My Kid Won’t Eat ANYTHING

April 22, 2010

WARNING:  I am not holding back with this one.  This is a topic I feel strongly about, so I have plenty to say.  If you’re interested, read on.  If I come across as too harsh, move on.

I often have other moms (and dads, and grandparents) tell me their child won’t eat anything but cardboard.  For some kids it’s french fries, for others it’s crackers or pureed pears (even when the kid has a mouthful of teeth).  Regardless of the kid’s food of choice, he might as well be eating cardboard, because, let’s face it- there’s not a whole lot of nutritional value in french fries.

I’ll admit, Hayden is a great eater.  He has not yet mastered the mechanical skills of eating: He can barely use a fork and has only recently improved his techniques with a spoon; he will not eat crunchy foods like apples or raw carrots (even though he had all of his teeth by age 2); he takes his sandwiches apart, which are already cut into bite sized pieces, and approaches them like he’s in an Oreo cookie commercial.  No, he’s a great eater because most of what he does eat is nutritious, and he does so with gusto.  He loves dark green vegetables (brussels sprouts are a fave), happily digs into pasta with meat sauce, and could eat berries until they give him the runs.

Yes, this is in part due to genetics (cuz Mama likes her some brussels sprouts), but heredity isn’t everything.  From Day 1 of solid foods (solid = pureed), I tried to give him what I would eat.  If the ingredients sounded gross or boring to me, I assumed he would feel the same way.  Do I ever feed him junk food?  Absolutely!  But, I try not to lose sight of the food values I am trying to instill in him.  No kid is going to like everything you offer him, but we must keep trying.  Just like introducing a bottle or paci, sleep training, or getting  your kid to ride in the car without screaming, persistence is the key.  Kids do not respond well to wishy-washy parenting. “Oh, I get it, Mom says I have to eat the green ones, but last time she gave me cereal after, instead, so I’ll just wait for the cereal.”

Hayden has turned down MANY foods I offered him (hates green beans), but we have also had many successes with food (likes broccoli).  From my research and my own experiences, there a a few things I know about feeding your kids:

1. If your kid won’t eat, he likely doesn’t need to. Unlike adults, kids stop when they are full.  If your child has a snack at 4 pm and then refuses dinner at 6, he’s probably still full of raisins.  This also goes for milk, of any kind.  If your toddler is on the boob/bottle/sippy all day, even 2-3 times a day, he won’t have much room left for solid food.

But… (you protest).  That’s two hours between feedings, and yesterday he was hungry for dinner at 5!  Yeah, well, every day is different.  Maybe your kid grew during his nap yesterday and was extra hungry.  Maybe he’s plugged up today, and his bowels don’t have room for any more.  Could be anything.

But… (you protest).  He cries when I deny him my boobs- he’s hungry!  He might be hungry.  He also might be irritated with you- those are nice boobs, and he wants ’em!  Rule of thumb: always consult your pediatrician, but if your child is gaining weight normally and is over a year old, milk of any kind should supplement solid foods, not the other way around.

2.  Kids learn by example. We have all learned the hard way, as we watched our child copy something we do (with shame).  The same rule applies to food.  If you never eat your veggies, why should he?  On the flip-side, if you feed your child french fries and frozen nuggets every night, while you sit down to a plateful of leafy greens and sea bass, your child gets a mixed message.  He may think you are a short order cook who will forever prepare a separate meal for him because he doesn’t like real food.  Or, perhaps, he will think that what’s good enough for him isn’t good enough for you (ouch!).

At the very least, he will be denied the opportunity to try something amazingly tasty and oh-so-good for him.  Now that Hayden is old enough to eat just about anything I eat, I try to keep the policy of “kitchen is closed” after meals.  It is hard to do, but please don’t get yourself into the trap of fixing a separate meal for every member of your family.

Along the same line- kids are more likely to eat what you offer if you sit down and eat it with them.  Meal time can be the best family bonding time.  Even if you can only swing it once a day, try to sit down and eat together.

3. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. Our pediatrician (love him, love him, love him) once explained to me: with babies (and young toddlers, too), it’s an all or nothing policy.  Most babies will not understand why you sometimes bring him to bed with you and other times not (he will show his disapproval with his voice!), or why he can have the paci when he is upset, but not all the time.

It is the same with food.  Little kids need consistency- with daily routines, discipline, and an approach to mealtime.  As mentioned earlier, if you sometimes give in and let him eat Snickers for dinner, he will wait for the Snickers.  Consistency will eventually lead to more food in his tummy and less work for you.

Just because he hates it the first time, or the first five times, doesn’t mean he will never like. it.  We all hated our first bite of meatloaf .  Our first taste of broccoli.  Our first glass of wine (need I go on).  Be persistent!  If he refuses it today, try again tomorrow. Try again next month.  Try cooking it a different way.  Try adding some SALT.  Get creative, like sneaking the sweet potatoes into a cake.

The authors of Toddler 411 say to introduce a food ten times before moving on.  Some more final tips:

  • let him eat with his fingers (kids are tactile and may get impatient with utensils)
  • toddlers only need 16 ounces of milk a day (the rest should be water), with most calories coming from solids
  • let your older toddlers help prepare the food or choose what color plate/spoon/bowl he will eat from
  • cut food into bite sized pieces- most 2 year-olds can’t pick up and eat a big hamburger
  • sneak broccoli into an omelette or beef into the mac ‘n cheese
  • establish a few, simple rules, such as milk only with a meal or snack; milk stays in the dining area; first fruit, then cookies*
  • if your child is a grazer or can’t sit still long enough for a meal, make every calorie count
  • use a fun presentation: try serving food in muffin tins or a collection of small, colorful bowls
  • focus on the positives: if your kid won’t eat berries but loves oranges, be glad he eats citrus

*Note:  This is different than, “If you eat your fruit, you can have cookies.”  It’ s all in the wording- try not to bribe with treats.

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37 Responses to My Kid Won’t Eat ANYTHING

  1. pattypunker on April 22, 2010 at 7:50 am

    i took most of the same approach with my daughter when she was young. she’s now a teenager and makes healthier (and more adventurous) eating choices than i do. and please people stop with the force feeding!!!


  2. Lisa on April 22, 2010 at 8:28 am

    I have two very different eaters in my house. My oldest is 10 and spit out just about everything I offered him….for years. He has made a lot of progress over the years and really wants to try new things because he is so bored with his current “menu”, but he still eats a very limited menu. On the other hand, my 7 yr. old will eat just about anything…always has. He will try just about any meal I prepare and has a real love for food (like his mama). My point is that there are children out there (and quite a lot of them) who simply will never try or like anything out of their comfort zone of limited familiar foods. It can be VERY frustrating to try and feed those children but I don’t think their different eating styles can always be attributed to lack of healthy options. I do agree with everything in your blog today, I just don’t think it works all of the time.


  3. thesweet on April 22, 2010 at 8:40 am

    You’re absolutely right- it doesn’t work all of the time (but then again, nothing does, right?). And I never force feed- if he doesn’t want it, he doesn’t want it. Sometimes Hayden will pitch a fit because he wanted something else. I try to acknowledge that, suggest that we have that food next time, and follow through on it (within reason, of course!).


  4. Michelle Griffith on April 22, 2010 at 8:43 am

    John & I both love reading about Hayden eating your healthy meals and you so obviously prepare food for your family with such love. We have learned a lot from you since we have a toddler around the same age-range and is, for the most part, a very healthy’s still all about consistency and I enjoy watching you consistently doing this w/Hayden -it keeps me motivated.


  5. thesweet on April 22, 2010 at 8:58 am

    Thanks, Michelle- that gave me warm fuzzies.


  6. cp on April 23, 2010 at 5:24 am

    i believe kids will eat when they get hungry.
    i believe kids will eat anything when they get hungry enough.
    i believe that eventually, they WILL get hungry enough.





  7. Lisa on April 23, 2010 at 8:11 am

    My son is now 18, and I can tell you from having BTDT that your advice is spot on! Great post.


  8. Joyce Johnson on May 14, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    2 year old grandaughter has refused ALL foods for a year. The child has NEVER had a cookie, candy or ANYTHING for a year…. Just something liquid, milk, broth. If a noodle gets in her mouth she spits it out…Seen Dr. seen nutritionist…Now having biopsy for cancer… EXPLAIN that!!



    Well, I hope it is not cancer. Oftentimes, kids refuse things with textures they are unfamiliar with. Good luck!


  9. Joyce Johnson on May 14, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    She was eating food until a year ago not unfamiliar, she seems to be afraid of swallowing. She liked all kinds of foods. I have tried to look up on internet “child who won’t eat anything” and silly parents will be complaining that their child won’t eat meat or something.. maybe I should type in the child eats nothing, and they will say my child tries nothing new…she does not have any of the cancer symtoms, I read about.. but thanks. frustrating, when no one understands the difference, nothing is nothing… Are there any other stories such as this… Thanks again, we shall see


  10. Tiffanie on June 7, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Have you had her tested for Sensory Processing Issues? Check out My son has SPD and though he doesn’t have the same kind of feeding issues your daughter has, some of the kids have oral sensitivities like you describe. check it out!


  11. Tiffanie on June 7, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Just wanted to say that I agree with most of what you say, but I just want people to realize that many of us with kids who are super picky end up in this situation by accident or even with a lot of resistance on our part. My now 4 year old boy has limited his diet to only a handful of items. I try to ensure that most of these things are wholesome, but I have to give him treats sometimes too. When my son was your son’s age and younger he ate EVERYTHING. I am a great cook who likes to experiment and he was eating gourmet toddler meals with goat cheese and greens… now, we are serving hims peanut butter and honey sandwiches, fruit and cereal…. and super expensive chicken nuggets by Applegate farms.

    How did we get here? A number of things happened. I had my second child, so my life got REALLY insane. So, I turned to more convenient foods. My son has decided out of the blue that he doesn’t like things that I put in front of him. He has eliminated a food just about every month. I will take a break from whatever food he says he dislikes and he will not reintroduce it months later even. I have tried: serving him what we’re eating with a portion of something he likes on the side, serving him something he likes with a portion of what we’re eating on the side, serving him something he likes with what we’re eating in a separate bowl, serving him everything in separate bowls…. and I do this OVER AND OVER. Nothing seems to work. The kid will hold out all day and turn into a mess if I don’t just give him something to eat. And when your kid refuses a meal and then asks for an apple and some cereal and hour later, how can you refuse that? The food isn’t unhealthy, it’s just not what you made for dinner.

    Anyway, I just think it’s a lot more complex a lot of the time than just “stop giving them nuggets” or “keep reintroducing foods”

    It’s incredibly frustrating as now I have a 15 month old who eats only a couple of items and only has 3 teeth! I am indeed a short order cook without an end in sight. The crazy thing is that my 4 year old was an awesome eater at the beginning and then became this way, while my younger one has refused mostly everything I’ve put in front of her from day one!



    Tiffanie- Don’t be so hard on yourself! Your kid eats apples! And PB sandwiches! Like I said earlier, count your successes. It could be a lot worse- a friend of mine recently told me that her son, 18 months old, will eat NOTHING except crackers and breastmilk. Not even bananas. Yikes.


  12. Little Eats | The Sweetest on June 7, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    […] after this week’s sermon post about feeding your kids, I couldn’t just leave you all hanging.  Finding the time to plan and prepare food for your […]

  13. Tiffanie on June 7, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Sorry about the little meltdown. I came by your blog after I googled, “why won’t my kid eat anything” That’s what I do. When I get frustrated with life and can’t figure something out I just start googling everything! Anyway, many of the hits were people saying things like, “just don’t feed them the chicken nuggets” or “let them go hungry” which is not at all what you were saying. You just got my response to the answers google provided! ha!

    I really do like all the ideas you’ve posted… and I’ve tried many of them to no avail!! I’m happy I came across your blog. I’ll be reading more. Thanks!


  14. Susan on July 19, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Some great ideas that I will certainly try. It is beyond frustrating for me because I just cannot and will not force my children to eat something that they don’t want. I need to figure out a way to incorporate the vitamins and minerals they need in their diet and hopefully these ideas will help.


  15. Shari on February 27, 2011 at 7:20 am

    I found all of these post interesting, as I have been in many of these situations with one of my kids at one time or another. I am the mother of 3 and work full time and my youngest is the challenging one now when it comes to meals. I do count the successes of what he will eat, however, it becomes more frustrating to manage meal time when he only wants plain pasta with butter and cheese and an occasional pizza. I have found that he is a breakfast kid. He loves oatmeal and fruit as well as any kind of cereal. I have been trying not to focus on the PB&J (the only thing he will eat for luch) and get really creative with breakfast.

    Letting them choose utensils and bowls is great advice, they have very little control over anything, and when you can transfer control like that and let them feel like they are in charge, they are more open to what will be in the bowl.

    Throw some carrot shavings in muffins and make your own sweet potato fries in advance for the week. Make funny faces on their plate with the food…either they eat or they don’t…They will never starve themselves…At the end of the day, you make the effort and make little steps toward success. Don’t sweat the little stuff, their heads are not going to fall off and roll down the street.

    Have fun with your little ones and don’t be so hard on yourself!


  16. grrrromit on July 10, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    You don’t know what you’re talking about. My daughter would eat ANYTHING when she was 18 mos., and now she’s 23 months she’s stubborn as can be. I don’t bribe with treats, and I myself have very healthy eating habits. Maybe try not to be so self-righteous since you have such limited experience, hmmm?


  17. lamama on August 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    My son only likes to eat a very very small amount (quantity) of food and only consumes a very narrow selection of types of foods. We consistently offer him a wide variety of foods and always trying to create a positive environment, use colorful dishes, not being a short order cook, eat together, have a spread out structured meal schedule (breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner) etc. he will still reject about 95% of what’s offered over and over. He is <1% on the growth charts (on his OWN line below all the other lines and slowly growing on his little curve). We've seen doctors to rule out structural issues with his stomach and other healthy issues for low appetite. I just want to cry. I have a hard time trusting it's okay that he drinks 16oz of pediasure and 1-2 small bites or outright refusing everything at each meal that he is getting adequate nutrition to grow and be healthy. He is 22 months and 18.5 lbs. Is it going to be okay? I don't know what else to try. We are seeing a nutritionist, OT and neurologist based on the recommendation of our pediatrician and seeing if they have any insights…


  18. Carol Woloszyn on September 9, 2012 at 7:29 am

    this article may apply to some kids, but my 15 month old son has a feeding aversion (due to many medical issues) – he will not eat ANYTHING. If I could get him to eat fries and chocolate I would be the happiest mom in the world because then he would at least be eating some kind of food! His specialists have told us to try and get him to eat whatever he wants, just to get some calories into him. Just wanted to post this to say: don’t judge other parents if you see them feeding their kids what you consider unhealthy foods – you never know the background of that child or the overall context of what you are seeing.


  19. Carol Woloszyn on September 9, 2012 at 7:34 am

    trying to reply to “lamama” but the website won’t let me. Great that you are going to OT for feeding therapy. I recently read a book called “just take a bite” written by an Occupational Therapist. Excellent tips and strategies in there, I would recommend reading it to anyone who has a kid with a feeding aversion…


  20. Catherine V on November 16, 2012 at 8:57 am

    I want to give a big hug to lamama! My daughter is 16 months old and is 18 lbs. She’s been at the 5th percentile always, and I worry and worry about her eating. It seems she doesn’t eat anything either and no one seems to understand. I have wondered if there is something wrong with her that is keeping her from eating enough to thrive on. I think most parents don’t really get it. It’s not about your kids not eating “certain” things, it’s about having kids who just won’t eat. period. It’s very scary actually. I hope you find the answers and solutions. I’m at a loss. Carol, I’m going to look up the book you mentioned. Thanks!


  21. Eli on November 17, 2012 at 12:28 am

    wow! u really have lived a simple life to presume you know why kids wont eat. I read your article and was disgusted. You have been gifted with a good eater. and that is all. it is nothing you did as a parent that made him/her that way. We all have a cross to bear with our children. Yours simply hasn’t reared its ugly head yet. good luck to you. and shame on you.


  22. Misty on January 26, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    This wasn’t too harsh! It’s exactly what I needed! I’m still kind of youngish (24) and my son is 3. He won’t eat anything but nuggets. We do give in and make it for him because he cries and screams for hours. But now, I’m only making food for the family, he can pick the bowl or plate and we will all eat together. Very good advice, I just need to Mom-up lol!


    thesweet Reply:

    You go, mom! Just remember- you are in charge because what you are doing is good for him!


  23. Kate on February 9, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    Thank you for this post. I think other parents on here are responding harshly to you (obviously you’re not writing about kids who have medical or developmental problems). My 16 month old has recently been restricting her food variety and intake during a 2-week bout with a cold. I need to calm down, give it more time and patience, and do more work repeatedly introducing foods and making sure I’m not behaviorally reinforcing her refusal with a comfortable alternative. Again, thank you for this post, not harsh at all.


    thesweet Reply:

    Thanks for reassuring me that my message was heard. It’s always hard when our kids are sick. Hang in there and keep offering what you’d like for her to try, and she will come around!


  24. Carol Butler on March 21, 2013 at 7:25 am

    My son is 4 1/2 and won’t eat anything but Ramon and Salami and yogurt..Straw berry short cake rolls, and chips what should I do I see his ribs sticking out!


  25. Tracy Farrelly on April 11, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    My son is 5 1/2 and he’s a terrible eater too. We’ve been able to see his ribs sticking out since he was a toddler. I have taken him to Pedatricians to have him checked out and they always say, as long as he’s eating a little. But 100 calories a day hardly qualifies in my eyes. When he was born, he was 10 lbs at 38 weeks preg. and he was 97 percentile for height. Now he’s the smallest boy in his class. Sorry to say, but his lack of nutrition has affected him. I’ve done everything, from making games out of eating, doing the airplane thing, giving him rewards for finishing.. you name it. I think if I hadn’t spent so much time doing all of that, he would have ended up very sick. So I don’t really agree with your post but of course we all have our own experiences. There are a lot of kids who fall in the middle and then there are the extremes. I think my son is not quite the extreme (he has not been hospitalized) but he has definitely given us worry over the years. I hope he will eventually enjoy eating, but who knows? He doesn’t even like McDonald’s cheeseburgers or fries.. go figure..


  26. Sean Marie on April 20, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    First off, wow, I am shocked at the negative comments from readers on here. “Shame on you,” REALLY? You’re doing nothing but giving sound advice to clueless parent’s such as myself and I don’t feel your opinion is overbearing. Anyway, thank you for this. I have a VERY picky 16 month old daughter who won’t eat anything. You’re so right when you say consistency is key, and to lead by example. Just this week I kept trying to get her to eat a cucumber and she refused time and time again. I kept taking bites and she watched me and seemed really interested. Anyway, long story short, she eventually took bites, chewed it, then spit it out which was an improvement from not trying it at all. Again, thanks for this and I’m sorry there are such bitter haters hatin’ on you!


  27. Rebecca on July 23, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    There’s a gulf between a child who won’t eat certain things or will hold out for certain foods, and a child that won’t eat anything.


  28. Jeanna on September 19, 2013 at 7:46 am

    I have an unusual problem with my cousin’s child. Zachary is 5 and has already been admitted to the hospital, more than a year ago, for not eating ANYTHING. My own child is and always was very average in size, but Zach weighs about the same as my child weighed at age 2- maybe. He also didn’t try to speak until my mother moved in with them, tries more so now that I’m here, but again, his speech development is appropriate for a 1-year-old at BEST. I didn’t believe certain members of our extended family when they said Zach won’t eat ANYTHING. So here’s what I’ve seen so far: peanuts. He will eat peanuts, drink juice, milk and water. He seems to hear and understand very well. He seems bright, he has plenty of energy, sleeps well, but is pail, looks fragile, and I’m not sure why hospital staff has not reported them to authorities. Let me make this clear: I don’t think his parents should be punished or that Zachary should be placed in a different home, but at this point, I think they should force the parents into parenting classes. Why? One example: Zach’s 2 year old sister WILL eat ANYTHING, so they give her huge plates of food but don’t even bother putting a plate on the table for Zachary. It’s like they’ve decided that since he won’t, they shouldn’t try. Or, they put him at the table with food, but then leave him there while they play video games, talk on the phone, watch TV, take naps…etc and they “hope” he will eat while they are otherwise engaged. It’s breaking my heart. Is this “failure to thrive”? Autism? Can anyone relate with this?


  29. Dylan on January 9, 2014 at 9:58 am

    This didn’t help my situation at all. I’ve tried all this and more. My son won’t eat anything besides suckers. That’s it. We’ve tried feeding him for I don’t know how many days now and he still won’t eat ANYTHING. He doesn’t have favorites so I can’t just feed him those because he won’t eat. He will throw a big fit every time we try to feed him. I just don’t know what to do. A baby can’t survive that long without food and it’s freaking me out.



    When you say he will only eat “suckers” what do mean? Lillipops?


  30. Stephanie on January 18, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    I just wanted to leave a few comments. Firstly, I would like to say that you offer some good, practical suggestions for situations in which parents perhaps have made some unintentional feeding/nutritional mistakes. Unfortunately though there are many parents who struggle with feeding issues due to sensory, undiagnosed medical/allergy/food intolerance issues. My daughter went from eating her baby food and being in the 50% for weight to the 3rd % by age three. I make all of her meals, she does not drink milk, there are no cookies or junk food or drinks that are filling her up. She simply most often does not feel hungry or thirsty. We eat mainly organic, nutritious foods, we eat as a family together, and we follow the same eating schedule each day. I cannot express the distress I experience as I watch my child eat less and less over time. At this point she may eat a couple spoonfuls of yogurt, some fruit, and what very little fluids I can coax her to drink.

    As much as I wish that any of the simple suggestions you offer would solve this issue, sadly they do not, and they will not for many parents and children. I realize that we all make mistakes as parents, but there is nothing more hurtful than criticisms from loved ones or other parents who have never experienced situations beyond the “norm” when you are desperately searching for information and a solution to a very distressing problem. As a former teacher and nanny, I have so often heard parents praise those who seemingly have done everything right and those children are well-behaved, eat and sleep well. And then there are those whose parenting skills are criticized for those who have children that have issues. So often, from an outsiders perspective, I have observed those with children who for example had reflux or some other issue that is not conducive to sleep be torn apart by family members, friends, ect, because they “clearly are doing something wrong”. Now, as a parent who has experienced these things first hand, I really would like to offer a few suggestions: if you don’t have anything helpful and supportive to offer, keep it to yourself, and secondly just because something works for your family/children does not mean it will work for everyone.


  31. Stephanie on January 18, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    I just wanted to add to my original post. I did not intend for it to come across as harsh, and I wanted to clarify my last comment, which was not directed to the author. In many cases, I believe that we as parents are much to critical of one another’s parenting. Far too often if we see that someone is struggling with a particular issue, our first thought is to be critical- that it must be because he/she has failed in some area (too strict/not strict enough/inexperienced/etc. Even in the event that there is a simple fix, there are also instances where the solution is a bit more complexed.

    I stumbled upon this site by searching problem eaters, because my daughter’s issues with feeding go far beyond being a picky eater. So needless to say, I was disappointed and felt rather bad after reading this. Even after I read the “harsh” warning, I still read on because I wanted to make sure that I haven’t been overlooking something obvious that myself, her doctor, or therapists have missed. With that said, as I mentioned in my previous post, there is definitely some sound advice given to ensure that children do not develop bad feeding habits/and or how to correct these issues. However, people do need to be aware that sometimes there are other medical/sensory/psychological reasons that interfere with healthy eating habits. If it were as simple as following these guidelines or just modeling good eating habits, my family would surely not be experiencing this.


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