I have a ten-year old child and it's about that time in their lives when she is constantly getting invited to stay over at other friends' houses either for the weekend or a night. To be honest, as a single dad, this can be a huge relief and allows me to get some work done over the weekend, so I am generally OK with her staying over at her friends'.

However, there's a problem: she is a very picky eater. She doesn't eat vegetables and a lot of other stuff people generally eat (no sauces, no soups, nothing with a particular strong smell). This results in a lot of anxiety for her and for me. She is ashamed to admit she "doesn't like stuff" for the fear of seeming spoilt (which she is to an extent, I raised her on my own and cater to her every desire). I don't like her to feel this way.

So, what should I do? Should I talk to her friends' parents and tell them to brace themselves to host a particularly picky eater? Should I force diversity into her weekly diet so she gets used to variety? Should I talk to her friends?

  • 2
    Your daughter can politely use a predetermined and effective excuse (which may well be true): "No, thank you. I had something to eat at home before I came here." Parents of friends should not push food on guests, either. Nov 9, 2015 at 19:22

5 Answers 5


Talking with the other parents would be the fastest short-term solution. Really, it's quite helpful for them to know in advance what their guest can (or will) eat. In the case of a food allergy, it's obviously vitally important, but even knowing food preferences is enormously helpful. I don't recommend talking directly to her friends. If it is not a topic that she would want to discuss with them (especially one which you admit she feels ashamed about), having her father bring it up isn't likely to be more comfortable. Plus, her peers probably aren't the ones with the most control over what goes on their dinner plates, and they can very easily forget.

When RSVPing to a birthday party, another mother mentioned to me that her daughter didn't like baked sweets ("she won't eat cake"). I was able to make sure there were some grapes and apple slices so Janie could still have something to enjoy. If I hadn't know that in advance, I would have felt like a poor hostess. It's also worth noting that my daughter knows about Janie's preferences, but hadn't thought to bring it up when we invited her. It's a very normal part of being friends with Janie, and therefore just obvious. Don't rely on the friends :)

Reasonable warnings such as "she won't eat soup" are helpful for the hosting parents, who then know not to put soup on the menu. Even a broad opening ("I wanted to mention that Janie can be picky about what she eats") can lead to a good conversation about what they were planning to serve, and potential modifications to the menu. With a now-vegetarian daughter, I've gotten very used to bringing up food preferences with other parents ("what can she have instead of a hot dog?") and even bringing along her own food occasionally (e.g. a veggie hot dog). I get asked about menus without needing to bring it up, and since she's getting older the other parents also talk directly with her. She's got a friend with a peanut allergy, and I am always grateful to be reminded that is an issue so I can be vigilent about what ingredients I use. It's a standard part of conversations I have with her friends' parents.

A possible but unlikely extreme is that being too particular ("Janie will only eat pizza if it's bought from a particular store", rather than "she likes pizza") could potentially cut down on the invitations she gets — I think that's unlikely, but if I need to radically change my food purchases to cater to a guest, I can't afford to have that guest over as frequently.

I think that simultaneously helping her expand her horizons a bit would be helpful in the long run. If self-imposed food choices are causing her to feel unhappy and anxious, that's a very strong argument for helping her be more open to new foods. I think that this question in particular (Established methods to help fussy/picky eaters at late primary age) has some helpful answers. Forcing diversity might potentially backfire (a tween is trying to establish independence and control), but if you have a good conversation about what you're trying to accomplish while introducing variety gradually, it can be a positive experience.


I take the view that if she wants to reap the benefits of picky eating, she's old enough to also start bearing the costs. That means she should be the one to inform her friends' parents about what she isn't willing to eat, and weigh that discomfort against the discomfort of eating something she doesn't like, broadening her pallette, going hungry, or turning down an invitation.

That's what adults do, as most adults have at least a few foods they don't like. It's a lesson she will have to learn eventually. Better to learn early, while she still has your support and guidance.


My daughters had a friend who called herself a "flexitarian". Basically she was just a picky eater but had concocted a whole backstory behind her dietary choices. It was really quite entertaining actually. Your child shouldn't be ashamed. Let her have fun with it.

Kid's tastes evolve as they grow, so keep introducing new things. Part of the picky eating of many children has good evolutionary reasoning behind it - avoiding poisoning oneself. Many vegetables, for example, have alkaloids which give them a bitter taste, but are also indicative of poison in many plants. Kids are small, so their instincts are pretty solid about not consuming large amounts of these plants. Adults are bigger and less likely to be poisoned because of body size as well as experience. I never liked artichokes until I was in my 20's, but now I love them!


By the time that age 10 comes around, food tastes are pretty much ingrained. Our tastes do change as we get older, but it is more of a want to change them than to wave some magic wand and to have it change.

I was lucky in that my children just wanted to eat what we ate when they were growing up and at their ages now they eat any green vegetable, will try anything at LEAST once so long as they have seen someone else eating it, and their tastes are so wide that they will eat things like sashimi (raw fish on a platter) or natto (look that one up).

In your case, however, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make her drink it (not calling her a horse, btw). To say anything is an acquired taste is very accurate. Nothing is naturally tasty to everyone. Taste is a sense and senses require a judgement call to act on them. If your daughter doesn't want to change her tastes then she won't. If she does then she will.

I am a bourbon drinker. I drink it neat and I spend big bucks on good bourbons to sip on when I get home from work ($60+ a bottle). If you had told 16yo me that I would be drinking bourbon neat he would have told you that you were full of s**t. Tastes changed and about two years ago I started to honestly try to figure out why people would just drink it neat and over time I have come to greatly enjoy bourbon. My judgements on how it tastes changed and because of that it "tastes different" to me than it did even three years ago. It was a concerted choice on my part to learn about it and to grow accustomed to it and by doing so I have opened up my palette to an entirely new area of tastes. I had to want to do it, though, and now (whops) it's expensive, lol.

Oysters, sushi (though that wasn't really that hard), anything that would be on the fringe of food for most people I truly enjoy BUT some of them were acquired tastes. It doesn't just happen. You have to want to like it as strange as it sounds.

If she doesn't want to drink that water (to quote the horse parable) then she won't like it. She has to get over it; to push past it. Eventually her tastes will change and she will like it and this will open up an entire part of her palette that she didn't know existed. If she judges it before it even has time to take hold there then she will never get past it.

To boil it down: how bad does she want it and is she willing to push for it?


Sounds like she might be a Supertaster. Not uncommon, especially among women. Bitter tastes are stronger, so green veggies are out. Sauces that are the right strength for a normal person are far too strong. A lot of food is probably too salty or sweet, too.

Supertaster or not, it sounds like this is something she should be able to take responsibility for. She's old enough to tell her friends about her needs proactively. She can ask what's for dinner before accepting the invitation, and if it's something she knows she can't eat, decline the invitation - and, perhaps, tell her friends about her food issues so they know to only invite her on days that they're having something she can tolerate.

That doesn't mean you can't help her out, though. In particular, I would see if you could help her learn techniques to cope with it.

For example, many people can't drink coffee without milk - too bitter, right? Milk is a coping mechanism. So is sour cream in spicy food - it dulls the spiciness substantially (as it is a fat).

Help her learn what things she can do to help cope. There may be commonly available toppings, condiments, or other things she can add to foods that she has trouble with that make them more palatable. Bread is a great starter - most people keep bread around, and bread is super bland. Crackers, potatoes, rice, etc.; most plain starches are excellent at making strongly flavored food less strongly flavored.

Teach her how to make simple cream sauces - or even milk sauces (cream sauce substituting milk, since cream is often unavailable). Largely unflavored, except perhaps with cheese added, they are effective at making veggies less bitter. When over at her friend's house, she can ask if she can make it herself - it's not hard to do, and no expensive or uncommon ingredients. She may also find other simple things she can make or even bring to help her tolerate the food.

Consider eating before she goes over - does she have a food budget? Can she go eat at Subway or wherever on the way? Or come home, fix a sandwich, and then go over.

And, finally, have a conversation with her about how to handle things if she's in a situation where she's just not going to like the food. Eat a bite every minute. Engage others in conversation. Help her come up with ways to enjoy her night regardless of food options.

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