Getting A Picky Eater to Eat


For years we have struggled to get Zadey to eat. I suppose it started at birth, when her entire NICU stay was about getting her to suck, swallow, and breath while eating. But what we have been dealing with the last few years, went well beyond her birth or NICU stay.

In an effort to just get her to eat, we have given in to the kid food. We’ve cooked two different dinners, or have gone to two different places to get food, all in an effort to keep her eating.

And, up until a few months ago, Zadey’s diet consisted of just a handful of things… all kid food, all bad food, nothing healthy.

To get vitamins and important nutrients in her, we’ve substituted chocolate milk in the mornings with Carnation instant breakfast. We’ve added a PediSure during the day. And, after my Lap-Band surgery, I’ve had her try every protein drink I’ve had.

Nothing worked.

This last year, as I watch Zadey grow, I have grown very concerned about her health. There are moments when I look at her that I begin to see a little girl that had kind of taken on the appearance of someone who’s anorexic. Since 3 years old she’s been sitting at 43 lbs. She’ll gain a pound, but goes right back down to 43 lbs.

Getting Advice From Parents

As I’m sure you know, there are no shortage of people willing to give parenting advice. And while I’m typically not someone to listen to the advice of other parents (i.e. I know my kids better than you, thank you very much), this has never been one of those cases. When it comes to getting Zadey to eat, I’ll listen to anything and everything.

Get this kid healthy! Get this kid eating good foods! Help, any kind of help.

Probably the biggest piece of advice comes from other Moms who tell me “don’t offer the other foods, give her what you make. She’ll eat it or she’ll starve and she won’t allow herself to starve long.”


A week. She went a week not eating the foods I was giving her and therefore not eating at all.


It killed me to watch. I begged her to eat, I pleaded with her to just try it, I tried to bribe her to eat it. Nothing. She would not give in and I ended up in a battle of the wills.

That went on long enough, and she went back to eating the same things… over and over again.

Talking to Zadey About Food


My Lap-Band surgery did a lot to help me get the conversation started with Zadey about healthy foods. I wanted her to learn that food is about fueling our bodies, giving it what it needs to be at its best, etc. I kept the conversation to things she would understand. But, ultimately, it didn’t help in getting her to eat things that would actually be good for her.

She did start to ask things like “will you help me choose a healthy snack?” And I think that’s the moment where I smiled that my kid finally ate some raisins. Seriously, I wanted to throw a party over raisins.

Slowly I was able to introduce just a few other things, like dried mango from Costco. Though she liked bananas, I got her to eat more of them. I could get her to eat oranges if I stripped off all the white from the outside.

And though there were still struggles, I managed to add just a bit of variety. I began to thinking that something was better than nothing.

I did everything I could to get her interested in the food I cooked, thinking that if she helped me prepare it, she may be more interested in eating it.

This worked for meatloaf only. Just meatloaf and I’m convinced it only worked for meatloaf because of the sweetened ketchup I put on top of it.

Breaking the Cycle

Before we moved from California to Indiana, I talked to Melissa a lot about getting Zadey to eat.


Because we are temporarily staying with her and her husband, I wanted her to know about the struggles that I have with Zadey eating. And, because Melissa was also a picky eater as a kid, wanted her insight to what I should do. If I could just get a thought from the inside, maybe I’d better understand what Zadey is thinking… because she’s not telling me!

She had a few ideas, I was anxiously looking forward to tour move to get another hand at getting Zadey to eat. And prior to arriving, I gave Melissa permission to say and do anything to get Zadey to eat. I thought she could relate to her on a more personal level; and we also had the idea that because Melissa is someone new, Zadey might be willing to listen.

So, once we arrived here, we let Zadey continue to eat as she normally would. And Melissa got a good idea of what I constantly deal with. We tried to give her new foods, and with the fight that would inevitably ensue, Melissa might be able to get a stand point.

I’ll never forget the look on Melissa’s face one night as she was telling me, after dinner, “I’ve never seen anything like this. She really digs her heels in.”

So we made the switch for Zadey, and I had a long talk with her about why she will eat the food she is given. Why she has to at least try it, and why I know that if she just tries it, she’ll be surprised at what she likes. Slowly, it began to work.

Our daytime eating was going okay. I quickly pulled things like Fruity Pebbles from Zadey’s morning breakfast and replaced it with Cheerios. That worked. But it also got her to choose eggs for breakfast more often, too.

For lunch she discovered that she likes ham and not everything has to be about turkey deli slices. Another win.

And dinner, though it was slow going at first, we got her to eat.

Night after night Melissa has made dinner for all of us and Zadey is eating. And none of it has been part of her usual array of foods.

One night, in particular, Melissa and I just knew that Zadey would not go for that night’s dinner. We knew she’d fight over it, and I knew I wasn’t going to dig in.

After all, how do you get a picky child to eat salmon patties?

Just a bite or two in Zadey said “I like this chicken.” And Melissa and I just looked at each other shocked.

Then almost instantly I could see the same thought run across our minds… do we let her think it is chicken? But Zadey asked first and as if she was reading my thoughts Melissa said “Yes, baby, it’s Chicken of the Sea.” And just like that, Zadey was done asking questions and eating her salmon patty.

What do I do next?

I’m not sure what made Zadey finally flip and start eating. I’m not sure what changed her mind. What I am sure of is that I cannot let her slip back in to her old cycle of eating. And I’m confident that now that I know she’ll at least try it, she’s not going to go without eating good healthy food.

Constantly though I think about the fact that Melissa has been a major factor in Zadey’s change, and we won’t be living with them forever. In fact, I think we’re now closer to the end of our stay than the beginning. So, more and more, it’s on me to get better meals on the table, especially at dinner.

And that’s where my challenge begins.

I’m not great at creating in the kitchen. I stick to the usual, and more and more I desperately want to eat the foods that are best for my Lap-Band diet, which simply won’t be enough for Zadey. I may still end up cooking two dinners, but they’ll be spin off of each others so that one is appropriate for me, and one is appropriate for the rest of the family. But I know, there’s no turning back now.

After years though, my picky eater is becoming less and less picky. And the better news, in the 5 weeks we’ve been here, Zadey had gained 3 lbs. It’s not much, but she’s gaining healthy weight; and eating the right foods to do it!

Do you have a picky eater?

We have not reached the finish line here. And again, I can’t break the good that has been done here. Do you deal with a picky eater, and how do you handle it? What, if any, advice can you offer? Do you have kid friendly recipes that are good for the whole family, and create a variety of offerings?

Advice is still welcome.

1 Comment

  1. says

    I could cry reading this post! This is my son at 4. If he could go without eating at all, he would. I do a lot of sneaking fruit and veggie purees into stuff. I put pureed carrots in his mac and cheese. I put a lot into his milk – kefir, dried milk, extra vitamins. We have been top dieticians, developmental pediatricians… the works! Last year, only grew an inch. Just an inch! Although this summer he has grown two inches just since June…
    Doesn’t it SUCK? It is so frustrating. And all the annoying advice out there! One small comment from my MIL and he can be thrown out of whack for an entire day. Argh!

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