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Is Your Child a Picky Eater?

Is Your Child a Picky Eater?

Feeding Our Children, Part 3


In the mornings, I babysit my neighbor’s 10-month-old daughter. She is an active, happy and sweet baby. I love helping out my neighbor, and her baby is a delight.

My neighbor has a unique quality: She dislikes fruit and won’t touch it at all. As a mom, she has had to overcome her dislike of fruit somewhat because she wants her kids to eat it. Most of her kids do enjoy eating fruit, but her baby daughter is not so fond of it.

One morning I grated an apple for Yael* and placed it on her lips. She simply licked her lips and shook her head, unimpressed. The next day I tried to feed her a banana. She spit it out. This didn’t worry me too much because she was eating vegetables and meat and starches, and she was generally happy. I smiled as I thought how much my neighbor’s daughter was just like her mom. She even looks the most like her among the kids.

Dealing with Yael’s dislike of fruit, I found myself motivated to research finicky eaters and, with her mother’s permission, develop an effective method for exposing her to new foods. I learned some helpful things. Children often eat small amounts, behave inconsistently about what they eat, and are fickle about their likes and dislikes. A parent might interpret a child’s behavior as being finicky, but it could be normal eating behavior for a young child. In contrast, a child who eats only from a limited list of foods, insists on the same foods again and again, and gets upset when offered something that is not on the list is considered a finicky eater. 1

How could I prevent Yael from becoming a finicky eater? The first answer I got was not to pressure her into eating fruit. Some children are naturally sensitive to taste, texture and smell. These children often find certain foods upsetting in some way and will sometimes spit them out. When parents and caregivers pressure children to eat, they can make the children turn into finicky eaters. Children always do more and dare more when they feel control over a situation. If they are allowed to be calm and polite, but firm, about their food refusal, they will be able to gradually try new foods and even learn to like them.

After being offered a food 10 or 20 times, a child might start to like the food. This was my second answer. Don’t give up on presenting Yael with all types of fruits in a variety of presentations. Parents and caregivers who provide too few opportunities for children to learn to like new foods can also make children into finicky eaters.

So, for the few weeks after learning these tips, I presented Yael with different types of fruits: watermelon, persimmon, grapes, clementines, etc. Some she liked better than others. I didn’t really care how much she was eating, just that she was enjoying herself and trying new fruits. Then, one day, her mother brought her with an apple in her bag. I was not eager to prepare it for her because of her previous negative reactions to apples.

When her mom called to see how our morning was going, she said, “About the apple, yesterday I cut the apple into slices, and Yael enjoyed munching on them. Maybe she will like it today, too.” I happily peeled and sliced the apple, and Yael noshed away.

This incident reminded me of the mitzvah of bringing the first fruits from one’s crop to the kohen (priest) in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There is a Chassidic teaching that the mitzvah of first fruits represents renewal and new beginnings: “The main obligation of bringing the first fruits alludes to renewal, that a person needs to renew himself each time and to begin again every time.”2 Just as fruit grows anew every year and needs to be brought to the Temple anew every year, a person should always approach life with a renewed sense of purpose, starting again as though with a fresh slate.

I thought that this interpretation of the mitzvah of first fruits was extremely relevant to the approach I needed to take when trying to get Yael to eat fruit: to serve her fruit with enthusiasm and excitement, as if I had never served it to her before.

When exposing your child to new foods, every time is like the first time. A child might need a lot of exposure to different foods to learn to like them. And don’t be afraid or insulted if a child says no a number of times. You might just need to try again.

As parents, we may have to work on our own picky food habits along with our children. Our children will have positive attitudes and behaviors around food only if we do. So let’s not be afraid to serve different types of food and try out different kinds of food preparation. The time and effort we put in now can make an enormous difference for our children later on.

*Not her real name.

Ellyn Satter, Ellyn Satter’s Nutrition and Feeding for Infants and Children: Handout Masters (2002), available from the Ellyn Satter Institute.
Likkutei Halachot (of Reb Natan), Yoreh De’ah, Laws of Meat and Milk, paragraph 4.
Aliza has a bachelor’s degree in Clinical Nutrition from the University of California, Davis, and a master’s degree in Public Health from Ben Gurion University. She recently finished a course in nutrition education and counseling through the Ellyn Satter Institute. She lives in the northern Negev of Israel with her family.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Anonymous February 8, 2016

tried everything one more thing that worked with my son was to make a smoothie out of fruit & vegetables. He loves it and now has two daily.
He used to hate fruit & veg .
You can throw in half a carrot or any kind of vegetable with bananas and berries, almond milk etc. Putting in Pineapple makes any kind of smoothie very tasty. I also put 2 teaspoon of ground flax seed and some lemon juice. Giving them a straw to drink it with makes it more fun as well. Wait for 30 mins before brushing the teeth after having a smoothie though, as citrus apparently affects the enamel on your teeth and you need to wait.
All the best. Reply

Anonymous February 7, 2016

tried everything Thanks for all of the comments back to my earlier post. I really appreciate it. I always try to serve the protein, the grain, the fruit/veggie- quite often my daughter would just eat the fruit and the grain and be done. So I've implemented that it is ok if she is done after those two but she cannot have refills or a snack until she at least tries the other ones. There were tantrums the first two days and thankfully now it has been much better. I also started keeping her plate so when she asks for a snack I tell her after she finishes her plate. I also plan to check out the book. The congestion is thankfully much better, just trying to work on the diet now. Thanks again to all!! Reply

Aliza Neveloff Israel February 1, 2016

Family Meal Times You are definitely on the right track by not pressuring your daughter to eat certain foods. It sounds like your daughter has gotten used to being catered to at meals. I would suggest making meals more attractive to her by serving a variety of foods at meal times. Meals should consist of protein, cereal/grain, and fruit/vegetable. Always include bread at meals. Pair familiar foods with unfamiliar foods. Include fat in food preparation and at the table. Let everyone pick and choose from the food on the table(Ellyn Satter,"Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family" pg. 48). I know these tips sound basic, but they have radically changed our family meals. Everyone is more satisfied after meals and that means less snacking :). Reply

Anonymous February 1, 2016

tried everything? For Anonymous January 31 2016:
I've heard this from someone in the past who had the same problems, and they found replacing milk with plant based milk(Almond milk etc) and eliminating all other dairy like cheese, sour cream, yogurt helped. Obviously care needs to be taken to replace the calcium though(a nutritionist can help with this). The nutritionist will usually ask you to try for a few weeks to see if it makes any difference.
Apparently bananas, nuts and soy needs to be eliminated too, especially oily nuts.
I am not a practitioner so this is only some ideas. Reply

Anonymous January 31, 2016

tried everything ? Up until 12 m my oldest mostly played with them and licked things and sampled foods. However, whatever I put in front of her she would at least lick, play round with, munch on, and enjoy. Then she just started eating and she loved to eat. I didn't give her anything that was not homemade until she was past 18m and I only cooked using veggies, whole grains, and occasionally meat or some type of dairy. She ate mostly vegetarian- Parve. She loved to eat and ate everything. At 2 years she caught RSV and fought a lot of mucus and wanted things mushed up and puffs and cereals. I started serving this with dinner for her while she battled the mucus for almost 2 months. Once better I tried to switch her back to her normal diet but she wasn't interested and I kept hoping it was a stage. We eat really healthy especially in front of her and constantly offer other foods but she insists on her snacks and refuses all else. I don't pressure, just offer and then we change activities.Advice? Reply

Anonymous January 10, 2016

Mrs Neveloff , Thank you for your kind response and for the link.
Your article reminded me the importance of thinking more with my heart , and not just focusing on "problem solving" all the time.
My new and relaxed approach has already helped both of immensely in the past few days.
He for some reason is snoring less , able to sleep through the night only waking once, since I sent my comment here.
Thank you also for your blessing . Reply

Aliza Neveloff Israel January 10, 2016

Children With Special Needs I am not so familiar with autism and finicky eating. I did find the website helpful. There they had posted an article "Seven Ways to Help a Picky Eater with Autism".

It sounds like you have done a lot of research and have learned a lot from your experience. Thank you for sharing. May Hashem give you a lot of strength and patience in raising your son to his full potential. Reply

Anonymous January 7, 2016

picky eater I've also read somewhere , that the typical aversion bitterness and sourness is a normal stage that toddlers and small children go through. It is a self preservation instinct.
My child had none of these instincts, no aversion to bad smells either and turned out to have a severe sensory disorder, no speech and autism.
He is a teenager but is still at this stage. They may also have swallowing and snoring problems due to under developed muscle tone in their throat. Picture cards(choice cards) are helpful but they can all be rejected with the child crying in hunger on some days. As they mature and their development catches up it becomes somewhat easier, and having a few trusted favorite food items in the pantry all of the time as a back up helps. Speech pathologist may also be able to help with swallowing problems, but it mostly depends on mom's patience and knowledge of the child's pattern. Reply

Aliza Neveloff January 4, 2016

Preparing food you don't like. Thanks for your feedback!

Kol ha'kavod that you are preparing for your children a variety of foods, even foods that you do not like. I think that is overcoming your own picky food habits.

May we all have a strength to prepare for our families a variety of healthy food options and enjoy eating meals together! Reply

Anonymous January 3, 2016

Picky mom =/= Picky kids I 100% agree that a no-pressure attitude works wonders! I am a very picky eater and my kids are wonderful about eating nearly everything.

But I don't agree that the mom HAS to change her own eating habits. It is fine for kids to know that people have different food preferences, and in this family that's okay! Our policy is, if you don't like it, you don't have to eat it.

With the result that my children will happily gobble up bowls and bowls of salad and piles of fruit and lots of chicken and vegetables... even if Mommy is declining most of it. Reply

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