Warning: Picky Children May Be Hazardous To Your Vehicle’s Health

I worked hard to instill good eating habits in my firstborn.  I breastfed for 18 months. Sugar did not pass her lips until after her first year.  She drank only milk (organic) and water, no juice.  I was sure baby food would spoil her palate so I gave her only table food.  And for the first two years, she was a great eater.  My heart swelled in warm waves of parental hubris as she gobbled broccoli like it was candy.

Then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed.  She now likes (a) peanut butter and chocolate sandwiches (unsweetened peanut butter, 100% whole wheat bread, and a smear of hot fudge topping), (b) apples, (c) milk, and (d) junk food.

I can’t find the quote, but Dr. Dobson writes that you should serve your child whatever you’re making and not make a big deal if she turns her nose up at it.   Just keep offering it to her when she asks for food.  Once she’s hungry enough, she’ll eat it.

Well, the first time we tried that, Girl 1 went all day eating nothing after breakfast.  It just about broke my heart.  The real kicker was when she woke us up at 3 a.m. whining for a snack, which woke up the baby. Dr. Dobson didn’t tell me that would happen.

The good doctor also didn’t warn me that my hungry child would be less like this:

Sad Puppy

Sad Puppy (Photo credit: one.juniper)

and more like this:

English: an angry bear

I don’t know what NBHS stands for (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Forget trying to run any errands or go out anywhere with a hungry toddler.

Scratch that idea.

More recently I tried to limit our battles to just one meal per day. We have a few moderately healthy breakfast options that Girl 1 usually will accept; I cook one main meal per day, and our other meal usually is leftovers or something thrown together.  I figured I would make her a PB&C sandwich for the non-main meal but hold my ground for the main meal.

Story of Girl 1’s life, except that she only apologizes under duress.

The problem here is that Pat comes home for lunch but works kind of late into the evening.  It works best for our schedules if our mid-day meal is our main one.  If Girl 1 turns up her nose at the mid-day meal (and she almost always does), then I am in for a looooong afternoon of her bad behavior and whining for snacks.  If I give her an afternoon snack too soon, then I’m basically making her a second lunch, which is what I’m trying to avoid.  Plus we can’t go anywhere unless I prepare a snack for her first, again, defeating the point.

If I cook our main meal in the evening, on the other hand, I have a different dilemma.  Pat usually gets home at 6:30 but the girls are hungry for dinner at 5.  I go through the pointless exercise of preparing a meal in time for Girl 1 to turn her nose up at it at 5 pm and whine and pester me for the rest of the evening.  I try to keep dinner warm or re-heat it for Pat and me to eat when he gets home at 6:30.  At this point Girl 1 is really grumpy from being hungry and tired.  Pat and I postpone our dinners to get the whiny rascal into bed first.  Then we don’t eat until 7:30 or so, at which point we are hungry and grumpy and tired.

And she still wakes up hungry at 3 a.m.

On some days, like Friday, we have hybrid situations. Girl 1 woke up hungry at 7:30 a.m. and asked for cereal.  I served it to her but she only ate a few spoonfuls before asking for something else.  I insisted she finish her cereal first; later I also offered her the paleo pancakes I was making for myself.  Neither was acceptable to her, however, and an hour-long cycle of violent tantrums and time-outs ensued.  She eventually ate a small pancake and I later served her a snack, which got us through until 11 a.m.

At 11 a.m. she was really hungry and I hadn’t yet made lunch, which would be our main meal.  I made her a P B&C and she wolfed it down.  I refused to make her a second one, though, because I was in the middle of making fish and rice for Pat and me.  Of course, Girl 1 turned up her nose at the fish and rice.  I then made the mistake of taking the girls to the grocery store after lunch, thinking the 11 a.m. sandwich would be enough to tide Girl 1 over.

We got as far as the second set of doors to the grocery store before Girl 1 threw a tantrum, complete with hair-pulling and kicking. We turned around and marched back through the parking lot.  I pushed Girl 2 in the cart with one hand and dragged all 40 pounds of Girl 1 with the other.  I then struggled to stuff the writhing and kicking Girl 1 in the van while keeping the cart and Girl 2 from rolling away.  The cart did roll along the side of the van far enough to leave this little memento of our outing:


I find myself caring less and less whether Girl 1 grows up to be a picky eater.  But . . . I really can’t be her short order chef for each and every meal.  As it is, I prepare each meal (a) for Pat and me, and (b) for the baby (she is blissfully omnivorous but still can’t eat everything we do, and when she can it needs to be ground up, etc).  If I prepare a third meal for Girl 1 too, that’s 9 meals a day (not to mention snacks)!

Sometimes I wonder if a food sensitivity that is affecting her behavior.  I just get overwhelmed when I think of doing an elimination diet.  She’s so picky now, what am I going to do if I eliminate her PB&Cs?  We won’t be able to leave the house . . . ever.  Plus we eliminated gluten and dairy for several weeks over a year ago and I didn’t notice any changes.   I haven’t noticed any signs of food sensitivity, other than a rash around her mouth when she eats certain fruits (fruits we don’t eat regularly).  Her behavior did get markedly worse after her post-mass doughnut on Sunday, but her last meal was over two hours prior and she refused the meal I made when we got home.  So her blood sugar was probably doing crazy things.

Basically, I am at a loss.  I really don’t want to be too hard on the spirited, sweet little girl who just happens to have the tough luck of being my eldest child.  This is probably something that just wouldn’t be an issue if we had a larger family.  Also I know this may well be a stage that will seem really short in retrospect.  But I’m in the now, and the now is hard.

I generally shy away from the giving and taking of parenting advice, but I’m desperate   If anyone out there is still reading and you have any suggestions, please share!


13 thoughts on “Warning: Picky Children May Be Hazardous To Your Vehicle’s Health

  1. If it makes you feel any beter, I lived off of peanut butter, fruit, bread and cereal until I was, um pretty old. I didn’t actually start liking cheese until I was in college -I hated eggs and potatoes, rice and meat until I was in my late teens. I liked salad and carrots, but every other type of veg. was off the menu. My biggest problem was texture, still is. I and honestly say that all those things I just listed made me gag and I had to teach myself to like a lot of them. Just didn’t happen until I was old enough to do it myself. Now I like almost everything – there are some cheeses I still can’t handle, and some meats I won’t touch (corned beef “sudder”) usually because of texture.

      • She let me eat the foods that she knew I liked. I had cereal for breakfast, fruit and a pb&j for lunch. I think I had pb&j everyday for lunch for about 14 years. There was an occasional tuna sandwhich thrown in there everynow and then. Sometimes a ham sandwhich. Lunchmeat (I liked lunch meat). Dinner there were almost always raw carrots and celery which I liked, and salad, which I also liked. You can sneak goodstuff onto a salad, nuts and things. Bread and butter. And chicken. Depending on how the chicken was prepared it could be a stuggle, but I usally liked chicken. Snacks were fruit or graham crackers, carrots. Milk. Popcorn (homemade not the bag kind).

        If something new was served I would be expected to try it, but if it made me gag I didn’t have to finish it.

  2. Also, I think in today’s society we are pressured to have children love a variety of foods that their tastebuds actually can’t handle. So she eats peanut butter and fruit – score! She’s got protien and fiber. Keep it up!

  3. I admit, I’m impressed by Mom’s take on things with Sam — basically, she knows what healthy things he likes, so if he won’t eat dinner, he knows these are his options (what is it? usually a chicken breast that she has cooked and on hand, and broccoli … always broccoli). I mean, part of me keeps thinking about Dad’s advice to his clients regarding their dogs — they will eventually eat. But then there is the hell that you’ve described. I don’t know. I smiled throughout your post, though. 🙂 xxoo

  4. ugh, I feel your pain. I have a three year old who won’t eat anything but PB and J and yogurt and pizza. My older was similar but is now doing well. so here’s what I have done to move it along. sorry about the long comment, but you really need a long term plan.

    first, refocus your attention. the problem here is not food, it’s behavior. through all of this, always make sure the child understands you are correcting her behavior and not her food preferences.
    Back off for about a month and just feed the child all the PB and J or whatever else she wants with meals and make sure she is getting enough sleep. At the same time set the stage by eliminating snacking and just have four meals a day (3 and one snack). Don’t tolerate whining (make her say it again in a regular voice, or leave the room if she doesn’t stop), don’t tolerate arguing or complaining at the table, don’t tolerate the kids ordering you around to get them another drink of milk or water or whatever. If she has a tantrum, send her away. Focus on politeness and good behavior around food not on the food itself.

    Then, once the behavior problems are better, do these things to help her learn to like other foods (and that’s how you should think of it — as a new skill she needs to learn, like reading).

    1. After a month, pick one meal where you can take a long time and not be rushed, lunch is best, and introduce the idea of courses. Have a first course of fruit or veg or salad then a second with their protein and starch, then a third, dessert. Start with all foods they like and move until their is a vegetable or salad in the first course. When I first started I might do apple slices, then a PB and J, then jello. Today a lunch might be 1. broccoli, 2. chicken with rice, 3. cocunut yogurt; or 1. carrot sticks with hummus, 2. hot dog, 3. cup of sweetened tea. They should try or taste each course before they get their next one (this is a logical consequence thing, not a punishment, 1 comes before 2, 2 comes before 3). Say things like “oh, this isn’t lunch, this is the first course, you’ll get something else after you taste this.” Continue to expect good behavior. If they whine about what’s in front of them ask them to repeat it in a normal voice. Then introduce these phrases: “Oh, we’re not eating this, we’re just tasting it.” “If you don’t like it, it just means you haven’t tried it enough times (this is true), take a taste and then we’ll move on to the next course.” If she whines or protests, correct the behavior. Say things like “If you don’t want it, say no thank you or don’t say anything.” “If you are done eating, ask to be excused.” Allow her to excuse herself at anytime. Under no circumstances should you serve her the second or third course unless he has at least tasted or tried the previous ones.
    2. When you eat lunch focus on eating as a sensory experience, say things like “wow. look at all the colors on our plate. Let’s put this green bean on our tongue, what does it feel like? What is the texture in our mouth? What does it feel like on our teeth? Pay no attention to volume consumed. Have fun talking about the food.
    3. At dinner, make one dinner, and also have a side of PB and J or something else she will normally eat (don’t give her a choice on this, just make her what’s easy for you) — make it first and have it at the table for her. Then ignore her. If she has a tantrum at the dinner table, that’s it, she’s gone from the table no more chances. If she complains or whines repeat the phrases from above. The focus here should be good table behavior and talking to dad. Do not cater to any food demands, do not jump up and down for anything.
    This is where you say “you don’t have to eat this, but this is what’s for dinner.” “You don’t have to eat this, but you do have to behave at the table.” If she wants to leave have her excuse herself politely and leave the kitchen. Make sure you have lots of fun at the table without her and have a dessert.

    One final thing, make sure portions are small, esp. of new food or food they don’t like. Really small, think french restaurant. Portions sizes in America are too big. If they want more, they will ask for more.

    Today, my oldest child will eat anything even if he doesn’t like it with minimal protest. He ate a little bowl of kale and lentil soup and will eat a salad with us before dinner no problem. i would not say he really actually likes these foods, but he has learned that you just eat it.

    Good luck.

    • Hi Elizabeth. Thanks for commenting. Your approach is really interesting. I really like the idea of courses. It’s something I’ve just now started doing for pat’s and my meals. Do you plan to try it with your 3 year old too? Oh and I’ll check out the book. We’ve read at least one of the other Frances books but not that one yet

      Thanks also for your comment on my other post. I didn’t get a chance to respond. My phd experience has been similar to yours–no weight loss but a big decrease in cravings.

      • HI Laura! do you really think it’s an interesting approach? I cribbed it together from a couple of places. First, John Rosemond and second, those “french parenting” books that just came out, “French Kids will eat anything and yours can too,” and “Bringing up Bebe.”

        And I do everything the same with my 3 year old. Sometimes for him, I’ll let him have a banana between meals. I’m focused mostly on his meal time behavior and I make sure he’s got at least two meals that he’ll eat most of what I put down (thank God he likes what I serve for breakfast — bacon and baked pumpkin oatmeal). I’m trying hard not to fall into the “food causes behavior” way of thinking.

        Anyway, I like your blog! PHD, has been such a godsend to me. So many of our food issues went away when I just stopped giving them wheat crackers as a snack. I always tell them that bread and crackers makes them hungrier. I’m trying to do mostly PhD with them, too. Someday, God willing, we’ll be able to get rid of the Peanut butter sandwich, but I just have no idea how I would get along without it at this point.

  5. oh, sorry, in your scenario, you should have the lunch as the “dinner” I talked about above and your dinner should be the one where you introduce the fun courses.

  6. Hi Laura! Just came across your blog; can’t wait to follow.

    G. has always been super picky. Just ask me about the dozens of birthday parties that she goes to where she doesn’t eat because they always serve pizza, which she doesn’t like!

    However, she has improved a lot, and I’m totally happy with where we are. Basically what I do with all 3 kiddos is they can have whatever they want for breakfast and lunch, as long as it’s moderately balanced.. At dinner I don’t make anyone a separate meal. But I do always have at least one thing that I know they like, whether it’s a plain vegetable or bread or whatever. I’m also willing to serve them a deconstructed version of our meal, like leave off the sauce or not mix the meat and veggies. Then they mostly eat the items they like, but in order to get dessert they have to eat at least one bite of a new or not favored item. It took a few nights of crying kids with no desert when they were little, but now they totally know the drill. And through taking their bites they have slowly learned to like a lot more things.

    I know, I know, the experts say not to use dessert as a bribe. But to me it makes sense; you have to eat a certain amount of healthy food to get the treat. And yes, we have dessert every night.

    So G. still doesn’t like some “normal” things like mac and cheese and most pizza, but she does like salmon, spinach, and kale. You win some, you lose some! Good luck!

    • Hi Liz, Woohoo! I was nervous to let you know about my blog b/c you are like my blogging idol . . . j/k . . . kind of. 😉

      Anyway, what you said about your kids’ eating habits _is_ very reassuring. I think writing my post and reading people’s responses and thinking about it more has really helped. I’m going to back off for a while and just feed her all the darned PB&Cs she can eat, then gradually work on getting her to try more foods. The power struggle it’s become just isn’t worth it.

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