Crying over poured milk. Why?
November 20, 2009 5:29 AM   Subscribe

My 3-year-old daughter suddenly hates drinking milk. Mealtimes are rife with tears and battles of will. How can we get her to drink milk happily and eagerly again?

Anya has drunk milk well since she stopped nursing around 16 months. Very recently, she's been complaining that she doesn't want to drink her milk and would prefer water. This seems like normal, 3-year-old testing of life, limits, and controls. We're fine with that.

But seriously, we want her to drink milk. What do we do? We've tried other fun cups, "three small cups" instead of one big cup, "calls" to teachers and doctors who urge Anya to drink, etc. Each method works — sometimes.

Our approach doesn't scale, and we recognize that. We want to stop making such a big deal out of this, but still impress upon Anya that while she can control some things — the color of the cup, the order we eat breakfast foods — that milk is important. We're supplementing with other dairy options, but that doesn't get to the heart of my question:

How can we get her drinking milk again, without thrice-daily emotional breakdowns?
posted by lexfri to Human Relations (78 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Not really helpful, but that's about the time I started refusing to drink milk too. And I'm now a strapping six-footer (which arguably is a bit big for a woman, but I think that's genetics!).

I'm not trying to discourage you, but that it's not the end of the world if things don't work out.
posted by Coobeastie at 5:32 AM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

She could be allergic to milk. It could make her stomach hurt or it could incite a rash (as it did for me as a child). Additionally, it's possible that she simply doesn't like the taste of what is essentially the boob juice of cows. Which if you think about it - why do we drink it?

Is milk the only thing she won't drink? If so then maybe it's not about testing limits and is simply about her not liking milk. Nutritionally, there are other ways to supplement the calcium that milk provides.
posted by billysumday at 5:37 AM on November 20, 2009 [7 favorites]

I gave up milk around the same time too. I haven't had any since, except when I use it to cook (I even eat dry cereal). I have a very vivid memory of my mom making me drink a glass of milk when I was 3 and I can still remember that terrible taste. I simply don't like it.

Maybe just leave the issue alone for a while. Feed her lots of cheese and yogurt for calcium and fats.
posted by chiababe at 5:40 AM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


When I was a toddler I hated drinking cow milk, and for what was probably a few weeks or months it was a constant battle with me and my mom. I told her that it made my stomach upset and she said "that's just a milk stomach ache." Then she took me to the doctor and it turned out I was allergic to it. So maybe your daughter has a good reason for not wanting to drink it.

You should at least get her tested to see if she's allergic to it before forcing her to drink something she finds disgusting.

When I got older whatever allergy response I had went away, and I was able drink chocolate milk at school with no problems. And I don't recall ever having a problem with ice cream either for some reason. Heh. Maybe it was just something I grew out of. However I have never enjoyed drinking regular milk and I don't think I've had more then a sip since I was a toddler and I turned out fine.
posted by delmoi at 5:41 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

If you're concerned that she get good amounts of the calcium and protein that milk can provide, there are plenty of other ways to get those. Seriously, milk isn't important. Much of the world's population doesn't consume milk after they're weaned. Continue to offer it if you want to - along with yogurt, cheese, tofu, green vegetables, and other good calcium sources - and let her choose what goes into her body.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:44 AM on November 20, 2009 [12 favorites]

My personal opinion is that your putting too much weight on the value of milk. She can get the required nutrition from other dairy products.

Also, milk just may not agree with her. Imagine a healthy food that you can't stand (eggplant?, broccoli?, cauliflower?) and being forced to try and eat it in different ways.

I'm not saying this is the case, I'm just pointing out that it is in the realm of possibility. Also, it's only fair to mention that this comes from personal experience of trying to understand why a kid rejected certain kinds of food only to eventually learn it was due to an allergy.

On preview, similar viewpoint to most of the others.
posted by forforf at 5:47 AM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Same story. I began my life-long hatred for milk at about the same age.

Funny thing, though, a lot of kids hate milk, but love cheese.

Food for thought.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:54 AM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

I appreciate all this insight. We had her visit the pediatrician earlier this week, and ruled out milk allergies.

Agreed 100% that she doesn't need to drink milk, and that other very viable healthy alternatives are available. But I don't think this is about taste — she only wants her Cheerios with milk — as much as it is control.
posted by lexfri at 5:55 AM on November 20, 2009

Try adding Milo powder ... if you're not familiar with it, read up - it's not like Hershey's chocolate syrup. Milo is different and the change in taste and texture might help. My toddler loves Milo milk and so we interchange between giving him plain white milk and adding a small amount of Milo.
posted by cyniczny at 5:58 AM on November 20, 2009

Much like everyone else, this is about the age when I started rejecting milk. My parents didn't push it on me - milk or water, my choice. I drank water happily. I would even eat dry cereal (and did for a long time).

I still don't like the taste of milk by itself.

You may be pushing this too hard - is this the battle you want to have?
posted by SNWidget at 5:59 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

Right. This is when they start voicing their opinions on everything from what to wear, to what to eat. Eating, or rather, not eating what you want them to, is something they learn very quickly that they can control. When I think of all the times I wasted on "five more bites," I kind of laugh, because it's not really worth it in the long run. They grow out of these stages relatively quickly (even though it may seem like a long time to you!).

The easiest way might be to use a little reverse psychology for a week or two. Pour yourself a big glass of milk, say, "yum, yum!" and don't offer it to her.

Alternatively, my mom used to buy Quick. My sister loved the strawberry, but I preferred chocolate, myself.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:59 AM on November 20, 2009 [8 favorites]

Can you give her a choice, so she maintains some control? Get some vanilla flavored vitamin-D and calcium enriched soy milk, and offer her a choice. That way she's still drinking something milk-like, and she's getting all those important vitamins and minerals, but she gets to pick how she does it.
posted by olinerd at 6:01 AM on November 20, 2009

It may indeed be about control. So what is the point of fighting this battle with her? She's allowed to like what she likes, and not like what she doesn't like. As long as she's able to get decent nutrition and not put too much of a cramp on your lifestyle, I don't see why you can't just let her decide.

Indeed, I find it a bit baffling that you would let this escalate to "tears and battles of will."
posted by SomeTrickPony at 6:03 AM on November 20, 2009 [9 favorites]

1) Get her tested for allergies. Lactose intolerance can present itself around this age.

2) Start her on a multi-vitamin. That'll make sure she gets all the calcium she needs. Probably wouldn't hurt anyways. If you're already doing this, the milk is probably unnecessary from a nutritional standpoint.

3) Assuming she isn't actually allergic, consider coming at this not from a "Milk is important" angle but a "Our daughter needs to learn to eat what's put in front of her" angle. So consider not serving it with every meal. Maybe once or twice a week at most. And when you do, emphasize the importance of clearing one's plate/serving rather than the importance of milk per se.

My mother tried a rather useful technique which worked wonders for me and my siblings. She knew perfectly well what we didn't like, and tended to avoid those things most of the time. But sometimes she'd make them--things generally worked out so that there was nothing that all three of us didn't like, and usually what one person didn't like was someone else's favorite, oddly enough--and when that happened, she gave the dissenting party a smaller helping. But the deal was that if you didn't clear your plate, including the undesirable item, in a reasonable amount of time, you got more. This threat was good for two or three more bites, which while not that big of a deal, was the worst thing ever. And if you didn't finish that in a reasonable amount of time, guess what's for breakfast?

To this day, myself and my siblings are all omnivores. We were never allowed to refuse something because it looked/smelled funny, and we learned to like most things. The things we didn't we learned to tolerate politely. An invaluable life skill.

Another trick you might go for at your daughter's age, where that kind of advance thinking is still largely beyond her, is to make some other, desirable treat/activity contingent upon finishing one's milk. So yes, you may have another serving of x, or dessert, or whatever, but not until your milk is gone. If you pick something sufficiently attractive you can get a lot of mileage out of that dodge.
posted by valkyryn at 6:04 AM on November 20, 2009 [5 favorites]

Another one who stopped drinking milk at that age. Still don't drink it alone.
But since your question is how to get her to drink it: Maybe stop trying but try to subtlely get across the point that milk is a drink for grown ups & big kids (is there an admired older kid handy)?
posted by pointystick at 6:05 AM on November 20, 2009

Agreed 100% that she doesn't need to drink milk, and that other very viable healthy alternatives are available. But I don't think this is about taste — she only wants her Cheerios with milk — as much as it is control.

You're probably right. And everyone - even a three year old - should have control over what they consume. You get to offer the food, and she gets to choose what to eat. If she's normally not an extremely picky eater, she won't starve herself. If you let up on the power struggle, maybe she'll start drinking milk again. Or maybe she won't. Let her choose.
posted by Daily Alice at 6:06 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

If she likes it with her cheerios, give it to her with her cheerios. I'm sympathetic to her. I don't like milk except with cereal and even then, I don't put much.
posted by sciencegeek at 6:07 AM on November 20, 2009 [7 favorites]

There are alternatives to cows milk. She shouldn't be made to or duped into drinking something she clearly doesn't want. Almond, soy, sunflower, brazil nut, sesame all make great milks. Try that and if she still doesn't want it - don't sweat it. Calcium can come in other forms, far healthier and probably more to her liking. BTW - inherently we know what's best for us - an aversion to a foodstuff is usually an indication that the body doesn't tolerate it well. So - be happy - have a good time and happy alternative food styling.
posted by watercarrier at 6:07 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sure, it probably is about control. So why fight this fight? You agree there are other viable alternatives, you and your child are both miserable.

There is no good advice about children and feeding that does not involve 'give control to the child.' If milk is a big part of your family's diet, just keep serving it without comment. Personally, I would completely stop offering it for a few weeks, until the current drama has died down, and then go back to offering a small glass with milk. Making sure that the consumption or non-consumption thereof excited absolutely no comment on my part. If it's still rejected, respect that.

I can think of no surer way to guarantee a lasting distaste for it than to make an issue over it.
posted by kmennie at 6:08 AM on November 20, 2009 [5 favorites]

Like the posters above, I gave up milk around then too. I don't even like cheese. But if it's about control, then responding about the milk is pointless.

So... is controlling your daughter what you really want? Because that's what it sounds like.
posted by msittig at 6:09 AM on November 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

Children have very few things that they are in control of. The 2 main things are what they eat and drink and their usage of the bathroom.

I agree with those people above who say to offer other sources of calcium and lay off the pressure for the milk. If she's doing it as a power play she'll start drinking it again. If she really doesn't like it, she's at least getting calcium from other sources. Also, children her age need 2 servings of milk each day and if she's already having it on cereal, you're halfway there.

I've seen many parents in this situation try offering chocolate (or other flavoured milk) don't do that unless you want your child to drink nothing but chocolate milk.
posted by Abbril at 6:09 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

As I think about it, I'd also recommend that you remember that children at this age--at most ages, actually--need to be reasoned with far less than they need to be shown clear direction. This concept isn't going to win me many friends amongst the MeFi crowd, but I don't care much, frankly.

Your daughter is three. Her ability to reason to things that are good for her is minimal at best, if not totally absent. Having doctors, teachers, etc. talk to her is largely useless, because she doesn't want to drink her milk, and that's about the end of it. Sometimes as unpleasant as it may be at the time, it really is just a battle of wills, and it's critical that she not win. Once she gets it through her head that being willful is not the way to get what she wants, it can be time to reintroduce reasoning to the process. She's got to learn to accommodate herself to a world which largely doesn't give a flip about what she does or doesn't want. Much of her life, like everyone's, is going to be characterized by people doing what they want to do no matter what she asks of them. Getting that through her sweet little head sooner rather than later will help her in the long run.

If drinking her milk is a tool to that end, it's a far more innocuous one that most people wind up with.
posted by valkyryn at 6:10 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

Agreed that this isn't the hill you should stake your battle on. If it's about control and not allergies or taste, and she's getting enough calcium elsewhere, why bother fighting her three times a day on this? Not to mention that because it's about control, you almost certainly won't be able to make her enjoy it the way she used to.

My mom tried to foist yogurt on me around that age, and to this day the smell nauseates me. Some kids just don't like certain things and while you can teach them to politely decline or tolerate it, you shouldn't force them to eat stuff they really hate. I eat milk only on cereal myself, because if you think about it, it's pretty disgusting. Humans are the only ones who continue drinking milk after they're weaned and a lot of studies show that it doesn't do as much good as we like to believe (ie, green leafy vegetables are a much better source of calcium, don't contribute to nasal congestion, and are less likely to be allergens).

So yeah. I'd let her win this battle.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:11 AM on November 20, 2009

When I was three or four I went through a long period where I refused to eat anything except Campbell's chicken noodle soup. My mom mentioned it to my pediatrician, who said yeah, she's at that age, give her a Flintstones vitamin; she won't die of malnutrition. It's not a battle worth fighting. I'm all grown up now, and an omnivore.

(Two sort of unrelated things: I'm unaware of any scientific studies that say that milk or dairy consumption increases the production of mucus; and the calcium in things like spinach is low in bioavailability - difficult for the body to absorb - because of the oxalates in the spinach.)
posted by rtha at 6:25 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I wasn't allergic to milk, but it did make me feel nauseated to just drink it straight when I was a kid. I loved cereal with milk, and still find it tasty, but that's a much smaller quantity and not all at one time. I used to drink the skim milk when we had to drink milk at school (maybe that would help), but now I don't know how I got it down.

You can be lactose intolerant, or just not handle milk on your stomach comfortably, without having an allergy to milk. It's a different thing.

I never told my parents about the fact that milk made my stomach feel wonky; I didn't know it was significant, wouldn't have known how to express it. I just told them I didn't like milk. Again, I did and still could handle it on cereal, but not drinking it from a glass.
posted by amtho at 6:31 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'd be willing to bet that you want your daughter to have a comfortable relationship with food for her whole life.

One of the core issues of saying disorders, almost universally, is control.

Even people who don't have eating disorders (as clinically defined) but who are overweight/obese have issues with control. The most pressing of these is 'don't know when to stop.'

Your daughter needs to be able to set and maintain her own food boundaries now, because it's much harder to set them later.

In the sociology literature we have a lot of eating. The psychology literature is full of the phrase 'locus of control' healthy adults are able to recognize their responsibilty for their actions, and consequences.

Allowing your daughter to control this one tiny part of her life now helps her learn to deal with these issues. But, if you're always there as the arbiter of what she eats, she will (according to the literature) likely learn to depend on external cues to tell her when she is done. In most adult situations the only external cue is a clean plate or an empty bag. We all know how big restaurant portions are.

(I'm also a huge proponent of giving girls, and boys, a sense of agency as they grow up. She needs to know you love her whether she drinks her milk, or decides to cut class. But more importantly, she needs to know that it's up to her to drink her milk and not cut class.)
posted by bilabial at 6:33 AM on November 20, 2009 [27 favorites]

Also, I just want to say that even if I didn't have a true milk allergy, drinking milk straight didn't make me feel good. My stomach would go in knots because of it, and I can almost remember to the day when that started happening.

I just assumed that everyone else had this issue, so I never brought it up to anyone. This led to many a recess where I wasn't allowed to go out and play because I hadn't finished my milk, and everyone was required to finish their milk (even though I don't remember any lactose intolerant kids, I'm sure there might have been some - wonder what they did).
posted by SNWidget at 6:35 AM on November 20, 2009

I really don't think this battle is worth fighting. My younger sister is disgusted by milk, and has been since she was about your daughter's age. The taste literally makes her gag. But my parents believed that milk was necessary for proper development, so she had to force a glass down with every meal, until age 13 or so. I know they meant well, but in retrospect, it seems totally sadistic that in order to be allowed to eat, my sister had to consume something that nauseated her first.

That said, not all milks are equal, and it may be that your daughter just doesn't like the type of milk you're providing for her. If you haven't already, try giving her organic whole milk. I recently switched from the regular 2% grocery-store brand to a locally produced, non-homogenized, minimally-pasteurized organic full-fat brand, and it is like drinking a completely different beverage. You could also try making healthy "milkshakes" for dessert - throw some milk, half a banana, a few frozen unsweetened strawberries and a small ice cube or two into a blender for a few seconds, blend until frothy, serve in a fun glass.
posted by homuncula at 6:37 AM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Find an alternative to milk and let her drink that. There are plenty of ways to get calcium and vitamins into her that don't involve bovine lactation. It's not like she only wants to drink Kool-Aid, right? Get creative. I mean, how would you feel if you hated something and some bigger stronger adult tried to bully you into drinking it all the time? She should have some control over what goes into her little body. It is hers, after all, and there are plenty of other ways to make sure she's getting adequate nutrition.
posted by balls at 6:37 AM on November 20, 2009

I hated milk when I was a child. My parents had to force me to drink it (and no, I'm still not glad that they did it; it was awful). But that was 2% milk. Later, when I was old enough to choose my own milk, I discovered that skim milk is much more tolerable--I sometimes even drink skim milk voluntarily, while I still find 2% or whole milk absolutely revolting (because of the thick texture).

I agree with the people who say to try something other than milk, but you might also try skim milk or some different kind of milk.
posted by k. at 6:40 AM on November 20, 2009

> you might also try skim milk or some different kind of milk

Seconding this. I never liked milk until I discovered skim.
posted by datacenter refugee at 6:47 AM on November 20, 2009

Obviously, at three, control is an issue. But what does that say?

One must realize that if food issues become a fight, it is always because the grownups react to a child's previous behavior. The dynamic of the three year-old is to scan the horizon for such reactions all the time, and to deal with them in a three year-old fashion, which can be maddening,

but this says nothing whatsoever about the cause of their 'original' behavior around the issue at hand.

Typically, children of that age, if they are not already messed up by three long years (a lifetime) of corrective acts of pedagogy, have an incredibly keen sense of not eating what's not good for them, and of craving what is good for them. Important aside: disregarding those products that the food industry prepares in order to override natural responses, like most sweets and otherwise highly processed and/or taste-enhanced junk. Booh to all advise here that employs fancy flavors to trick the kid into submission.

Listen to her and let go. Milk is not life-necessary (I emphasize that I'm not using the argument "humans are no cows" here. Humans can like milk products nevertheless, but various humans decide in various ways, even small humans). Let her fight about something else. Too many people with eating disorders are out there already.
posted by Namlit at 6:49 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

My daughter stopped drinking milk early on. We switched her to seltzer. She got her calcium from yogurt. At 6, she now has a couple heaping bowls on cereal and milk every morning. She will more often than not drink milk when we're out.

My son (33 mo) was a heavy milk drinker, but tapered off. Again, yogurt for him. He now takes milk with dinner, sometimes chocolate milk (Hershey's syrup in small quantities). We try to offer two options and stand by the two ("milk or water, pick please" "chocolate milk!" "milk or water, pick please." "milk").

He will still have tantrums at the table, but we uniformly do not accept table tantrums. He's given the choice of calming down or going to his room to calm down. Tantrums are no fun when you're alone.
posted by plinth at 6:54 AM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

It occurs to me to ask why milk is so important to you? Surely you recognize that there are plenty of tasty and nutritious substitutes around. When you say it's about control, you're right. But perhaps you should evaluate why you feel the need to micromanage every food choice she makes. She is only going to grow more independent from here, and it's a certainty that she won't always like what you want her to like.
posted by balls at 6:54 AM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

You've got a lot of good advice, and I think the issue of letting a child set her own food boundaries (barring an obvious disorder) young is very important in protecting against eating disorders later in life.

I just thought I'd add that she might be thirsty. She wants water instead of milk, and still eats milk on cereal (so it's not a total aversion). I find that when I'm thirsty, milk does not cut it for me. If it's water she wants and not something sweet, thirst would be my first guess.
posted by carmen at 7:00 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with the above suggestions. Reverse psychology should work well, as will giving her some alternatives like chocolate milk or strawberry milk.

Our two-year old loves milk. We recently gave her chocolate milk for the first time and she called it "ice cream milk". A day later we gave her Fruit Loops for the first time and she called them "ice cream Cheerios".
posted by camworld at 7:07 AM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Assuming she isn't actually allergic, consider coming at this not from a "Milk is important" angle but a "Our daughter needs to learn to eat what's put in front of her" angle.

I've never liked, or understood, this attitude towards food. As a kid, I was entirely allowed to control the volume of the food I ate. Generally, according to my mother, I ate "like a guinea pig" (I was a nibbler), and that was okay, and I can't help but wonder if this might have something to do with my never having a disordered relationship with food. I know my body's hunger responses and know when to stop eating, and know when to keep eating when I'm hungry. Teaching your children to respect what their bodies are telling them about hunger seems more important, to me, than teaching obedient eating.

Sure, this is probably a control issue. When I was around the same age, I decided I hated onions. My parents never commented on it, except to tell me how delicious their onion rings were at a diner. And they were right. That being said, there are other foods that people have put in front of me that I don't like (gravy--ew), but generally, I eat the same sort of diverse diet that my parents did, and am adventurous with new foods, at least initially, not because I'm obligated to be that way but because my parents always presented new foods as a fun adventure and experience that one shouldn't miss out on.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:09 AM on November 20, 2009 [11 favorites]

nthing letting it go.

If it makes you feel better, I was just told by a pediatric cardiologist AND pediatric nutrition doctor that there's no need to make kids drink milk once they're weaned and that you absolutely do not need to force any foods on kids. If you simply concentrate on keeping the really bad stuff out of the house, making healthy stuff available (on the table all the time, but not forced on her) she'll get what nutrients she needs.

Just let go. This is just the first of many battles you want' to avoid.
posted by paanta at 7:11 AM on November 20, 2009

She may be very sensitive to the taste of milk. For a very long time I thought that anything other than skim milk tasted off, and milk started to taste bad several days before its sell-by date.

If you decide to ease up on the milk pressure, I suggest you give her soy milk, which has a very different taste. Try the regular, vanilla, and particularly the kind you can purchase from Chinese supermarkets (which is sweetened, but not with vanilla). It's called "do jun".
posted by acidic at 7:19 AM on November 20, 2009

Thanks again to all.

Anya eats great overall; plenty of veggies and fruits, well-balanced, etc.

We'll let her pick her beverage of choice between H20 and milk — perhaps even offering both together — for the time being, let her see us drink milk, and go from there.
posted by lexfri at 7:24 AM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

But I don't think this is about taste — she only wants her Cheerios with milk — as much as it is control.

Let her assume control - it's no big deal.

But pick your battles.

By giving in here and a few other places, you will save yourself some ammo to enforce the "seatbelts must be worn in cars rule.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:32 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I also quit milk at around that age. I think I have a vague memory of having some that tasted like it was just a little off and that was me and milk done with until I rediscovered it at age 17 or so. No health issues here either and I happily drink it by the pint nowadays.

On the other hand, things I was forced to eat as a kid ended up giving me food anxiety issues later at school and a little chunk of misery that could have been avoided.
posted by merocet at 7:33 AM on November 20, 2009

And when you do, emphasize the importance of clearing one's plate/serving rather than the importance of milk per se.

At the risk of derailing but I think it's a terrible idea to teach children to eat more than they want to or are comfortable eating, barring some sort of medical condition where they truly aren't getting enough sustenance.
posted by 6550 at 7:37 AM on November 20, 2009 [5 favorites]

I was a super-picky eater growing up. There are no superlatives which describe the extent of my pickiness as a kid. And stubborn as a goat, too.

I heartily endorse the suggestions of chocolate or strawberry milk. She gets to turn her tantum-trigger into a treat (she wins) and she's still getting the nutrition (mom wins.)
posted by desuetude at 7:40 AM on November 20, 2009

For every "My parents made me eat stuff I hated and I was taught an invaluable life skill" story I hear, I hear twenty "I still can't eat oatmeal because I was forced to eat it as a child" stories.
posted by MarkAnd at 7:47 AM on November 20, 2009 [5 favorites]

I have always hated plain milk, and my mom tried to force me to drink it. But I love chocolate milk. Nthing the suggestion of flavored (chocolate, strawberry, whatever) instead of forcing plain.
posted by bolognius maximus at 7:47 AM on November 20, 2009

My parents made the oldest of my brothers and I clear our plates, or as near as possible (I fought eating a fair number of foods from about the age of two onward) for every meal. Struggles with weight showed up early for the two of us, and not until my later for my middle brother and sister, who faced less pressure to eat everything in front of them.

On the other hand, one of my cousins was allowed to be a notoriously picky eater, and didn't even really have to try foods. This made it a nuisance to have her to dinner, and just seems like a shame to me, that she wasn't encouraged to explore different kinds of food.

Personally (and I don't have kids, so this is observational learning, not experiential), I'm a fan of the "try a bit" approach. One or two bites or sips (presuming the absence of severe allergies) isn't going to hurt a kid, supports the lesson that it's both polite and fun to try foods, and still allows the child to exercise some control over whether they continue eating the food or not.

You can keep milk in the equation by offering your daughter a choice between healthy options, like milk and water, as suggested above (especially if there are others in the house who like drinking milk, and everyone gets asked at meal times which they'd like), but I don't think it's worth pushing it on her right now. It's possible she'll grow out of it - quite a few of the foods I refused to eat when I was little I now enjoy, in part because I have a "try it and see" approach to eating, but some of the food aversions have been lifelong, and would've saved both me and my mother a lot of grief if they hadn't been such a big deal.

I also might've come around to liking some of these foods sooner if the regular battles over them hadn't caused me to really dig my heels in and get stubborn. If your daughter shows signs of being inclined to stubbornness, I'd urge picking the battles you're going to fight with her carefully - as a general rule, kids have way more energy to be stubborn than adults do be reasonable.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:57 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

We went through this. It's already been said, but your kid is starting to assert herself. When she stops refusing food it'll move to what clothes they'll wear. She's becoming an independent human being. Encourage it. Try not to pull your hair out (it's hard sometimes).
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:04 AM on November 20, 2009

I stopped liking to drink milk between 3 and 4. My parents finally stopped trying to make me drink the stuff when I turned 9. So, y'know, six years of battles over milk. My, that was fun for all of us.

I do not currently (39) drink milk at all. I do like cheeses of many sorts, cottage cheese, most yogurt, custards, puddings, and other things made-with-milk. I just don't like liquid milk. It's ghastly, has been since I was 9. (I check it again every couple of years to see if I have started to like it yet. Not yet.)

Along with the unsuccessful milk battle, my parents tried rather seriously to convince me that water-dwelling critters (fish, shellfish, etc.) were tastylicious. When water-dwelling critters were on the menu, a serving of same was put onto my plate. I had to remain at the table until I consumed that serving. I sat at the table for an hour or more past dinner every time we had that crap, trying to get it past my gag reflex. We had "fish" once a week. It was hellish.

Along about the time I turned twelve, I selected a non-dinner-battle time slot and told my folks that I had damn well TRIED every variety of sea critter that they could come up with and that I didn't like any of 'em and that no progress had ever been made on the "force which_chick to like sea critters" front. I allowed as how I would happily attend dinner on fish nights and eat just the non-fish items or I would happily stay in my room and not have dinner at all but that I was not going to play the current game any more. And that was the end of that.

So. Milk battle. Six years of fighting, parents 0, kid 1.
And Fish battle. Ten years of fighting, parents 0, kid 1.

In my experience, fighting the battle of "force the kid to eat this" is not going to make anyone happy and will not result in a win for the parents even if they try really, really hard, for years on end.
posted by which_chick at 8:05 AM on November 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

Agreed 100% that she doesn't need to drink milk, and that other very viable healthy alternatives are available. But I don't think this is about taste — she only wants her Cheerios with milk — as much as it is control.

I'd seriously think about what you're doing here. You know she doesn't need milk, is healthy and will take milk with Cheerios, yet you're stuck on having her drink it from a glass. The kid is fine, acting normally, yet you're stuck in a narrow minded approach that is causing stress and grief. This doesn't make you bad parents, but I'd suggest thinking hard about whether you want to use this model teaching for the future.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:07 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

Our 5yo daughter has been through several rounds of picky eating. At various stages of life her staple food has been yogurt, Cheez-Its, applesauce, or dry Cheerios.

As for milk, she'll only drink chocolate milk or orange juice or water. Or those juice packs we let her take in her lunch. But she'll eat cereal with skim milk.

For a while she wouldn't eat luncheon meat. Now she takes a ham sandwich (no condiments) for lunch every day.

For a while she wouldn't eat hot dogs, only the buns. Then she wouldn't eat the bun, only the hot dog. Now she'll eat one bite of both.

She loves pasta, but only with tomato sauce -- nothing else. Pizza must have a tomato base and the toppings stripped.

She's always been in the healthy range for weight and is in the top quadrille for height. She's never had any malnutrition related problems and is extremely active.

So, in summary, tell everyone else to stop shoving milk in her face. At some point she may decide to drink it again, but don't worry if she doesn't, and don't push it on her. Don't worry about the allergies unless you're seeing the signs of it after she eats cereal (diarrhea, stomach complaints, rashes, etc.) Really, this is about testing and control for her, and it's part of growing up, just as anxiety about what your kid eats/drinks is part of raising a kid. If she's getting the Dairy-Industrial Complex's suggested "three servings a day" she'll be perfectly fine, and honestly, there are billions of people on this planet who didn't get those three servings but are not horribly diseased.

Don't worry. In another month she'll be finicky about something else that will make you pull your hair out. "BUT YOU ATE IT A MONTH AGO! WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH THIS GIANT ECONOMY SIZE BOX OF CHEEZ-ITS?"
posted by dw at 8:07 AM on November 20, 2009

The more you make a "thing" of food and drink and eating and consumption to/in front of your kids, the more likely they are to have unhealthy habits and attitudes about food and eating when they're older. This is just my own observation from anecdotal evidence. I'm not saying that encouraging your kid to drink milk will turn her into a food addict or anorexic, I'm just saying that from what I have seen, people whose parents prohibited them from doing certain things or tried to force other things on them are more likely to have odd and neurotic food issues. So, unless it's a life or death thing, I'd agree with other folks who suggest just letting it go.
posted by Rudy Gerner at 8:25 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I will drink milk about once every 4 months - lactose intolerance, but even with special milk, I'm not a huge fan. Haven't been for years. My father's severely lactose intolerant, so my parents never pushed it on me. I'm 28.

Until last year, my boyfriend's mother *still* tried to push milk on *me* at family dinners.

If you know that milk isn't this magical food that must be chosen, please consider the utility of why you want her to drink it. Pick your battles. Consider how much control is really necessary, and in what aspects of life. Milk isn't worth it.
posted by cobaltnine at 8:27 AM on November 20, 2009

Nthing everyone that says get some perspective and don't force it. My wife (30 yo) still has horrible memories of being forced to drink milk as a child. She says she simply never liked it, but her mom forced her to drink it with every meal. She doesn't drink milk at all now.
posted by gnutron at 8:35 AM on November 20, 2009

But I don't think this is about taste — she only wants her Cheerios with milk — as much as it is control.

Um, if she doesn't want to drink milk and wants to have some control over that, let her. If she prefers water, let her drink water. As a parent why would you want to enforce an arbitrary milk-drinking rule that is neither necessary for her health nor productive. Perhaps you need to think why you feel the need to control her over this.
posted by Lleyam at 8:48 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Brandon wrote: The kid is fine, acting normally, yet you're stuck in a narrow minded approach that is causing stress and grief. This doesn't make you bad parents, but I'd suggest thinking hard about whether you want to use this model teaching for the future.

I know, it's the Internet, and we can't see each other's faces. I knew posing the question that I would get a lot of counsel along the lines of "pick your battles," and that Anya's doing age-appropriate independence-delcaring. (Though admittedly, I didn't expect the number of people who similarly gave up milk at the same time.)

What bums me out about your response, though, is the accusation that I'm "stuck in a narrow-minded approach." Really? I'm posting on MeFi, seeking counsel, and even went so far as to acknowledge:

"Our approach doesn't scale, and we recognize that. We want to stop making such a big deal out of this, but still impress upon Anya that while she can control some things — the color of the cup, the order we eat breakfast foods — that milk is important."

I could have posed this question more vaguely: What are productive ways of dealing with three-year-olds they assert independence? Anya doesn't battle us on everything, but she has even less facility for "picking her battles" than we do as parents, since she's so new at it.

My parents forced a lot of foods on me that I don't eat today. There's undoubtedly a connection. Perhaps I erred in making my question about food, since I know it can be an emotionally charged subject. The bigger question to me is, what are smart ways to handle young kids as they assert their independence?

I love being a dad, and work to be a parent my kids will love now and later. The "narrow-minded" label hurts me, because I really am trying to be as open and fluid a parent as I can.
posted by lexfri at 8:51 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I read somewhere that the best way to get your picky young child to eat new things is to offer it and don't make a big deal if they don't want it, just eat it yourself. It can take an average of 3 times of them saying no before they will even try it. The reason this works, is that it DOESN'T become a battle of wills. It really doesn't matter what they eat. Modeling good eating behaviour and a lack of stress around eating will help your child more than forcing them to eat things they don't like.

If you want your child to drink milk again, you should act as if you care, and honestly you don't have to care.
posted by Gor-ella at 8:59 AM on November 20, 2009

My 23 yo daughter has had one glass of milk, the first taste of which she threw up.

I believe that was 21 years ago.

She's still perfect.
posted by pianomover at 9:15 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

The bigger question to me is, what are smart ways to handle young kids as they assert their independence?

Let them become independent and safely guide them through the amazing, wondrous journey of childhood. Your daughter is her own person, an independent being with her own thoughts, dreams, likes, hates, loves, and passions. Embrace it and let her grow into who she has to be. Your only job here is to keep her from hurting herself, give her tools to expand her world, and make sure she knows that you love her unconditionally. If you catch yourself forcing an issue and it doesn't seem to accomplish any of the above goals, you need to ask yourself why you're forcing it.

It sounds like you're still working on some unresolved issues from your own childhood, which is totally normal and natural. The key here is not to repeat your parents' mistakes, especially if you recognize them as such. You don't have to do it to her just because it was done to you.
posted by balls at 9:24 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

The bigger question to me is, what are smart ways to handle young kids as they assert their independence?

Choices. It's all about choices when they're this young, and even into older childhood. Would you like water or milk to drink? Do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt? Shall we go for a walk or go to the park? Would you like to read this book or this one?

And as she gets older (I'm thinking four or five years old), you can vary things. Choose a drink. Pick out a shirt. Grab a book and we'll read it together. But she has to make those little choices with your guidance at first.

Even now, with my kids being 12 and 9, it's all about choices. We've guided them to what we deem as acceptable and unacceptable, and we tell them if we believe their choice to be unacceptable. We also set hard and fast rules, too, don't get me wrong. But they don't learn anything if you make all the choices for them.

I love the T. Berry Brazelton Touchpoints books. They can be a little more warm and fuzzy than I like sometimes, but there's really, really good advice for every age and stage. Dr. Brazelton is all about communication and independence.
posted by cooker girl at 9:37 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your only job here is to keep her from hurting herself, give her tools to expand her world, and make sure she knows that you love her unconditionally. If you catch yourself forcing an issue and it doesn't seem to accomplish any of the above goals, you need to ask yourself why you're forcing it.

I'm pretty sure that ensuring that the child gets vitamins and minerals and protein is part of "not hurting herself" and "giving her the tools to expand her world."

Trying to convince a three-year-old to eat nutritious food isn't going to harm her individuality, and lexfri hasn't even sorta-kinda-introduced the idea of "forcing" his daughter to do anything.
posted by desuetude at 9:40 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure that ensuring that the child gets vitamins and minerals and protein is part of "not hurting herself" and "giving her the tools to expand her world."

Trying to convince a three-year-old to eat nutritious food isn't going to harm her individuality, and lexfri hasn't even sorta-kinda-introduced the idea of "forcing" his daughter to do anything.

Yes, and as has been pointed out by a dozen others in this very thread, there are many equally nutritious alternatives to milk that the OP could give to his daughter. Things she might even enjoy eating or drinking.

He said himself that she eats a well-rounded diet otherwise, so we're questioning why he's stuck on milk. No one is suggesting she be allowed to live on table sugar and dirt.
posted by balls at 9:45 AM on November 20, 2009

The short answer is, "Pick your battles."

The hard part is figuring out which battles are worth fighting over. Every parent has a different idea of what is acceptable for their kids, so what works for me might not work for you. But the general concept is that you have to figure out what behavior is actually important and non-negotiable, and then you can let them have choices with the rest of it.

My daughter was a willful toddler. She didn't throw tantrums often, but was obstinate as all get-out. She had an opinion on everything under the sun, and it was usually, "I don't like it." In order to not sell her to gypsies I had to either let her have some choices, enforce consequences for undesired behavior, or compromise. This is the part where I had to ask myself if certain things were worth going to war over. A lot of times they actually weren't, and other times I did to put my foot down to whatever nonsense was being kicked up.

Along the lines of what cooker girl said, I am big on limited choices for kids that age. One of our big battles was always getting dressed. So if we were going somewhere, I would look in the closet and pick out two or three acceptable outfits and let her choose one. If we were staying home, or she just needed pajamas, well then go nuts. It simply wasn't important what she wore so she could pretty much wear whatever.

On the other hand, brushing teeth is an important thing to do. So if I said, "Go brush your teeth, please." and she started flailing around on the floor whining about it, then I would do a warning and a consequence if she didn't go do it. I will fight that battle because it impacts her health.

Food is a weird one, though. It's not really as clear cut because on one hand, it can affect a child's health if they aren't getting enough nutrition. On the other, it's nearly impossible to force food on your kid unless you want to screw them up for a good while.

But this is an area where you can compromise and maybe even use it as an opportunity to explore some new foods. For instance, I buy sliced deli cheese and we've used cookie cutters to make it into fun shapes. Something like that would be an acceptable replacement for drinking milk. Plus she can help cut them out, and so she's more likely to eat it. Or, broccoli has a lot of calcium, so try serving it raw with dip maybe. There are a lot of foods that would substitute nutritionally and it's even more fun to make up new recipes. Then you both win.

My rule of thumb is that if I can't come up with any good reasons that my daughter should or shouldn't do something, it's probably not worth fighting over. And sometimes, even if she needs to do something for their own good, there are other ways to get there without turning it into a battle of wills. Raising toddlers and preschoolers can involve a bit of Jedi mind trick style of parenting, but eventually they get at least a bit more reasonable.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 10:01 AM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Pick your battles. This is an easy and good one to give up, especially if she's getting milk with her cereal. Even as an adult I hate the taste of milk by itself, but love it with chocolate, with cereal, or if enough cookies have been dunked into it.
posted by davejay at 10:16 AM on November 20, 2009

The bigger question to me is, what are smart ways to handle young kids as they assert their independence?

Oh, that's the easy part: give them a huge pile of choices to make, all day long. Everything that can be a choice, ask them their preference. If they express the desire to make a choice with something you didn't think of, and it does no harm, let 'em have that choice, too. Then when they want to choose something harmful to them, or that can't be accommodated, you squat down and say:

"Honey, I love you, and I know you're a big kid, and that's why I let you make choices for yourself. Today you chose [one thing], and [another thing], and yesterday you chose [a third thing], and you made good choices, so I was proud of you. But THIS, [thing], you can't have this choice, because [damn good reason.]"
posted by davejay at 10:19 AM on November 20, 2009 [11 favorites]

My son has severe eating issues -- at age 5 he still only has about 10 foods total he will eat (up from just 2 a year ago). This has been an issue for him since he was a tiny infant, and he has been involved in "food exploration/therapy" on and off since then. What we have been told over and over is to give him opportunities to eat different foods but to let him ultimately have control.

Why? Because when we tried to set strict limits, he began to exhibit pretty classic symptoms of anxiety -- and our therapist pointed out that forcing a child into anxiety attacks sets the ground for mental illness later in life. After all, you can, in fact, live and grow on cheerios and milk and a multivitamin alone.

So I feel your frustration at your child's picky eating -- believe me, I feel it. But let her work through her choices, as long as the choices are still healthy -- water, or sometimes juice. Good luck.
posted by Malla at 10:24 AM on November 20, 2009

Agreeing with the idea of offering acceptable-to-parents choices, and noting that it worked well for me to briefly affect an attitude of regretfulness when forced to say that, no, unfortunately, the tutu isn't one of the choices that will work for going sledding, because we need something that covers your behind, but but (brightly now!) thankfully we do have at least two choices that will work.
posted by lakeroon at 10:40 AM on November 20, 2009

What bums me out about your response, though, is the accusation that I'm "stuck in a narrow-minded approach." Really? I'm posting on MeFi, seeking counsel, and even went so far as to acknowledge:

Really. You want her to have milk, she's fine getting milk with cereal, yet you're obsessing over her drinking it from a glass. Is it really that important enough to fight over when she's fine taking milk with cereal?

I don't mean to paint you as awful parent and I know how one can agonize over each decision. I remember thinking way too hard about whether my 9 year old stepdaughter should go swimming in the ocean, because it was just the two of us there, her mom wasn't around, no cell coverage, the kid wants to go swimming in January, but it's in the south so it's warm out, but the it's winter right, I grew up in Baltimore, it's freezing in the winter and sure I could probably handle swimming in the ocean, but she' so much smaller than me and could lose heat quicker and what bout the waves and OMG there were sharks in the water and I'm trying to bond with her and make her happy, it's a just a simple swim and would make her like me and I'd be a cool step-dad then but omg what if she gets sick?!!

I didn't let her swim, she was bummed, we went home. I can still feel the emotions of those few minutes, but when I asked the kid about that years later, she could barely remember it and laughed (along with her mom) that I worried so much about it.

So, yeah, I get that it's easy to worry over every little thing as parent. My point is that there will be enough issues and problems, there's no need to create more. You want to be comfortable drinking milk. She doesn't want to drink it, but will take it with cereal. So give her a healthy cereal and call it a day, no need to try and get her to drink milk, she's doing fine.

My kid hated vegetables, wouldn't eat them. Rather than fight with her over it, we made dishes that had vegetables in them or added them, such as putting spinach in spaghetti. She got to eat something yummy, we got vegetables into her and there was peace over the issue and we could fight over leaving her clothes all over the house, i.e. important issues.

Pick your battles.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:49 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I refused to drink milk for a while when I was about that age (I don't remember why and I'm not sure my parents know). Instead, I would have a Tums for calcium every night with my vitamin. Later, I became a regular milk-drinker again.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 10:58 AM on November 20, 2009

If you end up giving/taking calcium supplements, be aware that they can interfere with absorption of other vitamins and medicines.
posted by amtho at 12:04 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

ToddlerTaff the three year old has very little milk. What milk we do give... is given in an adult coffee mug with breakfast as we all have our cups of tea and eat our porridge.

Then I just add cheese to all her sandwiches and every dish of pasta. And give her a small tub of yoghurt every few days.

She has a sippy cup of water permanently attached to her side and drinks about 600mls of water a day. She is a robust and healthy three year old.

Oh... and if we go to cafes/coffee shop she gets a babycino. A babycino is just the foam from a cappuccino in an espresso cup with a sprinkling of chocolate powder on top, like a grown up cappuccino. It's largely an Australian thing... but you should entice your local cafe to make them for the kids. They love to be just like Mummy and Daddy. (ToddlerTaff has a nude babycino... no chocolate on top... and loves it... particularly the part where she eats the foam with a teaspoon.)
posted by taff at 1:02 PM on November 20, 2009

Please also remember milk isn't a universal dinner drink. The only time I've had a glass of milk in the past ten years have been with alcohol, or while pregnant/breastfeeding. I still think drinking a glass of milk is a little odd.

My sister was another picky eater who also has a sensitive stomach/palate - she will only drink ice cold skim milk because of taste and texture.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:20 PM on November 20, 2009

Here's someone who recently went through the same thing. Excerpt:
I did better about drinking milk at meals to provide an example, but I stuck to my job, and let her do hers. That is, I offered milk and if she refused, I did not lecture, pressure, bribe, praise or cajole her to try to get her to drink milk. I trusted that it would work out.

What would I tell my clients? "Trust that if you drink milk as a family, that she too will return to it." I gave myself the same pep talks and advice that I share with clients. "It will take time, be patient. Her attitude about eating and meals is more important than what she eats on any given day." (As Ellyn puts it.) Then weeks went by and no milk. I offered home-made hot chocolate which she drank happily for awhile, made oatmeal with milk, cooked with condensed milk, bought rice pudding again, which she refuses to try so far. (See addendum on Calcium in Child of Mine for more great ideas...) I supported her calcium intake with my cooking while I waited for her to come back to milk.
You will do well to get ahold of some of Ellyn Satter's books (Child of Mine, How to Get Your Kid to Eat, etc.)
posted by Ouisch at 6:17 PM on November 20, 2009

I drank milk with no problems as a teenager and teen, but somewhere along the way I stopped. Almost as soon as I left home, as a matter of fact. I suddenly realized that I simply didn't like the taste. Even 1% felt too thick and tasted too chemically for me. It wasn't a conscious decision; it just happened. And now I can't remember the last time I bought milk.

But I do still like on cereal. The mix dilutes the taste and texture. But even with that, I rarely eat cereal because buying milk simply for that reason generally means it will go bad before I use it.

I really suspect it's a mix of control and taste/texture. Clearly this thread indicates a lot of people find milk just icky.
posted by aclevername at 9:41 PM on November 20, 2009

just getting back to this whole thing of maybe-it-makes-her-sick, lactose intolerance is a recessive genetic trait -- even if neither you nor your spouse are lactose intolerant, you may both carry the gene for lactose intolerance. if your daughter inherits the gene from each of you, she will be lactose intolerant. as i think as has been mentioned before, this isn't an allergy or even a problem really -- the ability to digest lactose (milk sugars) is considered an adaptive mutation that's arisen only recently in human evolution, and has penetrated to varying degrees in different populations....see the link for more info:

i've got nothing on the parenting side of it though....way harder to figure than genetics.. good luck!
posted by Tandem Affinity at 9:46 PM on November 20, 2009

hmm, don't know where my link went...let's try again:
posted by Tandem Affinity at 9:47 PM on November 20, 2009

This is a bit late, but I wanted to throw it out there--one of the things that occasionally has gotten my daughter to try things is to dye whatever she's supposed to be trying.

I realize that sounds bizarre, but a few drops of food coloring and pow, green milk! Pink milk! To small children, this is *totally exciting*. It also works with a surprisingly wide variety of foods: mashed potatoes and anything white, obviously, but if she "hates broccoli", buy purple broccoli. They have yellow, red, and purple carrots in addition to the regular old orange. Many vegetables can be simmered with a bit of food coloring, and suddenly they're far more interesting than boring old [whatever color] veggies.

Not for nothing, but the same thing works with baths. You have to have a bath, but hey, do you want purple water? Blue? A few drops of food color will tint the water quite nicely but won't leave any tint on your child, plus they get the (fairly fun) experience of watching the food coloring spread through the water.
posted by MeghanC at 10:35 PM on November 20, 2009

Try organic whole milk if you haven't already. Horizon tastes better and slighter sweeter than the store brand.
posted by side effect at 9:36 AM on November 21, 2009

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