The Decision Is In

In Which I Go Total Mommyblogger Up On Your Ass

Shh. Come here. Slowly. Casually. 

God. Seriously. BE COOL. ACT NATURAL.

I need to tell you something but I'm absolutely terrified I'm going to jinx myself and ruin everything, so I'm going to type it out very s-l-o-w-l-y and s-o-f-t-l-y and hope that maybe the vengeful gods above are too distracted right now to pelt my ass with lightning bolts.

(And yes, it IS also Invent Your Own Hodgepodge-y Religious Deities Day today. Thanks for asking.)

So we appear to have stumbled upon a solution to Noah's picky eating habits. 

And by "picky" I should clarify: This child has eaten NOTHING since his first birthday. In fact, he has continued to ruthlessly edit down his list of acceptable foods ever since, meaning that up until a few weeks ago he would willingly eat ONLY the following:

1. Dry Cheerios

2. Plain toasted waffles

3. Peanut butter & jelly, though he usually opened the sandwich, licked off the peanut butter and left the rest

4. Grilled cheese, except for the "cheese" part

5. Pizza, but only the crust

6. Individually wrapped cereal bars

7. Frosting

And that, my friends, was seriously it. No fruits, no vegetables, no meats. There were, once, a handful of other foods he'd occasionally eat, that have dropped off the list one by one. He rejected macaroni and cheese, for Christ's sake. I became the mother who would have been THRILLED to see my child agree to eat a damn chicken nugget or hamburger or french fry. I hid traces of pureed fruits and vegetables and beans in whatever I could, but seriously, look at at that list. My subterfuge options were quite limited, at best. The kid drank a LOT of homemade smoothies, packed full of dubious combinations juice, pineapple chunks and frozen broccoli, which he would drink no problem. But put any of those ingredients in front of him, in solid form? Forget about it. 

We read books. We ate as a family. We ignored him. We refused to short-order cook and did the whole "division of responsibility" thing where we placed food in front of him and that was that. Well, except for the histrionics and wailing that accompanied every meal. And the no eating. He skipped meal after meal knowing that he'd eventually make it to breakfast where he could get some Cheerios.

We tried playing hardball. We pushed and insisted and threatened and re-served rejected foods over and over. He threw tantrums and whined and was sent to bed early night after night, and it solved nothing except for further entrenching everybody into a miserable battle of wills. 

We tried peer pressure and bribery and "just one bite" and a good five dozen other tactics that YOU KNOW aren't going to work but the tactics everybody SAYS will work aren't working and it's driving you crazy because OH MY GOD, the buttons this kid manages to push at dinnertime when all you want in the world is for him to EAT SOMETHING. BESIDES CARBS. AND AIR.

Another problem, besides how incredibly limited his diet was, was that Noah was a s-t-a-l-l-e-r, even when he was served an acceptable or favorite food. Meals stretched on for h-o-u-r-s, or until we gave up and dumped his plate. He sat and sang and turned around and flopped upside-down off the edge of his chair and pretended the spoon was the Millennium Falcon and ate at a rate of one bite per 20 minutes. 

This meant he was frequently getting hustled onto the school bus at 12:15 with only a third of his sandwich eaten -- the sandwich he was originally served over an hour before. This meant dinnertime was a constant nag-fest as Jason and I attempted to keep him focused and on task and EAT, NOAH. TAKE A BITE. 

One night, during a torturous meal of spaghetti and meatballs (translation: practically naked-from-sauce noodles, one sad little turkey meatball that I put on his plate like always, knowing it will be pointedly ignored but "they" tell you to "keep trying!", and a metric ton of parmesan cheese that he deigned to eat granule by granule)...I got frustrated with the stalling and told him I was going to set the timer on the oven. He had 30 minutes. If he finished before that, we'd have time to do something fun, like watch a movie or play a game or have some dessert. He could choose, too.


Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that child ate every bite of spaghetti. And then he ate the meatball.

In between bites, he would ask how many minutes he had left, nod appreciatively, then get back to the task at hand.

The next night, I upped the challenge with some fish sticks. Noah has never eaten fish in his entire life, nor any meat or vegetable or foodstuff "cleverly" covered up with delicious crunchy breading. (Meanwhile, Ezra prefers them with a nice spicy cocktail sauce.) I put a plate in front of him, and set the timer again.

Five of 'em, down the hatch, like it was no big thing. "I like these!" he announced.

Since then, Noah has eaten -- WITHOUT PROTEST OR ASSORTED STURM AND DRANG -- rotisserie chicken, steamed peas, roast pork loin, mashed sweet potatoes, bison chili loaded with extra vegetables, chicken nuggets, a tzatziki and chopped tomato pita sandwich, spinach linguine and the inside actual cheese part of a grilled cheese sandwich. 

Since the fact that he couldn't see the timer seemed to cause a wee bit of anxiety, we upgraded (with his occupational therapist's advice) to a visual Time Timer clock, which allows him to see exactly how long he has left. His beloved Ms. Meredith uses this to help him with transitions and focusing problems during their sessions, so it seems to have positive connotations for him, and holy mother of Timex, he continues to eat anything and everything we put in front of him. 

Is it still, at the core, bribery? Yeah, I guess. He does indeed get to choose "something special" when all is said and eaten and done. Some nights it's a cookie, or a lightsaber duel on the Wii, or a boardgame, or a DVD. Which are exactly the things we LIKE doing with him after dinner ANYWAY...but were all precisely the things we weren't doing all those nights he spent sitting at the table for two hours moaning over a plate of pasta, or the nights he was sent to his room for throwing a massive tantrum over our refusal to serve him peanut butter and jelly 27 meals in a row. 

In other words, I DON'T CARE. I WIN AT EVERYTHING. I bet u r jelus like a 23-month-old at his big brother's bday party, amirite?







(Yeah, these photos were a stretch in relevancy. But I am feeling gleeful and reckless. I'M CRAZY, MAN. DRUNK WITH TIMER POWER.)





I was that child when he was his age. I ate apples, peanut butter, fries and chicken fingers. And that was about it. I was too young to verbalize it, but now I know that I had huge sensory issues. If the smell or texture was "wrong" I would literally gag on the food. I believe Noah is autistic so I'm guessing that's his problem too? I grew out of it eventually.


Who know what a kid ate 5,000 miles away, whom I have never met in person could make me clap and cheer like a drunk seal!

WTG! I am so team Amalah!



It's not bribery. If you look up bribery in the dictionary, it means something illegal.

And you didn't do anything illegal.

I'm studying to be a Behavior Analyst. And what you describe in your post is a simple contingency based on something called 'The Premack principle'

Basically you make something desirable (like a DVD or another fun activity) contingent upon the less desirable activity (like eating). This works fabulously because the reinforcer (fun activity) won't be available until he finishes his meals.

What will hopefully happen in the future, you will be able to fade the reinforcers (DVDs, etc) and TIMER and Noah will enjoy eating different foods. The flavors and textures of these new foods will be enticing and enough to MAINTAIN THAT BEHAVIOR.

Make sure you are consistent with this simple intervention and generalize it across settings and people (Jason, the sitter, etc).

I am very happy for you and Noah!

Hooray and great job!


Yayyy!! For you AND for Noah. :)
I remember my mom using a similar (but less technological and more game-like) time tactic- she would count, probably to three or something, and my sister and I would wait until the lastpossiblesecond before shoving the food into mouths...but. My poor mother got us to eat that way.
She also anthropomorphized the lonely vegetables left on my plate who dearly wanted to be with their friends in my stomach.
Me being oversensitive meant that she got me to eat a few more bites of veggies that way.
And while I wasn't as picky as Noah, I WAS picky enough for her to call the pediatrician for tips and help...I don't know if he suggested the above strategies, though.
And I have to say, the list of foods I'll happily eat has indeed grown over the years. :)


OMG. As the mother of a child with a similar shortlist of acceptable foods, I congratulate you. Seriously. CONGRATULATIONS.


Wooohooooo...absolutely freaking awesome!


I am so happy for you! Do you think it would work on a 13 year old? Yeah, me either. But, yay for you all!


Yeah we have completely opposite children as far as food goes. My 2lb preemie routinely asks if we could please buy him some eggplant or please please with the broccoli. So yay for our stringbean child with the hollow leg.

But the stalling? Dear lord I am with you there. We went the same route as you. Everything we could think of, until one day I put the kitchen timer for 20 minutes and then miracle! All of the sudden he was actually eating food with everyone else instead of playing with forks for an hour.


That is 100% not bribery. It's explaining what happens when people eat in a reasonable amount of time instead of streeeeeeetching out the meal and using up their fun time with that.

The timer is crazy magic. My kids are 8 & 10, and the timer still fixes a whole range of problems. These days the timer goes on when I wake them up and marks the amount of time they have to get dressed and to the breakfast table, it gets set at night to tell them when they have to turn their lights out, it ends spells of making showers last foreeeeever. Once upon a time it helped us potty train the kids and yes, it helped with picky eating in our house, too. I would kiss my timer if I weren't afraid of electric shock.


that was a GENIUS idea you had there...


I'm so going to try this on my 3 year old who is so small her 4.5 month sister is within 9 lbs of her. She's going to pass her by the time she's 12 months. Then, I'm going to cry.

Our pediatrician has been seriously considering a failure to thrive diagnosis. But other than NEVER EATING, and being painfully thin, she's thriving. Hmmm, this weekend, we are so doing this.


that is fabulous! i will try and find a time timer as I have an almost-3-yr old pulling the stalling trick.


We use the timer on our son as well. Otherwise dinner is painful for all who are involved. Also, my aunt is a behavioral specialist and she tells us we don't bribe our children, we give them incentive. I guess it sounds a little nicer that way.

Fairly Odd Mother

This? Is why I love the internet. Brilliance. Sheer brilliance.

And those photos of Ezra? Adorable and funny. Birthday parties are HARD for those not getting the gifts!


Love it! Congratulations!

This reminds me of how my oldest kids (now 13 and 14) would FREAK OUT if I started counting. If, say, I'd asked them to clean their room and they didn't, often just the THREAT of counting would make them start. But all I had to do was start counting loudly and slowly: 1... 2... 3... and they would scramble like they were on a game show or something. No idea what they thought would happen if I ever reached an undisclosed number, but dang if it didn't work like magic.

Of course it doesn't *now*, but, back then it was awesome. So glad you found a magic trick for the eating thing.


YAY!!! :)


Yay Yay Yay!!!


Hooray for you ! From the height of years of experience, my youngest son as a toddler only ate craem crackers with peanut butter for all of 18 months. When my mother persuaded him to eat a couple of peas at lunch he waited until 2 hours later at a friends hose to say "ere y'are" and spat them into her hand! He's 40 now and still never knowingly eats a vegetable - the moral is, give up worrying and guilt and let the little b....r get on with it!


You know what?? My son started eating really well right when he turned 5 also now that I think about it and then he shot up about 2 inches. Not to undermine your genius idea(which clearly is brilliant), but you might also have been aided by a growth spurt. Get ready to buy new clothes =)


Wow! That is great. My almost 5 yr old sucks on his food, has done it since he was little. During his speech therapy an OT checked him out and didn't think it was "medical." We are constantly reminding him to chew. The 18 month old eats ok but refuses milk or pediasure or anything like that unless its in a bottle. We took the bottle away and he informed me that cups were for juice, not milk. WTF?

Dawn Bent

"Holy mother of Timex" LMAO!!!! I can't stop laughing and also feeling giddy for you!


Amy, I love you. I am the mother of an 8 month old and I just used your timer system to.... finally get myself to clean the damn house!
Thanks for the tip. ;)



I am SO going to try tonight! Start your timers!


I always found bribery worked. I used it for toilet training, even. You pee in the potty, you get a lollipop. You pee in your pants, you get a time out. We had one time out and after 2 days he (who was almost 3 1/2 and hiding behind doors to poop and then bringing me a diaper and asking me to change him) started forgetting to ask for lollipops.


You are brilliant!

That is exactly the kind of timer I've been looking for to use for all sorts of things with my girl! I'm going to buy it, and maybe she will actually finish breakfast in time to get to school on time!

Oh, and I discovered that my girl will eat things as long as I cover them in butter or mayo. I'm okay with that.

kari weber

What will his body do with all the extra calories?! Ten bucks says he grows like 7 inches in a month!
Way to go Noah!



We don't go anywhere without our time timer. My girl has one in her classroom at preschool, we take one with us when we go out, and I even take one to the OT. It is amazing how much self-care you can get from a kiddo with a neurological difference by providing a visual that helps them understand the choice they have in front of them. GO. AMY. AND. JASON.


We don't judge. And we're not above a bit o' the bribery. Ask me what it took to get my kids to use the potty!


Noah sounds like the liberal to my five year old conservative. I wouldn't eat half the things on Noah's list til like the fifth grade.

Yeah, your nephew reads your blog.


WOOO HOO! It WORKS! Plus the added bonus of the timer is the bad guy, not you! Or at least, not as much you. I agree, reward, not bribe - reward is when you do what you are supposed to do to get something you are supposed to get (fun time with mom and dad is absolutely in that category) A bribe is :"stop doing what you shouldn't be doing and I'll give you something you don't deserve". You a re FIRMLY on the reward side!


Why, yes! I am so jelus. Mom of 12 year old with same eating issues. Not picky eater but problem feeder. List of approved foods gets smaller and smaller. Once you lose a food you never get it back. Also related are: will hug you all day long but no kisses, socks underwear and tshirts must fit a certain way or all hell breaks loose. This is beyond "sit here until you eat it" or "this is what were having you have to eat it too." So I totally understand. All the way to mommy having a panic attack every day about 3pm when its time to think of whats for dinner. Yeah, she's 12. She hasnt died of malnutrition or starvation. Yet. But we already are facing social situations regarding food and those situations becoming not pleasant. I hope her future boyfriend wants to eat frozen pizza crust for prom and I hope her husband doesnt like kisses. Wonder if its too late for me to try the timer?


OMG! I'm so jelus! My son is 6 years old (just turned in September) and has autism. I wonder if this will work for him... he has a bit larger palate than Noah did (spaghettis a fav, just don't change the noodles, something we call gholash - that's ground beef, peas, white rice and cream of mushroom all mixed up, but he won't dare eat them individually if they were so presented... I could go on).

We've been lucky with the one bite at least... then you're all done... but he's a procrastinator too. Not so imaginative with his food (ours would be trains if they were ever imagined into anything - THOMAS ROCKS, dontchaknow?), more so distracted though.

Gotta try this out.



So completely unrelated to the actual post (though GO YOU! for figuring out something that worked - Oscar is the same age as Noah and will only eat mac & I'm sick of mac & cheese!). How does Noah like the Star Wars games for the Leapster?? Can he actually play them? Curious Mom of a boy Noah's age wants to know!! :)


Good Lord, how amazing. Maybe I should try this with my kid... he's no Noah, but he does have a list of only about 10 foods he eats. Way to go!

Victoria Winters

OMG. You are hilarious. LOVE YOU! I have been reading your pregnancy calendar (but only up to 9 weeks since that's how far along I am) and I LOVE IT! So honest! And it makes me know I'm not alone in my already-showing-craziness and super nose powers threatening to make me gag at every little scent!

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