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Picky eaters are the bane of my existence...and now I live with them

When I first started dating my husband he was a very picky eater, but over the 3 years we've been dating he's opened up to new food quite a bit--I might still call him picky, but only slightly so. His kids are another story. We were married just 2 1/2 weeks ago and now his daughter has come to live with us. She is the pickiest of picky eaters. She could sustain herself on chicken nuggets, fries, and slushies alone. When pushed she might eat pizza or a hamburger, and canned corn and canned peas are the only vegetables she will eat. And she's 15! She makes faces, refuses to try anything on the limited list, and eats other foods prior to dinner!

I realize I am walking this line with food that oddly blurs with parenting. I'm unlikely to suddenly change her palate. But it annoys me to no end, and the way it's done is a clear act of defiance. Food is so important to me and I'm not sure my husband understands that. Maybe my chowsers will? It's my hobby, my outlet, a way of expressing love. Weird thing is that the more I try to cater my menus to her (last night I made a breaded chicken cutlet stuffed with cheddar, corn on the cob, and salad with ranch), the more push back I get. I'm at my wits end. What do I do? I'm about to think the best thing I can do is let her buy frozen dinners and have at. Any ideas before I throw in the towel?

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  1. Well, you have to look at the underlying issue. Is she being defiant because you joined her family and she isn't happy about it, or because she's a teenager and hates everything right now? Does your husband support you trying to change her eating habits? You have to go along with that he thinks is best -- I hate to say it, but you are the outsider in this picture right now. As her dad, he can either say "keep trying" and encourage her to try as well, or he can say "leave her alone".

    If you have a good relationship with her, have you tried asking her about it? Ask her what she wants to eat. Maybe let her make dinner once a week if she wants, or ask her to help you in the kitchen. If she didn't grow up in a house where food was important, it's not going to be a big deal to her. But since you've only been married less than a month to her dad, I would proceed with caution and let him guide what you do so you don't jeopardize your relationship with her.

    1. First of all, sorry for your pain in dealing with a stubborn picky eater. Who knows what issues she's dealing with, and maybe it'll improve with time.

      I think the best approach is to NOT become a short order cook. Just make the meals that you would normally, and tell the 15-year old to help herself to the chicken nuggets and fries in the freezer.
      She's old enough to make her own food if she refuses to eat yours.

      Just keep what she eats in stock, and let her deal with it.

      I wouldn't indulge her.

      Good luck with this, it's a tough one!

      7 Replies
      1. re: monavano

        I'm in total agreement with monavano and you've gotten lots of good advice so far. She's old enough to be cooking for herself and really should know how to if she doesn't. Not that preparing nuggets and fries is rocket science but she should learn.

        I have step-grandchildren that are somewhat picky eaters. When we have them over for dinner (generally holidays), I make what I want. Since we usually bring everything over there to eat, if they don't like it, the parents can manage their needs.

        Food is important. Over time, as others have said, she may become curious. But recalling my days as a teen (back when dinosaurs ruled the planet), trying new things was daunting. I found it much easier when I was in my 20s and older.

        Just continue expressing yourself with your food as you are. If you want to invite her in advance so you can plan, she may find it annoying but she may appreciate it. If she is curious at dinner time, you could always offer a taste of what you have. If she likes it, then you can plan to make it again in the near future. Maybe incorporate her assisting you in cooking?

        Let her drive the bus for a little while but don't make a big deal about what she's eating. Some would say it's a good thing that she's eating something and not dealing with an eating disorder.

        Best of luck and keep us posted!

        1. re: monavano

          Excellent suggestion. It avoids the drama, and you'll see whether it's really about the food or not.

          1. re: monavano

            that is a similar approach to the one i used with my daughter regarding laundry. she didn't like how i was doing her laundry.
            i happily went out and bought her her OWN hamper, detergent, and softener and off loaded the responsibility of doing her laundry right back onto her.

            many years later, when she went to college, she was shocked to see how many kids had NOT YET STARTED to do their own laundry!! by then, it was second nature to her.

            1. re: monavano

              I agree with this. You won't convert her, but if this becomes a non issue, she might become less rebellious. She probably gets a thrill pushing your food buttons.

              I think that telling her she can fix anything she wants from the fridge herself is a good strategy. Do keep things she likes in the house, and respect them. And tell her she is welcome to join you for a meal anytime.

              Every time you express your frustration with this, you are just encouraging her difficult behavior. And she probably is always going to be at least a somewhat picky eater. Some things have to be accepted. And if there is something you fix that she actually likes to eat, I'd make it for her from time to time.

              Good luck.

              1. re: monavano

                Reminds me of when I was little and my parents bought me "Bread and Jam for Frances". :) Now I've probably gone a little too far the other way and crave what might be an excess of variety!

                Excellent advice.

                1. re: Torina

                  One of my all-time favorite books, and my daughter's as well. It actually *DID* make me think consciously about trying new foods.

                  Funny story....in reading to my daughter one day, I mentioned something about badgers. My daughter replied, what are badgers? "Like Francis....Francis is a badger". Then, with a look of absolute terror and disbelief "What do you mean, Francis is a badger???!!!! Oh my God...she has fur and claws!!!!!" The anthropomorphizing was so successful, she never once questioned whether Francis was a little girl! :-0

                2. re: monavano

                  Agreed. I was a short order cook for my two picky eating kids. I know I did them a disservice but I didn't mind being the short order cook at the time. Instead of them being interested in food and cooking because I did it so much they took the other direction and became disinterested. My daughter is know learning to cook and is showing some interest. But when she was home after college I told her I would teach her anything she wanted to learn. Still no interest. Only now when she is hundreds of miles away living with her boyfriend is she getting interested.

                3. First of all, if all she wants to eat is chicken nuggets, fries and slushies, you are not going to be able to change her eating habits overnight, if at all. She's almost a grown woman, not a 2 year old who you might be able to influence easily.

                  You said she eats other foods prior to dinner...what other foods? Are you talking about the same chickn nuggets, fries and slushies? And you feel she's defying you because she won't eat anything else? Something is wrong here...

                  I can relate to how you feel somewhat. I have a fiance who really could care less about food except to fill his stomach and only with certain foods. We are complete opposites when it comes to food. It's my creative outlet, my art, if you will. I love it and am always thinking of ways to express it in the kitchen. He has opened up a tiny bit more about food since we've been together but he will never be on my level. At first, I tried to convince him to try new things...sometimes it worked and sometimes not. Then, I started only making things he liked to eat and I got bored to death. Then I decided to make the things I like and make him something else. Sometimes, he'll try what I'm having but I no longer care to rack my brain to come up with ways to get him to eat new things. That's where I'm at now.

                  I suggest you give the girl what she likes. Make yourself things you like and maybe she will try them. If not, don't push it, and don't take it personal.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Cherylptw

                    You're in a tough spot. I would go crazy if DH didn't eat what I make for dinner. I'd lose my mind if I thought I'd have to cook 2 dinners for the rest of my life.
                    Bless your heart!

                    1. re: monavano

                      To be fair to DF, he does sometimes eat what I make. For example, if I grill some meat and make sides that we both like, he has no problem with that. But I like lamb and meats like beef shank or tongue. He will not eat them. Now if I make myself a lamb chop and him a pork chop then make sides we both like, there's no problem there. But there are times, like yesterday, when I had asparagus soup and he had chicken & pastry that is aggravating somewhat.

                        1. re: monavano

                          Yeh, I have to say, there was alot I didn't eat before I really got into food...tongue was one thing I used to look at and think "nope". But that was years ago...

                  2. I think there are multiple factors. I don't think I'm even that much on her radar--she has all the accompanying 15 year old stuff to deal with. Her life has just changed a lot and maybe she's trying to hold onto how things went before when she had a single dad who didn't cook and would buy any fast food she wanted. My husband knows its a problem but, like me, is not sure what to do about it. She's not 4, after all. And he doesn't want to cause MORE problems. Because of the fast food-before-dinner debacle of yesterday, he has imposed a new rule of no outside food snacks before dinner. And he insists that she sit at the table with us. But he still doesn't understand why it's a big deal to me. I know I may need to let the dinner situation with the teen go, but it does bother me and I cannot seem to explain why.

                    I think I'll take the advice of letting her make her own meals. This way I avoid the food fights and someone loses. Does this mean I only buy food for the two of us? Any other ideas? Foods and recipes?

                    15 Replies
                    1. re: bblonde

                      Of course you don't only buy food for the two of you, she is a minor and living with you. You need to buy her food also.

                      1. re: rasputina

                        I'm sorry you misunderstood this--of course I meant in the case that she refuses to eat, let's say, lamb chops, it would probably be wasteful to buy said lamb chops for 3 when what she wants is frozen potato skins. But in the event she did want to have the dinner with us I would not want to not have enough to share. In every situation, her food needs would be taken care of.

                        1. re: bblonde

                          I think you prepare enough food for 3, and assume she's going to eat what you serve (meanwhile you have the frozen stuff she's used to). That way she knows you care about her enough to both cook for her and know her preferences. If she doesn't want the lambchops (or whatever) kindly but unbudgingly tell her that she's welcome to get up and make her chicken tenders herself. Sit and have a nice conversation (as nice as possible with a teenager) and try not to make it a bit deal, but also don't stop making what YOU want. And if she doesnt' eat it, that lambchop will make a perfectly nice lunch for one of you.

                          I also like the suggestion of having her make dinner one night a week. It gives her the chance to cook what she wants, and it also helps her feel like she's doing her part for the family.

                          Good luck!

                      2. re: bblonde

                        Can you tell the daughter what you plan on making and ask if she'll be partaking?
                        That leaves you covering your bases as far as making the right quantity, and having what she likes on hand.
                        Maybe plan the week's meals and give her the plan and she is responsible for letting you know what she thinks she'll eat.

                        Don't make it the elephant in the room. Deal with it head on, without judgement.
                        If she wants to eat like a 4-year old, let her.

                        Don't let food become a weapon and take the wind out of those sails asap!
                        For both of you ;-)

                        1. re: monavano

                          THANK YOU! I think this is a wonderful solution. Lack of planning I think will wind up with more confusion and backlash. I will make my menus, and I already have the grocery list on the fridge. I will instruct her to choose the dinners she will be eating with us, and add alternatives to the grocery list for the times she is not. And in any event, her dad wants her to sit down to eat with us.

                          1. re: bblonde

                            I hope it helps!
                            I think your DH's insisting that she eat with you is great. The family dinner is so important.

                            1. re: bblonde

                              I think that is the perfect way to deal with it. It lets her be in control(very important to a 15 year old!), and makes meal time about togetherness rather than the food. We had a similar issue a few years ago with a foster child who was super-picky and had control and food issues. At her group home there were constant quarrels about food and she would steal food, hide food, gorge on snacks, refuse to eat at meals, etc. They responded by locking up all the food and requiring her to eat what everyone else ate, and it just increased her problems. When she stayed with us they wanted us to be very strict and lock our pantry and make her eat the family meal, but I took the exact opposite approach: Here's the food, eat what you want, this is what is for dinner, if you don't like it make a sandwich and join us at the table, if you're not hungry at least sit and talk with us. The first few days she was touchy and suspicious at meal time, then when she realized it was a non-issue she was fine and often just ate what we were all having.

                              1. re: bblonde

                                I would not have "must eat with us" as part of the dinner routine- if she decides to eat earlier or later alone that's fine, just must sit with us and have conversation at dinner time about our day/week/life etc...

                                I became vegetarian when i was very young (11), and mom would tell me what was for dinner, i would say "sure, mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus sounds great, but i'm still going to pass on the chicken...." And then i would either make scrambled eggs or whatever instead of meat if i wanted to.

                                So maybe your new stepdaughter will share your corn on the cob and she can make her own chicken nuggets or whatever as the other portion of the meal. Encourage her to come grocery shopping and participate in planning her own meals. In a few very short years she will be 100% responsible for this anyhow.....

                              2. re: monavano

                                That's what I've always done. Everyone in my house doesn't like the same things. And I'm certainly not giving up my favorites because other's don't like it and I don't expect them to either. So I consult them and we work out what to get based on who likes what. My daughter was vegetarian for a couple years, I let her know if I was making steak that week and asked what she'd like to have the night we had that for dinner.

                              3. re: bblonde

                                I think you've just given your own answer.

                                Give her time to get her head wrapped around all that's happened recently...all of the change, plus the normal stuff that 15-year-olds go through, means she's likely having a pretty tough time trying to process it all.

                                At this point, I wouldn't push...as much as I hate being a short-order cook, I'd probably even cook for her for a little while (it's not like chicken nuggets and canned corn are a challenge...).

                                I'd make your regular menu for you and hubby, with a little left over -- my guess is that she'll eventually get tired of her own rebellion and may even want to try what you're eating, and you and hubs can take the leftovers for lunch if you're so inclined.

                                But for now? Yeah...right now you're the irresistible force and she's the immoveable object -- the more you push, the more she'll dig in, and that's probably not the best way to start your relationship.

                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  I just backspaced over everything I just typed because sunshine said it better.

                                  And P.S. congrats on your marriage.

                                  ~TDQ

                                2. re: bblonde

                                  No, continue to buy things she like and keep them in the house. When the teen sits at the table with you & hubby, is she eating or just sitting? If it's just sitting, I don't see how that is going to help, but then again, I don't know the back ground of your family situation. What is your relationship with the girl like? Is she resentful in any way or just indifferent. I think it's going to take time to have her feel comfortable living with you; perhaps you & your husband can speak with her and find out how she feels and what you can do to help the transition. Then maybe you can invite her to assist you in making something she likes to eat. Does she likes sweets? Perhaps you can both make cookies or some other dessert together; it can be a bonding experience.

                                  1. re: Cherylptw

                                    Just one little dinner table suggestion. If you ask what she did/learned in school today, like most teens, the reply will probably be "nothing". So don't give her that option. Change it up - a different question daily, at random, along the lines of, "What's the most interesting thing you learned today?"... "What was the most boring class today?" ...
                                    "What's the funniest thing that happened at school this week?" ... "Who's the kindest kid/teacher in your school?" As about her world in ways that draw her out and give you a peek into what she thinks, how she gets along with her peers, and what may be troubling her.

                                    I recently read a suggestion for getting kids to try new foods, which is to make a deal: the kid eats what you're cooking for dinner today, and she can have whatever she wants (within reason) tomorrow. It's a healthier approach than the default "no dessert unless you eat your vegetables".

                                  2. re: bblonde

                                    Believe me - you're on her radar. She's a teenager. Everything is angsty to her. And I mean EVERYTHING, including her father's new wife. As you said - her life has changed a lot and she's trying to hold on to what was.

                                    My mother's and father's rule was that we had to at least TRY a food item - Mom made one meal and that was it. Most of the time, we ended up liking the item, but sometimes we didn't. If we didn't - peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were easy to make.

                                    Your husband had laid out the rule of "no outside food before dinner." So she needs to follow those rules. But have apples, oranges, other fruit available for her to snack on in-house (and not those gawdawful slushies). BUT...as others have said - don't be a short-order cook. Cook one thing for the family meal; if she doesn't want it, she can make some frozen meal or a sandwich.

                                    Also, try making a few items of what she WILL eat in a homemade form. Chicken tenderloins can be cut down, breaded and baked or tempura'd and fried, and become homemade chicken nuggets, with your own homemade sauces for dipping. Try using foods she's used to and changing them up - what about chicken satay on a skewer, with a peanut dipping sauce? Pasta - will she eat that? Keep a basic homemade tomato and meat sauce in the freezer so she can boil up some pasta and top it with sauce. Making individual pizzas with lots of toppings laid out on the counter can be fun - and it involves her.

                                    Plan ahead. Ask her to help you cook ONE meal a week - her choice. Yes, maybe it's going to be chicken fingers or pizza, but she has to help prepare things and cook them.

                                    But don't push it. She abides by the house rules, you make the dinner you are going to make, and if she won't eat it, she either doesn't eat or she makes something on the list of "acceptable substitutes."

                                  3. Just because food is so important to you, doesn't mean it has to be for your step kids. Do you want to start out your marriage and co-parenting with a battle of wills? I wouldn't. Let it go.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: rasputina

                                      Thank you, I realize this which is why I come here for thoughts. I'm not really sure what "let it go" means in this context. Does it mean cook for her and if she hates it get over it? Does it mean cook the food she likes and let go of the foods I like? Does it mean not cook anything for her, and just let her figure it out?

                                      1. re: bblonde

                                        The last think I'd do is cook to the lowest common denominator.

                                        1. re: bblonde

                                          Cook enough dinner for three, don't start running a cafeteria, and don't give her a lever to tip things her way. Keep the frozen things she wants in there - if she doesn't like what you eat, she can go fix chicken nuggets or whatever from the freezer. Don't fight it, don't stress over it, just let it be. Leftovers are never a bad thing. Turning yourself into a hash-house short-order cook is.

                                          1. re: mcsheridan

                                            Most things make wonderful leftovers. If the OP is preparing lamb chops or other quite pricey protein that is best eaten immediately, then she can check with daughter.

                                          2. re: bblonde

                                            I mean stop letting it drive you crazy that she doesn't like the same things you do. Obviously her eating habits were already in place before you came along. So they aren't about you.