How many of you are blessed to have a picky eater in your life? My hand is up in the air on this one! My daughter started life as a very picky eater. We are now past some of the fussiest eating behaviors and I have 4 things to share that I wish I would have used to help keep a good perspective on the situation. Maybe they will be helpful to you.
There is a lot of “advice” out there that is given by people who have never experienced life with a child who is so cantankerous that they would rather starve than eat the dinner you set before them. I found that much of this advice was impractical, involving disguising food (my child always knew), forcing food (she had more resolve than I did), and bribing with food (flat out fail). For me, none of these strategies worked and I lost more sleep over the whole situation than I care to remember.
The story of our picky eater
We have one extremely picky eater and one child who is what I call a “recovering” picky eater. My youngest girl started her selective eating habits at the delightful age of about 7 months. She had been eating solid foods for about a month and had tried a sizeable variety of the pureed baby foods available. I remember it clearly. She was sitting in her high chair in our kitchen (not too far from the kitchen table I shortened). I sat down with my little bowl of pureed veggies and started to feed her. Normally, she would finish most of the foods I gave her and had been doing so since starting solids.
Unfortunately, this day was different from the others. My other children were playing in the family room and my little daughter and I were eating her “dinner” in the kitchen. She allowed me to feed her about 2 bites of baby food and then stopped opening her mouth. I tried again to feed her the bite, making airplane noises and whatever else I could do to entice her to open her mouth. Instead, she started spitting, and baby food particles and goop flew out of her mouth and into my hair. In our house, we call that blowing raspberries. I scolded her but she kept on spitting. Not wanting to be the target of flying baby food, I gave her a baby mum-mum and stepped out of the way. She happily munched on the rice rusk and I went over to clean myself off at the sink.
At the time, I thought she was simply not hungry. When this behavior persisted for a few weeks, I started to notice she would gladly eat some things like rice cereal, baby mum-mums, bread, and other fruits. She would even eat the Gerber chicken and noodles. If I tried to give her something other than a very narrow range of baby foods, she would refuse to open her mouth, she would fuss, and often, she would spit.
I mentioned her picky habits to our family doctor on several occasions and he assured me I need not worry. I commiserated with my friends who told me stories of their own picky eaters. Some of this was comforting but it didn’t help me stop beating myself up about not having success in getting her to eat healthy, balanced meals. I spent far too long fretting over this problem.
She is now 5 years old and is heading into Kindergarten. I am happy to say that she now eats a far wider variety of foods than she used to. At one point, not more than 18 months ago, she would only eat about 8 different foods to include, macaroni and cheese (brand-specific), peanut butter sandwiches, peas, corn, bananas, ice cream (most desserts), and a specific brand of dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets, and cereal. It was major turmoil during mealtime at our house when our local Sam’s club stopped carrying those nuggets for about 6 months.
Now that we are getting towards the other side of this dietary obstacle, I can see things a little more clearly than I did when I was in the thick of anxious mealtime battles. Here are three things I wish I would have done differently when going through this fussy eating phase. I hope this is helpful to you
Picky eater success tips
Take a deep breath and relax
This, in my opinion, is the most helpful behavior you can incorporate into your relationship you’re your picky child. Stepping back from the situation will lower stress levels of you and your picky eater. Dinner time is more likely to be a pleasant experience, and if the atmosphere is calm and positive, perhaps your picky eater will eventually feel like venturing into trying something new. Now that she is older and can articulate her thoughts better, she has said she wishes she liked more foods and that she wasn’t picky. She sees her brothers and sister eating what I serve for dinner and enjoying their food and wants to join in. I am hoping this will lead to her gaining the courage to try new things.
Choose your battles
Dinner time is a time of fellowship and gathering of the family to connect with each other about the days’ events. Looking back, I spent entirely too much time “battling” our fussy eater instead of making connections. There were far too many dinners where the conversation was dominated by tantrums and stern reminders to “eat your dinner.” Although we worked hard to try to coax our child to eat, she had much more resolve in her refusals to comply.
Don’t make promises (threats) that you can’t keep
Some kids respond to the “eat it or starve” method. This worked for my older, semi-picky eater. As he got older, he gave in more easily to my requests that he eat his dinner. He would eat the meat with ketchup on it, and he managed to eat a few bites of vegetables at every meal. His eating habits improved at around age 4.5
I always had difficulty sending one of our children to bed without getting something to eat. It weighed heavily on my conscience so much that I usually ended up giving in. This demonstrated a lack of consistency and follow-through. Both are important in parenting because they provide stability in the home and help your children know their boundaries. Making threats without following through on them was sending a message that I don’t say what I really mean. I believe this eventually can undermine trust in the parent-child relationship.
Consider getting help from siblings
I say this with reservations because it will not work in every family situation. If you have an older child who has a strong friendship with your picky eater and is in a position where the picky eater admires him or her, your older child might have better luck in encouraging the younger sibling to try a new food. This could work if you have had an historically adversarial food relationship with your child around the dinner table.
My oldest daughter, who could talk the paint off a fence, took it upon herself to coax my younger daughter into trying some of her dinner. She succeeded where I failed. Not only did my daughter try the dinner, but she did it with a smile on her face and found out that she liked what she tried! I can’t complain about this extra help. If you try this route, tread lightly. You know best whether your childrens’ relational dynamics will accommodate this tactic.
I am not a perfect parent
…and neither is anybody else. It is encouraging to know that vitamins fill in the gaps that may not be covered in the fussy eater’s diet. Children’s taste buds change as they age and their dispositions may also change to allow for a little more adventure in food choices. It is not a dietary sin to make them something that will nourish them that falls within their tastes.
Healthy diets are great,
They make you feel good, they energize you, and they help you maintain a healthy weight. Given that, food choices are simply that. In looking at macronutrient values of the foods my daughter was eating, I could see that she was still getting enough protein, she continued to grow at a healthy rate and stay within her growth curve, she had an otherwise pleasant disposition, and she didn’t get sick any more often than my other children.
These are the things I should have focused on when we were going through the ultra-selective phase of eating instead of concerning myself too much with what she wasn’t eating. We are not quite out of this phase yet. I have been seeing improvements lately in her diet and hope she will eventually gain the courage to try new foods we introduce at meal time.
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If you have any experience with a picky child, please leave a comment. I would love to hear your stories!