This morning when I got out of bed and went into the kitchen, I discovered Charlotte ladling porridge into bowls. She popped two bowls onto a tray, together with two mugs of tea, and then handed everything to me. I hurried back to bed to enjoy breakfast, tucked up under the warm quilt. The porridge was creamy and had sugar sprinkled over the top. It was delicious, and I scraped the bowl clean.

I remember my father telling me about the porridge he used to eat as a child. It was made with water and salt, and I doubt he scraped his spoon around the bowl, trying to capture every last morsel. I doubt he licked his lips with satisfaction when he finally laid down his spoon. But he was expected to eat all that porridge up, regardless of whether he liked the taste or not. Was it my grandfather who insisted uneaten food be served up for the next meal… and the next… until it was eaten? I forget exactly who did that. Someone did.

We all like the taste of porridge (made with plenty of milk and sugar) but there are some foods we disagree about. Andy hates coconut, and I will not touch pears or fennel. Each of the children has one or two pet disliked foods too, but Gemma-Rose has a whole long list of things she will not let past her lips. I won’t say she dislikes the taste of all these things, for many of them she hasn’t even tried.

Charlotte tells me I have spoilt Gemma-Rose. “When we were younger, you made us eat everything, whether we liked it or not,” she points out. “I had to eat pumpkin soup.” She grimaces as she remembers. “I soon learnt pumpkin soup tastes even worse when it’s cold.”

Did I really make my children sit at the table so long their food went cold? I suppose I did. 

I used to say, “Just eat one mouthful. How do you know you don’t like it, if you won’t even try it?” But I could never persuade my children to taste anything they'd decided they didn't like the look of. They’d sit at the table with their mouths firmly clamped closed.

“If you just eat a little, you can have dessert.” I wasn't above bribery. Surely the promise of a treat would persuade them? Just a taste. Surely that wasn’t asking too much? However, not even the thought of chocolate cake or ice cream could open my children's mouths.

But I wouldn’t give up. No, it was a real battle of the wills. Why wouldn’t they eat the food I‘d carefully prepared? Didn't they know how much time I’d spent cooking it for them? It tasted good. I liked it. Why didn’t they?

I must have won a few of the battles. Charlotte now eats pumpkin soup even though she doesn’t really like it. But what a price I must have paid in order to have my own way.

Then one day I’d had enough. Dinner times were too stressful. I decided, as long as it wasn’t inconveniencing the rest of the family, everyone could choose to eat what they wanted. It also occurred to me that I wouldn’t like it if anyone forced me to eat fennel. And so I gave in. Was I too soft?  Or perhaps I became wiser with experience?

Every day we cook a meal that most of us like. Usually it’s only Gemma-Rose who screws up her nose when she sees what’s for dinner.

“Don’t look like that,” I say. “You can have just the rice.” So I ladle out rice into bowls, and add curry to seven. I sprinkle a handful of cheese and a few nuts into the eighth bowl and say, “That one’s Gemma-Rose’s.” She smiles. She doesn’t mind rice and cheese and nuts.

And some days I cook exactly what Gemma-Rose likes to eat for all of us, because everyone deserves to have their favourite meals added to the weekly family menu. 

Sometimes I say, “One day Gemma-Rose will decide to try new foods for herself. She won't always be a fussy eater.” But I’ve been saying this for years. My youngest daughter is eight years old and she still isn’t showing any signs of developing more adventurous tastes. Should I take action? Does everyone think I am spoiling her?

I think of the possible battles ahead if I decide Gemma-Rose has to start eating exactly what the rest of us are having for dinner. I wonder whether forcing a food upon her will only increase her resistance to it. And I think... if no one is being inconvenienced and health is not an issue, doesn’t everyone have the right to make their own food choices... even children?

Andy has made a delicious ragout and a potato casserole for dinner. He is about to serve them up.

"Give Gemma-Rose just the potato casserole," I say. "More ragout for us."

Gemma-Rose is happy. We're happy. Is there really a problem?

That kitten knows exactly what he wants for dinner!

Do you have fussy eaters?

Post a Comment

  1. I don't make my children eat what they don't like, either, Sue. Sometimes, it means making different meals but I think they appreciate it. When Megan was little, she was referred to a paediatrician because she was thin but he couldn't see a problem. He said that if the children are healthy, they're not going to starve themselves so I let them decide themselves when they're full.

    I don't think Gemma-Rose is spoilt. Like you say, we all have different tastes. Megan is still a fussy eater and she's still thin but she's still healthy, too.

    Maybe, if it felt more important, I'd make the effort to discipline our erratic eaters but, for our family, it's not really an issue. I'm interested in how other families deal with this, though - it's an interesting topic.

    God bless, Sue:-)

    1. Vicky,

      I think you are quite right: children will not starve themselves. If they have access to a healthy range of foods, they will eat what they need. Some people might suggest withholding that access though, in order to force a child to eat a particular food. Starving a child into submission? I don't think I like that idea.

      I like how you are willing to accommodate your children's different tastes. I'm not so good at doing that! I try not to cook separate meals for anyone. We really don't have the time or energy to do that. But I do make sure everyone likes at least something of what I am offering for dinner. They can have more of the things they like, and none of the ones they dislike. Adding simple extras such as cheese, works too.

      Yes, we all have different tastes. It's strange how we can't understand why someone doesn't like a particular food when we love it so much!!

      Thank you for your comment.

  2. We've been going through this for years! My son won't eat any kind of sandwich but eat peanut butter and jelly and refuses to try any new foods, stating he "hates them" before they even get near his mouth. I didn't mind so much for a while, because his food choices are healthy (loads of fruits and veggies). The problem was that the refusals started getting in the way of planning excursions. "Are there going to be any pizza places nearby?" "Should we just take our own peanut butter and jelly?" "What if we can't find any fresh produce?"

    I was tired of being held hostage, so yesterday I made the decision to start with dinner. Right now I fix two separate meals - one for my son and one for my husband and I. We're trying a new rule where my son has to take two bites of every new thing on his plate: no spitting it out, no overreacting (who knew boys could be so dramatic??).

    We've tried this in the past, but last night was the first time it worked. My son is 6, and he actually tried white bean chili, then cornbread. He didn't like the chili (actually, I didn't, either ;)), but he ate the entire piece of cornbread. He kept saying how proud of himself he was!

    I think trying to get a kid accustomed to at least trying new foods is okay, as long as you're not militant about it - "eat it or else!" I also think being a good role model in this area helps. When they see you're willing to try something new, they understand that it's not simply a power play to get them to do something they don't want to do.

    Of course, this new plan may go entirely to pieces this next time, but...for now, we're okay ;)

    1. Angela,

      "...refuses to try any new foods, stating he "hates them" before they even get near his mouth." I know all about that! It sounds like you are having more success than I ever did, encouraging your son to take a few bites of each new food. Perhaps he is now ready for new experiences?

      Children can be so stubborn. I really see no way of forcing them to eat, or even taste something, if they've set their minds on not doing so. Girls can be just as dramatic as boys.

      I wonder if we make too big a thing about food. If we kept everything low key, and never made an issue about it, I wonder if problems could be avoided.

      Fresh produce? It sounds like your son has good taste even if it is limited. At least he isn't insisting on fast food and junk.

      I'm interested to hear how you get on encouraging your son to be a more adventurous eater. I'll watch out for any news on your blog!

      It's good to share ideas. Thank you for stopping by!

  3. Hi Sue,
    Michaela is a fussy eater too. Nuts, rice, and cheese are staples here. There are very few meats she likes so I often replace the meat with nuts or cheese. She does eat vegetables so I try to put a lot of them on her dinner plate. It's impossible to get anything past her lips if she thinks it's "yucky". Lol. Can't say I blame her - there are some foods I hate too!

    1. Mary,

      It can get very awkward when we visit friends' homes for dinner. Gemma-Rose usually doesn't eat much of what's on the menu. She doesn't make a fuss though, and I just eat her food and hope no one notices! But... if we came to visit you, Michaela and Gemma-Rose would get on famously. They like the same foods! Nuts, rice, cheese, vegetables.. they are all healthy choices.

      I once tried some black Chinese jelly. It looked okay and I thought it would be sweet. It tasted awful (at least to me) and I couldn't eat more than a mouthful, even to be polite. Yes, I don't blame children for not wanting to eat 'yucky' foods either!

  4. I really like this post, Sue. Thanks for the perspective! We usually start with fussy eaters, but they soon grow out of it. When Monica was little (PreK-3rd), she would not eat a lot of spicy foods which is pretty typical on a Mexican table. She ate a lot of PB&J and I worried, but I shouldn't have. I would get upset and sometimes make her sit at the table until she finished. Her next sister, Maria, was an eating my book! What I noticed, though, is that Monica has since grown out of it. She loves and will eat everything I make. There are some things she prefers over others, but she always walks in the kitchen when I'm cooking and says, "That smells so great!" Now my youngest children are picky eaters....gagging, faces, turned up noses, etc. But I know they will grow out of it. You know, I wonder if some people have an easier time being able to palate spicy (spiced/flavored) and combined foods (i.e. casseroles, etc.). I think some people maybe genetically have a hard time being able to get the enjoyment out of a spice, flavoring, or texture. The other factor is willingness to try new things. I've had many a kid say, "Wow, this is good!" after trying it. My other thought is about what's available to the children. If they know they can graze on "fun" foods after or before dinner, then what's the point in eating the dinner? Thanks for bringing this to our attention.:)

    1. Grace,

      Your story is so encouraging! All my children have grown out of fussy eating too except Gemma-Rose. Maybe there is time yet...

      Perhaps we take our children's eating habits too personally. We sometimes think they are criticising our cooking by not eating, and they don't appreciate the time we spend trying to provide that 'delicious' food. It doesn't feel good when kids make gagging noises over the food we have carefully prepared, does it?

      It is interesting to hear that young children don't necessarily take to spicy foods even when spices are present in most of the everyday cooking of the family. Perhaps we have to be respectful of each other's tastes, including that of children. Things don't necessarily taste the same to everyone.

      I have been thinking about what you said about 'fun' food. Yes, if kids fill up on junk before dinner, they're not going to have much interest in eating the meal. I wonder about desserts though. Some people say, "If you don't eat your dinner, you don't get dessert." Do you think that puts too much emphasise on the sweet course, making it seem more desirable? I don't know. Once dinner is over, that's usually the end of food for the day in our family. Occasionally we share some chocolate while watching a movie, but there's no opportunity to fill up on something else if a child has refused dinner. This makes me think about how some families have an 'open pantry' system where children can browse the shelves or fridge and help themselves to food whenever they like. I wonder what others think about this.

      Grace, this is an interesting discussion! Thank you for sharing.

  5. I'm a fussy eater myself :)
    I do not always dislike the taste of a food, but sometimes it's just the way it feels like in the mouth!
    And I do not like when my food looks at me.

    1. Miu,

      I never thought about how food feels in the mouth. What a great point! Or how about foods that get stuck between teeth or braces, or have a taste that lingers long after they've been swallowed? I beginning to think I'm a fussy eater too. I definitely don't like food that looks at me either!

      It's always so lovely to hear from you, Miu.

      God bless!

  6. I have a picky eater too!! What a pain in the butt! I worry about him not eating enough healthy food and depend on vitamins to fill in what he is lacking. I hope that his taste buds will mature as he does!

    1. Dana,

      We can only hope our children grow into better eaters. I haven't come across many adult picky eaters. At dinner parties most people eat what's on the menu unless they have an allergy. At least my guests are considerate and eat what I cook without complaint! Eating is such a social thing to do, maybe we are more willing to conform as adults so we can eat with others.

  7. I so needed to read this. I decided a few days ago that I'm done fighting with my kids (or one kid, rather) over food. And tonight he actually asked for veggies. He only ate a couple but it's better than nothing. Now to get my head wrapped around a similar mentality when it comes to his refusal to help his brother tidy their toys.

    1. Tessa,

      I'm glad you found my post helpful. Battles are draining, aren't they? When it came to toys, I eventually decided to get down on my hands and knees and help my children tidy up. That worked for us. Our kids didn't mind following my example. I must admit helping was the last thing I felt like doing some days when I was very tired. But it was better than shouting!

      Thank you so much for stopping by!


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