How to Get the Picky Eater to Eat: in the Woods or in the Pasture?

Mar 2, 2012 by

Young children, like sheep, need some shepherding for their own good and their parents'. - photo by Anna Migeon


Getting kids motivated to eat is a lot like getting sheep to eat.

If sheep are allowed to run free in the woods, they are in danger. When they get hungry there, they will probably eat something harmful instead of the right things. Not much good grass in the woods.

The sheep might even fall in a hole or off a cliff, or be terrorized by a rushing stream. They could be eaten by a wolf, run over by a car, or shot by a hunter.

So the shepherd watches over the sheep and places them within limits. The shepherd selects the best pasture of green grass he can find, and builds a fence around it. He gently lures his sheep in and closes the gate.

If the sheep are safely fenced in a pasture of only good green grass, the sheep will naturally eat the grass. No one tries to force a sheep to eat because it would only become alarmed and struggle away. No one need interfere with their eating, because they’re hungry and green grass is all that’s available. It’s the best thing for the sheep and they do like it. They love eating it if they haven’t filled up or gotten sick on thistles and weeds in the woods. They only need to be allowed to eat, with no interference. It’s like water flowing down a hill. It just goes.  The sheep are content and secure in the pasture.`

Likewise young children, if their access to food is not limited, will eat the wrong things, not be hungry for the right things, and be at risk of numerous threats to their well being.

Out in the woods, we find dangers that deteriorate the chances of children eating well:

  • Random snacking
  • Kids without an appetite at meals
  • Battles at the table
  • Food resistance and refusal
  • Fear of new foods and being forced to eat
  • Bad behavior is tolerated in hopes kids will eat
  • Parents have no way to make kids behave
  • Junk food and sugar cravings
  • Parents comprising on what they let kids eat so they will eat
  • Kids treasure dessert and see meals mainly as the means to that end
  • Parents pressure, bribe, bargain, beg and plead in attempt to motivate kids to eat
  • Sleep problems
  • Health problems (tooth decay, obesity, diabetes…)
  • The attitude that we HAVE to eat

So what are the fence posts we can build to create the structure our children need to be motivated to eat when and what they should?

  • Eating restricted to mealtimes and snack time only
  • Eating restricted to the table only
  • No random snacking
  • A wide variety of foods served
  • Parents choosing the best foods for their children
  • Only good choices at the table
  • Children decide freely how much they want to eat of everything
  • No pressure to eat anything ever
  • Kids are hungry for meals and eat willingly and happily: healthy hunger alone motivates them
  • Kids make sure they eat enough at meals because they know they won’t have anything till the next time at the table
  • Good table manners & behavior or kids aren’t allowed to stay at the table and eat
  • Good conversation at the table
  • The attitude that we GET to eat

So is your child in the woods or in the pasture?  Many families seem to be clearly in one or the other. What if kids don’t want to go in that pasture, with limits and restraints? We want them to be free adventurers, not mindless followers—like sheep! Don’t we?


Related posts:

Duty Made Lovely: How to Train a Child’s Appetite

Foundations of Appetite Training: 12 Ways Children Learn to Like or Dislike Healthy Eating


I'm happy to read your blog

Alison Collins Motameni-Azar
Alison Collins Motameni-Azar

I think this all started when he was a little over 1. We did try to make him eat things out of frustation and pressure from in-laws and others. I made a list of what I can regularly get him to eat: chicken nuggets, pears, peaches, chips, hamburgers, cheese, pb&j, cereral, mac and cheese, hot dogs, apples, candy, fries. I was shocked to find out there was less than 20 items on the list. He does gag and/or throws up new things. As far as we no he doesn't have any allergies the would cause an aversion to foods and is seemingly healthy.

Anna Migeon
Anna Migeon

So did all this start when he was small and he would refuse to eat stuff? Did you start trying to make him eat things then? Does he eat more than 20 foods? Does he gag when he tries to eat? I'd like you to read this post of mine: There are different ways we can approach this problem. But I think the first thing to understand is the idea that we should never try to make a child eat anything. That's the number one thing. A child will be hungry, and we can arrange things so he wants to eat, but we cannot try to make him eat and win that battle.

Alison Collins Motameni-Azar
Alison Collins Motameni-Azar

We do normally end up giving in. Ethan will eat fruits, PB&J, chicken nuggets and hamburgers. He will eat junk at anygiven time and loves yogurt. Last night I made baked chicken, mash potatoes and mixed veggies, it took him over 45min to eat 3 bites of chicken(that i took the breading off of) 2 peices of carrots and 1 corn kernal. He took a bit of potatoes and gagged himself to the point of almost throwing up. After all of this he said he was full and i excused him from the table. He normaly will say "I don't like it" or "I don't want it" everything we offer him. My husband and I are beyond furstated with him. We stopped eating normal meals together with Ethan because of how fustrated we get. I just wan him to be healthy and eat fruits and veggies, rice, eggs, tuna, really just anything I put infront of him. I'm tired of giving in and making 2 seperate meals for my family:(

Anna Migeon
Anna Migeon

Hi Alison! Thanks for your comment. There is definitely hope. Tell me more about your picky eater. When you say "he wins" what exactly does that mean? Do you give in and give him what he wants to eat instead of what you want him to eat, so that he will eat something?

Alison Collins
Alison Collins

I love these posts!! I have the pickest eater and battle daily on getting him to eat something new or even try it... saddly he wins most of the time:/ so how do I bring him out of the woods without having a huge battle?


  1. […] looked at what ways she and her kids are “out in the woods” and where her fence posts are built.  She does have several fence posts in place: the main one being established meals at the […]