoy it. As such I have had to learn that if food is spiced or seasoned to my preference, then I can expect that they will most likely reject it. So I now prepare it and season my plate separately where possible. That is changing now as my kids become teenagers and no longer suffer from this malefaction.

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I don't see why this would be in any way controversial. I agree and we do the exact same thing. –  ChristopherW Apr 23 at 21:40
    
It seems anything that denies a child something they feel they need is controversial these days. –  AaronM Apr 24 at 21:54

I think that to a quite high extent, food pickiness is a natural thing. I speak from my own experience, I haven't grown up from some of my food pickiness ever. Yet I'm a happy adult, healthy and stuff, and certainly I'm more unhappy of the memories of people convincing me hardly to eat non-cooked onions, than from missing such food in my childhood.

Therefore I don't see why rejecting of some food is a thing that has to be suppressed. Sure you should try to convince the child, but certainly you should not force her to eat something they don't like, or punish them for it.

What I find appropriate is offering them an unappealing yet completely ok alternative. At my family, bread and butter (I say butter, not margarine) worked well, butter is a high quality fat, giving the child enough energy to fulfill its dietary needs, certainly if it's not for every meal.

Considering her not eating things she's offered at friends', I think that the same applies: You can surely ask your friends if they have some "poor/simple" alternative.

You mention going out: I see that this can be a bigger problem. However, somehow I feel that at the age of 8, it should be her problem, not yours. I mean, she should be able to take the responsibility for herself and find a way out of the situation. As for Brownies going to McD, I'm not sure any 8yo should ever eat there, but that's another story.

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I appreciate your point, but it's not that simple. We try to be healthy and eat a lot of home cooked food and don't want to cook separate meals. Even if we did, we worry that repeat exposure to what she does like would lead to boredom and her rejecting that. Her pickiness is starting to rub off on her little sister too. Where we choose to eat out is limited. And we can't always ask other parents to cater for her specially: it's unfair on them, some we don't know very well and sometimes it's group activities (like a Brownies trip to McDonalds) that cause problems. –  Matt Thrower Apr 22 at 9:11
    
I feel like this could be a good answer, but comes across a bit confrontational. If the suggestions were fleshed out a bit more and the confrontational side toned down, it would be an excellent answer to the question to help understand the child's point of view. –  Joe Apr 22 at 19:26
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@Joe Thanks for your comment; I tried to moderate the answer a bit. I hope it's better now. –  tohecz Apr 22 at 20:03
    
That does help, thanks! –  Joe Apr 22 at 21:28
    
Thanks for the edits, taking in some of my comments. I feel compelled to say that we never took her to McD - the whole troop went after a trip, so she either missed the whole thing or went to the dreaded place :) –  Matt Thrower Apr 23 at 8:13

One thing you might consider is giving her some choice, in two ways.

First, allowing her to choose 'leftovers' to the current meal. If yesterday's dinner made a few servings of leftovers, allow her to choose from the available leftovers if she doesn't like what you made, after trying the current dish. This means it's not any extra work for you (I don't know if she's able to use a microwave yet, but at minimum this isn't much extra work) and she still is happy. This doesn't broaden her palate any, but it's an alternative that lets you keep trying things without her going hungry and/or resenting you.

Second, consider allowing her to prepare her own meals some of the time. 8 isn't too young to cook, at least simple foods - spaghetti, mac&cheese, that sort of thing. This is more powerful than simple menu selection, because she can get to know the flavor components and adjust them - say, add spices to her spaghetti sauce, or change which oil she uses to make the mac&cheese, etc.

Both of these let her direct the eating process, and perhaps may gain some buy-in towards eventually improving things. I think I'd be worried that dealing aggressively with the pickiness might make her feel generally negative about eating and meals in general, more so than risks of getting bored.

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