The Rockwood Files: Parenting the picky eater

rockwoodfiles2-205x300By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I have what we moms call a “picky eater.” That doesn’t mean the kid won’t eat. He eats plenty of food when it’s served in the form of pizza, chicken nuggets, bologna and cheese sandwiches, yogurt, cereal bars and grilled cheese sandwiches. That’s the extent of his menu. Now and then he’ll eat a serving of green beans, when the stars line up just right and I’m able to cook them the exact same way I did last time with absolutely no variation. But that’s about the only green thing that passes his lips.

Our only saving grace is that he loves most kinds of fruit. If not for that, I’m certain the nutrition police would have already hauled me off to “bad mama” jail.

I’ve tried a whole host of “get him to try new things” tricks. I’ve tried logic. (If you eat those peas, they will make you healthy and strong.) I’ve tried rewards. (If you eat those peas, you’ll get some ice cream for dessert.) I’ve tried threatening. (If you don’t eat those peas, you’re not going outside to play after dinner.) I’ve tried bargaining and pay-offs. (I’ll give you a penny for every pea you eat.) And I’ve tried pitiful, desperate begging. (Please, please eat two bites of peas because it would make me so happy if you do.)

Yet my kid will not eat the peas or any other new thing – not for logic or rewards or play time or money or even his pitiful mother’s happiness. Oh, I can hear what you’re thinking. It’s so loud it’s nearly deafening: “If you’d let that kid get hungry enough, he’d eat peas or anything else you put in front of him.” Right? I know, I know. It makes perfect sense. To that argument I say this: Show me a mama who can let her kid get to that degree of hungry (and cranky), and I’ll show you a mama who is much, much tougher than me and 99 percent of other moms. At the end of the day, before we settle into our nests, we moms have a very strong need to know that we’ve poked food into the mouths of our baby birds. If the baby bird’s beak won’t open for anything other than a grilled cheese sandwich, then so be it.

Since my son is normal for height and weight, I’m certain his menu restrictions aren’t making him waste away. I worry more about the effect his pickiness will have on him socially.

I have this vision of my son as a twenty-something wearing a tuxedo and looking dashing at his wedding reception. In this vision, he is seated beside a banquet table full of chicken nuggets, bologna and cheese sandwiches, pepperoni pizza and yogurt cups, and all the wedding guests are staring at me in silent judgment wondering “Where did his mother go wrong?”

I’ve probably gone wrong at a number of different parenting crossroads, but I, like so many other parents of picky eaters, am doing my best. I’ll keep trying to win this food fight, and maybe one day he’ll begin to outgrow his choosiness. In the meantime, we’ll be one of those all American families preparing our Thanksgiving feast with a side of pepperoni pizza and fruit roll-ups. Bon appetite.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Author Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography Save



  1. Oh my goodness I have a picky eater too. It is exasperating. AND he is brand specific. He will eat honey wheat bread…just a particular brand. Peanut butter, must be Skppy creamy natural. Chicken nuggets–only one or two brands will pass muster. Sandwiches. No way. Anything we eat at dinner, nope. I am with you. Starving upset child in a bad mood is not good. If I keep him at the table he just will sit there. He seriously gags on food that is not palatable to him. What’s a mama to do?

  2. I am a picky eater and the parent of 1 picky eater and 1 normal eater. First, let me say — it has nothing to do with you. Nothing. If he is like me and my son, it’s not just that we don’t want to eat that food, we CAN’T bring ourselves to eat that food. My mother (a nurse!) tried everything. You just really can’t make someone eat. (You may have learned the same thing about sleeping and going to the bathroom when your babies were younger.) Recent research actually shows that some picky eaters have super-sensitive taste buds that just make things taste stronger and worse to us. My son is thin just like his dad, but completely healthy – sick less than most kids I know. I was the teenager who didn’t eat pizza but I survived. And it may encourage you to know that I have broadened my menu somewhat as I’ve gotten older.

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