Long ago, before my kids entered the picture, I read an article on picky eating written by an editor at one of the prominent food magazines. He admitted that he struggled to feed his kids healthy foods despite his own love for food.
I wondered how he could have let that happen. I assumed that my kids would fall into line with my own style of eating. That they’d grow up in a wondrous and accepting food environment where they’d eat a broad range home-cooked meals.
I was wrong. I highly underestimated the degree to which my children would develop their own picky eating tendencies; how they’d turn their heads when I presented them with homemade spaghetti and meatballs and vegetarian lasagna. In the early months they’d eat pretty much anything I’d put in front of them, but by age 18 months, they had developed minds of their own. In an act of salvation, I turned to the nugget.
It was like crack. The kids loved; immediately it became their most requested food. Nuggets and fruit. Nuggets and fruit. Nuggets and fruit.
So began my painstaking efforts to offer multiple options at every meal. Like a cheap watch salesman on Canal Street, I’d open my worn briefcase and hawk my wares. “What d’ya want, you want broccoli? You want rice? Noodles? Dear God please say yes to noodles.” Of course the answer was always “no”. At last, so that they wouldn’t starve: “nuggets”?
And so it went, for months on end. They had total control. They were schooling me, not the other way around. My son at one point had become so picky that he barely wanted to eat anything at all.
My rock bottom moment happened one day when I was trying to coerce him to eat his lunch. “Just ONE bite” I pleaded.
As usually, the response was “no.”
His favorite toy of the moment was a stuffed cat, and, brilliantly, I decided to put his plate on the floor. “Look Sam! You can eat just like catty. Meow.”
I sampled a piece of chicken from the plate, picking it up gently in my teeth. Nobody said rock bottom looks pretty.
After I stood up, saw the plate on the floor, ,and realized the tragedy of the situation. It was all too Neanderthal for my taste. Or anyone’s taste for that matter.
I couldn’t continue like this, that I knew. It was time to resume my role as mother and rule maker. I would no longer be an accomplice.
I bought a book called “Coping with a Picky Eater: A Guide for the Perplexed Parent.” It’s a mystery why I chose this book out of the 562 results that appeared when I searched “picky eaters” on Amazon. I suppose that it was the word “perplexed”. Which seemed like a good analogy for “completely screwed.”
I read the whole book the day it arrived. The greatest piece of advice was that my children wouldn’t starve and that by presenting them with a host of options, I was actually making the picky eating worse. Which seems obvious, but when you’re not aware of the first rule, everything else flies out the window.
This book changed us and we’ve made remarkable strides. I serve one meal at dinner, and if they’re not into it, that’s it. If they’re hungry later, they’ll get something that I can easily hand to them – a banana or a few crackers. In no way do I start prepping a different meal. If they skip dinner, they’ll wake up the next day and eat a bigger breakfast. Simple. And if you don’t believe me, try it for a week.
To keep them on the right track, I decided to challenge them to eat 100 new foods. Once a week for nearly two years, I introduced my kids to a new fruit or vegetable that they’d never eaten before. We learned about the food using all of our five senses. What did it look and feel like? Did it make a sound if you shake it? What did it smell like? Above all, what did it taste like. By awakening their five senses, it piqued their curiosity about new foods, and above all, made them feel a little bit more brave. I’m not saying that it was easy. But the result – being able to hand my kids a bowl of greens and watch them eat every last bite – was well worth it.
I LOVED this post. Exactly what happens in my house – except, i am still on the floor pretending to eat like a cat. Would you recommend buying this book, or do you think i should just focus on your takeaway – serve one meal, they wont go hungry??
The ultimate benefit of the book was absolute confidence that I wouldn’t be harming my kids by not forcing them to eat dinner. Try my approach, and if you need more help, then buy the book. Try to make sure there is one thing on their plate that they like, and something new. And just keep repeating, introducing things over and over. Sam is finally eating greens and I’ve put them on his plate at least 20 times. Just the other day, he picked up some greens and started munching. Start tonight and let me know how it goes.
I have 14 mos old little boy, and he basically refuse everything. If he takes it he chews it for ages. And wont have anymore. I will try what u have mentioned, make one meal. Im dying to see him eat his food. I as a mom get too stressed and worried, sometimes burst into tears when he refuses food.
Love this! I am going to try it. My youngest daughter eats everything I put in front of her and she has given me the courage to try this with my older daughter, miss quesadilla.
Yes, try it and let me know how it goes!
Great post. No child has ever actually starved themselves and none ever will. This I repeat to myself and anyone else who feeds my child. If she says she’s done after one bite, she gets one “are you sure?” and if the answer is yes, then she’s done. 3.5 years old, perfectly proportioned for both weight and height in 97th percentile, so, no, she’s not starving!
Thanks Leah. That kind of encouragement is great for all of us–this will not stunt your kid’s growth!
Jess!!! Good writing runs in the family! Hopefully you’ll get a column soon in a magazine! This would be perfect!!! The 52-week challenge! I am going to try it on myself and see if I’l eat anything other than pizza. Do you think it can solve one’s own problems with eating? I wouldn’t say I’m picky though, just diversity-challenged.
TRY IT. Nothing to lose. Find a farmers’ market near you (there are many, I know this from another NS reader), take your camera and your eye for beauty, and just start buying a few things and tasting them at home. Ask the farmers how to best prepare what it is you’re buying. And report back!
great read; great statement of the blog’s challenge. as far as advice, tell carrie to put it on the floor and see if that helps.
Great suggestion! I’ll make sure to follow up on that.
Point Taken, PUJ!
I’ve just reread the post and now it’s even funnier. I’ll try meowing like a cat and eating food off the floor. Heck, I’ve done worse.
How did it go this weekend? Did you borrow Rou’s bowl to try out some veggie lasagna?
Okay I loved this. Just stopped by from SITS (happy SITS Day, BTW) and was so glad to find you. My son will not eat anything other than bananas and chicken nuggets. His digestive system is a mess and I’m at my wits end! The 52 Week Challenge is intriguing – think I need to give it a try. 🙂
Thanks so much Bre, glad it helped- definitely give the challenge a try!
Sounds like I need to invest in this book pronto. Although, I did get my son to eat red peppers last night. That may never happen again but I was stoked.
Little victories 🙂
I’ve been there too! Once you step back and realise what you’re doing it seems ludicrous but you just get so caught up in the situation that it seems reasonable at the time.
I know, it’s like baby steps in the wrong direction and then all of a sudden you’re in a horrible situation. Hopefully you’ve gotten yourself out of the deep end at this point!
Some days good, some days bad but I am much more relaxed about food now – which helps! So no eating off the floor for us (at the moment anyway.)
Feeding kids can be so emotional, I’m glad that you have a relaxed approach these days. I’m pretty much over the anxiety too, what a difference a year makes!