Last Updated on March 21, 2018

There’s nothing like sitting down to a warm family dinner that you’ve carefully prepared, gazing at God’s blessings around your table, to hear those precious words from your child regarding the steaming plate before him: “I don’t want any of that!”

Now, I have tried many ways to rephrase this in my children’s mouths, before I hopefully stop it altogether: “That’s not really my thing.” “No, thank you.” But even when it comes out a little sweeter, I face some realities.

• My children won’t need to completely clean their plates every night because I want them to understand when their bodies are hungry––or not.

• However, it would not be acceptable at a guest’s home to turn up their noses at someone’s labor, nor is it acceptable at mine.

• There are literally millions of children around the world who will eat nothing for dinner on any given night, and my remarkably blessed children have a balanced, varied meal before them.

• I am teaching them principles about life––for example: Show gratitude and courtesy in whatever circumstance.

• Many things that look repulsive to them will be things they actually like.

• Sometimes we need to get over ourselves to show love to another.

• We can grow to like things.

• We need to think about things other than our own appetites.

I will not be a short-order chef for my three children. Children who will only eat three dishes will not control my family’s menu. Trust me, my kids are not starving.

Communicating these realities to my preschoolers and toddler, somehow, is much more challenging. They don’t really seem to care about the kids in Africa that much yet, and they care about my time in the kitchen just about the same.

So we’ve resorted to the plastic wrap technique: “If you don’t eat it now, you’ll eat this before you have something before the next meal.” We also include, “You need to try as many bites as you are old and remain at the table for the meal. And you will need to be nice about it.”

I still have to brace myself for meals, and though I want to expand their palates a little, my kids don’t need to try Liver Pâté with Sautéed Jalapeños and Cod just yet. (I know what you’re thinking, You’re kids’ manners are not the problem, Janel. And no, that is not a real dish!) But hopefully our rules will have some effect on dinner.

I welcome any of your tried-and-true picky eater solutions!

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  1. We also did the plastic wrap approach for all seven of our children. Most of them relented before the next meal. Sure, some of more strong willed pickier eaters managed to make it three meals (without fainting, I must add), but eventually gave in and ate up.
    I have to mention, that if we were serving something that was likely to be unpopular, or if we knew one of the children particularly detested a particular food, we served smaller portions.
    One other thing we tried for a short while came from a friend who also had a large family. If any child complained about the food, he immediately took the serving spoon and loaded them with an extra plop of the odious dish, often adding the phrase "bon apetit." We tried this long enough that it struck fear and trembling in our children. We gave it up because it seemed a little too over-the-top.
    How has it turned our for our children? Our youngest is now 9, and I have to say that most of the seven will try most anything. I think that I'm probably a more picky eater now than most of them are.

  2. oh the food battles! Wow. We have gone around and around and around and around. For the longest time, I dreaded dinner (because that's when it seemed to be the worst). We also tried the plastic wrap technique. But, after the 2nd time of going more than 24-36 hours without food, I told Hubby I didn't want to resort to plastic wrap. Because, I was the one who had to deal with the fallout of a hungry, cranky, low blood sugar, strong willed son.
    Pray pray pray is all I can say. By no means are we out of the woods. It is better at 4.5 than it was at 2.5 or 3.5.

  3. So, funny story. We were not allowed to get up from the table until we ate our food or at least a good portion of it. I hated potato salad (always have). My mom rarely served it because I didn't like it. But our rule was we had to take at least a spoonful of everything on the table. We were not allowed to say that's gross or disgusting. We could politely say I don't care for that. If we made a big deal we had to get more. I was about 6 or 7 and Mom had put a small spoonful of potato salad (it was only like 2 bites) on my plate. I refused to eat it. She and I sat at that table until 2am. I finally ate it. We were both crying at that point, but I learned my lesson and knew Mom was not joking when she said I had to eat it. It just took one time of her following through. I am very thankful to my parents for making me eat things. I was a picky eater and now I love food. I will try just about anything. I am also grateful to my husband's parents, because they made him politely eat what was put in front of him. He likes just about anything and even if he doesn't he is always grateful for me preparing it for him. Now we have a 7 month old son… 🙂

  4. What's the origin of the "plastic wrap" approach? I haven't ever heard of it, but it sounds like several other people have.

  5. Janel Breitenstein says:

    Well, the "plastic wrap" name was given by me, but I know my folks used it with us, so it's at least decades old. 🙂
    I think they taught it in the parents class/baby instruction manual that I feel should exist somewhere but doesn't. 🙂 Aside from the Word, I think my blender came with more instructions than my kids…

  6. Kristen S says:

    My 3 and 5 year old girls can both be picky eaters… and it seems most of the time they both like different things. It's a constant struggle for me to decide how to deal with mealtime. I appreciated your comments and am going to try your plastic wrap strategy. Hope you don't mind if I print off your blog for future reference! Thanks!

  7. Peter Schmidt says:

    With 5 children ranging from almost 3 to 15 we have tried lots of different things I suppose over the years. If we have food problems every once in a while we kind of ignore it under common grace, but if it starts to become an issue we deal with it. Everybody goes through stages. (Even mom and dad….)
    (I've a funny story of my grandmother instituting and then abolishing the above method of eating what is on your plate)
    I know my 2 year old goes through stages where he will eat everything to eating nothing we put before him. One thing that works pretty well is that we tell our kids this. You don't want to eat your supper? Thats great. No desert. (or snack later) Amazing how the 2-1/2 year old will then eat his supper.
    Mom always told us you need to choose your battles. Be very careful what you say. Sometimes we as parents say some not so smart things and then we just create trouble because we have to follow through with that stupid thing we said. Lot of instruction in that verse that says, Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. All said, sometimes a food battle is worth it, sometimes not.