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Picky eaters and the hidden vegetable controversy

I'll start this post with a confession. My three year old still eats baby food. Not just sometimes. Not just for fun. He will literally only eat fruits and vegetables if they are pureed or juiced. Or if they are well hidden. To some extent, I'm thrilled that he eats baby food. A lot of kids his age refuse fruit and vegetables outright in any form and he is getting about 5 or 6 servings of fruits and vegetables each day (2 of which are juice, 3 to 4 of which are puree).

The "I don't eat vegetables" problem

I have a book that I like a lot called Fit Kids. It is written by 3 doctors and published by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. It has great guidelines on fitness and nutrition for kids in general and for each age group . In the preschooler section, there is a question and answer that is quite typical of what I have read in a lot of places:
Q: My four-year old just will not try new foods. I'm at my wits' end. Should I give up?

A: Research shows it may take as many as ten tries before a child accepts a new food. So if your child doesn't seem to like a new food, don't give up. Never force or bribe a child to eat, and don't make a big issue out of it if your child chooses not to eat. By presenting the new food over and over again, you increase the chances your child will try it. Eventually, your child may try the food and might even like it.

 That sounds so idyllic. So easy. Just keep offering. Don't pressure. Your child will come around. It reminds me of the people that say breastfeeding is natural and easy. Every mother can breastfeed and every baby can nurse. Yes, breastfeeding is important. It is the best thing for the baby. But it doesn't mean it is easy for everyone all of the time. Same thing with getting fruits and vegetables into a preschooler.

My son will refuse to sit at the table and refuse to eat anything else on his plate if there is a vegetable on it. Even if it isn't touching the rest of the food. He almost has a nervous breakdown in restaurants if they put a little piece of lettuce on the plate with his meal and it has to be swiftly removed before the meltdown happens. If we do convince him to try something, he is likely to  gag and end up vomiting up the rest of his meal. Not only does he have an issue with what is on his plate, but he also complains about what is on my plate sometimes: "Mommy, can you move your strawberries because I can't eat my bagel when I can smell your strawberries".

I struggle with this issue a lot. I think that a healthy, balanced diet is important. I would like for our family to eat more whole foods and less processed stuff. But at the same time as ensuring healthy nutrition now, I want to instill in my children a healthy relationship to food. And I know that forcing them or bribing them to eat something that they don't want to eat is libel to give them an unhealthy relationship to food and also hurt our relationship and trust at the same time.

My three-part strategy

So what do I do?

First, I give my son baby food. As I said above, at least he's eating the fruits and vegetables. I don't send baby food to preschool with him (I don't need him being made fun of), but I do send fruit puree snacks that you can buy for kids lunches. His aversion to fruits and vegetables seems to be mostly a texture thing (which is why pureeing works), but also partly a taste thing (he doesn't like strong tastes).

Second, I hide vegetables in food that he will eat. This is a practice that has been debated widely among parenting groups and nutrition experts. This great article from the LA Times, Parents seek ways to make kids eat vegetables, does a great job explaining both sides of the story. Basically, parents say that if their kids are refusing to eat vegetables, at least they will be getting the nutrients from them if they are hidden in other foods. Nutritionists say that these children will never learn to appreciate the taste of the vegetables (because they are masked) and will not understand the importance of eating vegetables (because as far as they are concerned, they don't eat them). Some of the recipes and products out there with hidden vegetables have also been criticized for having very low vegetable content along with high fat, high sugar and high sodium content.  

Third, although I don't put them on his plate, I do offer vegetables to him at every meal. Maybe one day he'll agree to try.

Slowly coming out of hiding

To try to address the criticism of nutritionists of the hidden vegetable approach and slowly move towards a situation where we can all eat the same meal, I am trying to progressively bring the vegetables out of hiding. I started by hiding very small amounts and then increased them with time. I started out adding the hidden vegetables as puree and worked up to grating them and then chopping them finely and then adding slightly larger chunks. I used to peel the zucchini so that there wouldn't be any green bits in it, and then worked up to leaving half of the peel on, and then later all of the peel. Sometimes I go too far and he refuses to eat, but sometimes I am happily surprised by his progress.
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Reader Comments (41)

[...] unknown wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptI’ll start this post with a confession. My three year old still eats baby food. Not just sometimes. Not just for fun. He will literally only eat fruits and vegetables if they are pureed or juiced. Or if they are well hidden. To some extent, I’m thrilled that he eats baby food. A lot of kids his age refuse fruit and vegetables outright in any form and he is getting about 5 or 6 servings of fruits and vegetables each day (2 of which are juice, 3 to 4 of which are puree). The “I don’t eat vegetables” problem I have a book that I like a lot called Fit Kids. It is written by 3 doctors and published by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. It has great guidelines on fitness and nutrition for kids in general and for each age group . In the preschooler section, there is a question and […] [...]

If you give kids fruits before vegetables, it's hard to get them interested in vegetables after the sweetness of fruit.
I think it is a big mistake to “hide” fruits and vegetables in kid’s food. It does not develop good food habits for the future. I have presented my approach in my new book.
I think it is possible to never have to say "eat your vegetables again." There is no doubt that the foundation of a healthy diet and weight control is the significant consumption of vegetables and fruit. Unfortunately, many adults do not like these fine foods - so we must make sure kids don’t develop these attitudes. That's why I wrote "The ABC’s of Fruits & Vegetables and Beyond.” I hope parents and teachers interested in getting kids to develop friendly feelings towards fruits and vegetables should take a look at it. Out only a few months and already being bought in quantity for class use. I wrote it for kids of different ages as it is two books in one – children first learn their alphabet through produce poems and then go on to more mature activities. It is coauthored by best-selling food writer David Goldbeck (me) and Jim Henson writer Steve Charney. HealthyHighways.com

July 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Goldbeck

Thanks for your comment David. Given how sweet breastmilk is and since that is the best choice (and hopefully the more prominent one these days), I have trouble with the idea that giving fruit first will create a sweet tooth.

In any case, my son refuses fruits and vegetables equally (unless it is a puree, and then he'll eat either). And my daughter eats both of them equally (loves all fruits and veggies). Both of them had banana as a first food.

July 20, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Dr. Whitney Anderson, pediatrician and cofounder of Full Tank Foods knows of this problem all too well. Eight out of ten kids don’t get enough veggies and that is why she and her husband started Full Tank Foods-www.fulltankfoods.com. Full Tank makes frozen veggie enriched (no secret) favorites like Macaroni & Cheese, Pasta & Red Sauce, Pizza Fondue and Cheesy Mashed Potatoes in a pocket sandwich. Full Tank encourages parents to try the real veggies first, but if a child refuses, these products can solve that problem and provide the nutrition the child needs.

Parents of kids with sensory issues also fight this battle. It can be very difficult to provide the nutrition they need due to an increased sensitivity to taste, smell, texture and even color! Veggies pretty much cover all these senses. Full Tank veggie enriched kid favorites offers a solution for these kiddos as well.

July 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNoelle

[...] 22, 2008 by phdinparenting As a follow-up to my post on Picky Eaters and the Hidden Vegetable Controversy, I thought I would share my home grown recipe for hidden vegetable pasta sauce. The ground beef is [...]

[...] 26, 2008 by phdinparenting Our son who has refused to try any fruit or vegetable (other than baby food) for years, now eats spinach! The kudos for getting him to try goes to Daddy [...]

I am so with you on this one. I "used" to be "it's the parents" and how they are introducing foods all wrong and yada, yada, yada. However, now I'm dealing with a child that refuses to TASTE food.

Child #1 - I breastfed, introduced foods slowly and after 6 months. I made my own baby food and made it more and more "adult-like" as he got older. He has always been a champion eater. Will always try a new food and will even go so far to REVISIT a food he used to not like to see if he still doesn't like it. I was so proud. It was all about how I did it right. Well... I shouldn't have been so sure.

Child #2 - I breastfed, I tried to introduce food at 6 months, nothing.. 7 months, 8 months, 9 months - I made a visit with the pediatrician. My well seasoned doctor said to not push it and to let him decide when he wanted to start eating. As long as he was growing normally, let him be. Fine. At 11 months my son finally would eat bread, then cottage cheese, banana, cheerios, baked crackers and whole grain pancakes.

I tried EVERYTHING to get him to eat other foods - cut into shapes, starvation tactics, incentives, "one bite" rule, putting them on his plate and not expecting him to eat it and so on. He ALWAYS sits with the rest of us at meals, but he will not TRY foods. The foods he's actually tried? He likes. Everything else is deemed inedible.

Just last night DH I tried the one bite rule with a bite of peach (a fruit he would devour last year, but has now forgotten it's "food") and he refused to eat, period. That got us to thinking about what he DOES eat. Everything with the exception of watermelon and sometimes green and red peppers is WHITE or brown food - toast, bread, sticky rice (won't eat brown rice) chocolate nutrition bar, cake, cookies, pancakes (soy with flax), banana (only sometimes), apple (without peel), pizza crust, chinese spring roll, cottage cheese (which he now refuses to eat because he associates it with the flu and vomiting now), french fries, vanilla ice cream (no other flavor or topping), and battered/schnitzel pork or chicken - NOTHING else is allowed near his mouth or near his plate.

It is VERY HARD to be a family who is very much a whole grain, health conscious family to see a kid only eat 'white' foods and I would have been the LAST PERSON IN THE WORLD who would have said it was OK to deceptively hide veggies in brownies or the like, but you know what? SOME nutrition is better than NONE which is what we are facing now. The pediatrician again says to not force it and to just keep offering and says that he will outgrow it with time. Since my son also refuses vitamins (won't eat candy either), the chocolate nutrition bar is his main source of nutrition, fiber and protein and vitamins. The ped says that's OK for now and just keep trying.

So, my next tactic is to make white and brown food with veggies - cookies, brownies, battered, WHATEVER. After he bites it and accepts it, I will tell him what it is so that he begins to associate this flavor with food he sees and knows in other places. I did that with peanut butter the other day and it almost worked... got a bite out of a cracker with peanut butter at least.

If any of you know a great "white food" cookbook of things I might try or can think of veggies besides zucchini that can be made white, let me know!

I also like the idea of increasing the amount of veggies as I go along. The LAST thing I want to do is to make the few things he will now eat, inedible because now I've "ruined it" by trying to sneak things into it! He can't afford to lose more foods!

July 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Hi there,

To respond to Melissa's post - there is the cookbook "http://www.deceptivelydelicious.com/site/" by Jerry Seinfeld's wife, Jessica.

We have tried some of the recipes and they work; I have also made up some of my own veggie concoctions, since I now have a toddler who can get quite upset about certain foods being on his plate; it is very tough, and I will try anything to get him to eat healthy.

As for the people who say that the youngster will never learn to eat veggies for what they are (if they are kept hidden)...I am living proof that this is not true since I did not touch veg much into my late twenties (nevermind being a kid) and now there is not much that I will not eat (or at lest try.)

Keep on working at it. I know that I will.

August 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDarren

Melissa - I have put pureed cauliflower in rice before and that worked quite well!

August 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

This is one of the many sites that I have been to for my very picky toddler. He has just turned three. He will not tough any meat, not even hot dogs or chicken nuggets. I don't offer those because they aren't healthy anyway. He will eat his dairy with no problem and loves bread so we make sure that it is multigrain and whole wheat. He will eat cracker and little juice snacks but they aren't that healthy and he only gets them once in a while. Veggies and pastas, out of the question and he will eat apples and banana when he feels like it. I offer him food of all sorts everyday and his little brother is a wonderful eater and I am worried that this bad behaviour will rub off.
In the morning, he eats pancakes or french toast, maybe cheerios and milk.
His snacks include whole wheat crackers and cheese, usually a raisin and I will offer carrots or frozen peas and such. That is all he will eat until dinner time and I would assume that he would be hungry but not so much. During the day, he has two glasses of milk, water and two or three glasses of 100% Juice and water mixture. There is hardly any juice in it all.
Anyways, dinner, he will simply not eat anything unless I make him a peanut butter sandwich or cereal.
I know that there has to be an answer for me out there somewhere. I have been to a million websites. DOES ANYONE HAVE ANY INFORMATION ON HOW TO HIDE FOODS IN KIDS FOOD? I have tried, but the little monkey is very aware of texture and knows as soon as I add something.
Maybe some tricky secrets.
DO I NOT BREAK AND JUST LET HIM FEEL HUNGRY RATHER THAN GIVING HIM THE ABOVE OPTIONS? He has actually gone a whole day without eating, he called my bluff, he knew that I would eventually give in. His doctor says that he is fine and that he will grow out of it.

December 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterM lamothe

@ M Lamothe

Our approach has been to continue to offer regular fruits and vegetables while still giving him the things he will eat. In my son's case, he will eat pureed fruit and vegetables (baby food texture), so that is what I give him. But I also offer him what we are having at every meal and I do hide vegetables in foods that he will eat.

Pureed vegetables are the easiest thing to hide or things with similar textures to what your child is eating. I put squash in grilled cheese sandwiches. I put pureed carrot or other veggies into spaghetti sauce. Pureed cauliflower can be mixed easily with rice.

I have made wonderful french toast with pumpkin bread or zucchini bread. I often put fruit puree into pancakes (mashed banana works really well, but you can do others too).

There are several books (e.g. The Sneaky Chef) that have recipes for hiding fruits and veggies, but I used them more for ideas and then made up my own recipes that I knew would work for my child.

With time, I have been able to add some textures in here and there. I can make macaroni alfredo with bits of bacon and small chunks of roasted cauliflower. The texture of the pasta, colour of the sauce, and taste of the bacon completely mask the cauliflower.

Each child is different, so you just have to experiment with flavours he likes that can hide other flavours, textures and colours that are similar to what he will eat.

Good luck!

December 29, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I also have a 3 1/2 year old who will not eat fruit or veggies. He gradually started refusing foods at 16 months and this included quitting nursing very suddenly. Since he had a mild dairy allergy, I was rather over worried about his intake of calcium.

The things he refuses now are:
- All vegetables apart from chip-shop chips - even McDonalds can't tempt him now
- All fruit, apart from puree
- All pasta and rice, apart from "instant" ramen style noodles which he devours
- All meat apart from chicken nuggets or other shop bought breaded poultry shapes - my homemade oven baked ones do not go past his lips either
- Any kind of sauce
- Cheese
And a whole host of other things. He will, however, gobble up a bowl of porridge, especially when his nutty father covers it in sprinkles and stirs in a couple of cubes of dark chocolate.

As the other parents have said here, I've tried everything anybody has suggested without success. Forcefeeding, reward charts, eat-one-bit-for-a-bit-of-chocolate, starvation, hiding (even I didn't like the taste of texture of the things I cooked!) have all failed to achieve any real changes. He now considers anything HE will eat as "not food" because his grandmother told him "yes, well, you don't like food do you."

However, I have also given up providing any alternative to the meals I cook apart from bread and butter, which is also the policy now at his preschool, where he will have two slices of bread and butter, three pieces of cake and a large bowl of custard... or two. This policy seems to have started to work, as I've also taken on board the statistics about kids needing to taste foods x number of times to start accepting them. I've spent the last few weeks cajoling him to taste pasta around four times a week. This has moved from hiding his little face in his hands in terror at the sight of it to being able to play with it a bit, kiss it, and now he is able to bite bits of and shove it in his mouth almost carelessly before spitting it back onto his plate. So now, along with his bread and butter, I can also provide a small bowl of whatever pasta I've put in the dinner for the rest of us, and he knows what is expected and does it quite happily and without the retching of previous attempts. I'm hoping that within a couple more weeks of gentle encouragement he may be able to chew and swallow a little macaroni and then I will start adding smears of sauce to it.

The rather shocking outcome of this is that while cutting up cherries for his 20m old brother (a lover of all things dinnery) my son announced loudly "I like cherries" and shoved his hand into the bag and bit into a cherry. He then carried on biting into the cut up cherries and pulling faces while agreeing that they really did taste quite good. None actually went down, but who cares! Progress is progress.

I am very comforted though when I meet dieticians and nutritionists who have picky eaters at their tables. Helps me feel a little bit better about my parenting skills!

But all in all, I think my only advice is that I've never heard of this problem being terminal. Kids who don't eat vegetables grow into relatively healthy adults who may or may not eat vegetables, and it really seems not to be a reflection of the way foods were introduced to them as babies or any other things parents may feel guilty about. In converse, my cousin's children were given a diet almost solely consisting of fries, cola and takeaway curries, kebabs and burgers as toddlers at home, but always devoured huge roast dinners at their grandmother's house and seemed to almost crave the healthy foods.

But it is a huge pain in the butt.

So my current plans are threefold:
1) Continue serving relatively child-friendly meals for my family along with a side of bread and butter and allowing him to eat whatever he wants from that offering
2) Continue with cajoling him to be disgusting with pasta in the hope that he will eventually agree to swallow some
3) Work on some hidden vegetable recipes to get at least some nutritious foods into his growing little body

Anybody who has any healthy cookie or cupcake recipes which they've tried and tested including zucchini or carrot, please let me know!

January 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

I have spent many many sleepless nights over the lack of fruits and veggies that my son is getting. I have learned that I cannot worry when he refuses to eat dinner. I offer him what we eat and he refuses unless it is carb related. I have relied on a couple of cookbooks to help me through this frustrating time. "Deceptively Delicious" is a great easy to follow cookbook and "The sneaky Chef" is another great cookbook, although the prep time is a little longer. I feel so much better that at least my son is getting some veggies and fruits rather than none. I puree berries and put them in his milk every morning with his breakfast. I usually just buy the no sugar added frozed fruits and put them in baggies in the freezer and take them out as I need them.

I have come to the conclusion that taste is a matter of personality. My son has a sweet tooth and prefers foods that are sweeter and carbohydrates. I have had to learn to work with that. He doesn't like different textures so instead of making him eat his spaghetti with noodles I put the sauce on a whole wheat bun and cut it up for him. He gobbles it up. His favorite thing to eat is homeade chicken fingers basted with broccoli, wheat germ and bread crumbs pan fried in olive oil (A favorite of my hubbies too!). He is a healthy two year old and I feel as long as I keep offering him the veggies and fruits in the raw form then one day he will accept them. For now, I hide the veggies and I know soon I will be able to use his sweet tooth against him. For example "you have to eat three more bites of supper before you get a brownie." A brownie with hidden blueberries and spinach, I might add!

February 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKBarkPring

[...] and read stories and likes to talk, talk, talk. She says her favourite food is french fries, but unlike Julian she loves just about any fruit or vegetable you can imagine. She chose purple walls and big flowers [...]

[...] this week, I asked an online friend if she had any thoughts on this topic.  After thinking about what she said, talking with some other friends, and [...]

Totally not saying your son is or anything, but this reminds me of a show I watched last year. A guy was a horrible bad eater, and his wife was trying to get him to eat more veggies and such. Hired all kinds of chefs and nutritional people. The guy took 1 bite of veggie soup and threw up. Smelled onions and threw up. On and on and on. Turns out the guy was Obsessive Compulsive. He couldn't change his food habits until that was cared for. On the show his parents said he had been like that since he was a toddler, they just assumed he was a picky eater. No other actions/thoughts/needs at all. Just a severe reaction to textures and smells.

November 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSummer

I highly recommend Matthew Amster-Burton's book Hungry Monkey. Although he takes a VERY unconventional approach to feeding kids (he's a food critic, foodie, chef, etc.) he writes a couple of really wonderful chapters about picking eating. He doesn't offer glib "solutions" but rather writes charming anecdotes about his and his daughter's pickiness and concludes that it will pass.

I've also read that a toddler's aversion to vegetables and fruits is actually a survival mechanism to avoid ingesting toxic plants.

November 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSandy

We required our kids to taste everything and if they really hated it they didn't have to have anymore. The 21 year old who never voluntary ate anything remotely resembling a vegetable while in our home called from the store a few months ago asking how to cook mushrooms.

January 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercarol at A Second Cup

I think you are doing exactly the right thing - he is still getting the nutrients -you are still offering without pushing, so he still has the option and you are gradually working towards a goal of getting more 'noticeable/textured' veggies in his diet. My daughter was awesome as a baby - kinda picky between 2-6 and now at 8 is back to being more adventurous.

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

My two boys are like chalk and cheese in what they will eat, how they will eat it, when they will it... same with sleeping, clothes, toys, everything really... and yet they have both been given the same home cooked foods, opportunities to try everything, not forced to eat something they don't like, etc etc. In my opinion, they will eat what they want to, when they want to. Our job is make sure they have the opportunity to try a varied, healthy diet. Some will go for it, some won't. You can't force it. I don't think I've heard any stories of children who suffer seriously from malnutrition...

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMotherof2

Interesting topic. Knock on wood, I have three children and have yet to have a problem with them eating veggies. The oldest is seven years old and our youngest is 17 months old.

All were exclusively breastfed until around 6 months old, when vegetables were introduced as their first food. They have always sat at the table with the rest of the family (no highchair). We all pretty much eat the same food - as infants theirs was cut up smaller or in a mesh feeder. We eat at least one vegetable per meal, with the exception of breakfast.

I think our process has made a difference - I know family members that have done the complete opposite and the only way their children will eat veggies is if they are bribed or the vegetables are smothered in condiments. I just believe consistency makes all the difference - just like with discipline.

I totally agree with the criticism that hiding veggies in other foods is counterproductive due to children not being able to appreciate the taste. What happens when the child eats a hot lunch at school ir eats dinner at a friends house. It just seems like setting the children up for failure.

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaura


We did exactly the same thing that you did with both of our kids. The results, one will not touch veggies or fruit unless they are pureed or hidden (I wrote this article when he was 3, he is now 5). The other one, now 3 years old, will eat any fruit or vegetable, but will barely touch meat (not as big of a problem, IMO, because she eats nuts, eggs, etc.).

I think the process is helpful, but not a guarantee.

I agree that hiding veggies is counterproductive in terms of convincing them to eat them, but it is not counterproductive in terms of getting some nutrition into them. Why give him plain spaghetti, when I can give him spaghetti chock full of veggies?

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Your last sentence makes total sense and now I think I understand your POV more. Kudos to you for your hard work!

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

I am mom to four in their 20's now. All breastfed, started foods at about 6 months. Firstborn started out well with various foods, and then became more and more bland in his taste preferences. White foods, maybe one veggie, some fruits but preferred canned variety in juice, no casseroles or mixed together foods, simple bland foods. He is now married and 28, made it through two tours in Iraq (as a reservist) on bread, potatoes, meat (and dessert, of course) - appears healthy, and is actually trying new foods here and there in his twenties. Slow starter, perhaps.
Even as an adult, he has trouble with strong scents - even pleasant ones (had to quickly leave a Yankee Candle Store - too much scent).
I didn't cope with an extreme situation but often wondered why he was so extra sensitive to tastes. Interestingly, he still has real difficulty in swallowing pills, and has a strong gag reflex. As an infant, he would often spit up after breastfeeding and would likely have been treated for reflux now. Still gained fine. Watching a younger sibling learn how to eat baby food, he'd gag when it became messy.
It seems there are many factors that can contribute to 'finicky eating'.

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterValerie

I have 5 kids, 4 birth one step, one of my children has an ASD and one has ADHD. Both of these children are extremely picky eaters. The one with the ASD has severe texture issues and the one with ADHD is a super taster - extremely sensitive to bitter flavours, spice, anything strong tasting.

I don't want to address fruits and veggies but I want to offer that paents closely look at what their kids DO eat and examine if there might be a sensitivity going on. Grains, gluten, and dairy products can all affect everything from mood to digestive issues to what kids will eat. If your child will only eat bread products it may sound insane to say this, but grains might be the thing you should remove from their diet.

When my kids went gluten and casein free it totally changed their willingness to eat fruits and vegetables too - for the good.

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermudmama

I disagree about the veggies before fruit thing too -- breastmilk is very sweet, and most bf babies have no problem transitioning to less-sweet food :) Besides, if that was the problem, what would stop a child from rejecting veggies once introduced to the wonders of fruit? I know from my own experience that my first son loved a number of veggies that he simply will not eat now, and hasn't since he was about 3 years old (and he was started on veggies first as per old school starting solids "rules"). At almost 6 he's starting to eat some of them again, mainly because we just kept offering (and I presume, he gets bored of eating the same stuff over and over.)

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

My daughter (2.5 yrs) happily ate everything I put in front of her last summer, including all varieties of veggies, fruit, beans, dairy, meat, etc. This summer? Well, let me put it this way: so far today she has eaten a handful of blueberries and a few cheerios. She has thrown bananas and crackers on the floor. I agree with Goldberg's idea that you need to foster friendly attitudes towards veggies for kids. My husband and I love vegetables. But my toddler hates pretty much everything right now (including cheese. and often, peanut butter. she won't eat!). So what's a concerned parent to do in the meantime? I can see "hiding" veggies to ensure adequate nutrition while hoping to work on the larger issues. Additionally, it seems like constantly putting veggies out and having the child hate them might not encourage good attitudes towards veggies.

Thanks for the ideas on how to deal with BOTH issues simultaneously.

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLauren

I think you do what you've gotta do and every kid is different. Before introducing solids to our exclusively breastfed son, it was going to be sooooo easy. We would offer a variety of foods several times a day and he would grow accustomed. Well, it turns out, he wouldn't sit in a high chair, didn't want to sit still period, rejected most foods, didn't care if he was hungry or not. Just recently he was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder--which explains a lot! Anyhow, we've worked hard to just be consistent and offer and let him decide. What hasn't made it any easier is that we eat a wide variety of foods and fresh, seasonal fruits and veggies. So just when he does get used to something, we're onto a new season.

But a few things that I think have really helped. We have worked hard to keep mealtimes positive. If he wanted to sit in his highchair, great. If he wanted to sit on our laps, great. If not, great. And it was really hard. With his allergies, we kept him off the main allergy list until 15 months and we have only introduced a few allergenic foods now at 20 months. I hate the idea of a family member having separate food, so I made everybody's food hypoallergenic. Only for him to not eat it a ton of the time :(. Another thing, because he loves to be held and part of things, he has always watched/helped me cook (depending on his age). And he plays in the fridge. So he is always handling fruits and veggies, helping wash them, pulling them out of the fridge and putting them back in. This has given him the opportunity to try things like cilantro several times just because it is so much fun to pull the leaves off. Or take a bite of a tomato or whatever he finds. And we smell things. Since he cooks on my hip, I hand him spices to open and we make a big deal out of smelling them when he gets them open.

A little bit younger, things were so hard. We didn't know or understand when things were too much for him. Developmentally at around 16 months, maybe a little earlier, he got the understanding that if he didn't want something on his plate, he could pick it up and hand it to us. And we learned to show him things, offer him things and put not overwhelming amounts on his plate. We even learned to always keep his favorite food of the moment on the table so that it was always a part of his meal. Instead of keeping him in a rut, it has allowed him to eat something comforting and then move on to something more adventuresome. And he's doing a million times better. This spring, when plums came into season, I would hold him everyday in my arms and eat a plum and offer him some only to get a vehement NO!. It took three weeks for him to decide to take a bite. When peaches came into season, he tried one the first time he saw it. And for some reason he seems to like fruit in its original form. So really, the sweet thing has made little to no difference. When we started him on wheat and soy, I offered him the Toffuti ice cream sandwiches everyday for several weeks. From the time I offered, until the time he took a bite until the time he would eat them, a loooonnnng time passed (he's underweight so I'm trying to fatten him up).

Anyhow, after having dealt with all that, I no longer question moms who hide veggies or fruits. I'm sure for as difficult as it has been with our son, many people have things a million times harder. Raising Your Spirited Child is a great book for those who have kids with sensitive palates.

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

I often think that my children are just like me. Sometimes I don't really want to eat what I'm cooking either, especially when I plan our weekly dinner menu in advance. Tonight is salmon, baked or mashed potatoes and broccoli. But if I'm not in the mood, I know from experience that if I don't eat dinner I'll be hungry later and I'm old enough to really understand the nature of that consequence, even tho I have the option of snacking before bed (which my kids generally don't have).

They have been picky eaters on and off through toddlerhood. Ours are about the same age as yours and my oldest, now 5.5 claims to dislike veggies she used to enjoy while our 3 year old, having been recently diagnosed with gluten sensitivity, now wants only strawberry yogurt, tho she used to be all about fruits and veggies.

I'm so thankful for breastfeeding! Even now- nursing once per day, I'm more relaxed about food intake in our 3 yo. We talk a lot about nutrition- the why's and most importantly (imo) my husband and I do our best to model healthy eating at meals and snack-time. Even if they are exploring their own tastes now, they can see our results.

One last thing- we are careful about what we deem a "treat," trying not to exclusively give sugary snacks pride of place on the "treat" list. Fruit is often considered a treat, especially those that are not available year-round.
I think/hope time and respectful communication works in the end.

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

I gave my son only veggies to begin with because I heard of the veggies before fruit thing. Didn't work. Period. Also, if your child won't eat other than cheerios, aren't hidden veggies better than none at all? I still offer whole foods at all meals. But he won't eat. Period. (Again). And he has lost weight in the past. I have been in contact with drs, nurses, nutritionists, feeding specialists, occupational therapists, the list goes on. Hiding butternut squash into muffins works for him. Of course I would prefer he eat whole foods. He simply won't and would sooner starve.

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElana

My three year old has actually gone 3 days without eating and then because his stomach shrunk so much he started throwing-up water. DON'T let him go hungry, it won't work if he's already proven that he's more stubborn than you. The first thing you need to do if he is aware of texture is buy a better blender. Get a Vitamix. They are super spendy but worth it if you are motivated to try hiding foods. Start off by adding foods that have little flavor and are the same color as the food you are adding it to (zucchini, garbanzo beans, white beans, red beans, use apple or pear sauce instead of oil when you bake). Start with small amounts, like 1 tablespoon, and gradually increase over time. Also, if you can, expand to more flavorfull foods like cauliflower and more colors. Check out thesneakychef.com for some puree recipes you can add to things.

March 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCassie

I have 2yr old. He started baby foods at 6months. I started with just veges. He loved them, then slowly added fruit. Now for the last 4 months he will not touch any vegetable. So I started hiding the veges and buying gerber graduats fruit and vege sippers. I also will put carrot juice in his apple juice. I still offer veges at table but have learned not to force it. My husban has ocd and was a picky eater also. He will still only eat corn and french style greenbeans. I love most veges so I hope my son will eventauly start liking veges again.

November 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBecca

[...] tell you that if you just put healthy food in front of your kids, they are guaranteed to eat it. My experience with a picky eater tells me that is FAR from the [...]

I can see that this topic has been running for a few years now, but feeding children seems to be a problem that is always with us. What puzzles me as a grandparent, is why this problem rarely seemed to arise when I was a child in the 1950's. Although I can recall my brother hating brussells sprouts, we were given our meals, we ate them, we refused nothing and were offered no alternatives. There was no snacking in between meals and we were usually hungry for our meals - even the no choice school dinner!
The advice to parents these days is to offer a wide variety of foods and I wonder if this might be a mistake. Most of the time I see parents offering their child an alternative because they have to 'eat something', and it doesn't seem to take the child long to know that there is always something else. I honestly don't have an answer to the problems posed here, but it does seem as though some children refuse certain foods because they can.

September 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSheila

Thank you so much for writing this! It's the first honest piece of writing that doesn't make me feel worse or even more guilty about the fact that my toddlers hate most fruit and vegetables. I constantly try ways of getting them to eat more and it's so hard and makes me worry constantly that I'm doing something wrong, especially when my efforts fail. So, thank you.
Also, loved the breast feeding analogy- so, so true.

September 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

you can make spinach donuts, muffin with carrots, zucchini, let me know what he like to eat and i can help y, i have twins, girls , and i have the same problems with them.

October 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergabi

Why do people keep making up rules about this stuff?

I say well done you for keeping offering veg despite the meltdowns. Keep it up, at least he's aware what they look like. Maybe one day he'll suddenly go for it. Maybe he'll come round a few years after he's left home... or never, but at least you tried!

I have an idea for if he never accepts veg. When he's older, teach him to make the hidden-veg dishes for himself. That way he'll be able to maintain a healthy diet that he enjoys when he's living on his own.

My little one has come round to a lot of veg after repeatedly offering it, but I still use "hidden veg" on the whole family! I use pureed veg to make curry sauces; I use veg to bulk up meals like shepherd's pie and lasagne so we can eat more without getting too fat; and I use veg-based cake recipes (carrot cake, pumpkin cake, even a brownie recipe with butternut squash in it) as they are lighter and easier to eat, and have a nice moist texture. I also genuinely find ways round my dislikes. I don't really like peas, but I like pea soup. So I make pea soup. Why not? Peas are good for me. And why not do the same for a kid?

The thing is, our culture's eating patterns mean too little fibre and vitamins and more calories than we need. I don't see anything wrong with finding smart ways to shoehorn a bit of the good stuff into our diets, leaving less room for the bad. Our family is healthier for it.

November 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterheartlandroad

One thing I would add is that we have refused to give alternatives to things she doesn't like and even told her "that's all there is and you'll be hungry if you don't eat it".

It's hard - really hard - but we felt it had to be done. Sometimes she still refuses, but that's her decision. At the end of the day, nobody can make her eat, so she needs to learn to take responsibility and take the consequences of choosing to go hungry. The earlier the better.

This is not just about her health. It's about me, too. Cooking one meal is enough work, I'm not prepared to make several, so I'm not going to let that expectation develop. I know parental guilt comes in here, but your job is to feed your family, not provide an a-la-carte menu. There is nothing wrong with drawing a line, and respecting your own needs and limitations allows your children to grow up respecting theirs.

November 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterheartlandroad

It sounds like your kid has sensory issues. I see you wrote this in 2008, where is he at now with this? Just curious as some kids can grow out of some sensory issues, others don't and others get an autism diagnosis. We need to be aware that incredible pickiness is often sensorily related, it isn't fussy kids, or bad parenting, it is literally hell for these kids to be around the strong smells, or tastes or textures of foods. Sensory occupational therapy often works wonders!

December 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLinda


He is still very selective, but is making progress. I can have chunks of vegetables in sauces now without that being an issue at all. Although he doesn't love it, he is now able to eat some raw vegetables without gagging (e.g. carrots, cauliflower, peppers). The progress is slow, but by working together we are able to find a common ground where he is getting sufficient nutrients without forcing him to do something that is "literally hell" for him.

December 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

That's great! Yay for progress. Dd you do any sensory OT with him?

December 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

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