The Picky Eater Conundrum


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Mom between her two kids sitting in a bench

I’d like to think that I am doing a good job most days with these two little gorgeous creatures of mine, that they are growing up happy, healthy and very well loved.

But sometimes, with the exception of a few close friends who are in tune with my mealtime pain, I feel like I am alone in the parenting world when it comes to dealing with picky eaters. Article after article I read – and again just tonight another new one from a fairly popular food blogger- has me shaking my head and raising my eyebrows.

And wondering if I am crazy. Which I am, of course, but this time I mean about this certain subject.

For those of you who know me and read my blog – bless you for that- you’ll know that I am basically a short order chef at mealtime. My son is almost a complete vegetarian, my daughter hates anything spicy and my husband, bless his soul, finally has learned to be adventuresome and eat what I cook.

And I guess I am completely doing it wrong.

Tips and tricks such as “Don’t punish them for not eating. By not catering to them and not making what they like, you’ve punished them enough” are thrown out to parents who are eager for a solution to the three course meal they have to serve every night to make sure everyone eats.

Or “If they don’t eat it, make sure not to let them eat after supper. Once it’s done, it’s done. They won’t starve, you know.”

And I really liked the advice that tells parents to always serve bread to fill them up. Are you serious? Bread? Instead of something they like? BREAD???

Wheeze gasp pant.

I’ve settled down. A little. There’s still some heavy breathing going on over here while I try to master my anger.

What gets in my craw is that parents really and truly do take some of this advice to heart. Advice that I think is completely the wrong advice. There, I said it. I disagree with most of the picky eater advice out there.

So here’s my theory.

All this craptastic advice is written by skinny bloggers.

Yah. I said it. I WENT THERE.

I do not understand how any person who has a weight issue, or battled their weight, has to work hard to control their weight or has any food problems whether serious or slight can write the tripe out there. Any person who has to really think about their eating habits knows that just the mere three things I have used as examples above are things in our own paths that we are desperately trying not to repeat with our own children.

I read those and warning bells go off in my head with full flashing red lights and sirens. I fight in the weight battle. I am not a skinny food blogger. I see the warning signs loud and clear.

Let’s get one thing straight: Most of that advice is going to send our children straight down the food control issue path.


No, really, I am over the feed them bread. Really. I am going to let it go. Letting. It. Go.

But filling up on empty carbs is exactly the wrong thing to do. We should not teach our children to turn to a piece of bread when there’s nothing else to eat.

But by now you are thinking, Magpie, you surely like to beak but you haven’t given me a single solution.

So here’s the advice from a non-skinny blogger who does have to watch what she eats, all the time.

1. Take up drinking wine at mealtime. Works wonders for your nerves.

2. Respect your child’s eating habits. If I wrote about how I didn’t respect my son’s dislike of almost all meat products and tried to make him eat meat all the time I would surely have PETA all up in my grill about it. But truly, who am I to tell him that he has to like it? He gamely tries meat when asked and he hates it. That said, the child needs protein. Which leads me to my next tip.

3. Find healthy, quick pre-packaged foods for those nights when you are making supper that only you and the husband eat. It IS ok. I came to grips with the fact that I cannot possibly whip up Dal Makhani (lentils and spinach) whenever my son needs protein. I have a stockpile of a wonderful line of preservative free vacuum sealed lentils and beans. He will also eat plain chickpeas, so be it. I have a stockpile of those too.

4. Natural peanut butter is an amazing protein. Nut allergies? Pumpkin/sunflower seed butter is so dang good. Embrace alternative foods.

5. Accept the fact that if someone walked up to you when your stomach was growling and told you -in a house full of food-  that you had to eat what was on the table or go hungry, you’d punch them. Hard. Then you’d go and get what you liked to eat.  Ok, maybe that’s just my rage issues. But why is it different for children? We have to nourish their likes and tell them it’s OK when they don’t like food. Don’t make issues out of it. Please for the love of all that’s holy, do not make issues out of them not liking food. It’s damaging to their self-esteem and makes them view food in a bad way.

6. Realize that they will not eat this way forever. They won’t. My cousin Karlee lived on PB sandwiches for her entire childhood –no, really she did,  Karlee you better comment and back me up here!- and now she eats everything from sushi to squash. I never heard my aunt and uncle get on her case for it, she was just known in our family for her PB sandwiches and we all just catered to it. No biggie. We like to think she grew up just fine.

7. Take a really close look at YOUR eating habits. Ouch. Sorry about that. But you know what? Not one single article I have ever read has suggested this. We aren’t perfect. Maybe the food we eat isn’t always the tastiest for kids. Maybe their teeth can’t chew it well. Is it too spicy? Salty? Greasy? Look closely at what you serve for dinner and think from the viewpoint of your child. Perhaps, like my son keeps insisting,  beef IS just darn gross to chew. Or a certain child’s taste buds cannot handle too much flavor, I swear my daughter is like this.  Some foods are just too much for her palate, just like some are for mine. This is not me telling people they are bad cooks, it’s me telling you that you have 20/30/40 years of developing your palate while your children have less than a decade.

8. Learn how to serve everything plain with sauces on the side. This has saved my sanity.

9. Meals do not have to be the image that we are inundated with by marketing every day. You are not a bad mother if your child likes natural peanut butter on whole grain toast with a side of fruit for dinner. That’s proteins, grains and a serving of fruits. Tell me what’s wrong with that? Who says you have to roast a chicken? Make pancakes! Bacon! Throw convention out the window. We don’t have to be the perfect mom serving a full roast beef meal wearing an apron and a smile. And that sounded dirty so just stop right there.

10. Last but most importantly, reassess your views on meals.  Let go of what we have been told all our lives and embrace new lines of thinking such as:

–  nobody, not even adults, should feel that they have to eat everything on their plates

– we do not need three squares a day, grazing 5-6 times has been shown to be far healthier. Embrace the small meals that our children naturally seem to want.

– snacking on healthy foods is great

– a small snack before supper is ok. Why must we sit and gorge ourselves all at once? Warning bells again!!

And lastly, don’t let anyone tell you that you are a pushover for catering to your child’s eating habits. You are respecting their choices, fostering a healthy relationship with food and making sure they develop healthy eating habits. Just because it’s the same foods over and over doesn’t mean a fiddle.

Whew. That felt good. This post has been brewing for years upon years I think. It’s a topic that I have only talked about with my close friends and in great detail. We all have picky eaters and funny enough, we all mostly follow the rules above.

But there in that sentence I would also like to challenge that term. “Picky Eater”. I don’t think most kids are picky eaters – excepting those  children like my cousin of course- but they are just slower in developing more adventuresome palates.  Would we rush children to read books when they aren’t ready and refuse them storytime if they won’t read? Make them ride a bike when we know they don’t have the balance yet?

So relax. Drink that wine which is my suggestion #1. You are not alone. We’re all out there. You can now know there are people who think like you do and not just me. I know a lot of women who are raising their kids the same way.

Everyone has differing opinions, yet to be honest I think a lot of people are scared to voice the one that reflects mine. I just blatantly disagreed with about 95% of the internet when it comes to picky eaters. And I can, because this is my little piece of the internet and boy it’s nice to have my own soapbox. This post was a mixture of advice, tips and ranting so if anyone is interested in more survival tips, email me and let me know. I have quite a few!

I actually could go on for pages and pages when it comes to this topic. This is me cutting myself off.

I am sure there are so many people who will disagree with everything I say. And that’s ok. We all do what we think is right for our kids. No one certainly has to follow my advice.

And remember, if there’s one thing that’s certain, I haven’t learned half of what I would like to know and usually don’t know most of what I talk about.


The Mother of Two Little Developing Palates Magpie

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Karlynn Johnston

I’m a busy mom of two, wife & cookbook author who loves creating fast, fresh meals for my little family on the Canadian prairies. Karlynn Facts: I'm allergic to broccoli. I've never met a cocktail that I didn't like. I would rather burn down my house than clean it. Most of all, I love helping YOU get dinner ready because there's nothing more important than connecting with our loved ones around the dinner table!

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  1. Granny Heather says

    Parents may not realise that children’s taste buds may be far more sensitive than their own.   My sister’s main complaint about food was that it was “tasty” and it was – it tasted far too strong.  Now she’s a gourmet cook.   

  2. allantaylor says

    This is the kind of info that I’m sure will come in handy for my wife and I in the coming years. Thank you!

  3. Krista Canfield says

    I don’t generally make separate meals, but I do try to incorporate an item that each person likes. My daughters won’t eat potatoes (weird, I know ) in any form, so I make sure that when they are part of a meal, the veg portion is something they will eat. I offer them everything and they choose what they want to eat. Someday they will surprise me and eat it.

  4. The Kitchen Magpie says

    I’m on the fence with soy, too many conflicting studies for me. We stick with almond milk/coconut milk, used to be rice milk until the whole arsenic thing….I just tend to avoid it…I have friends who looove snacking on edamame so I hear all sorts of great things!

  5. Tara Zieminek says

    Have you tried feeding them edamame? It’s bland, high in protein, and easy to make. If you buy the frozen packs from Costco, you just microwave the bag to steam it, then throw on a dash of kosher salt. (Plus, it’s fun to eat!)

  6. Brenda says

    Hi Karlynn,

    My kids are grown up now, but over the years I found the pickiness varied from year to year. Although at times I felt like pulling my hair out, I tried to be flexible and focus on heath and balance.  The reality is that my own tastes are till developing, so why should I expect anything different from my offspring. As adults, both kids are adventuresome eaters and excellent cooks, and my daughter is even a food blogger here in Edmonton. She recently wrote a post about her changed opinion on tomatoes that might make you smile.

    I enjoy your blog.


  7. Twyla Motkaluk says

    I figure that now that I have that valedictorian thing in writing; it proves that I am the greatest mom who ever lived! lol

  8. The Kitchen Magpie says

    I am SO USING THAT in my presentation! Seriously.

  9. Twyla Motkaluk says

    I agree. let it go. I made 3 different meals for 18 years and produced a valedictorian. it’s worth the hassle for such a short time that childhood lasts. 🙂

  10. The Kitchen Magpie says

    Ha Lori Skelding it’s because I’m so opinionated and bossy, yes? I’d tell you to move back to here but why leave the land that hosts every poisonous creature known to man? (but MUCH nicer weather than here. And oceans. Sigh.)

  11. Frank Furter says

    This is why I soooo want to be friends with you!!!!! Same same!

  12. The Kitchen Magpie says

    It’s one of my favorite things that I’ve written, thank you!

  13. Nicole says

    Hi there!  Excellent post and excellent advice.  I am a pediatric Occupational Therapist (and mom of 3!) and deal with picky eating all the time.  I’m happy to say I never advise families to do the things you mention as unhelpful advice (and it is!).  I DO suggest that there is always something the child accepts on the table (so to speak!) and to NEVER EVER EVER force a child to “take a bite” of anything – that our role as parents is to provide the foods and their role as free-will-individuals is to choose what to actually put in their mouths!  Food is neutral – it doesn’t have feelings so don’t make it an emotional power control struggle.  It’s just not worth it!  I only “get serious” about intervening when my kiddos narrow and narrow and narrow and narrow what they will accept to the point that it compromises nutrition and well-being – but this is extreme.  I’m talking, lettuce/lemon/licorice for an insulin dependent diabetic!!  The other experts I know chillax as long as the child will accept 1 or 2 foods from a food group.  So there mothers-in-law every where!! 


    Thanks again, I will be referring parents and peers to this post!


    @ner74 on pinterest

    • ursi says


       Ouch!  I am a mother-in-law!   

      I was given bread and carbs as a child to fill up for the lack of fruit and veggies in the meal, (too expensive).  I now watch my granddaughter (18 months) who will obligingly put bread in her mouth only to spit it out a few seconds later.  However, she lives on avocados, yogurt, blueberries, chicken, hamburger….you get the picture. Her mom is a fabulous, almost gourmet, cook of low carb meals using herbs and spices. My GD feeds herself and is allowed to have an opinion about anything she eats. She is a healthy baby.  As a MIL I have nothing but praise and admiration for the way my DIL is dealing with eating and mealtimes. 

  14. Pita says

    I have 2 teenagers. When they were younger, the boy was a very picky eater. I was a short order cook for a long time. When I had gotten exasperated from it, we had tried some of the advice from so called experts (which is where the bloggers got this advice) and all it did was make everyone miserable. Trying to force the boy to eat ground beef in any form would make him sick. I gave up on trying to make him eat things he didn’t like pretty quickly.
    The best advice I can give a parent that feels like a short order cook, is to find things your child does like to eat and serve them as sides to the meals you are eating. If we had meatloaf, I made sure we had corn as a side to go with his yogurt or sandwich. It makes for odd combos for what the kids eat, but they usually don’t care. As they get older, they can help make their own portion of the family meal.

  15. K.D. says

    Thanks for your replies! It’s interesting that we all seem to crave carbs. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who said, “All my kid wants to eat is meat. I can’t get her to eat bread or pasta!”
    We really have to push the protein, but we’re lucky that J will eat some. For us, diced baked chicken breasts, breaded fish, diced barbecued steak (far less common since I quit my job), peanut butter, cheese strings, cheese omelettes, French toast, milk, Safeway’s Primo Taglio roast beef (“roasted beef” as J calls it), and, yes, Chicken McNuggets, do the trick. That and, “four more bites.”

  16. Angelina says

    KD- just to be sure you know- I don’t think you were being extreme about the bread or anything. Nor do I think Karlynn was – I think we’re all on the same page, actually. I have just had to make peace with the fact that most of the food my kid will eat is carbs. But I do understand what you’re saying. In our house we have to discuss the importance of protein too because my kid hates most sources of it. The funny thing is that he actually does care about his health and he wants to eat well but he simply can’t tolerate most foods – so when I tell him how important it is that he have some protein in his diet he tries hard to find things he can eat. Right now it’s mostly peanut butter but for a long time he was eating protein bars (ones with no more sugar in them than a glass of milk) I think this discussion is great and I also love hearing from people who were picky eaters when they were kids who are now much more adventuresome!

  17. Jess says

    Can I be another person who proved you can go from a picky eating kid who eats about 10, 15 things (most of which where white and next to none of them vegetables) to a girl who loves all kinds of spices, sauces, vegetables and cuisines? My mom tried a number of different things but what ultimately worked was me coming around to trying new things on my own terms (in college, without my parents around to push me).

    • Karlynn says

      Of course you can Jess! It helps us parents realize that kids will grow up to eat all sorts of amazing food, gives us a little sense of relief that maybe we aren’t screwing them up too badly 😉

  18. Karlynn says

    KD, my son asks if there is protein in it as well, because he doesn’t like meat we’ve had no choice but to educate him about protein, the foods that contain it and how much he has to eat to be healthy. It IS a minefield, I never thought when I had kids I would have to teach my 7 year old about protein so hardcore. But I would rather he’s aware of making healthy choices and what his body needs than not. The bread issue just bothered me the most because it was in the context of “Make supper and if they don’t like it, they can eat bread” which I think teaches ALL the wrong things about eating. Better to let them eat what they like than only have bread on the table for them.

    We’re all just trying our best with what we’ve got, most days and trying to keep sane. I just happen to disagree with most of what’s written out there on the subject. Who knows, maybe my kids will end up totally screwed up lol!

  19. K.D. says

    Hey Karlynn, I just re-read my comment and Angelina’s response, and realized that I sounded a tiny wee bit extreme on the old bread. My comment was motivated by my own “carb addiction”. My objection was to the idea of forcing one’s child to eat bread rather than, as Karlynn said, what they want to eat. I did not mean to suggest that children should not eat bread. Indeed, my skinny little guy loves carbs, and yes, of course, I feed them to him. He also knows that “protein” is important, and I totally worry that I have already done him a great dis-service when I hear him ask, at three years of age, “Does ___ have protein in it?” I hate to even admit that. Kids and food and issues — it’s a minefield.

  20. Kendyl says

    I wish someone had taught my grandparents this years ago. They raised me, and forced whatever they’re eating down my throat too. To this day I get queasy at the thought of brussels sprouts, liver, or cauliflower, because if I didn’t eat it, I got hit with the fly swatter (many a meal it sat there, taunting me). I have an adventuresome palate now, and am willing to try anything once, but it took me a long time to get there. I also have issues with eating leftovers, I refuse to eat them, which causes disagreements with my boyfriend and I. Too many meals made up of leftovers mixed together will do that to a person. Sometimes even trying to do the “right” thing for your kids can have disastrous results, and I’m proof of that. Let kids eat what they want, when they want (as long as it’s reasonably healthy). Primal instinct is to eat when we’re hungry, sleep when we’re tired – not eat three meals a day at specific times.

  21. Angelina says

    I share your rage but have had a little bit of a different and more extreme experience and would absolutely call my kid a picky eater. My kid is more like your cousin. He eats almost no produce. I get enraged when people suggest that if you put good food in front of your kids they will eat it. I do, he doesn’t. I get upset when people say that all you have to do is make them eat a thing 12 times and they will like it. This is practically torture to a kid like mine and I refuse to engage in such behavior. I get mad when people say that if you expose your kid to fresh fruit and vegetables from your own garden they’ll love them. Wrong. I agree with most of your suggestions. My kid mostly eats carbs (crackers, bread) so I can’t share outrage over feeding my kid bread but our pediatricians over the years have all warned against making a big issue out of food because it can create eating disorders and unhealthy relationships with food and with us. They said to always have healthy food on offer but if our kid wants to eat nothing but crackers and continues to be healthy at checkups, to just let him be. As it turns out, our kid was diagnosed with OCD and this has had a lot of influence over the foods he’ll eat. Incidentally- I was raised as a vegetarian and hate the texture of all meat but I didn’t raise my child this way. He’s been free to try and eat any meat he wants but, like your son, he thinks the texture of meat is gross.

    Anyway- I appreciate this post and you speaking up against common wisdom because even if your philosophy on picky eating isn’t quite the same as mine- it’s important to discuss this out loud because there is a lot of harmful and wrong advice out there from people who have no idea what it’s like to actually raise a kid who will only eat peanut butter and crackers.

  22. Karlynn says

    I am so glad you liked it KD. I just felt it was time that someone said hey, you know what? We are NOT coddling our kids. It’s fostering healthier eating habits than forcing them to eat what they hate or not feeding them/letting them eat outside suppertime because they won’t eat what our adult palates like! Respecting our children as a person has to cover their food choices as well. With proper guidence and care of course 🙂

    We’ve totally washed off chicken. My daughter doesn’t like ANY flavoring. She eats the inside, I eat the outside. It’s a good match.

  23. K.D. says

    Wow. That is totally refreshing! The advice that you quoted was just plain scary. Bread?!?!?!?!!!! (Maybe with a side of crack?!? Okay I’m exaggerating but I completely see your point.) And I agree with your advice. I do a lot of the same now, sometimes with some guilt or apprehension that I’m “coddling” my son, so it’s nice to be supported so enthusiastically! I have also taken to covertly washing cooked meat before dicing it up for my three year old — it was that or give up cooking with herbs since he won’t eat “dirty” food. Fortunately he loves lemon. I love tip no. 1 and will try it more often.

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