Parenting Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for parents, grandparents, nannies and others with a parenting role. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I want to start this by saying that as a family we pretty much eat all home-cooked food. My wife and I take turns to cook and I think we're both pretty good cooks. We certainly enjoy each others cooking and we cook a pretty wide range of things.

My eldest son, who's now 10 was a fairly picky eater but over the years we've managed to coax him into eating the meals we make at dinner time. He doesn't eat a large quantity (unlike with junk food) but he does eat and he has some favorite meals etc which is great.

However, his little brother has turned out to be SO much pickier that I wouldn't believe it possible. He's 4, generally quite a well behaved little boy but at around the age of 1 limited himself to these foods and nothing else.

  • Sausages
  • Fish fingers
  • Chips
  • Banna, chopped in a bowl
  • Toast/bagels (usually with marmite on)
  • Peperoni pizza
  • Paella (he just eats the chorizo we put in)

As you can see, it's a very unbalanced diet and I'm a bit embarrassed by it :-( We have tried many many MANY methods of trying to get him to try other things.. We've cut veggies into little shapes.. we've tried to make a game of eating things, we've made lots of special meals aimed at him to try and get him to try ANYTHING new. We've refused to provide any of the above foods (he went hungry for almost 2 days, cried like crazy and eventually we caved and gave him something he'd actually eat). We're now running out of ideas.

I'd be interested to know if anyone has had similar problems, how they resolved them, and if anyone has had to get any kind of professional help with this type of problem..

EDIT: I should add that 3 years ago we read that the best thing to do was to simply offer them good food each day and not to fight with them.. We've spent the last 3 years not fighting much but throwing said offered food in the bin, every night...

share|improve this question
up vote 6 down vote accepted

You say

limited himself to these foods

but this doesn't make sense. A four year old can't buy or prepare himself food.

If he's not underweight and has no relevant underlying medical problem, the reason he is eating only these foods is because you're offering them to him.

I'm confident that this is a fairly simple limit/boundary-setting problem, not least because of the specificity here:

Banana, chopped in a bowl

He won't eat a banana unless it's chopped? That's a behavioral issue caused by your interactions with him at mealtimes and your normal and understandable concern that he eats enough.

You can help your kids learn to enjoy the food you cook. Simply:

  1. Cook an unchallenging but nutritional meal.
  2. Give it to your family on some plates.
  3. That's it.

However,

  • Don't give your child attention for not eating something. Don't say "this is yummy", do not mix things or cut things that don't need cutting. (If things do need cutting, cut them before interacting with your child.)
  • In particular, don't try to "help" your child eat (unless they physically need help). What a child swallows is pretty much the only thing in his life he can control. Since you cannot help or encourage a child to eat something against their will, such interactions can only cause behavioral problems.
  • Don't say "you like this" or "you liked this last week". Don't talk about liking or disliking.
  • Don't use emotional or "moral" language about food ("I cooked this so you should appreciate it!").
  • Don't show you are anxious, angry, whatever.
  • Don't worry about wasted food. You live (I assume) in a developed nation in the 21st century. When you solve the problem, there will be minimal waste.
  • Don't give him anything different.

This can be summed up with by pretty much like this:

Ignore the food aspect of mealtimes. If you do talk about the food, use non-emotive, descriptive language - this is sour, this is sweet. All food is interesting.

When the child say's "I don't like this" simply respond, "Oh, you will when you're older". It's worth repeating; do not give this more attention. Move the conversation on, perhaps to his brother. (But obviously, not about what he is eating!)

When the child says "I'm still hungry", simply respond, "That's all there is. Are you done?"

When you have cleared the uneaten food away, you may still offer for example chopped fruit (to everyone, ideally on a sharing plate) for pudding.

Wash up, and repeat next meal time.

If this is a big enough problem for you - and it clearly is, because you care about helping your children eat well, then you may need to put up with a few disrupted nights until the child learns to eat enough at supper.

You also may need to accept that there are foods such as eg. salad leaves that your child may not willingly eat until they're much older.

If you're just throwing food away, and your child is not underweight, he's getting enough calories in other meals; presumably food from the list. You can solve this by reducing portion sizes in those meals.

Finally, if he goes to preschool or daycare, I'm wondering how he eats there? :-)

Good luck! Let us know how you get on?


Edit: bringing chat comments into answer and highlighting interesting points.

In summary, this case appears to be a problem of portion sizes - too much food of one type (bland or sugary bread) for breakfast and lunch.


  • So, yes, this is the standard type of advice I've read before and we originally tried to follow 2/3 years ago when we first realized he was a fussy eater. We all sit together each night and eat and my little son simply sits there and doesn't eat, we don't get cross or do any of the things you mention. You are right of course that we do end up offering him these types of foods. We withhold food that he eats. He doesn't eat it.. for weeks. he gets by on little bits of bread that he can get access to at different times in the day. breakfast etc. We feel bad that he only eats bread. it goes on – Benj yesterday

  • Is he underweight? Have you seen a doctor? Is he under your supervision all the time? – MontyBom yesterday

  • No... he's actually his "ideal" weight.. amazingly. He goes to nursery for 1/2 days. – Benj yesterday

  • Of course he is! That's why he's not eating any more. The situation you're describing is physically impossible. He is eating enough food (or juice - full of calories) somewhere, either in your care or at daycare. Google for appropriate portion sizes. – MontyBom yesterday

  • He doesn't snack... and has only water and tea.. but he does eat large breakfasts and lunches.. because for those meals we tend to give him breadish type things, bagels etc.. Perhaps we should stop giving him things he likes for breakfast.. – Benj yesterday

  • To be clear, he's getting enough food, and then he's doing what every child does which is to eat the "easy", familiar, bland food in preference to the "harder" food until he is full. He is full and his weight is fine. He's therefore perfectly normal. I think you need to change his portion sizes and keep a closer eye on what he's eating at home and at daycare. The calories must be coming from somewhere! – MontyBom yesterday

  • Yes, that's what I mean.. He's getting all his calories at breakfast and lunch I think.. Maybe we could make them smaller.. – Benj yesterday

  • I think you've hit it! Bread and bagels are full of sugar and are very filling. Try a boiled egg and don't forget to Google portion sizes! I think you'll be amazed! – MontyBom yesterday

  • Ok, will give it a try, thanks for chatting ;-) – Benj yesterday

share|improve this answer
    
So, yes, this is the standard type of advice I've read before and we originally tried to follow 2/3 years ago when we first realized he was a fussy eater. We all sit together each night and eat and my little son simply sits there and doesn't eat, we don't get cross or do any of the things you mention. You are right of course that we do end up offering him these types of foods. We withhold food that he eats. He doesn't eat it.. for weeks. he gets by on little bits of bread that he can get access to at different times in the day. breakfast etc. We feel bad that he only eats bread. it goes on – Benj Jan 25 at 14:13
    
Is he underweight? Have you seen a doctor? Is he under your supervision all the time? – MontyBom Jan 25 at 14:17
    
No... he's actually his "ideal" weight.. amazingly. He goes to nursery for 1/2 days. – Benj Jan 25 at 14:17
1  
I think you've hit it! Bread and bagels are full of sugar and are very filling. Try a boiled egg and don't forget to Google portion sizes! I think you'll be amazed! – MontyBom Jan 25 at 14:33
1  
I'd just like to feedback that limiting my son's breakfast and lunch portion size has started to work really well from the point of view of getting him to eat a wider range of foods. He did lose a very small amount of weight because he wasn't eating his full calories for around 9 days. However, he started to try 1 or 2 new foods at that point and that trying of new things has started to accelerate. He eats at least 4 types of fruit now and has begun to eat meals with sauces on as well as some veggies :-) Thanks. – Benj Feb 8 at 13:46

I was a very fussy eater until my mid teens. Nothing would have convinced me to eat more widely. Once your are on a limited diet new foods do genuinely repulse you. Everything becomes an "acquired taste". You may as well be trying to feed him slugs.

if it helps, I remember texture being more of an issue than flavour.Maybe try very bland looking liquidy soups or purees?

Maybe try small steps e.g.

chips -> wedges -> jacket potato -> boiled potato -> boiled white sweet potato -> sweet potato -> overdone carrots -> carrots -> raw carrots

Regarding the spoonfull suggestion. There is a lot of merit in this. When I started eating more widely it was because Iforced myself to. Mostly due to peer pressure. The first few times a I ate something new I really had to stop myself gagging. This deep end approach may work, as long as you pick something genuinely really tasty. I suggest petit pois. These are essentially sweets in the form of a green vegetable.

share|improve this answer
    
I particularly like the notion of gradually transitioning foods from one "form" to another. I did something similar with my son who "hated" potatoes but "loved" chips, without even realizing it :) – Erica Jan 25 at 14:07
    
Haha, we've tried a few of these tricks.. "That's not a chippy!" --- it's very like a chippy.. "That's not a chippy!" (grins)... Sigh.. I hear you though.. it could be a very long job.. – Benj Jan 25 at 14:23

I agree with all the above, we have had 21 years of hell/stress, didnt eat out because there was nothing he could eat, before, you turn around you have not had a life, last child completely different all same meals, if he didnt eat it, he went hungry, I was a lot tougher as I just couldnt go through that again and I knew he would not die from starvation, (10 years difference) be strong, dont give in, nip it now as when they get older it wont change unless they want it to. (and it sends you nuts!!) by being strong you are giving him a life of various foods and being able to eat anywhere, by pandering to him you are giving him a life of well not just limited food but not going out with his mates for a curry, not eating popcorn at the cinema, think! you must be cruel to be kind for his sake.

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks for this :-) – Benj Jan 27 at 22:10

One approach that can work is to put a teaspoonful of a disliked food on the plate and insist that it be eaten. Once you have broken though his refusal to eat it on principle, you can gradually increase the amount.

share|improve this answer
    
In more desperate moments I have tried this, but getting him to eat even a spoonful is virtually impossible, short of force feeding him but I'm not going down that road.. After half an hour of a battle of wills you feel wretched and the problem seems worse so I don't think it's a good strategy. – Benj Jan 27 at 22:07
    
@Benj, half an hour? Just do not give him anything else until he eats it, however long it may be. – hkBst Feb 10 at 13:51
    
While I agree that half an hour is not long enough, don't fall into the trap of trying to force him to eat whatever it is when its gone cold and covered in congealed gravy. If you have lost the battle this meal time then take it away and present a fresh spoonful next meal, only this time he doesn't get to eat anything else until its gone. – Paul Johnson Feb 10 at 17:13
    
We seem to have solved the problem now anyway, by limiting the size of his breakfast and lunch so that he feels hungrier when offered other foods. He's trying all kinds now for the first time in 2 years. – Benj Feb 11 at 17:20

Relax. Let your child eat what he wants, when you can. He will by himself learn to eat other things. I did that and I've seem many people do that -- you probably did it also.

All you must have is patience.

Don't force food on your child, that will force him to take a deep choice for himself: "I don't like this", and that decision, once internalized, can make it worse for him to experiment with other foods in the future. Also, there's possibility of some kinds of trauma and neurosis being caused by forcing the child to eat.

share|improve this answer
    
Haha, I'm not so sure. I agree about not forcing your child by telling them things or arguing but I remember a friend at uni, quite miserable because she could only eat sausages, chips, sweet corn and fish fingers, age 25. She was terribly embarrassed whenever we'd eat out because she had to order from the kids menu. I had to be coaxed to eat things as a child (something I'm thankful for now), but I don't think I was as difficult as a case as my little boy is. – Benj Jan 27 at 20:27
    
Well, how do you know her parents did what I'm telling you to do? I would bet they did the contrary :P – fiatjaf Jan 28 at 3:04
    
I was talking to her about it yesterday, she said that she was very stubborn and they took the approach that she'd eventually grow out of it so just give her what she wants. She didn't grow out of it.. Well she did, aged 27 she got a french boyfriend and his family shamed her into trying french food... She strongly feels that her parents should have been firmer when she was young because she feels as though she's missed out. – Benj Jan 28 at 9:18

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.