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Reality Check: My Child Won't Eat Out

Q  Whenever we eat dinner at a friend's house, I usually have to bring along food for my picky 4-year-old. Am I just encouraging the problem?

A Your child's finicky eating is a stage that will end in its own time, whether you cater to it or not. If you tried to force her to fend for herself and either eat the lamb curry or go hungry, she'd choose to go hungry. Unlike adults, children have tremendous willpower and can live very nicely on air alone for long stretches of time. So you aren't in control as much as you may think  -- which is both reassuring and disconcerting.

Anything you have to do to be able to go to a dinner party with your child in tow is appropriate, as long as it doesn't put out your hosts. If bringing a container of precooked food that needs a minute in the microwave will help keep the peace, go ahead.

Just get in and out of your hosts' kitchen fast, so you're not in the way. I've known only one person who was insulted when a child refused her cooking in favor of tried-and-true Mom's, and that was my sister. She got over it. Sort of. ("I still don't know why Madeline wouldn't eat my penne with the beet-cream sauce  -- it is pink.")

But you won't always feel like bringing dinner to a dinner, so you might want to start making incremental changes for your own sake. Around the time my girls turned 5, I began to let them assume that I hadn't brought any kid food to parties, even though I had. This got them used to thinking they wouldn't always be rescued, and it gave me peace of mind to know that if they really got hunger pangs, I could go to the car and grab their grub. But more than half the time, I didn't have to  -- they found acceptable foods to nibble on, like cheese and crackers and grapes. And a little peer pressure worked wonders too. Once, at a barbecue, they gnawed on lobster claws  -- happily, mind you  -- simply because the other kids were doing it and it looked like fun.

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