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Our daughter, now ten, has been a fussy eater all her life. We did all the wrong things to encourage her to eat when she was a toddler, and likely exacerbated the situation.

At pre-school age we tried all the things you're supposed to try. Doing the ten-tastes. Letting her help plan menus and cook. All that sort of stuff. It didn't help. The only thing we didn't try was letting her go hungry. We would encourage her - sometimes very firmly - to eat what she was given and she normally would with bad grace. On the rare occasions she really couldn't stand something, we would fix her a sandwich instead.

People told us she'd grow out of it.

She hasn't grown out of it and is, in some respects, worse. There seems to be little rhyme or reason to what she dislikes. She likes cheese, but only quality mature Cheddar, and only cold unless it's in a cheese sauce - that's okay. She likes Mashed potato, Fries and chunky home made chips, but not medium-cut chips or baked potato.

Her taste is varied enough to get a healthy diet, if she were to eat from a small menu of accepted dishes. We are unwilling to do this, as it would mean extra food prep, and would cause her siblings to complain she was getting preferential treatment.

So, while it isn't really a health problem, it causes two issues. First, we like to eat a lot of home-cooked food, and we're fed up with giving her things only to watch her face fall and her struggle her way through her meal, seeking distractions at every turn. Second, it is almost impossible to go out to eat, or to get a takeaway, as most outlets will not cater to her preferences.

Some will no doubt say we should be more patient and put up with it. She is, after all, just about getting sufficient varied nutrition. Perhaps we should. But that seems like giving up when it seems clear from the nonsensical nature of her preferences that they are purely psychological. So I'd like to know: is there anything else that can tried with older children to help convince them to accept a more varied diet?

  • 1
    Can I ask (since you mentioned it) why you haven't tried the old method of "Eat whats on the table or you can try again at the next meal time."? Missing one meal wont hurt a healthy human regardless of age. What stops you from putting your foot down in that aspect? – user7678 Sep 14 '15 at 20:53
  • I also want to suggest the answers in the following question as a possible solution / help to your question: parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/12262/… – user7678 Sep 14 '15 at 21:01
  • @RachelC That's the year-and-a-half-ago version of this question, if I read it correctly... – Joe Sep 14 '15 at 21:05
  • "Varied" is not a good idea. With children, you want to stick to simple, reliable, consistent meals. Save the rack of the lamb for adults. If she is "picky" stop feeding her so much. When her stomach starts growling she will be happy to eat what is available. If her stomach is never growling, she is getting overfed. It is not healthy to be eating constantly. – Dr. Spock Sep 16 '15 at 18:09
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Ten years old is old enough to learn how to cook, and as such I'd suggest that as the starting point for your approach to this.

I'm not talking 'tuna surprise and PB&J', but help her learn the fundamentals of cooking, perhaps from a cooking school if you two don't have enough of a background to teach that. Learn the fundamentals of preparation, how different ingredients are prepared, and how to prepare a complete meal.

Learning to cook at this level serves several purposes.

First, it allows her to be involved in the meal preparation process. This both means she can prepare meals, which mean she is herself responsible for any taste issues - but also she may begin to understand how you feel when she acts like she is unhappy with your food. It's also a great thing to learn for when she becomes an adult. You can sit down with her and plan menus together - hopefully letting her do most of the planning, just occasionally reminding her about details like "don't forget a vegetable side here" and "Yes, King Crab stuffed with Oysters sounds wonderful, but I don't have $100 for a dinner right now", once she's gotten used to doing it. Nothing teaches like doing.

Second, it allows her an "out" that is a fair one. You prepare dinner, and let her know in advance what it is. If she doesn't like it? She can prepare something of her own for herself - as long as you approve it from a nutritional point of view, and work out any cost issues (ie, if it's costing you more for food to do it this way, that comes out of her allowance in some way and/or she picks cheaper food items). If she prepares enough for several meals, that can become leftovers for the next time she has a problem with dinner, or for lunch, or whatever.

Third, it may help her develop a better understanding of what she likes - and hopefully a much broader palate. I wasn't a picky eater as a child, but I did have particular taste preferences that I didn't really understand. I thought I hated onions, for example, to learn that I only disliked raw onions; cooked onions are wonderful. Learning technique involves a lot of learning how individual ingredients are cooked, and how they taste both uncooked and cooked. When I made the effort to learn the art of cooking (so far self taught, but hopefully at some point in a more formal way), I learned a lot about my tastes, and am much more able to explain what I like and don't like - and learned to like many more things than I used to.

Finally, if this is primarily a psychological issue, this should help significantly. Not only will she have the tools to understand herself (if it's an unconscious one), but she won't have the excuse anymore. Don't like what we cooked? Fine, go make something yourself. That's pretty hard to argue with, when you are capable of making something yourself perfectly well, and have sufficient ingredients and time for it. I suspect you'll find that she starts complaining less about the food you make - or cooks more, one of the two - and everyone will be happier.

And as far as restaurants, I would let her simply eat or not eat at her own discretion there. Unless you're eating out all the time, one meal every so often of poor quality or quantity won't be the end of the world. Enforce "What" rules - ie, no, you can't order ice cream for your entree - and let her work out how much, and if that amount is nothing, fine - don't worry about it. She can make something when she gets home.


As an aside - while it's possible your child is "just a picky eater" whose problem is "psychological" in nature, I would resist making such assumptions entirely. Some people are "super tasters", capable of differentiating far more than most in terms of the taste of their food. This can make them seem very picky, because they'll dislike certain tastes that you don't really notice - especially if they dislike foods that are fairly common. Sulphur, for example, is a common "ick" among super tasters, and is present in a lot of foods - onions, broccoli, cabbages, etc. It's hard to say without knowing her and knowing more about her what exactly is going on here, but it's a bad idea to dismiss her feelings entirely (on any issue, but this one for sure) assuming it's a behavior problem and not something legitimate that she perhaps can't explain clearly.

  • I really love this answer (+1) my only thought/concern/question is how a parent could manage the other siblings when one child is allowed to just cook something else to eat. Now you have the parents eating one meal and each child eating something else. That seems like it could get out of hand very quickly. – user7678 Sep 14 '15 at 20:51
  • My suspicion is the other children will be happy for others to make them food and not worry about it - and if they also want to learn how to cook (and put all that time in), it's a win-win. It might take some effort to make it cost-effective, but if you end up with children capable of planning and preparing nutritious meals for themselves, is that a bad thing? – Joe Sep 14 '15 at 20:54
  • No, self sufficient children who can cook (and clean up after they have done so) are not a bad thing at all :) I was just worring about 4 meals being prepared for every meal time. – user7678 Sep 14 '15 at 20:56
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Sounds like you gave her too much control in the beginning and now she's used to how things are/were. She's old enough now to understand motivation and so just tell her how you made mistakes when she was younger and now you're changing the rules that are now in her best interest. So part of that is to now putting things on her plate that are nutritious regardless of her preferences. If they are compatible, then great. But most likely it won't.

You have to take the control away from her and put it back where it belongs - with the parent. She will eat what you put down in front of her or she won't eat at all. Those are her choices and as the parent, you're going to have to be the disciplined one to stick to it. Good luck.

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