A mother responds to the February 7th PediaBlog post on young children being picky eaters:

My son is 12 and I’m still fighting this battle. Same strategies for a child this old?


There are two types of picky eaters.  One is the “limited eater” and the other is the “picker/grazer.”

The limited eater only eats a few types of food and is stubborn to try new foods.  What they do eat, they eat well.  These kids tend to have normal weights and BMI’s, though they may be at risk for becoming overweight if they gravitate to calorically dense and processed food.  Getting limited eaters to try new foods is frustrating for parents.  Being nagged by parents can be frustrating for kids.  Whether they have an aversion due to taste or smell or texture, or the dinner table has become a battlefield between child and parent, their minds are closed.

The picker/grazer typically will eat a variety of foods, much of it healthy.  They just don’t eat a lot of it.  It probably is in our DNA to eat small amounts of nutritious foods frequently, rather than eating large feasts three meals a day, and this might be the healthier way for humans to eat.  While pickers/grazers are usually normal in weight, they risk being underweight — measured by a low BMI — as they grow.  They don’t show a huge appetite, and very often eating is not on their radar of necessary things to do in a day.

By 12 years old, it is probably apparent to you which camp your child is in.  While we should always encourage a diet that is high in fiber, low in fat, and low in salt and sugar (in other words, real — not processed — food), we have to accept the fact that kids like what they like for many reasons.  Like their parents, many kids view their favorites as a source of comfort.  Even these favorites can be limited — they will eat Kraft elbow mac-n-cheese but will not eat an almost identical (or even tastier) dish at a restaurant.  And fighting with them is futile.

If your older child is growing well and is happy and healthy, there is probably nothing to worry about.  Of course, there is really nothing you can do about it either, except offer healthy foods.  A few pieces of advice:

  • If it’s in the pantry, it’s fair game.  If you don’t want your child eating chips or cookies or candy, then don’t buy it.  If you want him eating fruits and vegetables instead, then have plenty of that in your house.
  • What your child eats outside of your house when you are not there is out of your control.  If you’ve made your way into his mind so that maybe he’ll think twice before eating that Twinkie at a friend’s house, then you’ll have to settle for that.
  • Be the role model he’s looking for.  If you’re not a healthy eater, you can’t expect your kids to be either.
  • Get your kids involved in the kitchen, as well as with food shopping.  Let them bag some apples for you, grab the milk in the dairy case, inspect the eggs before they go in the shopping cart.  A very picky 12 year old can certainly make his own peanut butter and jelly sandwich without assistance from his parents.
  • Remember that he needs to start making his own choices.  Soda or water.  Ice cream or yogurt.  White or whole wheat bread.  He won’t be perfect.  But remember, NOTHING is a good choice too.
  • If you fight, you lose.  That’s true at any age.  And if you are losing these battles, your child will be the ultimate loser when it comes to eating habits and table manners.


For a lot of kids, feeling hungry and eating right just doesn’t register until they’re older.  When it comes to eating, I know a lot of picky kids who don’t eat a lot of variety.  I don’t know a lot of picky adults.  Most of us learn to eat anything!  Something happens as we mature to turn on that switch.  Being patient may be the best advice of all.