My child is a picky eater. Or it’s something else entirely.

A year ago, I wrote about Joshua’s picky eating habits.

I’m (un)happy to report that in a year and then some, nothing has changed.

Mealtimes in Casa de NSJM are kind of…well…I hate them.

At Joshua’s three-year check-up in April, the doctor asked us about his diet. I mentioned that he doesn’t eat a variety of foods and told her that when he tries new things, he gags on them. I told her that I thought there might be some deeper reason why he wouldn’t eat new things.

And then I kind of got The Look from her.

You know the one, right? The sort of judgey but masked as concerned one that doctors have to perfect before they can get their fancy diplomas. The one that says they think your kid is just snowing you and you’re a lame parent because you’re giving in to your kid’s demands instead of just forcing the kid to submit to your parent-ness.

Yeah. That one.

She suggested just not giving him what we know he’ll eat and only giving him what we want him to have. If he goes to bed hungry, he’ll go to bed hungry, but eventually, he’ll learn to eat what we give him and not what he wants and he won’t die.

(Others have also made this same suggestion. The bitchy side of me wants to tell them to go to bed hungry and see how they like it. Thankfully, the Southern side of me, the one with the manners Mama gave me, wins out. Mostly.)

People say we’re allowing him to control the situation. We’re allowing ourselves to be manipulated. We’re the problem.

I think no one but us and his teachers at school know just how particular he can be, but what the hell. I thought I’d give this “let him eat nothing” plan a shot.

So this summer, or, like, two weeks ago, I decided we’d try to get Joshua to try new things. We’d sit down to dinner at the table as a family. We’d put new things on his plate. NO MORE PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES.

It was not good. There were tears.

I read that getting kids involved is good. Let them pick out the foods from the grocery store! Let them help you prepare them!

When we go to the grocery store, Joshua ALWAYS helps pick out the foods. He can name over half the fruits and vegetables in the produce section. He will say things like “Mmm. I wike broccoli!” He will not eat broccoli. Or any other fruit or vegetable at the grocery store. Cooked, raw, or standing on his head, he will not eat them.

So then I thought “I’ll let him be my sous chef while I make dinner!” I pulled a chair up to the counter and I had him sprinkle the cheese into the tortillas to make “taco cups.” He proclaimed his love of the taco cup! He was going to eat a taco cup!

He did not eat a taco cup. He ate one tiny sliver of a bite of a taco cup and gagged and cried the entire time and that was after working him up to it for 15 minutes just to put one bite in his mouth.

Bribery worked well for potty training, so I thought we could try it for meals, too. We bought super awesome Spider-man popsicles. Popsicles Joshua has been eyeballing for as long as he’s been able to say “Spider-man!” If he just had ONE BITE of a new food, he could have a WHOLE POPSICLE. For one bite of food.

This worked about three times, but again, it took coaxing him for 15 minutes, after settling him down and getting him to stop crying, and then a 1-2-3 count like we’re giving him some awful tasting medicine. And there was gagging.

Last night we had black beans. We know he likes black beans. He eats an entire cup of black beans almost every time we go to Moe’s. He cried that he didn’t want black beans last night, so we took his plate away. Then he cried that he did want black beans, so we gave him some more. Then he said that he didn’t want to eat them.

We busted out the Oreos to use as a bribe. He was excited at the prospect of an Oreo. He put one black bean on his tongue and gagged and bawled and licked the table (seriously) trying to “get the yuck off his tum.”

Then he burst into more tears. (And no, he didn’t get the Oreo. We don’t reward him if he doesn’t comply. We’re not THAT new.)

Y’all, there are tears in my house every night now. From him and nearly from me. Every single night I feel like the world’s most gigantic pile of fail over his picky eating. Because the world says this is my fault and I’m allowing myself to be manipulated.

But when he’s telling me that he doesn’t want to eat something, there’s not defiance and rage in his tears. Not always.

There’s something like…fear.

Like he is legitimately afraid to try the new thing.

And I don’t know what to do about that. Is this more than just run-of-the-mill picky eating?

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  1. 1


    I remember when Kate was a baby we did a lot of toddler lunch dates where whoever was hosting would make lunch and the kids had to try it before going to play. It worked well in the sense that they were able to see their peers eating foods and it was less scary that way. Not sure if that would help since he was seeing kids in day care anyway, but in this scenario, all the kids were offered the same food. I hope it ends soon!

    • 2

      Miranda says

      We thought he would get better about eating when he moved to the walker/2’s room at school and they started sitting at the table together. Nope. Didn’t work. He just doesn’t eat during meal times. Or he’ll eat the fruit serving and that’s it.

      He DID take a bite of a carrot at his birthday party after his best friend did. And then he spit it out.

  2. 3


    This absolutely does NOT sound like picky eating. My cousin was a stubborn picky mule as a child and would starve before eating what he didnt like. Gagging and fear are a TOTALLY different thing. I encourage you to see a specialist. My GF has a son who’s throat literally closes blocking him from swallowing food because of a reaction. Kinda like an allergy. It has something to do with cells in his throat and the make up of his blood. Not many Drs know about it. There is a long list of things that can cause a physical reaction to specific foods. Miles’ condition is triggered by common ingredients such as wheat, soy, and chicken. Each child has their own specific triggers and they can be very wide ranging.

    • 4

      Miranda says

      It really, really feels like anxiety to me when he’s refusing to try what’s on his plate. The fact that the new food is even ON his plate causes him anxiety.

      I’ll start researching allergies so I have information to take to the pediatrician with me.


      • 5


        Ancillary note: Miles’ EE has caused him to have severe anxiety issues regarding food. Wouldn’t you too its your throat constricted from trying to eat? His mom is looking for a good therapist to help him past his fear now that they understand what is going on and can prevent it. Joshua doesn’t sound like a picky kid. Especially since he is eager to pick out and prepare non-kosher food. I really think something physical is happening and it scares him. I wouldnt rule out texture-based gagging issues. Elena had those so we delayed purees till she was ready and even then started table food quickly after. She would gag to the point of choking. I refuse to eat whole/sliced strawberries because of texture issues.

  3. 6


    sounds pretty similar to my daughter. she will not eat anything, i don’t know what she survives on, i swear. we have a few standbys, spaghetti, french fries and chicken nuggets aaaaaand that’s pretty much it. if we want her to eat a meal it pretty much has to be one of those two things. one time i was eating strawberry shortcake, she likes the whipped cream, so i gave her a little. on the next bite, i hid a strawberry under the whipped cream, because, come on, who doesn’t like strawberries, i knew if she just gave it a CHANCE she would love it. WRONG. she freaked out and proceeded to spit her mouth full of food onto the floor. FAIL.

    • 7

      Miranda says

      Yeah, Joshua has a pretty short list of the meals he’ll eat, too. It’s sad to me. I can SOMETIMES get him to try new fruits. No vegetables, though.

  4. 8


    My oldest is extremely picky. She will eat oatmeal for breakfast and will not eat anything else the rest of the day, and then talk to me before bed about how excited she is to eat oatmeal for breakfast “after this nap.” I’m sure I am to blame somehow. She didn’t really eat any solid foods besides peas corn and cheerios before she was 18 months – had no desire, would throw the food, and preferred to nurse instead. My son on the other hand will eat anything and everything…except broccoli – which my daughter now loves. I try to let her pick one thing to eat at dinner, and give them something the will enjoy at lunch. She just turned 4 in May, and before that I would pretty much cave and give her anything that she would eat. Now I make dinner and she has the choice to eat, or not eat. But, I still try to have something she likes on the plate, so she at least eats a couple bites of food. I figure if she is starving she will eat whatever I put in front of her, so I figure she is just not hungry :-) She is definitely smaller than most kids weight wise, but at about 75% for height. I also feel like I sometimes have unrealistic expectations on how much she should eat. This probably doesn’t help at all, but I figured I would let you know that you aren’t the only one with a picky eater…and I doubt there is “something else” and more likely the kids are just testing boundaries.

    • 9

      Miranda says

      Joshua didn’t have much interest in finger foods. He was definitely a “milk baby.”

      I do give him a lunch of things I know he’ll eat so that if he doesn’t eat much for dinner I know he had at least one meal that day. He’s not smaller than kids his age by any means, but I worry about his overall health.

      I know there’s a good chance that this is just picky eating, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. It doesn’t feel manipulative on his part at all.

  5. 10


    It could very well be texture issues/oral defensiveness. Not trying to alarm you, but possibly look into Sensory Integration Disorder (yay google). My husband and I both have Issues with a lot of textures (there’s a TON of food I can’t eat either because the texture makes me gag or because I’m allergic… sometimes I TOUCH something and I gag) and our child also has some textural issues. IF this is something your child is living with, there ARE therapies that can help him. SID is often a component of ASD/PDDNOS as well, so if you see a lot of freaky alarming shit, it probably doesn’t apply to your kid.

    He could also have straight up food allergies, oral motor delays, or other problems.

    Finally, he’s 3. 3 year olds are picky. They don’t need the caloric load 2 year olds need, so a lot of time parents are all OMG YOU AREN’T EATING AS MUCH AS YOU USED TO WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT. You’re already exposing him to a variety of foods. If he’s just being picky… maybe he needs to be picky? Your job is to provide him with food. His job is to eat… or not.

    Whatever this is, good luck!

    • 11

      Miranda says

      Ha! Not eating as much as he used to doesn’t concern me! He’s never eaten much. :/

      I’m trying to think about whether he has issues with textures and touching things, like if his tactile senses are somehow “off.” I can’t tell. I do know that as an infant on purees, the minute I slipped chunks into his food or started making it less smooth, he refused to eat it.

    • 12


      The first thing that came to mind while reading this was a sensory disorder. I don’t think you’d be overreacting if you asked your pediatrician for a referral to have him evaluated for any possible disorders or delays. What’s the worst that will happen? They tell you he does have an issue and they set him up with a treatment. If your pediatrician pushes your concerns aside I would consider seeking out another doctor…she only sees Joshua for a few minutes every few months…you see him all day.

      Good luck and keep us updated!

  6. 13

    Amie Kazimirowich says

    Hi…I’m new to your blog and so far LOVE IT…..but I will say that I have this problem still as an adult and it is a fear….the thought of eating a strawberry gives me the highest anxiety possible and has brought me to tears just the smell. My co-worker did some research and learned that I may have what’s called a super taster in that my taste buds and sense of smell are so high that the bad is extremely bad and the same with the good. I agree with Brigid….don’t assume that it’s not something biological and something that he can’t control. Over time I have learned to like other foods but for the most part what I don’t like I really don’t like. My mom has told me that she would modify our food…not make us our own but like not add everything to a salad and give us just lettuce…not put sauce on my chicken, and make sure my food didn’t touch just because it was easier then the battle. My sister’s kid eats peanut butter everyday…he’s super skinny but the fight just really isn’t worth it to her. Over the week I’m sure he gets all his nutrients met. As an adult i hate it when people make me eat things or give me a hard time for not liking things. Try telling people you loathe strawberries…or any fruit really…can’t even stand the smell or to be next to them. It’s not fun. Good luck parenting sucks somedays…..


    • 14

      Miranda says

      I’m not assuming anything at this point and am merely on a fact-finding mission to look into things it MIGHT be. And then if it’s none of those things, I’ll consider myself a played fool.

      I did modify his food last night after reading your suggestion here. We have recently gotten him to eat lettuce (two or three small bites, only with promise of croutons) and I made sure there was no dressing on his because I knew that would freak him out.

      Parenting does suck somedays.

  7. 16

    Jenn says

    Mmmkay. This just about had me in tears, because I am SO SO SO familiar with it…except that I kind of *knew* there was something else with B and have been pretty lenient. I am so glad I had that mommy-gut feeling, because we all now know she totally has SID and possibly more (July 11th appointment cannot come soon enough). I know with her, she physically cannot stand that texture of most mushy things, especially beans with their deceiving, “hey, I’m kind of firm, but, WHAM, FOOLED YA, mushy.” No amount of bribing is going to make her able to eat those things. I could promise her a trip to Disney World tomorrow if she ate a black bean, and not only is it not going to happen, but she’s going to be very upset with herself that it’s not going to happen. I continue to offer, and yes, we’re going to try OT, but the fact is that it just isn’t happening right now, and I don’t plan on pushing her to the breaking point over it. And there most certainly is a breaking point. I am lucky(ish) in that she really enjoys the texture and taste of firmly steamed vegetables…except that my house kind of smells like feet all the time from cooking too much broccoli and cauliflower. (On a side note, I’m also really happy that her dairy issues are now down to only having to exclude yogurt. Things were pretty impossible there for a while.)
    Now, you know B. You know she has many other sensitivities besides just food issues. EVERY sense of hers is affected in some way. If you’re seeing her behaviors in Joshua, it might be time to seek out an OT evaluation and/or a neurology visit. If not? It’s most likely something he’ll outgrow, and I wouldn’t sweat it.
    Also, I got no judgy looks when I brought this up to my pediatrician. She’s actually suspected it before I admitted it and was sort of waiting for more reports from me before a referral. I love her. Love. We’ve been with her since J was born, and she’s encouraged us in every single aspect of our parenting choices. You’d love her, too ;-).

    • 17

      Miranda says

      First, I love you.

      Second, he’ll eat black beans, but ONLY from Moe’s and ONLY AT Moe’s. It’s the weirdest thing. And he’ll even say “Mmm. I love black beans! I eat black beans!” when I’m fixing them here and then no. No he does not love black beans and he will not eat them. But if I went to Moe’s? He’d eat a whole cup of them.

      I’m not pushing him to the breaking point over this because I don’t want to break my child like he’s a mustang in the wild and I know you understand what I mean. If this is part of who he is because of something bigger than him, then I can accept that and work to help him adapt and cope and live with it. Does that make sense? I mean, no, I don’t want him eating peanut butter every day for the rest of his life. But I don’t want to battle to the point that I crush him just because other people think he’s being difficult.

      Finally, the doctor we saw for his 3 year visit isn’t our normal doctor. I don’t especially love the doctor we saw then for more than a sick child visit and much prefer our NP who has never once looked at me with anything but understanding when I’ve voiced concerns. I think it’s time to schedule an appointment with HER to talk about Joshua instead of going off the opinion of someone who’s seen him maybe three times in his whole life. I just haven’t done it yet.

  8. 18

    Mrs. MidAtlantic says

    Ooh, picky eaters are so tricky!! We’ve had the best luck with our picky eater on the nights we just put her food in front of her, and then ignore it and her. Eventually shell try a bite. Even then, we ignore her eating. She fights back when we fight her!!

    • 19

      Miranda says

      We’ve done that before and it worked, but recently, it’s not working anymore. And he doesn’t fight back in the sense that he’s shouting “NO!” and throwing a tantrum (though sometimes he does run down the hall and slam a bedroom door) but there’s always hysterical crying like the food will devour him instead of the other way around.

  9. 22


    I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with Joshua other than just being a picky eater. You can only do so much with his taste buds, but I think you’ve done a great job of trying a variety of strategies. As a child, I can remember gagging when my mom forced me to eat cooked carrots, and I continue to do the same to this day. But my tastes have also expanded, just like I’m sure they will for Joshua. Another idea to add to your bag of tricks is to suggest a “no thank you bite.” It sounds silly, but I stole the idea from a teacher, who also happens to be freakin’ amazing. I think it helps with battles and making the little ones feel like they have some control in their food choices. We’ve used it with Katelyn and it has worked wonders. We win by getting her to try something new and she wins by having the control to stop after one bite or continue eating. We even discovered that she loves fried shrimp after doing a “no thank you bite.” If she doesn’t like it after one bite, she says “no thank you” and we honor it. Good luck!

    • 23

      Miranda says

      I’m going to try the “no thank you” bite, but I don’t know if he’ll understand the concept because he’s so worked up from the beginning of dinner through to the end. It’s hard to get him to even calm down and talk to us sometimes.

      The thing is, he’s not really fighting us so much as he’s completely freaked out. And I think he can’t always remember that he’s tried something before and liked it unless it’s presented in the exact same way as it was the first time, like the thing with black beans from Moe’s, or the fact that he used to eat spaghetti noodles but now won’t.

      My biggest concern in this isn’t that he won’t eat everything we put in front of him. It’s mostly that the diet he eats is one that I know isn’t incredibly healthy for him.

  10. 24


    I’m glad that others have brought up sensory issues, because it really helped us to put my sons “picky eating” in perspective. For kids with sensory issues around food, no amount of bribing/pleading/etc is going to work. It’s a bigger issue. AND it’s very possible that if yourchildhad reflux/allergies/GI issues (mine does) then they learned at a very young age “when I eat, it hurts. Well screw eating then! That’s not safe or fun!” It takes time, repetition, and some out-of-the-box help from an OT or feeding specialist. If your mommy instinct tells you something’s wrong, look into some info on oral aversion/food chaining/sensory issues. You’re not alone, I promise!

    • 25

      Miranda says

      Yes, the bribing/pleading isn’t working, at least not long term. It might work here and there, but it doesn’t work forever.

      Several people have suggested reflux now, and yes, he did have reflux as a baby, so I’m certainly going to bring that up with his doctor. But not the doctor we saw at his three year check up.

  11. 26


    I feel for you! My (almost) 10 year old is still like that. When I talked to the doctor I received different advice. He said continue introducing other food but DON’T force it on him. He said as long as he was taking his vitamins he would be fine and not to stress. Eventually he would try more things and like them. He is still extremely particular about what he’ll eat. However, he has expanded his horizons ever so slowly. It can be frustrating for both of you. Don’t let it become a battle. Its not wortg your sanity. As long as he’s not eating fries and chicken nuggets all day long, every day he’s fine. He may also have an issue with food texture and how it feels in his mouth. Some textures he may find upsetting. Take notes on what he prefers vs the things he refuses or spits out. If this is the case you’ll have to find a doctor who can help you. You’re pediatrician isn’t the one unfortunately. Good luck and hang in there!

    • 27

      Miranda says

      He might eat fries and chicken nuggets every day if we let him. :/

      I know he prefers anything crunchy. If it’s crunchy, there’s a good chance he’ll eat it and like it.

      This pediatrician isn’t his usual pediatrician. I was in labor and had to reschedule his three year check up and I got the doctor who had the availability. His normal NP who has seen him since birth is very much more open to listening to my concerns.

  12. 28


    Oh, how tough! That’s hard advice about forcing them to eat. I’m kinda of the opinion that eating is more important than starving, so whatever food they will eat is what they should eat. It may not be the healthiest diet, but I think a lot of kids survive on chicken nuggets and pizza. My sister is one of them. She is an adult now, and still will only eat chicken nuggets, pizza, spaghetti, or hot dogs. She’s a healthy functioning adult who just has to take vitamin supplements.
    Another trick might be to try to hide healthy foods in food he would normally eat. Put spinach and blueberries in a food processor and then mix them into the batter for chocolate muffins. They taste like regular muffins but they are getting some nutrients. Or you can try extra portions of tomatoes, green peppers, and onions in spaghetti sauce.
    I hope you find a solution!
    Also, I am SUPER behind in the blogging world (I blame it on the summer heat because oh my god it’s hot) and I just saw your new blog design!! I LOVE it!!!! Also, all these pics of your sweet little ones are precious.

  13. 29


    My kid (3.5) has a lot of sleep issues and we get similar advice – force him to sleep (as *if* you can force a kid to sleep!). Leave him in his room, let him cry, etc. Well, one day I decided I had absolutely reached the end of my limit with his non-napping and general carrying-on about anything sleep-related so I basically tried to force a nap on him.

    It did not go well.

    I tried the same thing the next day. It was even worse than the first day. And by the third day, I had pretty much created a real monster and I realized that my poor child was not only sincerely afraid of falling asleep by himself, but that I’d pretty much just increased his anxiety and sleep issues tenfold. And I felt like COMPLETE CRAP.

    So my advice, for what it’s worth, is to trust your instincts and if they tell you to back off, then back off. Someday he will eat and try new foods and you’ll look back and think, “remember when all he ever ate was peanut butter?” (at least, that’s what I tell myself I’ll be doing when my kid is a teenager and I can’t get him out of bed in the morning, right??).

  14. 30

    Kaleena says

    I can so relate to this. My 3 year old is so picky that it upsets me because I feel like I’m doing something wrong, but we have tried everything and she will just eat off a short list of foods. For dinner she pretty much will eat macaroni (and it has to look like normal macaroni…if the noodles are a different shape or the cheese is white she will not touch it), cheese pizza, plain spaghetti noodles with garlic bread, cheerios, rice & beans (they have to be black beans and white rice like Chipotle makes), peanut butter toast, yogurt, cheese sticks, carrots, apples, grapes, corn, bananas…I can’t really think of anything else she’ll agree to eat. The doctor asked me if she eats a varied diet, and I said no, but didn’t get any good suggestions. We have tried literally everything I can think of, including bed without dinner, which had no effect except that she was hungry and I felt bad. I really don’t know what to do. She will eat some different foods at daycare, but if I make the same thing at home she won’t touch it. She’s healthy and happy, but I worry that she’s not getting the nutrition she needs. So stressful.

  15. 31


    I can’t tell you whether this is “run of the mill” picky eating, though I’ve done a lot of research on the topic (I was a kid who ate anything put in front of him . . . the concept of “not trying” is so foreign to me that I, literally, can’t wrap my brain around it, so I read up).

    What I can tell you is that, for a kid of Joshua’s age, you need to concentrate a lot less on what he eats during a day, and more on what hes eating throughout the week. But, in all of the reading I’ve done, I haven’t ever seen anecdotes of someone quite as stubborn has he’s being (seriously, I pull the “lick the table” thing if I end up with an accidental bite of chocolate, but I’m a grown up, and it’s a fully conscious decision on my part)

  16. 32


    My daughter is very apprehensive about new foods as well. And if I don’t make something she used to love for awhile, she totally forgets and I might as well be offering her brussel sprouts. The thing we have found most useful is taking the battle out of it. We serve at least one thing that we know she likes but she has to have a bite-sized portion of everything else on her plate. She doesn’t get seconds on anything (including milk) until she TRIES everything on the plate. We don’t talk about it. We don’t force it. She has the control over what she eats and if it’s only applesauce, she might be hungry later. But no snacks/sweets if she didn’t eat a good dinner.

    That said, I can’t vouch for the effectiveness of this method yet because she still doesn’t touch much outside of bread and fruit. But I can sleep at night knowing she isn’t starving and I’m still standing my ground. And she ate pesto pasta the other night. I’m gonna count that as progress even though it was one of her favorite foods once upon a time.

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  1. […] Miranda on July 7, 2012 Y’all gave me a lot of food for thought (ha!) when I wrote about Joshua’s picky eating. Your comments, phone calls, texts, and tweets were and are so valuable to me. It’s what I […]

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