Open thread: Food refusals

This week we discussed problem feeders. These little guys are kids who have serious feeding problems, which makes them different than picky eaters, which can be equally challenging from a parenting perspective. I believe that most picky eating is a phase so if you are battling that at home, I feel for you!

What foods do your kids refuse to eat? How do you handle it? Any suggestions to share?

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28 thoughts on “Open thread: Food refusals

  1. Well, my kids are just picky, nothing more serious.

    Eh, I don't do much. I seem to be in the minority on this among parents, but while I will ask them to try something, I don't insist. No "one bite rule" or anything like that. As an adult, I have foods I don't like and don't want to eat and I have no problem with my kids also having things they don't want to eat (or even try).

    Now, I might feel differently if they were very, very picky but generally, I do feel my kids are willing to eat a decent amount of foods I consider healthy so I don't worry about it too much.

  2. I've been really successful with Ellyn Satter's approach, which I think would work for even problem feeders: you decide what, when and where and the child decides whether and how much. (I'm not affiliated, just a fan.)

    I think it's also important to remember that your child is dealing with tooth issues nearly constantly; chewing is a challenge for them. I think many picky eating phases are related to loose or new teeth.

  3. I know when I was more demanding of my kids to eat "at least 3 bites" of everything, they seemed more likely to dig in their heals and refuse. Now I simply tell them I'd really like it if they'd try it again (or for the 1st time) but they don't have to. They usually will. I still hear, "Ewwww! This is gross!" But sometimes they do like it and ask for more. Also, I always have salad fixings in the fridge as a replacement meal if they really hate what I've made, because I do refuse to cook separate meals. I'm fortunate that my kids really love most raw veggies.

    My oldest had texture issues when he was little, and still has an aversion to many meats. So I did have to find some protein solutions, but I think this actually made my cooking habits healthier. Sometimes those problem feeders can add value to the diet of the family.

  4. After growing up with parents who insisted we eat anything set before us and developing poor eating habits from it, I decided that food was not going to be something we battled over. I've always made healthy food choices available and allowed my kids to try what they wanted. Both kids went through picky eating phases when they were young and both have widened their eating choices as they've gotten older.

    I would just like to mention that some food refusal can be caused by a bodily reaction (allergy) to foods. Kids may not know to tell you that certain foods cause a buzzing or numbing feeling in the mouth which can signal an allergic reaction. All they know is that they don't like it.

  5. i find that two factors play the biggest role in whether or not we experience success new foods – mood/timing and portion size. any time i've tried a new food on an off-behavior day it goes badly and i then have two work for a longer period of time to get a breakthrough with it (if at all). and the portion bit is nothing new – i make sure that she has a substantive enough meal without the roasted acorn squash. i relax a bit about the NEED to finish it and she is more willing to try it if it doesn't seem like an insurmountable mountain of it. i find that 1-2 REAL bites worth does the trick.

    AND… i try to remember that i want her to love food and her experiences with it. there are some foods that just aren't gonna work till later due to texture and/or flavor and that's okay. i hated squash in all forms and manners as a child and it has steadily worked its way up to my favorite as an adult. 🙂

  6. I don't have kids of my own, but I was an EXTREMELY picky eater when I was a kid. There was a good period when I would only eat pb&j on a particular brand of bread, chips or crackers, and little debbies for lunch. My mom would try to put in fruit or vegetables, and MAYBE I would try it if it was grapes, but otherwise, no way. I got a little better in high school, but I was still really limited in what I was willing to eat. For me, it took until mid-college to change my ways: I think my wake-up call was when I was at a restaurant with my boyfriend and his family and I realized that at every single restaurant I went to, there was pretty much only ever one thing I was willing to order that didn't have one of the zillions of ingredients I wasn't willing to eat in it. So limiting! So I decided to try new stuff, and mostly liked it. I think the two big lessons I learned were:

    1. There are lots of foods I was just scared of (like salad dressing) for mysterious mental reasons, although I had never tried them.
    2. There are even more foods that still may not be my favorites (olives, bell peppers), but I can definitely eat and enjoy them for politeness, in social situations, to try a particular cuisine or recipe, etc. And sometimes they turn out to be amazing! But either way, I can eat them if served without gagging or picking them out – my typical responses as a kid.

    Now – I don't think anyone could have taught me this stuff, I think I just needed a wake up call and to figure it out for myself. But what I will say is that parents shouldn't freak out. I was/am perfectly healthy, and I eventually got over my picky streak (though my DAD still hasn't – so I guess some people are just too stubborn…luckily most of the things he's picky about are unhealthy like cheese sauce, cream sauce, butter, etc. and so I guess it's a good thing!).

  7. Our family lives on "Broccoli Island," meaning if you lived on broccoli island and all there was to eat was broccoli, your kids would eat broccoli. If our kids are not interested in what is served for dinner, we take that to mean that they are not hungry and they may be excused. When they request food later, we bring out the same food they refused at dinner and voila! They eat. Our kids aren't picky. They're just not hungry 24-7. I think as parents we need to get away from the idea that kids must be fed constantly and when they are hungry. It's sad that parents give in so regularly to giving their kids a steady diet of mac & cheese or chips because "that's the only thing they will eat." It is more a comfort for the parent to see a child eat rather than what the child actually needs. Most of the time, they just aren't hungry.

  8. My "problem feeder" daughter started to do a lot better once we took the pressure to eat right off her. These days, so long as I put food she likes on her plate she'll eat nearly all of it without complaint (big change from the past when even being told to eat food she likes could cause major hysterics). She still doesn't *really* do vegetables, but will nibble tiny amounts of cucumber, grated carrot or edemame.
    My son, on the other hand, is just a normal three-year-old picky eater. With him I will insist that he eats a certain amount of what's on his plate before he is allowed any dessert, and I will put a certain amount of pressure on him to try new foods.
    The biggest problem is his growing awareness that his older sister is being treated differently from him: the other night we had a five minute tantrum because his sister had (home-made whole wheat) pizza and he didn't. Fortunately, once he actually tried the taboulleh on his plate, he realized that he liked it as least as much as pizza!
    It feels like we're being unfair to treat them differently, but they *are* different, and I don't want my son to suffer a limited diet just because my daughter has no choice.

  9. I've come a long way in my cooking knowledge since my oldest was born. I also get bored easily with foods so I'm always trying something new. That said, my 8 year old is a lot pickier than my 2 year old, and I think that has a lot to do with (but not all–some kids are just picky) the fact that my oldest wasn't exposed to many different flavors when he was small.

    When I work with a different flavor or a new food, I always expect my boys to try it. I've found that two bites is a good amount. There have been too many scoffs after the first bite that have turned in to "yums" after the second bite to not have this be the rule… They won't know if they'll like it unless they try it. My picky 8yo, for instance, discovered he loves tofu!The big key to success here is ensuring there are things on their plates that I know they WILL eat. This avoids them leaving the table hungry, me playing "waitress," and avoiding a dinner meltdown.

    I think it's VERY important to have my boys try things multiple times. Our palates evolve and change throughout our lives, and it can take some time to "break down" a child's "don't like" barriers. Sure, there are foods that my boys just don't like, but there are also foods that they didn't like the first few tries that they now really enjoy.

    One last thing that I think is important is varying the flavors that touch little one's tongues. When we go out to eat, we often choose ethnic foods like Chinese, Indian, Pho and Thai (because I can cook "American," Italian and Mexican easily at home, and for much less than eating it at a restaurant). If these culture's children eat the food without issue, why can't mine?

    If my children choose to be picky, it won't be because I haven't tried! Just because they didn't like it the first time doesn't mean they will dislike it the tenth time, or a year from now…

  10. I'm just speaking about normal kids, not children with sensorial issues or other gastro-intestinal things going on.

    I have eight children; some will eat anything, and a couple are fairly picky. I have noticed that my pickiest eater has a very sensitive palate – he can tell if I use a different brand of olive oil! He reminds me of those TV chefs. I think in his case the food actually tastes different to him than it does to me.

    In general, at our house, we allow the kids to choose ONE food that they do not have to eat. If that food is served for dinner, they are allowed to make themselves an alternate (i.e., scrambled eggs, peanut butter sandwich, etc.) However, they can't declare a food to be avoided after dinner has been served! LOL.

    Two of my boys have lentils as their no-no food. My daughter despises cantaloupe, of all things. They are allowed to change it -but again, it has to be before the food is on the plate in front of them.

    The second tactic we use is that they may not get second helpings unless they've eaten all of their food. They can't have another helping of mashed potatoes, if they haven't finished their original plate with broccoli on it. (They don't have to have seconds of broccoli if they don't want to, though).

    The third thing we do is constant exposure. Several of my kids really love brussels sprouts – my 8 yo even requests it. This happened because we eat brussels sprouts once or twice a month – it's in our normal rotation. He's seen it on the table, and all of us eating it, his entire life. For him, it's not a strange food. Also, I have a really good brussels sprouts recipe! 🙂

    We limit the amount of processed foods at our house, and I think that helps too. Our snacks are almost always fruit – I spend $30 a week on fresh produce (which actually works out to $3 per person per week, not so bad!) Bananas, plums, oranges, apples, and mangoes are what we usually have; watermelon, grapes, cantaloupe, and pineapple are more rare and more special. I have to hid the grapes in the back of the fridge or all the kids will filch a couple every time they walk by and then there won't be any for snack time! So, by avoiding overly processed foods, I think that helps the kids be more open to natural foods and also helps natural foods taste better to them (because their palate hasn't been trained to demand large quanitities of salt, for example.)

    Kids WILL eat healthy food, if it's available, if it's abundant, and if it's a normal part of their lives.

    I have some dipping recipes on my blog that my kids love with their fruits and veggies, too. Dipping is always a good way to get kids to eat!

  11. *I* was a horribly picky child however we also never had fresh veggies or fruit. I didn't have a real strawberry until I was 18, seriously. I am still picky but a lot better than I use to be.

    Somehow, I have no idea how, I got two kids that eat *anything* I put in front of them. I waited for that picky phase I heard most toddlers go through and we never got it (my son is 4 and my daughter is 2). We have never made a big deal out of food and they get fresh fruits and veggies…both would eat carrots all day if I let them.

  12. Thanks for all of the comments! I'm of the "here you go, eat it or don't" kinda mentality. It seems to work for us. Definitely removing pressure is key. It's hard not to be emotionally invested in getting your child to eat, right?

  13. Be vigilant, however, of restrictive behavior — ie., vegetarianism in pre-pubescent girls, certain foods becoming 'bad' — these can be precursors to eating disorders.

  14. We don't give options in our house. New things can be tried and do not have to be finished but old standards that our kids have eaten before and enjoyed will be eaten or they get nothing else and they see the same plate at breakfast. Both have learned that the parents always win.

  15. I recently learned a strategy from our preschool staff to encourage children to at least try new foods.
    They tell their students that it can take 8-10 times for your tongue to "like" a new food. They implore the "Today could be the day you find out you like it!" statement which makes the kids excited and curious to see. Just a thought for all the parents out there. I know how hard you work to keep your kids healthy 🙂

  16. One daughter (5) has never let a leaf pass her lips- greens, lettuces, etc. One (2) has never eaten meat, except on rare occasions. Neither one will touch soup, or casseroles.

    I made a decision to never label my children picky, and we serve whatever we serve. If they don't choose to eat everything we're eating, fine. I serve a tiny portion of everything (the oldest is sometimes required to eat everything before she can get more of something- it's literally a tsp of new food) There's always bread and butter available, but we're getting better: no one's asked for it in a long time.

  17. For the most part, my son has to eat a reasonable amount of what he's given at mealtimes. I try to avoid serving foods he truly hates — red meats, leaf greens, flat noodles — but if it's just something that's not his favorite, tough. We're very poor and I just can't afford to waste food, buy only things he likes, or spend hours coaxing him through a single meal. He's easily stubborn enough to go without eating for two or three days if he's presented with the same meal multiple times in a row, so… he just needs to eat his meals, in reasonable quantity, in a reasonable time frame, at mealtimes.

    I know that this approach isn't currently the most popular, but it is the one that ensures my child gets good nutrition into his very active body every day. I wish I could afford to buy lots of little healthy things and let him graze at will, or replace meals with healthy alternatives that he likes better. I wish he were less stubborn and I could let him skip a meal or two with a clear conscience, knowing that eventually he'd eat. Neither of those things are the case for us, though, so I do what works.

  18. Both kids (they're 9) dislike beans. They're good with green beans and wax beans… but nothing else.

    Our girl HATES potatoes. Even as french fries. We've tried all sorts of variations… but she truly dislikes the texture. It makes her gag. We will encourage trying… but never force her to finish anything. Maybe one day she'll outgrow it… but if not, it's OK!

    Both kids eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and proteins, so, I don't worry too much. They're both healthy!

  19. My kids are 10, 9 and 7 and they eat a pretty good variety of foods most of the time. They each have things that they do not like at all and that's okay; I do, too. But we continually try new things in varied ways.

    As they're old enough to have some say in grocery shopping and food preparation I allow them to make some food decisions with me. It opens up a lot of discussions about good nutrition and I like that. The older they get and the more they understand about the nutrients they need, the more likely they are to try new foods and tolerate them even if they don't outright enjoy them.

    Even so, the rules are:

    – If I serve a new food or an old food prepared a new way, my kids must try one bite — a normal-sized forkful, chewed and swallowed. If they don't like it, that's fine. They don't have to eat any more of it.
    – If it's something they previously didn't like but haven't tried in several weeks they have to taste it again. They used to fight me on that but then discovered that some of the stuff they didn't like 3 months ago isn't so bad now.

    It works really well for us and has cut down on a lot of food battles since everyone knows what's expected and required.

  20. My son has always been a picky eater, and pickles are one of the things he has never liked. Well, about 2 months ago we went to a baseball game, and we were all hungry on the way home. So we drove through at McDonalds and got a hamburger for each of us. My son took one bite, and said "Are there pickles in this?" I cringed as I said, "There might be one in there." His response? "It's really good with pickles!" Now he happily eats pickles on his hamburgers, sandwiches, etc. I guess there is some good that can come out of that rare McDonalds trip! Now if only McD's had more veggies, maybe I could get him to like some of those…

  21. I'm in the "no-pressure" camp. When my daughter was really young (she's 9 now), I read that it could take 10 times of presenting a food before a child tried it (not liked it, or ate it consistently, just tried it). So, my husband and I eat stuff we like, and she can try it if she wants to, or she can have something else easy, like a sandwich. This has worked well for us –no food battles, and gradually she tries more and more things, since she sees us eating them and enjoying them.

    When I was a kid, we were very poor, and we had to eat everything served. Forty years later I can still remember gagging on a couple of teaspoons of butternut squash, and I still can't stand the stuff.

  22. I agree with you that picky eating is a phase rather than a label. My oldest is a picky eater and it's amazing as he really did have the best food upbringing given that I spent so much time on him as my first child. He has to try whatever I make. He doesn't have to like it and he's more inclined to eat it when he's been in the kitchen with me.

  23. We're definitely in the "this is what the family is eating, so you can have it or not" camp — they don't HAVE to eat it, though they're strongly encouraged to, but they're not getting anything else. We do put a small portion of a "go-to" food on their plates, though, particularly if the family dinner is something I know they really don't like very much; I find that if they start off eating the slice of bread or the oranges, they're more likely to then decide they'll try a bite of the vegetarian pasta or the funny-looking turkey meatloaf. 🙂 My older child has a sensory aversion to almost all fruits, though; here's how we deal with it:

  24. As someone who was labeled a picky eater as a kid, I get frustrated with the label. I actually will eat a LOT more foods than many other people but I dislike some common ingredients, so the issue comes up frequently. I dislike almost all dairy, mayo, avocado, spicy things and beans that aren't green. Most of my family has many more rules of things they like, but because they are easy to avoid [ie red meat, potatoes, melon, BBQ sauce] its not considered being picky.

    One of my problems was a kid was that I didn't like the flavors of cheap Safeway produce. My parents couldn't always afford to buy me raspberries, kiwis and pineapple, which I did love. Now that I'm an adult and I shop at the farmer's market, I've discovered that I love fruit and veggies when they are fresh and flavorful!

    Also, preparation was a huge issue. I really dislike well-cooked anything and my parents love to cook veggies till they are very soft and my mom loves dry meat. Now that I'm an adult and still dislike it prepared that way they consider it a preference, but I remember many dinners where I was severely criticized for being too picky which was frustrating since I had things I really liked but since the rest of my family didn't, I couldn't eat it and I was considered difficult.

  25. We have one kid in our house who hates sauces and gravy of any type. He loves veggies steamed with now salt or any thing on them, he loves fruit of all kinds. Our other kid will not eat anything it seems…and we don't pressure them…I just want them to eat something with each meal. If they eat a good breakfast then I don't worry so much about lunch…etc dinner. I hope that they will get it all worked out later as adults.

  26. We go by Ellyn Satter's ideas on food eating. My kids are 5 and 2 1/2 and dinnertime at our house is delightful. We don't discuss food, other than maybe to mention how good something is! The kids can eat as much or as little of anything that is on the table. We always have fruits and veggies with every meal–even pizza. There have been many times the kids are arguing over who gets to get the veggie or fruit bowl first. We also try to eat pretty early, as they get a small afternoon snack, and by 5:15, are hungry. Rather than give them another snack, we sit down to eat. If I know the main dish is going to be a little longer, I will make sure to have the fruit and veggies on the table, and the kids are welcome to sit down a few minutes early and start eating those foods.
    Because there has never been any pressure to eat a certain amount of bites or eat a certain food on the table, our dinners are spent laughing, telling stories, etc, rather than coaxing the kids into eating. I don't make anything special just so the kids will eat–if they are hungry, they will eat. If they don't eat much, they must not be too hungry. Sometimes, all a child will have is the veggie. No big deal–she's eating and she knows if she is hungry for more. My kids are very willing to try new things. They don't always like them, but we don't make a big deal out of trying it or out of not liking it.
    There was another poster who mentioned Ellyn Satter, and I too, highly recommed reading her books. She has great insight on how to get kids to eat well.

  27. I’m late to the party here. What we do for my 9 year old step daughter is allow her to chose the veggie for that meal. I’ll give her a few ideas and choices and she decides what she would like to have. Salad is always an option (romaine and raw spinach chopped with dressing – she loves vingrette). It makes it much easier at meal time as she knows she got to pick and help prepare her veggie. We’ve gotten her to eat lots of new foods by just having her help prepare/cook for the meal. Even if out now she loves to try new food, she loves to gobble up raw oysters (I’m sure I’ll be judged on that but hey, its a “strange” food that she loves).

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