My Picky Eater Stopped Being So Picky -- It Only Took 12 Years

boy eating spaghetti and meatballs

My son Zach, 14, sauntered into the kitchen, looked at me frying meatballs, and casually said, “Hey, I tried a meatball at Sam’s last night.” I nearly passed out.


My eldest, Alex, looked up from his phone in shock. “You know they aren’t made with chicken fingers, right?”

For the past 12 years, we have been at war with the pickiest of eaters. I don’t remember the exact moment it began, but out of nowhere, Zach refused to eat most foods. He limited his intake to chicken fingers, pizza, pasta, yogurt, grapes, watermelon, and bread. Bobby Flay couldn’t come up with enough ways to cook these items for three meals a day.

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Convinced it was just a phase, I waited for things to change. But this battle plan was mired in scrutiny of others, sleepless nights, and a continuous effort to expand Zach’s diet.

Family gatherings were riddled with unsolicited comments: “I’d have him sit there until he eats what’s in front of him”; “I never made special meals for my kids”; or, my favorite, “Leave him with me, I’ll fix this issue.”

So, when the opportunity arose, I left him with my sister for two days. When I retrieved my child, I hugged my sister good-bye as she muttered in defeat, “He didn’t buy my tricks.”

“Let me guess, you tried disguising a pork chop as a chicken finger?” Her expression was all the confirmation I needed.

More from CafeMom: 6 Mistakes Moms Make With Picky Eaters

Even my sweet Italian grandmother weighed in at a family dinner. “Why doesn’t he want a meatball? Everybody loves meatballs!” she screamed over everyone -- all eyes on me.

I forced a smile and shrugged my shoulders.

Within minutes, Gram’s short-term memory loss provoked another shout out: “Doesn’t he like meatballs?”

“Not yet, Gram,” I replied, gulping my wine, as Zach picked at his bowl of buttered noodles.

Playdates had their tribulations, almost always ending with a frustrated mom declaring, “I offered him a snack, but he wouldn’t eat.”

“Oh, he’s not much of a snack eater,” I’d answer.

On our way to the car, Zach would declare, “Let’s go home, I’m hungry!”

At birthday parties, Zach never ate the cake, usually prompting the hosting mom to run after us, cake in hand and somewhat offended, saying, “Wait, you didn’t have any cake!”

A horrified Zach acted like he was Superman and she’d offered him Kryptonite. I’d step in, with my canned reply: “Oh, thank you, it looks delicious.” And off I went with Zach, and the cake I’d consume later.

More from CafeMom: 13 Questionable Things We Do to Get Picky Eaters to Eat

Once, a friend invited us to dinner at a Japanese restaurant. As the waiter came for Zach’s order, I clutched my purse full of contraband and answered for him, “He and I are going to share my meal.” I quickly shot my child a preemptive look, warding off any unfiltered, embarrassing remarks; it was a look that said, Work with me or I’ll feed your video games to the garbage disposal! Then, like a spy performing espionage, I slipped two Ziploc bags out of my purse and passed them to Zach under the table.

He looked at the bags, leaned over, and whispered, “Did you bring ketchup?”

Frustrated over my failing battle plan, I consulted my pediatrician, who told me to get creative. So while Mr. Picky was at school learning, I was home plotting and pureeing on my newly purchased, high-powered blender. My pasta sauce contained more vegetables than a farmer’s market. I altered my chicken soup so that to the naked eye, there was only broth, pasta, and chicken -- but there were also hidden veggies. And, I concocted smoothies better than any juice bar serves.

Zach happily scoffed down my smoothies full of fresh fruits, declared I made the best sauce, and gave my favorite response: “Mom, this soup is so much better now that you removed the vegetables” Score one for Mom!

So, 12 years after “the phase” began, I can say, after much coaxing and some manipulation, Zach has added many new foods to his list. And as I placed dinner in front of him, with the addition of two meatballs, Mr. Picky consumed both -- another item to add the list.

I smiled, knowing Gram would finally be happy and because this phase was FINALLY ending.


Celeste Chin left the corporate world to raise her children and eventually pursue a career in writing. Also a substitute teacher, she lives in New Jersey with her two teenage boys. Celeste recently completed writing her first children’s novel, for children 9 to 12 years old. Her favorite hobbies surround spending time with her sons, either on the golf course, skiing, hiking, or kayaking, just to name a few.

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