My kid doesn’t eat like a normal kid.  He used to until he was about 13 months old.  Now he doesn’t.  It isn’t really that simple, but that sums it up.

Frustrated by the fact that he eats only a handful of things, all of which must be prepared a certain way and must look a certain way, Friday night I decided that I’d had enough.  Something needed to be done.

Some children can be bribed, cajoled, bargained with or in some way convinced to try new foods.  Nathan isn’t one of these children.  If you offer him an incentive, he will provide you with a counter offer.  The counter offer usually involves him getting the reward without doing the desired action.  Or he will simply tell you that the reward is of no interest to him, therefore he doesn’t need to do what you want him to do.

This isn’t new.  He’s been honing his negotiating skills since he could talk.  His first word was at 9 months.  He’s 5 1/2 now.  There has been much practice.

One day when he was about two years old we were having a battle of wits over dinner.  I told him he had to take one bite of one of the things on his plate.  “Just eat something,” I said to him.   He pointed to the dining room wall and said, “Da sign on da wall says, ‘Nuffin.  No dinner!’ “

In case you were wondering, we didn’t actually have a sign on our wall that said anything, let alone one that said, “Nothing. No dinner!”

I asked him on Saturday what foods he might consider trying.  Name anything, I told him.  It didn’t matter what it was, I’d cook it or buy it or whatever it took.  He told me there was nothing he’d try because he was never going to try new foods in his life, not ever.

Without anything to go on from him, I bought sliced deli chicken and Kids Wonder Bread.  He likes chicken nuggets and he likes toast so this seemed like a fairly innocuous challenge food.  But knowing my child, I offered up the following reward.  If you take one bite, chew it and swallow it, I will take you to the toy store and buy you one small pack of Mighty Beanz for your collection.  If you eat the whole sandwich, you can have $20 worth of Mighty Beanz.  You can even have some soda to wash it down with.

The offending sandwich.  Can you even see the chicken?
Do you need a magnifying glass?
I should note that the child is rarely allowed soda, though he loves it dearly.  He is his mother’s child, after all.  We have these mini cans left over from a recent BBQ, so I thought a toy and sugar combo would be enough to get him to try one bite of this stupid sandwich.
I presented the sandwich and he immediately covered his mouth and started screaming that it smelled horrible and he was going to puke.  We sat down at his toddler table and he shoved the plate away.  I tried to get him to even touch it and he took off running.
I caught him and brought him back to the table.  He started dramatically gagging.  I offered to hold it for him, to cut off a piece or to even let him sit on my lap.  Seriously, what’s a woman gotta do to get her kid to eat a bite of a sandwich?
“I’m AFRAID!!!”  Over and over and over.  He climbed into my lap.  Now two of us were sitting on this toddler-sized chair.
In my head:  It’s a @*&%ing sandwich!!!  It is one slice of chicken and Wonder Bread for crying out loud.  It’s not even a WHOLE sandwich.
From my mouth:  I know you’re scared, Sweetie.  Just take one bite, grab the soda and wash it down.  No biggie!  Then we go to the toy store!  You’re a big, brave boy.  You can DO this!  
I reached out to pick up the sandwich, naively thinking that if I held it up towards him, he’d be so wrapped up in my perky speech that he’d take a bite and then we could all rejoice that my 5 year old FINALLY ate something that a 2 year old could eat.
He vomited in my lap.
And so, he did not eat the sandwich.  I did get him to eventually agree to lick a piece of the bread, so that earned him hugs and some praise for his bravery.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, my boy is brave because he licked bread.  Sigh.
I don’t know what I was expecting.  I don’t know what I’ll do next.  I do hope I’ll sleep through the night tonight, because I find that 3am is a most excellent time for worrying that he’ll end up with scurvy or rickets or whatever else a kid can contract from not eating properly.  And I will dwell on the fact that it’s all my fault.  3am is also the perfect time for Bad Mommy Guilt.
For now, I’ll consider the small victories.  He DID lick the bread.  That WAS big for him.  And tonight he tried a tater tot, even though he only likes french fries and even though he was hesitant.  He beamed when he ate it and he liked it.  And when I asked if maybe he could try a potato a third way, since now he knows he likes them two ways, he shrugged and said maybe.  It wasn’t a definitive no.  That is a sign of hope.
To many this sounds silly, I’m sure.  Many kids are picky, I know this.  This is worse than that.  This is way beyond picky.  He’s such a smart and wonderful and funny boy.  Why?  Why won’t he just eat?
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65 Responses to “Sandwich.”

  1. oh, i feel your pain! my son is like that too. just recently, he’ll be 6 in july, i have gotten him to eat ham sandwiches {but no butter, he doesn’t LIKE butter}. it is so hard as moms to handle children that eat like this. i think it comes down to fear and control in their little minds. i don’t think they intentionally do it to us, they have just gotten so balled up about the idea they don’t have the skills to let it go, then add in a mama that’s stressed about it… at least for my son it’s disaster city. for now i’m breathing out and hoping as he ages the signs i see of an expanding of choices will continue. hang in there!!

    • I didn’t know anyone ate ham and butter sandwiches. I ate one in Paris many years ago and it was the most delicious sandwich ever but then when I came home everyone thought I was crazy.

      I know that the “making” him try something is stressful. I don’t know why I torture us both with it. I hope your son starts eating better soon too!

  2. Kerstin says:

    I feel for you!
    My son started eating with a spoon when he was 5 months old. Refused the breast and never had a bottle in his life and went straight to eating with a spoon. The only thing the toothless terrorist would eat was zucchini pureed with oats. Is that gross or what?
    He’s almost 11 now and still drives me insane with his eating habits. I usually have to cook a whole different meal for him…

    There is hope, though! He’s old enough that if he gives me too hard a time I just tell him to fix his own dinner 😉

    • I make 2 dinners every night too. 3 if you count the dog :(

      I think when he can get his own stuff (or at least some of it) it will help. Right now he thinks I’m a short order cook.

  3. Oh man, I have one like this and it is so frustrating. Packing school lunches gets to be a nightmare (sorry to give you a glimpse of your future, but…). One kid – sandwich, apples, goldfish, done. Other kid? Miso freaking soup in a thermos with a side of butter on a croissant. No fruits, veggies, proteins, dairy. Licking bread is a victory indeed – because it was thisclose to an actual piece of sandwich meat :)

    • I send him to pre-K every day with the same thing. Cheerios, yogurt, fruit and a fun snack (cheezits or crackers usually). If he doesn’t eat his fruit, there are no treats in the evening. Usually he’ll eat half of it.

      The protein is always what worries me most. I pretend it’s ok he doesn’t eat veggies because he’s pretty good about fruit. But the protein…
      Good luck with yours!

  4. Delilah Love says:

    Could he have sensory issues? My son (who is now 11) was just like this. There were maybe 4 things that we could get him to eat when he was younger. When he was finally diagnosed with sensory issues it was such a relief. He did 2 years of Occupational Therapy and while he still can’t stand the texture of some foods, he can tolerate 90% of what I make him. He used to say the same thing about eating, that he was afraid, which is what makes me ask.

    • I think this could be part of the issue. I talked to his doctor (2 different ones, actually) and they didn’t seem to think so but I didn’t press. Then I want to kick myself for not pressing. I think I’m going to look into it again though.

      I appreciate your input!

  5. saalon says:

    Man, not even bread? Assuming I ever have kids (possibly not a great assumption) and they were this food picky I’d probably break down. I love cooking, dude! Have some awesome food! Any awesome food! Please! (Then crying.)

    I wish I had some advice to give, but unfortunately all I can offer is support and that image of me trying to get a child to eat mushrooms sauteed in marsala and weeping copiously.

    • It’s so hard. My husband and I love food – cooking, eating out, etc. but we’re limited by our son’s food issues. I try to be understanding but some days I just lose my patience.

      Thanks for the support! I wish I could say I’d eat the mushrooms, but I’m kind of picky too and I don’t like mushrooms (especially the fuzzy underside part. haha!)

  6. I think Delilah may be onto something. So sad that he cannot enjoy foods.

  7. carrie says:

    I think Delilah is onto something. I would suggest it might be a sensory issue to. Have you ever had him assessed? My son has sensory issues with sound. He can’t stand the TV or his game or my computer being too loud (he was a preemie). He doesn’t like it when his siblings cry etc. It might be worth a little investigation!

    I do hope you find something he likes though!! Good luck!!

  8. After the eating issue is resolved, which I’m sure it will be, it sounds like your son has a great career ahead as a lawyer with those negotiating skills.

    • Oh my goodness. The kid has an answer for everything. I find myself asking him to just stop talking and he doesn’t. He just keeps going. Explaining and litigating :) Someday it will serve him well. For now, it makes me nuts. (And totally proud, because he is GOOD at it!)

  9. Erica M says:

    Picky eater weighing in here. Mother of picky eater weighing in. And holder of all things OCD weighing in: let him eat the same four foods and please leave him alone. Food aversion is a real thing and Nathan is averse to lots of them, no biggie. Give him a daily Flintstones and let him mature into his own habits. The worst memories I have as a kid and as an adult is someone either forcing something down my throat or teasing me for my eating habits.

    I know you’re worried from a nutrition standpoint, but you’re doing great withholding the soda. My picky eater doesn’t eat well enough to have ice cream, so I don’t buy it. Hang in there and try not to let it upset you so much. I once stayed at the table until 2 am when I got the edict: you can’t go to bed until you eat these whatever it was. I stayed right in my seat until my mother sent me to bed. Let loose of the control, Michelle, and it will go much more smoothly.

    • Jamie says:

      Reading your comment was like letting air out of my hot balloon. I get worked up over this topic so easily and then need a good shake of the shoulders. Thanks to both of you.

    • Shake of the shoulders. Well put, Jamie.

      Erica – when I tell you this comment has been stuck in my head, I’m not kidding. On the one hand, you’re right. So right. I was a picky eater. Why am I torturing him they way some adults tortured me? But then on the other hand, how can I not worry? What if he does get scurvy or rickets (or some other more realistic health issue) and it’s because I didn’t do everything I could? “Let loose of the control.” Not the first time I’ve heard those words, not the first scenario in which it’s been true.

  10. Gia says:

    Oooof! Picky eaters sound very very hard to deal with. The “yes, my boy is brave because he licked bread” line was stellar.

  11. Robbie K says:

    Sounds like he is quite a negotiator! I have 2 very picky eaters and I am chiming in to encourage you to look into sensory issues. My child eats at least 1 food from each food group so I was told just to continue to introduce and encourage new foods. I don’t want to make food a battle ground. I was very sensitive to textures (and still am!) but eventually started eating a large variety of foods.

    • I don’t want it to be a battle ground either. I hate that I do that sometimes. If I’m not worrying about not doing enough, I’m worrying about pushing too hard. I appreciate the suggestion of sensory issues – I will look into it.

      And the negotiating, it’s over everything. It’s exhausting. He’s really quite skilled for a little guy!

  12. Kristin says:

    They don’t need as varied nutrition at that age. And I read once (will try to look up which book it was), that part of it is evolutionary: Once they could roam, they had to be picky because they didn’t have the adults to tell them which foods were “safe.” That’s going way back.

    It’s easy for me to comment on YOUR situation – I have my own screaming fests over here. Keep offering, but don’t force. Keep withholding “treats” – but don’t force. Keep loving and appreciating the weirdness, but don’t force.

    And I think I’ll cut and paste this onto a stickie-note so I can read it tomorrow night and the next night and the next…

    • I know I’ve read similar things about the variety of food not being as necessary. If not for kids, I know I’ve read that for adults. Thank you for reminding me. I’m going to look into that again. He covers most food groups except veggies. Not a single veggie shall be eaten, ever. Protein always worries me.

      I appreciate the comment from someone who goes through it too. I’m surprised how many people’s kids are picky too. I really did think I was more alone on this one.

      I always love the support I get here, so thank you for that :)

  13. Joe says:

    My kids could be a little fussy when they younger, but I figured they weren’t fussy enough to starve themselves to death. Eventually the got hungry and ate what ever we feed them.

    (Kellie’s World)

    • One doctor told me to tell him if he didn’t eat what I made him, don’t get him anything else and he’ll eventually give in. He went about 2 days eating virtually nothing. He is nothing if not stubborn. I do believe he’d starve himself to make a point. I’m glad you didn’t have to go through this though, it’s terribly frustrating!

  14. Vanessa says:

    As soon as I read your post, it made me think of this article –

    I have a cousin who’s made it into adulthood on nothing more than Chicken, Bologna, potatoes and canned ravioli.

    • I will check out this link – thank you!

      I know an adult who eats about 3 things (a pretty close relation) and I’m so afraid Nathan will turn out like that. I keep hoping that kids will influence him and make him want to try new things, but so far no.

      I don’t want him to be the adult who eats weirdly :( or only unhealthy stuff for that matter.

  15. I am an extremely picky eater myself, with a picky eater daughter, and I will tell you that it has gotten better over time…for both of us! 😉 Seriously, though, I am thinking for him it might be a texture issue, and I would just keep offering. And keep rewarding for the small victories. :)

    • I am sure texture is a part of it. I was super picky too and I’m better as I’m older. If I could know for sure he’d turn out fine, I could stop worrying. But I can’t see the future and so I worry. Silly, I know…

  16. I have no suggestions. I was blessed with a child who eats whatever. You wouldn’t know it by looking because he’s skinny, but he does. The only thing that came to mind was maybe hooking him up to a feeding tube? I don’t know, does that seem too drastic? Ask your pediatrician.

    And no, I could not see the chicken. Can I have the sandwich?

    • I’ll make you a sandwich if you like. I could even make you a decent one, you know with like 2 slices of chicken 😉

      I’m so envious of parents of kids who eat well. But I’m sure that while you may not have to fight the food battle, you have your own struggles. Kids will make us worry no matter what, right?

  17. Jamie says:

    My husband talks me off my “why won’t they eat” ledge with a reminder of the things our parents fed us and how fine we are. My ped always said a vitamin and milk will get you far in life. I really don’t like the feeding battle so I’m with you. All the way.

    • My husband is not picky at all, so he doesn’t understand the rationale behind it (or the lack thereof).

      It’s so true about how we ate as kids. I ate pure crap and I turned out OK. Well sort of. I’m sure it wasn’t the food is what I mean! Thanks for that reminder. It’s an excellent point!

  18. the Tsaritsa says:

    Loved reading this :) My little cousin was a very picky eater. He would only eat chicken if it came specifically from Boston Chicken (now Boston Market). My mom lied to him once by giving him some roast chicken that she had cooked herself and telling him it was “Boston Chicken.” It was the only way she could get him to eat when he stayed over.

    • I have lied and told him that I bought Wendy’s nuggets and froze them so we could make them at home, but he told me that I just must not cook them right because they only taste good at Wendy’s. If I could get him to eat real chicken – even rotisserie, I’d be so happy. It’s too stringy he says. Apparently it must be ground up into something that once was chicken and formed into a ball and then deep fried to taste good. Sigh.

      Also, I love Boston Market and now I want to go there :)

  19. Kathy Kramer says:

    It could be a texture issue. His tastes may change as he gets older. I have to second Erica on forcing him to eat. I endured that growing up and it ended up being a power struggle and a poorly chosen battle over something insignificant. Take your victories where you can. As long as he’s eating something, that’s better than not eating at all.

    • Yes, we’ve been through not eating at all phases which were downright scary. Now his quantity has leveled off and he eats, so I don’t worry about his caloric intake. He was falling off the growth chart for a while. I think you and Erica both make great points about the forcing and creating a bigger issue. I appreciate the insight!

  20. Oh no! Good luck. My eldest starting eating anything I put in front of him at age 5. It was the magic number. He barely ate before that. My 4 yo is the same way now. She eats like a bird, but I’m crossing my fingers 5 is the magic number for her, too!

  21. catpoland says:

    It’s good to meet a kindred soul! I am struggling with these same issues with my 3 y/o. She’s also very verbally advanced, so I wonder if that has something to do with it. I hope it gets better from here!

  22. I married a picky eater and swore that I would never do that to another woman. My son would not grow up that way….well, he’s pretty picky too. Just not as bad as his father.

    • I hadn’t even thought of that! Ack – something else to worry about! I’m kidding. I do hope he’s better before he grows up all the way. I read somewhere that pickiness and food aversion issues are 85% hereditary. I’m sure he got it all from me, even though I don’t talk about my pickiness in front of him.

  23. I was this way when I was little. I refused to eat anything other than rice crispies and PBJ sandwiches. Mom hated it and fought me and bribed, everything. The pediatrician said the cereal is fortified and the PBJ has protein, fruit and grain, she won’t die of malnutrition. I started trying new foods on my own when I got older and the pressure was off.

    • That’s good to know. I don’t know what made me start trying new foods (I was bologna sandwiches and Frosted Flakes as a kid!), but I guess when people backed off that helped. I appreciate hearing someone say what turned it around for them. I think these are wise words!

  24. Hopefully he will outgrow it. Although, my sister lived off PBJ and hotdogs until…well, that’s still basically all she eats and she’s a grown woman. But the point is she grew!

  25. Amanda says:

    You poor thing. I’m sure you’ll figure something out.

    You really did write this in such a charming way though.

  26. TriGirl says:

    Putting on my professional hat: I am a feeding therapist (as a speech pathologist that is part of my job). I will tell you what I tell my families I work with– there are 2 things you can control as a human being no matter what: what goes in your mouth and what comes out of it.

    If your son is vomiting when shown certain foods, it really could be a sensory thing for him. Trying to argue/debate/reason/bribe doesn’t work because he will almost always win out. My 2 cents is to ask his pediatrician to refer you for a feeding evaluation (occupational therapists or speech pathologists do them). Also, you could meet with a pediatric dietician; they have great info about what is nutritionally required for your specific child, as well as how to present foods and set up meal times to promote success :)

    Now I’ll put on my personal hat: I used to gag on everything when I was little. I had a grade 2 teacher who never let me go to recess because I never finished my lunch. She also made me eat my sandwich when it fell on the floor and then I threw up. I’m a lot better now, but I still have my quirks.

    • Thanks for the professional advice! He was evaluated (I’m feeling a follow up blog coming on here) and they decided it was more “in his head” than anything else at this point. But the treatment they prescribed wasn’t/isn’t working. And I think that you’re right, trying to get him to do what I want doesn’t work because he can control it. And he’s stubborn as all hell so it’s even harder.

      I don’t want him eating floor sandwiches and missing recess. I’m sorry that happened to you. I’m afraid it will happen to him. I know he can’t help it. He doesn’t want to disappoint or make me worry or anything by not eating but he can’t bring himself to. I don’t want that for him. This is part of what worries me.

    • TriGirl says:

      Feel free to tell me to mind my own business of course, but here’s the thing: your evaluation probably took about an hour. I’m sure it was thorough, but we therapists don’t know your child (and never will) as well as you do. We give you the best judgment we have based on the information we get from you, along with a brief observation (if he was even willing to eat at that time). The truth of the matter is that if the therapist does not hear back from you, she will assume that is because things are going well. If they’re not going well, call the therapist back and let her know. Say you need more strategies because the ones you have are not working. If she is a good therapist, she will have you back :)

    • I really appreciate your comments and your input!! They had him do graduated exposure (the triangle game), if you’re familiar with that. It was downright painful. It was like the sandwich incident, just over and over again. We got stuck every time.

      I should call them again. The whole process is scary and I one minute I feel like if I back off he’ll come to try new things on his own and then the other part of me says that if I don’t do something right now something terrible will happen.

      Thanks for weighing in!

  27. Emily says:

    LOL! I know it wasn’t funny at the time but your story was so funny. I can picture it like a scene from a sitcom. I’m a (former) preschool teacher and I have a 5 year old boy do the gag and vomit non sense once. Because I tried to get him to eat a bite of SPAGHETTI! That’s like a kid not liking french fries! What? Meanwhile he was wearing a shirt that said “Give Peas a Chance.” Peas? but not Spaghetti??

    • It was kind of funny :) Funny in that ridiculous way, you know? My kid cannot tolerate the sight or smell of red sauce at all. I don’t know what it is about that but that is a huge trigger for him!

      Funny about the peas though!

  28. Be strong Momma. 3 AM is the worst time for Mommy Guilt. May you start to sleep right through it. Ellen

  29. Ado says:

    Well, licking the bread counts as *some* nutrients, doesn’t it?
    He sounds like a little charmer – “da sign on da wall says….”
    PS: I’m going to Blogher too! (-:

    • I wish I had a video of “da sign on da wall.” Hands down one of his top 10 funniest moments. I seriously laughed out loud when he did that.

      Please, PLEASE look for me at Blogher! I want to meet you in person!!

  30. Michelle, I hate to admit it, but your son is a gourmand compared to my 2.5 year old. I’m working on a post about the exact same subject.

    Mine is the only kid at every birthday party who wants no part in the obligatory cheese pizza and would rather eat rice cakes. Sigh.

    • I can’t wait to read your post.

      On Sunday we were at a birthday party and he and I sat up against the wall of one of those giant party rooms at a play-place because he didn’t like the smell or sight of the pizza. Pretty much it’s where we always sit at parties. My kid doesn’t eat cheese or bread or sauce, so there’s no way he’ll eat pizza.

      Nathan likes rice cakes. They are dry and bland. His specialty :) Hopefully both our kids will grow out of this!

  31. Lisa Nolan says:

    Sorry for the late reply! All kids under the age of six are labeled picky eaters, almost all. It is because they are in a Sensitive Period for Order, they hate changes in routine, changes in what is put in front of them to eat, I could go on and on! Knowing this, I never made a big deal if my son ate the same thing for breakfast for two years, or the same thing for lunch for three years, and so forth. I just knew he would grow out of it! And guess what he started doing two months ago? (He’s seven but developmentally a five-ish year old.) Eating in the cafeteria at school! OMG! Peer pressure, I’m sure is part of it, but I know he is transitioning into the next stage of development. Now he looks forward to changes, OK, not big ones. Besides, having a kid with Down syndrome, we had bigger fish to fry! No pun intended! (And, after reading many of the comments you got, I whole-heartedly agree with Erica! Let go of the control, it’s a lose, lose battle.)

    • Thanks Lisa! I appreciate everyone’s opinions on this topic because it’s such a tough one! I thought that being around other kids eating different things would make him try new things but so far it hasn’t worked. Maybe this will be the year. Or maybe kindergarten will be different. I hadn’t really thought of trying new foods as a disruption to Order, but from that perspective, wow. He has always been sensitive to routine and order things being as they should be, I really never connected the two. Thank you for pointing that out. I’m going to think on that one – it’s a really interesting connection. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that.

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