The Battle Over Breakfast (and Lunch, and Dinner)


It is not that unusual for a child to be a picky eater. According to a 2015 study by the scientific journal Pediatrics, more than 20 percent of children ages 2 to 6 can be classified as selective (read moderately picky) eaters. Moderately picky I can handle. I have a few of those. If there are one too many green specks, if the texture is even remotely what they define as “slimy” (a more common description would be “juicy”), brief negotiation becomes necessary. However, these negotiations tend to end in at least one bite taken of the dish in question, and oftentimes more than that. No, it is not my selective eaters that have me teetering on the brink of insanity.

breakfastIt is our second born, the girl who falls into that 3 percent of children who are, as Pediatrics labels them, severely selective (read impossibly picky), who has made mealtimes the single most dreaded time of the day. How does one define a severely selective eater? Although not officially recognized, I suspect the following description is adequate:

A severely picky eater has a list of acceptable foods. This list contains no more than 10 nutritious items.

Note the nutritious descriptor. Any food containing massive amounts of sugar tends not to fall in the “I can’t eat that” category. For example, our daughter will eat without complaint

    • raw tomatoes

    • strawberries (unless they have excessive seeds)

    • apple slices (gala or granny smith ONLY, and yes, she can tell the difference)

    • unsweetened applesauce

    • unseasoned, baked chicken (NOT grilled)

    • cooked carrots

    • mashed potatoes (preferably with enough gravy that you can not longer taste the potato)

    • rice with melted cheddar cheese

    • toast (unless it has jelly on it, then it’s no longer a viable option)

If presented with an item not on her list, she will employ one of several strategies.

    • Rearrange the food on her plate, hoping it looks like she has taken a bite or two.

    • Develop a sudden and urgent need to use the restroom and hope we don’t notice when she doesn’t resurface until dinner is over.

    • Sit and stare at her plate in an effort to vaporize the offending food product with the power of her mind.

    • Engage in rowdy, obnoxious behavior and hope she is forcibly excused from the table.

    • Gag, cough, whine, cry – whatever it takes to end the meal and her perceived suffering.

Perhaps the single most frustrating piece of this whole situation is the reality that she was not always this way. Although never what I would call an adventurous eater, there was a time when we did not have to force her to try new things, or battle it out over a nutritious breakfast. Then one day, for some unknown reason, things changed.

Up until a few months ago, we fought the good fight. We begged and bribed our stubborn daughter. Threats were issued and lines were drawn. Until one day, when we finally realized how miserable we all were. It was obvious our daughter wasn’t willing to give an inch. My husband and I were tired of spending our mealtimes in an embattled state. And it was painfully obvious that our other children were sick of being forced to sit through the same argument night after night.

After a bit of research and a lot of reflection, we decided to throw in the towel. No more special meals, no more trading an Oreo cookie for a bite of peas, no more ultimatums. The result? Mealtimes are actually enjoyable in our house. We no longer spend our time fighting to get just one bite in our daughter. And there are days where that one bite never goes in. I know she goes to school hungry on occasion, and there are nights she goes to bed with an empty stomach. That is her choice. We have laid out the consequences of her decision not to eat. She knows that she may be tired through the day if she chooses not to eat, that she may have trouble sleeping if her stomach is looking for a midnight snack. But, ultimately, the decision is hers to make. We do make an effort to have one item at every meal that she enjoys eating, or, at the very least, is willing to tolerate. And we attempt to work in her favorites on a semi-regular basis. The food we provide is not a choice. Whether or not she chooses to eat that food is hers and hers alone.

My husband and I hold onto the hope that this extremely picky behavior is a phase, that one day her list will grow just as quickly as it shrank. But, until that time, the battle is over. And all of us, even our daughter with the growling tummy, is happier for it.

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I am a Cincinnati girl, born and raised. After a brief hiatus to attend the University of South Carolina (go Cocks!), my husband and I moved back home with a 1 year old in tow (she's now 10!). Since then, we have added three more kiddos to our family (ages 6, 4 and 2), and I am lucky enough to hang out with them all day. We love reading, getting crafty, and making huge messes that we will definitely clean up...tomorrow. When I'm not surrounded by children, I dabble in exercise, enjoy reading a good book, and can frequently be found binging on Netflix with my favorite guy. About a year ago, a Pinterest “I can do that!” project painting little superheroes for my son turned into an Etsy shop ( which I manage to run in my “free time”. I may be slightly sleep deprived, but I wouldn't trade a minute of my crazy, busy, wonderful life!


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