Sushi with a young girl in the background

My husband walks out of the kitchen in a huff, “I’m done,” he says running his fingers through his hair, “I don’t know what else to do. You try.”

We cannot get our four-year-old daughter, Leia, to eat.

We’ve tried not giving her any snacks so she’s hungry for mealtime and negotiating bribes of desserts/outings/toys/gold/diamonds at the end of a meal. These tactics seem to work at first, but after the novelty wears off, she flexes her stubborn-muscle and squarely refuses to eat. She then uses that muscle to play a game of tug of war with us where she drags our asses through a mud pit and leaves us with bruised cheeks, low morale, and a fair amount of post-traumatic stress.

A little girl accused of wasting good via a snapchat filter

Leia’s entire diet consists of:

1. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

2. Tyson’s Dinosaur Chicken Nuggets or McNuggets (and heaven forbid you try to feed her any other kind of chicken nugget or chicken in any other form!).
3. Pizza Hut, Little Caesar’s, Papa John’s, or certain local pizzeria pizza.
(Sorry Domino’s, you didn’t make the cut.)
4. Potato bread buns or dinner rolls (usually served with number 5).
5. String cheese. (Only white! And not Polly-O!)
6. Zone Perfect Nutrition Bars Kidz. (They’re packed with vitamins, minerals, and protein and they’re total life savers when she’s being extra difficult).
7. Potato chips (cheese and sour-cream-and-onion flavored only).
8. Fruit snacks.

And occasionally:

9. Grilled cheese.
10. Macaroni and cheese.
11. Watermelon.
12. Cake.
13. Ice cream.

Sometimes my husband and I feel so alone in our struggle to keep our picky eater fed and alive, but we’re not the only ones struggling with this, right?

I read a post once in a moms’ Facebook group where a mom perfectly described Leia’s current diet.

She wrote something along the lines of, “My child survives on rainbows and unicorn farts.”  

I often find myself recalling that Facebook post after exceptionally rough mealtimes and I find some solace in the fact that other parents are currently grappling with their own picky eaters.

And so the spirit of solidarity, I decided to appeal to my social media support network to ask if anyone else has a picky eater; and if so, how do they get their kids to eat?

Little girl in a pink dress eating ice cream


What Do Other Parents Say?


“Yes, all about the negotiation!!! I believe right now mine claim to only like squeeze yogurt, fruit, cheese sticks, and all Halloween candy.” —Meghan 

Don’t Negotiate

“Keep giving her food but don’t stress and don’t negotiate. Dinner is dinner. She doesn’t want it, she doesn’t eat. She’ll get the hang of it eventually. Also, reduce or eliminate snacking before dinner. Make it no big deal at all. The more you react over it the more she uses it. You can also play at having her describe the food. My kids liked that. What color is that? Do you think it’s soft or crunchy? What does it smell like? Etc etc.” —Madeline

“I’m kinda mean either you eat or don’t.” —Nancy

“Eat or go to bed…” —Maria

“Let them be. Why force them to eat? Says the mom of 5 who can’t keep enough food in the house. Either it’s a phase or a control tactic. Either way, best not give it unnecessary attention.” —Angela

Been There Done That

“I had two very picky eaters and they now have two picky eaters each. My advice is to not worry about it too much. It is completely normal at this age. Offer her new foods regularly, but don’t let mealtime become a struggle. If you continue to offer her new foods and she sees your example, eventually she will widen her selection too.” —Linda

Kids Will Be Kids

“My kids are crazy picky too and then some days not at all haha! You’re not alone!”

“Child #1: food interrupted her playtime.

Child #2: playtime interrupted her food-time.

For #1, we chased her around with a plate of food all day, and learned she’d eat when she got hungry. For #2, we had to hide food.
Lesson: Kids are weird and different, and they’ll be fine.

I have three completely different human-shaped creatures. Same household, same values, same parenting… completely different behaviors.
So much beyond our intentions goes into shaping a human brain, it turns out.” —Josh

So that’s how other parents feel about their picky eaters and how they deal with them.


How Have We Been Dealing With Leia’s Picky Eating?

We contacted a behavior feeding therapist to help teach us how to have a less stressful mealtime and effectively integrate new foods into Leia’s diet. Leia has been seeing the therapist three times a week for the last few weeks, and I’m so proud to announce that Leia now eats ham!! (Yay!)

Little girl in a pink polka dot coat sits at a table eating a sandwich



The therapist is teaching Leia how to eat all of the food on her plate, and also teaching us how to feed her reasonable amounts of food while appropriately praising her during and after meals. We then adequately reward her when she successfully finishes a meal. We’re so happy with Leia’s progress and plan on continuing therapy for at least one more month.


Another thing that has helped Leia eat better is a “reward chart.” The way it works is that we take a sheet of paper and list age-appropriate tasks (e.g., make the bed, help with laundry, pick up your toys, etc.), then we make columns for each day of the week. If she completes a task, she gets a sticker on that day for that task. When she fills up her “reward chart,” she can redeem it for a reward of her choosing. (Lately, she likes getting little surprise toys like  “Lost Kitties” and “Orbeez Wow World – Wowzer Surprise Magical Pet,” but the reward can also be a trip to the park or an outing/recreational activity.) It was my husband’s and my idea to implement this and we are so impressed with the results.

The “reward chart” not only motivates her to eat her meals, but it also helps us out because she pitches in with the household chores, so everyone wins!

Girl affixes sticker to a chore chart



Getting a picky kid to eat can feel like losing a game of tug of war, but my hope is that when you finish reading this, you know that you’re not alone in your struggle, and there is help available – if not from a professional, then from a veteran parent who has been there, done that, and come out the other side with some helpful tips and tricks.

Above all, always remember that even though you may feel like you’re getting your ass kicked by your picky eater, you’re kicking ass at parenting.

Young girl smiles with yogurt around her mouth

Much love,

P.S. Thank you so much to the parents who participated in this blog post. Your comments
and advice on social media mean so much to me. <3 Make sure to visit the parents who are
quoted in this post at their social media accounts by clicking on their names. Thanks, lovelies! ;*