Dear Crissy

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Peanut butter and jelly: The last stronghold of lunch

I have been incredibly lucky to have a child that up until now, has had a fantastic appetite and a willingness to try almost anything. There are a few exceptions, of course. For instance, I have tried preparing eggs every way imaginable, and the kid just doesn’t like the texture. Otherwise, though, he has been a pretty good eater. Recently, however, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are becoming an overused last resort.

I am conditioned to add disclaimers, so, let me say that I am quite sure there are seventeen-thousand healthier, organic, preferred brands of peanut butter and jelly, but these common-fellows are the norm in our home. The delicious, give-Mommy-a-little-bite, norm. Meet peanut butter and jelly, or as Evan calls them: buttah-jewely! Granted, if we’re going to be eating PB&J sandwiches several times a week, I am going to have to seek lower sugar alternatives.

Peanut Butter and Jelly

It’s peanut butter jelly time, all the time.

The other food that Evan will almost always eat? Macaroni and cheese. I feel like lately all my child eats is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or pasta, and while that’s not the absolute worst that it could be, I would like to do better. I’ve been throwing a lot of vegetables in the trash this week, and even though I give it my best effort to encourage him to eat the meal presented to him, I would rather see him consume something, hence the frequent turn to his old favorites.

I mean, now that I’ve actually written this out and read it back to myself, I realize that perhaps he’s refusing his food because I am in essence training him to hold out for something else.

How do I remedy this problem? Do you let your toddler miss a meal (I’m not talking about sending him to bed without food, of course) so that he will be hungry enough to realize he needs to eat what he’s been given, or do you relent, and swap the veggies for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?

Also, let me say that I do not consider a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread a bad lunch, not at all, I am just not thrilled with it being so much, so often. Is it a big deal? Should I just be happy that he’s eating something, and wait for the phase to pass, or is there concern of contributing to his picky habits by giving him what he wants, over, and over?

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28 comments

  1. Be encouraged, sister. Yes, it’s normal – but at the same time, if you want to change the habits, you must create an environment that makes it happen. First, YES – move to options without added sugars. Added sugars, added flavors, and chemicals convince train our children to prefer fake foods… which is why when we offer whole foods that are not hyper sweet and over salted, they turn their noses up. As far as getting your little ones to eat “healthier”, I found with all of my kids (now 10, 8 and 3), explaining the benefits of foods I was serving made it more likely they would try them. For example, I would make asparagus and as I ate some I’d say “oh – do you know how strong this makes us when we eat it? It makes us run faster and builds our muscles… don’t you want to be fast and have strong muscles?” Another tactic I still use to this day is I cook with my kids in the kitchen and I am sure to take nibbles and say out loud, “You are going to love this. It tastes so good – and it will help you see better and feel better so you can run faster than all your friends.”

    Be patient… they will come around by your example and by the repeated exposure to whole food options :)

  2. I also go the ‘puree stuff and sneak it into the mac & cheese’ route! I use raw peeled zucchini, but I think I’ll try the steamed cauliflower someone else recc’d. Also, you can make ‘ice cream’ by pureeing fruit and bannana and some other bland veggie, with a little juice or milk, and as long as you put in blueberries, you can also sneak in a little greens powder (greens+ at whole foods, or the equivalent at Trader Joes) and the little ones won’t notice. You need the banana in it to keep the consistancy a little on the soft side. Sometimes the twins will let me sprinkle chopped sunflower seeds or nuts on top.

  3. I would never claim to have any idea what I’m doing… LOL! So I just consider myself lucky to have a child that is a good eater. However, they all have their moments, days, weeks that can be trying with meals. I always ask him to at least “try” it. If he doesn’t eat a meal, he makes up for it at the next.

  4. Hi Chrissy,

    I think, my son, just like my brother, have the Idontlikeanything gene. Until recently, my son, now 12, hated eggs, and he will now eat them (fried only with pepper and oozing yolks).

    Like your son, mine also lives on PB&J. He likes the Triple Fruit Jam with less sugar so I pretend he’s getting a portion of fruit. His other favorites are Hot Dogs and Mac & Cheese, again something my brother used to eat as a child.

    As my son grew, I tried to introduce other foods insisting that he try at least one bite. Today, besides his staples, he will eat spaghetti (which I pack with small chopped veggies so he don’t see) Caesar salad, celery and dip, hamburgers, chicken with ketchup and some pork.

    He’s usually very healty and does not have an ounce of fat on him. Except for today which he is lying in bed with a fever of 103.3. However, I don’t blame it on the peanut butter….

    I think your doing fine with your son… boys are.. in fact, IMHO, more prone to sticking to the same thing! We just need to push a little.

  5. I am a big pushover and if my son’s don’t like what I’ve fixed for dinner I let them have an alternative. Although they do have to take 2 bites of any vegetable that I put on their plate first. Peanut butter does have protein in it so I don’t think it’s that bad. I grew up eating it (sometimes for meals) and I’m just fine ;)

  6. I dont know if I would say they all grow out of this phase, as I have 6 kids and they really DO all have different “tastes”, including foods. I actually get the “bad mom” award for NOT allowing my kids more food venue…as they have spent time with other family or neighbors and come back saying OH, I just LOVE brussel sprouts or begging for peas and carrots (we never have because my husband says he’s “allergic to them”…but not really;).
    I think some of the foods we eat ARE family trends…I grew up on a farm and we had HUGE gardens but we had simple veggies like corn and potatoes, tomatoes…never spinach or broccoli, cauliflower, etc. I never tried any of these exotic (hehee) veggies or fruits like mango or honeydew until my late teens. So I DO believe some of what we give our kids are mainstays they might just stick with for a LONG time and not want to venture further.
    I do remember each kid going through phases where they slowed down on appetite and revved back up later. But as far as eating certain things…at this age I’d simply say it’s all gone and show them the empty box or container. Our pediatrician always said, they WILL eat what you offer when they are hungry enough. Short of gagging on something that is certainly something they really dont have a taste for or cant handle the texture, they will eat in time. We know there are things WE as parents dont care for so we dont push those few things each child really has an aversion to, but they did have to try it once in a while. And we also kept offering…some foods they really might need to aqquire a taste for. I actually used to HATE chocolate when a child…can you IMAGINE???? LOL!

  7. My son (who just turned 6) at times simply refuses to eat what we are having for dinner and I do go to his favorites as well. For him it’s grilled cheese or pasta with garlic and olive oil. When planning our dinners I always try to make something that I know he’ll eat in addition to what ever we are having.
    I do have a rule about trying new foods that has helped. If he hasn’t had it he absolutely isn’t allowed to even say he doesn’t like it. How would he know? So, I make him try two to three bites, if he really doesn’t like it it’s over, enough said. The second part of the rule is he must try the foods he doesn’t like again if it’s been more than six months or so since the last time he tried it. We have found that his tastes change and he often likes things he hadn’t previously. I relate it to the foods I didn’t like as a kid and now do. I remember sitting at the dinner table for what felt like hours because I refused to eat mashed potatoes. Plus, sometimes a kid will try something and not like it because of the way it was prepared. For instance, Grandma may make Beef Vegetable Soup different than myself and he doesn’t like mine and he may love Grandma’s or he may have tried tomatoes in the winter and they were pinkish and lacking in flavor which is nothing like a juicy fully ripened garden tomato.
    I like to explain that although he has tried a certain food once there are as many variations of each food as there are people in the world who grow, nurture and prepare those foods, so just as we don’t judge a book by it’s cover we can’t judge a food by how it looks or based on a single experience.
    I will second the amazing taste of some of the low sugar “healthier” jellies. We love Simply Fruit.
    I wish I could put my foot down and say “you’ll eat what I’ve prepared and that’s that” but I fold too. I can’t help it. My mom says if I didn’t give him a choice he’d eat what I made every evening and she may be right but I pick my battles and I’m just thankful his go to foods aren’t Chateubriand and lobster bisque.

  8. It’s a phase, I promise. And he’ll go through a lot more and stick with them for a long time! There’s no need to worry at all. I was told/taught that children will get the nutrients they need somehow. As a mom of a 24 year old and a 12 year old, I’ve been there and worried as well. I’ve learned to serve what they like unless it’s very unhealthy.

    • Thanks for commenting, Connie. I kind of had the feeling that this is probably just a phase, but as a new mom, of course I worry! :) I can still get him to eat green beans and carrots a couple times a week, so I guess it could be worse haha.

  9. Want to know something weird? My kids do not like PB&J. Yes, I gave birth to five kids, my husband is a peanut butter addict, and my kids don’t like peanut butter and jelly. Some will eat PB with honey, others will eat peanut butter on a bagel, and one particularly likes PB and marshmallow creme. But no jelly. Weird, huh?

    • That is TOTALLY weird, but my mother-in-law said the same thing about her kids! I’ve seen my husband eat one or two PBJ sandwiches, but I guess he didn’t care for it as a child.

  10. I’ve been lucky in that my child has eaten just about everything I’ve offered. I mean, she’s loved sushi since she was 2. I didn’t get to try it till I was 18! Have you tried making the food sound interesting? Mine loves to hear new food names like “try this, this is asparagus” or “steamed edamame” for your lunch and she would repeat after me slowly, trying to learn the word.

    But ulimately if he is growing well then don’t worry about it. It’s not like you are giving him french fries and chicken nuggets daily. Toddlers often get stuck in a rut for a while. We’re currently on a black olive rut. I have to hide them. Maybe give him a multivitamin just in case?

  11. My daughter has been going through the same things. I started pureeing also and it really works. We also do smoothies everyday. We call it our “ice cream time.” For breakfast and lunch it is a free for all but with dinner she eats what we eat. Some nights she eats some nights she doesn’t. I don’t make something extra just for her. Its really hard not to but I know it will only cause problems down the road. My parenting education class in college taught you should NEVER say “he won’t eat that” or “he doesn’t like carrots” because they start to hear you say it and then they will start to believe it later on. If you are positive about it saying “He loves carrots” or “don’t you want to try it you love it” they will grow out of the picky stage with plethora of nutritional food likes. Hope this helps. :)

  12. I fix meals for my kids usually keeping in mind what they like. I try to have something they will eat at each meal, but also throw other options in there too.

    Our rule is, if you want more of what you like, you have to at least try everything else first. More often than not, they realize they like what they didn’t want to eat in the first place!

    If they choose not to eat anything on their plate, then they have to wait for the next meal. The only exception to this is if they aren’t feeling well and that is the reason they aren’t eating at meal times.

    BTW, my kids are 1 and 4.

    Oh, and I TOTALLY feel you on the eggs. My 1 year old refuses to eat them in any way, shape or form. No tricking that kid!

  13. Just stopping by and wanted to say that’s our favorite brand of peanut butter, too, even though I *know* I should buy organic. ;)

    Also, my oldest was a supremely picky toddler, but thankfully loved fruits and veggies. Also, yogurt. Lots and lots of yogurt. Anyway, she is six now and is a much better eater! We never pushed it or made a big deal out of it. It seemed like it would never end at the time, but one day I turned around and she was eating bierocks with reckless abandon.

  14. My oldest was a picky eater. He being the brilliant one that he was, got himself down to basically eating just peanut butter and crackers. One day I realized it had to stop. So the concept of eating whatever we ate (with some modifications), one no thank-you bite or what he didn’t care for before leaving the table (sometimes he set for 1/2 hour or more), and not allowing activities such as video or playing had to be introduced. He is now 20, still a fussy eater but will eat most meat, fish, some vegetables, most fruit, pizza. He still doesn’t put butter on anything, nor will he eat casseroles, stews, soups or any mixture of any kind. Sigh….My daughter, the second one: I fed her adult food chopped small from the very start and had NO problems. So if you have a younger…skip the baby food. That’s my two cents.

  15. I feed my boy whatever he’ll eat. Luckily, he’s into healthy food – apples, broccoli, corn, etc! If all he at was just one or two things, I know I’d be feeding him those… and they’re not that bad. At least it’s not pizza & ice cream!

  16. Oh. Man. Now I’m super hungry for a sammich.

  17. Anya eats the same exact things for breakfast, snacks, and lunch pretty much every day. She’s picky, and I know she’ll eat this small list of foods. But for dinner, she gets what we eat with maybe an extra fruit I know she’ll eat put on her plate. She either eats it or she doesn’t. She doesn’t get anything else but water to sip on for the rest of the evening regardless. (She doesn’t like milk. Lots of yogurt and cheese in her daily menu instead!) Some nights she won’t touch anything just based on how it looks or feels. Some nights if we sit there long enough, take the plate away if she tries to throw it and give it back after a few minutes, and encourage her by eating ours she’ll try bites of the new food or foods on her plate. Sometimes, she discovers it tastes better than it looks and gobbles it all up after that (Happened with bacon and french toast the other night! She won’t do eggs, either, though.) and others she spits it out, and we know it’s a legitimate dislike at that point and not just based on the texture or appearance of the food. She never complains of being hungry, and is content to get down without eating everything if it’s something she decides she doesn’t like. I figure it’s the only meal I push her on, and she’s getting grilled cheese or mac n cheese every day at lunch with grapes and then pears, cinnamon toast, and yogurt every morning for breakfast. My husband and I were both picky eaters. We’re paying for our raising. I would agree that you’re training him to hold out. My advice would be give him meals full of stuff you know he loves the rest of the day, and then try the new foods at dinner.

  18. My stepdaughter is EXTREMELY picky which has only been made worse by my Mother-in-law catering to her every whim (before I married my husband, my MIL was the mother-figure). I’ve been working on breaking this habit by introducing new foods once a week. There’s always a back-up plan if she hates the new food, but she has to take at least 2 bites before she can say she doesn’t like something. She’s been surprisingly good about it – so long as I’m the one cooking. If she so much as sees my MIL in the kitchen, then the food must be EXACTLY what she wants or she will throw a fit! My best advice is to set limits and expect there to be some bumpy bits in the road. But explaining about how important trying new things is – bring up foods he likes but didn’t always eat and how sad he’d be if he never tried them in the first place! Good luck!

  19. I think the 18 month to 2 year age this is the norm. I mean every child goes through this. My 8 year old is the pickiest thing. All I can say is encourage the foods by giving him them everytime you have them, and hopefully he’ll get a taste for them. If you eat peas one night and he pushes them away, try again another night. Keep doing this every meal. He is really young! Hang in there mama and you’d be amazed how well the sugar free strawberry jam really tastes!

  20. P.S. Have you looked on You Tube for the dancing banana singing Peanut Butter Jelly Time. It’s addictive, but the kids LOVE it. It will be stuck in your head and everytime you see peanut butter and jelly, you will sing it to yourself.

  21. First if he likes Macaroni and Cheese, I’ve steamed carrots or cauliflower, then pureed them with a little bit of water. Freeze them in ice cubes (just like baby food). Then throw a couple of those into the macaroni and cheese when you add the milk & butter part. My little man is a VERY picky eater. So I have to sneak them in anyway I can.

    And sometimes if he starts refusing certain foods that he actually will eat, I will make him sit there until he eats a few bites. I say for every year they are old, they have to take that many bites. Then if they really don’t like it, he doesn’t have to eat more for that meal. There has been nights where he just wouldn’t eat, so he did go to bed without dinner. The next night he got the same exact meal. And most of the time they will try a bite, if they know they aren’t getting anything else.

  22. When I was growing up the rule was that you had to try everything on your plate, even if just a bite or two and that there would be no other meals/snacks until right before bedtime. The only thing you were allowed to have was a peanut butter sandwich or milk right before bed when you were hungry. We didn’t allows love the mushrooms, or creamed onions or whatever other grown up food was on the menu but mom always made at least one thing kid friendly as part of the meal and we didn’t starve.

    Last year I realized I was becoming a short order cook and not encouraging my kindergartener to try enough foods. Now we eat family meals and he eats the same thing his parents eat. He’s become a much less picky eater and surprises me by actually liking things I didn’t think he would – shame on me! In being forced to try something, he oftens decides to keep eating it more than the two bites I’ve requested and we only had a meltdown the first few days over this position. Meal planning has become a lot easier for me now!

  23. I usually give foods for breakfast and lunch that I know are total winners (I have a very, very picky preschooler). However, for dinner I’ve been making ONE meal, and if he chooses to not taste a bite, then he does not get anything else for the evening besides his nightly cup of milk. He knows I mean business at dinner time. ;) Other than that, it’s just a power struggle that I have completely lost. ;)

  24. I miss those days! Both my girls are in school and at the primary school no nuts are allowed! So, no pbj’s Mon-Fri at school. Feeding kids is always a “fun” experience.

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