Monday, May 26, 2008

let the record show: I'm TRYING

To hear my mother tell the story, when my sister Beth was around four-years-old, all she would eat was peanut butter. Nothing more, nothing less. One day out of sheer desperation - and frustration - my mother opened the kitchen window and heaved the jar of peanut butter through it, while telling my traumatized sister, "Buh-bye peanut butter!! BUH-BYE!!"

I don't know if that drastic measure to immediately expand my sister's palate actually solved the problem ... but I can certainly understand why I launch various things through our kitchen window on a daily basis. I can also understand why whenever I see a box of Hostess cupcakes, I shudder.

Growing up in our house, you could always tell when mom was serving up something particularly heinous daring for dinner, because that's when the cupcakes would appear. "Now, here's your liver and onions. And if you don't eat that, you can forget about having a Hostess for dessert."

Up until I had children of my own, I never really thought about bribing kids to eat. I never thought it would be a bad thing to let them eat whatever it was they wanted. I also never thought about how to get various foods in to their diet. But now that I have kids, I feel somewhat responsible for insuring that they have well rounded meals throughout the day.

I have read Deceptively Delicious and have become a master at whipping up spinach smoothies. But, to date, our children's culinary repertoire does not knowingly encompass dishes that include more than one ingredient ... or involve the color red, orange, yellow or green. This tends to be frustrating when we are planning meals because we only like to prepare one thing - that everyone will eat.

Sure, they love ice cream and O'Henry bars. But they would rather eat weeds and dirt from our yard, than eat salad. Or barbecued chicken.

Between the three of them, they can put away a single 27-ounce tub of yogurt in one sitting. If they are hungry enough, they can put away two. They will eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grilled cheese, and cereal. They will eat a large variety of fresh fruits - but two of the trio won't touch any vegetables ... minus home made fries ... with a 12-inch chopstick. It's interesting to me because although she won't eat much, Elizabeth will at least try a bite of everything on her plate.

Meanwhile, the other two will back away as if the food we have served them is spitting hydrofluoric acid and their bones are at risk of dissolution.

So, today we went for a hike.

Once we decided what we wanted to do, and we got the children dressed appropriately and everything packed in to the car, we realized that an hour and a half had lapsed and lunch time was less than two hours away. Because we were anxious to leave - and we hadn't packed a picnic lunch - we decided that we would swing by a sub shop and pick up a large sandwich to share.

On the way out, Charlie and I had a discussion regarding what kind of sandwich the children would most likely eat. Sure, they'd eat peanut butter and jelly. But, what kind of children are we raising here? It certainly seems that we are catering to what they will eat and in doing so, are raising children that are extremely picky.

During the course of our discussion, we concluded that if a child is an overly finicky eater, it is the fault of the parents. If a parent only gives their child what they know they will eat, then the child will never be pushed to expand their tastes. And if there is one thing that we definitely don't want ... it's a finicky eater.

Finicky eaters drive me nuts.

People that will declare "Oh, I don't eat that." Or kids that sneer at food before exclaiming "YUCK!" Personally, I think it's rude and a poor reflection on the parent's ability to expand their child's tastes - or teach them to at least try different things.

Today, we were steadfast that we were going to nip this finickiness in the bud. We would not have picky eaters, so we bought a grilled chicken sub to share. Charlie had them put everything on it including pepperocinis, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce. It was delicious and we were adamant that the kids would EAT it and they would ENJOY it and that would be THAT. We even bought a small bag of potato chips to bribe entice them with.

Instead, the kids went on a food strike and for the next three hours, they didn't eat anything.

Not even a single potato chip.

But because I feel guilty about starving our children in the name of variety, when we arrived home, they ate yogurt, apples and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

And now, I'm ready to throw myself out the kitchen window.


  1. I'm hoping the kitchen is on the first floor. ;)

    Don't despair, you can fix it. You just have to grow a thicker skin for the resistance they'll give you. I destroyed my oldest by catering to my HUSBAND'S bad eating habits. By not making things dh didn't like, Oldest wasn't exposed to anything new or different very often. When he was, he'd gag. Out loud. In public. It wasn't pretty.

    Kid #2 came along and I cooked things that I hadn't ever cooked in my married life. With him, I had someone to share it with! Kid #3 came along shortly after and we now outnumber the picky eaters 3 - 2!

    Being exposed to different foods over the years, Oldest now tries new things several times a week and his likes are much more varied (he at PB & J for lunch every day for 6 years). Exposure is key. Even if I think they aren't going to eat it, a small amount goes on their plate anyway. Eventually they try it, and darn it, sometimes they like it!

    Don't give up, but it's not going to magically happen one day either. It takes a loooong time. Be patient.

    Hope this helped! Good Luck!

  2. Wow. That was long. Sorry!

  3. I so agree with you on the picky eater thing. I get very irritated by picky eaters.
    When ours were little, Daddy suddenly started liking broccoli because he wasn't going to refuse things that we wanted our kids to eat.

    Our daughter dipped her green beans in ketchup for a while, but now is a great eater of vegetables; in fact she requests them for snacks.

    Just put things on their plates like they've alwasy eaten them. Although it sounds like your kids palates are pretty normal for three. Their tastes will expand as you keep introducing things.

    We taught our kids to say "I don't care for that, thank you," even at home, so they wouldn't sound rude by saying "Yuck" or "I hate that" There will, after all, be some things they don't like,no matter how hard you try.

  4. Glad to know that there are others out there with 3 year olds like mine. She is picky and would go without food before making herself even try something she doesn't think she'll like... unless the proper dessert is hanging in the balance. Our only rule at the table is that in order to have a treat after dinner you must at least try (including chewing up and swallowing) everything on your plate. Beyond that, I don't even really pay attention to how much she eats b/c the next meal/snack will be along in a couple of hours or less, and she seems to be growing at a normal rate. I hope you'll share them if you come up with any wonderful ideas for getting them to try new things!

  5. Sorry but your post brings relief to me too. We've had a whole weekend of non eating and spitting out and rejecting EVERYTHING put in front of them. I just want to go shoot myself (only kidding!) cause the darn kids won't go to sleep either!!!!

  6. I just keep serving the same food over and over until they are so hungry they eat it. Especially if it is something I know they actually have liked in the past. My 2.5 year old loved turkey sandwiches. Then, one day after not having one for a while he refused a sandwich at lunch. It appeared for dinner that night and he didn't eat it again. I gave him nothing else. It came out for lunch the next day (I just can't see a turkey sandwich for breakfast), he didn't eat it again. At dinner the second day he scarfed it down and asked for a second one.

    The kid will test you on this once in a while, but when you DON'T CAVE they figure out that what you put in front of them is what there is to eat and that is that.

    It is a lot like sleep training.

    Another trick, try offering the food on their plate they will not eat to little Henry. It works on mine every time. "No! That's my dinner, not Henry's!"

  7. Hi! I don't usually post but I wanted to let you know my now 6 year old went through a stage at your triplets age that lasted about a year. She probably didn't eat a single vegetable during that time, but eventually she was willing to try things. Then, we started making every vegetable we could think of in every way possible until we found out what she liked.

    Also, we made it a game to try a bite of something new. If she liked it, she would touch her plate, for example. If not, she would touch her cup. Then, we would all wait on the edge of our seats for the result. She loved it! When she got too old for that, we changed the game. Now, she has to describe how it tastes to her in one word. Anyway , I wanted to let you know that it's a normal stage and they will outgrow it. Just keep trying, and one day they will be willing.

  8. I remember sitting in a dark dining room with a piece of cherry pie sitting in front of me that I refused to eat.. . or even taste Jeeez Cherry PIE! Aspargus too but thats a different story. I have grown to LOVE cherry pie and aspargus... and BTW it was more a battle of wills with me becasue I can remeber thinking how stupid this was for mom and dad to force me. Rooth

  9. Maybe I'm a big meanie but I would (and have) let mine just be hungry instead of catering to them. I am not a short-order cook! Or at least I try to convince myself of that since I have one picky eater that I'm trying to break. I don't force her to eat but I fix a decent variety of foods and if she doesn't like it she doesn't eat it.

    Every kid is different though and I think it really is a phase thing.

  10. Don't worry, yours are not the only ones. My 3 year old is just as bad if not worse. She doesn't like to eat meat, will only eat leafy vegetables if we chopped them up and hid them in her rice and will absolutely not eat fruits! When she took a bite of apple in school during snack time, I get a note from the teacher! During our last holiday in Australia, she had fries for breakfast, fries for lunch and fries for dinner (ok may be just for a day but enough to freak me out).

    We recently (on the pediatrician’s advice) had to “force” her to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. With her, we had to use scare tactic (bribing didn't work) and it worked, she is now willing to eat bananas, apples and mangoes. Broccoli next. One step at a time.

    I have repeatedly been told by adults who used to be picky eaters not to worry – they all grew up to be normal average size adults (one or two are even a little on the heavy side). But I am a mother, so I will always worry………hopefully this is a phase that will pass - quickly!

  11. I like Christy's game idea. I'm going to give that a try, just 'cause it sounds fun.

    Two of my trio will try things. One takes several introductions to some new foods before he'll try them... and he almost always likes it once he tries it. For him, I think its all about power and mood, because I can never predict when he'll try something new and when he won't. My tactic: I give them the power of choice. "You don't have to eat it. But that's all I'm serving for lunch." If they don't eat, that's their loss. They won't starve themselves. Eventually, they will eat. Just last night, my first born refused to eat pizza because he said he'd asked for a turkey burger. He went on strike. "Okay," I said as I handed his pizza to his shocked but happy brother. First Born eventually went to bed without supper. When he complained about being hungry during the bedtime story, I told him, "That's good. Then you'll eat a big breakfast."

    Sometimes the next meal they get will be the food they refused to try, sometimes it will be something equally new. NEVER will it be a favorite of theirs. At this point they are HUNGRY and I am going to take advantage of it. NO CAVING! It's like the old CIO thing---if you're going to suffer through it, make it count, don't give in at the last minute or everyone's agony was for naught. If they try a new food and don't like it, THEN they can have something they like. That's fair. Sometimes I don't like a new food even when I try it.

    If all else fails, give them hummus. Who doesn't like hummus?

  12. Coming out of lurkdom here to say I love reading about your trials and tribulations (and of course great moments too) of raising 4 young children.

    I have to admit that picky eaters drive me up the wall - my sisters two are horrendous to cook for.

    When I was reading through your post I was trying to think back to anything I did that made my four willing to try and able to eat anything (they all have 1 or 2 things that they dislike but will still eat it if we are visiting). The only thing I could come up with is that they were never forced to eat anything but instead had to at least take a mouthful before saying YUCK. They always had the option of going to the bin and spitting it out though. Maybe I've just been lucky but I think if you force them to eat something, they will learn to hate it even more.

    Something else that may have helped is that we usually have 3 or 4 different dishes on the table (we live in Japan) so there was always something that they did like but often when they heard us saying how wonderful something tasted, they were desperate to try it too - if you pretend it's only for adults, it may make them want to try it even more!

    Good luck, I'm sure it'll get easier as they get older.

  13. Don't worry, it's not our fault! As my 4 year old tells me constantly (and now my 2 year old), "Mommy, don't worry, I will eat that when I get bigger."
    I was a picky eater too (because you never know what Cajun's will cook up!) but slowly expanded my horizons. And now with us living overseas it is harder to get them to "try things" when I myself, don't know what is in it. Makes for some interesting grocery & restaurant visits though.

    BTW, thanks for the blog. I was forwarded it by a friend, and am now addicted! Great job!
    (oh yeah, and my husband is in the oilfield business too)

  14. It is nice to know that it is the same issues with food in other's homes too. It can be frustrating but I always serve one meal and if they don't eat then I know they can fill up on the next meal. I sure hope my kids will out grow being picky about food.

  15. If it helps, kids tastebuds are a lot more sensitive than adults and that probably goes a long way to explaining why they react so strongly against some foods(brussel sprouts do taste pretty bad, there's no denying it). So don't stress out too much, they will probably grow out of it eventually!

  16. A long long time ago I made spagetti with sauce for my picky eating 4 year old once.........once. He told me he wouldn't eat it and proceeded to throw the whole plate into the trash whilst saying "I told you I wouldn't eat it with red sauce" I think I threw him out the window. I don't remember exactly what I did about it, but he NEVER did that again. But HE still does not eat things with sauce at 14. Thanks I think I am mad all over again :)))))

  17. I have four kids and the middle two are HORRIBLY picky. The 7-year-old is the worst, and won't touch a fruit or vegetable or even juice. The 5-year-old is getting better, and has recently been willing to try things. My oldest and youngest are good eaters who will try almost anything. So, while some of it may be parenting (my middle two were born close together and I was overwhelmed, so meal diversity may have suffered), a lot of it is the kid. The funny thing is, both those middle kids would eat anything until about age 18 months or so, when they decided food sucked.

  18. "we concluded that if a child is an overly finicky eater, it is the fault of the parents. If a parent only gives their child what they know they will eat, then the child will never be pushed to expand their tastes. "

    This is SOOOOO my way of thinking... my kids eat healthy and diversified foods because that's what I serve (and have always served) them. I have a friend down the street whos son will only eat chicken fingers/strips/nuggets and fries or pizza....

    I can't stand that! She's like... "he doesn't like anything else - my question is - have you given him anything else??? She's an incredibly picky eater herself, and she thinks she shouldn't try new things either. It's so frustrating.

    When he's eating at our house, he is served the same that our family gets, and he has to try it. That's our family rules, so he has to... and he's actually found foods that he likes because of it; if only I could get his mom to try preparing these 'new' foods! Ha!

    Good luck with your kids, I know that if you keep presenting them with new things, they'll start eating and liking them! I hope you keep trying!

  19. Just keep on keeping on, Jen. Just make it and serve it and throw it away. You WILL wear them down. Mine eat cactus now for crying out loud. This comes from hours and hours and hours and days and weeks and years of me wearing them down. I'm giving you the Solidarity Salute. You can win this one, sista!

  20. You are a GENIUS blogger, but you know that right? Your pictures and your words go SO well together. That picture at the top of this post is HILARIOUS.

    A newspaper or magazine should syndicate you. Parents everywhere need to read your words.

    ;) Kate

  21. Three sons. Three different appetites. #1 son would not eat off of anything yellow. Nor would he eat anything yellow.
    #2 son would not eat unless it came to him on yellow. Bowl, plate, whatever. Both older boys now eat EVERYTHING in sight.
    #3 son eats Spaghetti O's, peanut butter & jelly and Easy Mac. Any sweet cereal. And almost any dessert. Someday, he will eat like his brothers. But for now, we just wait. Because a long time ago, we found that it wasn't worth fighting over.

  22. I'm sure every mother can relate. Except for the one or two mothers out of a BILLION who have children who eat EVERYTHING. I'm prepared to hate that mother already.

    I think it might be in their genetic make up. My first child refused ALL sugar. She only wanted fruits, thank you very much.
    My second child would ONLY eat sugar. She could go without food for weeks, it seemed, and I had no idea how she was surviving as she and I battled on. Later I found that she had discovered how to break into the pantry, and that she would sit in there and eat my marshmallows and peanutbutter and all manner of yummy things.
    The third child wouldn't eat anything that had a liquid or a cheese associated with it.
    And this fourth child won't eat sugar either. He hates ice cream. It's shaved ice, PLAIN or nothing.

    So ... I'm just glad when they eat. I prepare a meal for everyone, and whoever isn't willing to eat it gets their own meal from the kitchen and cleans up after themselves.

    This is important ... can't believe I forgot to mention it.
    My first daughter could be forced to eat spaghetti, but never wanted to. After seeing the pattern of her hurling each time she ate it, we got her tested and found she was allergic to gluten.
    I think that children know what upsets their little constitutions and choose foods that they can tolerate. And of course they choose sugar and chips as well, oft times. But sometimes they know what they are doing. I hated pancakes when I was young. Didn't find out that I am also allergic to gluten til I was an adult.

  24. On a totally seperate note, did you ever find out why your toes get numb when you run? I have the exact same problem and it's very annoying and painful. Please be sure to pass along any helpful hints you get from the doctor!

  25. I think your kids eat such a healthy good breakfast that is a fruit delight. One day, cook an artichoke and see if they will try it--without anything else.
    I think of Lisa F. who tells me that her kids will eat anything--because she forgets to feed them most times. Then when she thinks of it, they are hungry and eat everything. Nobody ever asked in my family "Do you like it?" It was placed in front of us and we ate it--or not. End of story. Don't worry--be happy.
    I am sure they were too busy running, and finding new things to explore, the day you bought the sub to sit down and eat.

  26. ROFLOL!

    My parents used to make us sit at the table until we ate things -OR- they'd have us eat it for breakfast, which was infinitely worse, but we always ate it because if we didn't, we'd get it for lunch. Good luck!!!

    So far two of my girls are doing well, and the other doesn't really eat anything (can't really handle it anyway).

  27. It's been a while since I've commented, but I can totally relate to this post! My oldest, Brittney (10), to this day does not like one single vegetable or fruit. We have tried to force her (which never ends well), we have tried bribery (once $10 for a 1/3 of a green bean and she still wouldn't do it) and even made threats to take favorite things away...all with no luck!

    My boys will eat almost anything...they are picky in their own way but still have a much wider variety than her.

    All I can say is I was the SAME way when I was growing up. I hated veggies and fruit. It wasn't until I graduated high school that I started trying more things. It will all work out eventually. You're doing a fantastic job!

  28. In a nutshell......they are THREE. That is the problem. THREE YEARS OLD. Keep on keepin' on; toss them variety and enjoy some peanut butter cups for yourself.

  29. Annie: No, not yet. I've got an appointment to get in see the doctor, soon. I'll let you know what I find out.

    Kate: Oh, go on. No, seriously. GO ON...!!! :)

  30. "we concluded that if a child is an overly finicky eater, it is the fault of the parents. If a parent only gives their child what they know they will eat, then the child will never be pushed to expand their tastes "

    I don't know about this... I fed all my triplets the same things at the same time and I have one that will eat almost anything, one that is extremely picky, and one in between. So some of it has to be genetic, or part of their personality. The picky one will not eat a single fruit or vegetable unless it's pureed. So she will still eat baby food carrots, but not cooked or raw carrots in chunks like a normal human. I keep putting them on her plate, but so far no go. Thank goodness she will drink smoothies, so she gets some fruit and spinach that way. I think she has some mild sensory issues (she had terrible reflux) and that's part of the problem. Texture is definitely a big deal for her. I think it's part personality too. She is extremely wary of anything new, whether it's food, people, new places or situations... I haven't even been able to get her to try ice cream! (No problem - more for me!) I will just keep offering, sneak things in where I can, give her a vitamin, and hope for the best... We do offer all three of them new things all the time, share things off our plate, etc. but we can't force them to eat.


  31. My oldest son Jacob gets really pick because I think he knows thats what he has control over and therefore can drive me crazy. He used to eat half this stuff as a toddler, but now, its Yuck, I don't like _____. And his brothers and sisters are happily eating almost anything.
    I feel your pain.

  32. LOL! I know it isn't really funny, and is just frustrating, but it's funny how you tell it.

    I honestly am not sure how I got so lucky as i have only had one picky eater out of my kids and the only thing he won't eat is "green". not greens, but "green". He won't eat anything that is the color green! My kid is odd!

  33. Don't worry, it will change. Out daughter will be four in Aug and I kept sayng the same thing. She only ate like 3 things and it drove me nuts. Slowly she started eating what we eat minus the hot sauce and stuff like that. She is a good eater. Kids will never starve!! We also would not give her any else if she did not eat what was for dinner. She went to bed many of nights without dinner. I thought she would turn into a refried bean and this kid can suck the refired beans down. don't worry give them time. They are exploring right now. Just keep intorducing the food over and over again a million times x4. Things will be ok!!! They certainly don't look mal-nutrioned!! Hang in there!!

  34. One of my sisters went through a grilled cheese sandwich only phase. As she was #2 my parents realized it would be difficult to kill her so they (she and them) lasted 1 1/2 days before MY PARENTS broke : ). At 50 she has quite varied taste buds, we had sushi Saturday night.