Why it Hurts so Much when Your Child Refuses to Eat


By: Kristen Yarker

You don’t have to be dietitian like me to be inundated with nutrition information. Every day we hear about how important it is to get enough of this vitamin and that mineral. We hear about the next super food. And, we hear about the latest food to avoid.

When you become a parent this news comes at an even more rapid pace, because now you’re not just responsible for feeding yourself but you’re responsible for feeding your children too.

But food is so much more than just fuel for our bodies.

Food is an expression of culture.

Each culture identifies themselves with what they do and don’t eat. Have you ever experienced culture shock when travelling? I bet you craved a food from home. Expats do too. For example, a (Canadian) friend of mine searched out and paid an exorbitant price for peanut butter when living overseas for 5 years – and she was living in Paris where there certainly isn’t a shortage of delicious food! Now that she’s back in Canada she spends her time searching for a decent croissant – go figure!

Food is also an expression of love.

I know that my Grannie’s applesauce was the best that I’ve ever tasted because hers had the extra ingredient of her love. I bet that you have similar memories. Each culture around the world shares food with family and friends. In fact, in most cultures it’s considered rude not to offer food and drink to a visitor to your home.

So it’s no wonder that it hurts so much when your child refuses to eat something that you’ve prepared. All of these layers of meaning come into play. You worry that they won’t get the nutrition that they need. You feel that they’ve rejected your love.  And if it’s a cultural food, you feel that they’re rejecting not just you but your culture too.


When your child is a picky eater and he/she is constantly rejecting food these painful experiences can easily compound into guilt and shame.

I’m a long-time fan of Brené Brown’s work (check her out at http://brenebrown.com).  She describes so clearly how powerful shame can be. And how huge of a barrier it can be to creating positive change.

There are many reasons that contribute to a child not wanting to eat a particular food, and/or being a picky eater. Most of which have nothing related to rejection of you, your love, or your culture.

When your little refuses to eat a dish, acknowledge your feelings, recognize why it elicits such a strong reaction in you, and choose to take the high road and not engage in a battle.  It’s not easy to do, but the right thing often isn’t the easy choice.

Kristen is a child feeding expert often referred to as The Dietitian who Transforms Picky Eaters into Food-Confident Kids. She shows families evidence-based strategies to gets kids to try new foods on their own (without negotiations, deception, or being sneaky) to start them along a path to a life-long LOVE of healthy eating. When she’s not gardening, shopping at a farmers’ markets, cooking or entertaining she’s balancing all her food related interests by taking her surfboard down off the wall (where’s it’s been collecting dust for almost 10 years) and is getting back in the water. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

You May Also Like