Parents near and far feel terribly stressed each morning as they pack their picky child’s lunch for school, because they know that while other children are munching happily away at their casserole or stir-fry leftovers from last night’s dinner, our child has the same four items they always have…every day. And two of those are questionably healthy.
If it were only the fact that our child has a limited selection of eatable items, that would be hard enough. But what gets harder is that this set of acceptable food items will often abruptly shift, slashing a few staples from the list and leaving us with only cheese sticks and goldfish. But I thought you liked peanut butter and apples? No? We’re over that? Great.
The truth is, that many kids have incredibly sensitive little bodies. Their mouths, noses, brains, and bellies demand that the child provide tight security and only offer clearance to the safest bets. And if that weren’t hard enough for a kid, they also are given parents that love them ferociously and are terrified if they can’t get them to eat a vegetable they’ll surely develop scurvy…and wouldn’t that be embarrassing.
As my very wise mentor, Gail Allen, often says…. “Children bring their sensitivities to the table, parents bring the tension.”
Kids don’t mind that they have sensitivities and strong preferences. But we sure do.
As part of my research, I interviewed my own beloved picky eater….my 8 year old little girl. She’s taught me loads about what it feels like to be a picky eater. Interview is below:
Do you think you were born a picky eater, or did you grow into one? Um, born that way….definitely.
What are your current favorite foods right now? Pickles, tomatoes, yogurt, steamed carrots, strawberries, and lollipops.
And what are your LEAST favorite foods right now? Spinach, all potatoes (except french fries, they taste totally different), my school’s cafeteria food, tacos, and chicken.
What is your favorite meal of the day? Breakfast, definitely. It’s like my coffee – it gives me energy. Plus I like breakfast foods best…cereal, pancakes.
And your least favorite meal? Dinner (dead stare…silence)
Ok, that was pretty clear. So, what do you think about being called a “picky eater” – do you mind that title? When I was littler I hated it. It felt like people were saying that I’m weird, like there’s something wrong with me. It made me feel guilty, sort of. Like I was doing something bad by not liking a lot of foods. (Ouch. Parenting mistake # 4,267,991)
But now? Now I just feel like it means I’m different, but that’s ok. I mostly don’t mind that I’m a picky eater. The only hard part is that sometimes I get hungry because there’s not any food I like. So, it’s frustrating sometimes. Like when I’m at other people’s houses, I have to pretend I like it so I don’t hurt their feelings. But that’s hard because sometimes, it really is pretty gross.
How can you tell if you won’t like something? By smelling it, or by looking at it. If it smells bad I’m scared to eat it. And if it looks like something I tried and didn’t like before, my eyes tell me it’s not going to be good this time either.
So your brain remembers tasting it before and tells you it will be gross this time too? Yes! Exactly like that.
What are some things that dad and I have done about your picky eating that you don’t like? You give me tiny portions of things you think I don’t like at dinner. But then I have this plate with tiny little amounts when everyone else has normal sizes. It makes me feel like I’m a toddler or something. (whoa….totally didn’t see that one coming)
…also, I wish that for dinner sometimes there was more than one thing I like….like sometimes a dinner where I like everything. Maybe two times a week you make a dinner where I can eat anything on the table, instead of just one of the sides and the fruit.
…also, you could give me more snacks. If you know I’m not going to like the dinner, maybe I should have more snacks. A girl still has to eat, you know.
Those are some good ideas! Now, parents ask me a lot about what they should do to help their young children who are picky eaters. They worry about it a lot. What do you think they should do? They could try a blindfold. Pick a few tastes of things they usually won’t try, and then have them try it blindfolded. That way their eyes and brain won’t tell them to not like it. Or they could get a lollipop for trying something new.
Hmmm…do you think that would work with you? Yeah, I think it would. (smiles)
So, parents shouldn’t worry about their kids being picky eaters? No, they shouldn’t worry. Their kids might get a little pickier sometimes and less picky sometimes as they get older, but maybe not. They just should relax and be patient, but still encourage them to try new things. Tell the parents it’s kind of like Christmas. You wait, and wait, and wait…and then finally one day it’s here.
You mean the day they aren’t picky anymore? One day they’ll grow up and not be picky eaters? Yeah. One day they’ll grow out of it. Well, hopefully they will….or else they’re kind of a freak.
I think the best thing we can do for our picky eaters, as my daughter recommends, is to relax and reduce the tension and conflict around food. We need to inspire them by modeling our own enjoyment of fresh, healthy foods…and by making them available in our home.
And equally as important, we want to protect our family meal times as something everyone looks forward to, rather than a battleground for food wars. In many families dinnertime is the only time in a day that everyone in the family is together in one space.
Let’s do our best to create a fun and connected experience for our kids so they learn that food + family = fun.