Ever since my girls have been babies, they’ve both been supremely picky eaters.
As in “will pretty much only eat foods that are white or beige or orange” kind of picky eaters.
They don’t even eat normal “kid foods” like spaghetti sauce or chicken or hamburgers (unless it is a McDonalds emergency and then only if it is plain and the edges are cut off).
I often wonder if I perpetuated this pickiness because I, myself, am somewhat particular in my culinary preferences. But no, my husband and I eat a variety of nutritious foods and are, for the most part, pretty health conscious and have always offered everything we make to the girls. In fact, we have video proof. When Thing 1 was about two years old my husband set up the video camera at the end of the table (unbeknownst to me) and caught me singing a wonderful self-scribed song singing the praises of the vegetable soup I was trying to convince her to eat. It’s become a bit of a family joke and to this day – 15+ years later – one of them will still occasionally burst out with “YUM, YUM, Vegetable Soup!! Mommy loves Vegetable Soup! Daddy loves Vegetable Soup!” just to piss me off.
But for some reason, they just don’t like most “normal” foods. Not even crappy fast food (thank God).
For over 17 years it has been a struggle to get them to eat things that aren’t solely in the carbohydrate group and that come with at least a marginal nutritional value. When Thing 2 discovered that she liked bacon last year I about bought a pig farm I was so happy.
Thankfully they like fruit. No kidding, in the summer we blow through pints of strawberries like a “Real Housewife” blows through Xanax.
Apples, pineapple, grapes, Cuties…they get their color there.
Occasionally they’ll dip a few raw spinach leaves into a cup full of ranch dressing, but the ratio of spinach to ranch is so uneven they might as well just use a spoon.
I know there are many of you who are part of this picky eater kid club. We’re a special bunch, but membership comes at a price.
Membership requirements include (but are not limited to):
- Difficulty eating out because your child won’t eat most things on regular menus and you must always pick a restaurant that serves plain pasta (BUT WITH NO GREEN SHIT ON TOP).
- Difficulty eating at friends’ houses for dinner because 50 bucks says your child won’t touch whatever they are making – even if it is burgers on the grill or — God forbid — frozen chicken nuggets.
- Difficulty eating as a family because strangely enough, you and your husband do not want to eat quesadillas or grilled cheese sandwiches or peanut butter every night for dinner.
- Being subjected to the judgement from parents of kids who eat everything (or the parents who claim their kids eat everything).
- Worrying about your child getting the nutrition she needs solely from the five things she eats on a rotating basis.
- Having to pack their lunches every day because they’d vomit if they ever had to eat the school lunch (however, in their defense, so would I).
And before some of you get all bent out of shape about not catering to your kid and how I should at the very least expect them to try a variety of foods and how I’ve perpetuated their pickiness and their resulting nutritional deficiencies, let me tell you a little story that might shed some light on my position…and that just might help those of you who are struggling with this issue with your much younger children feel a little bit better.
When Thing 1 was six years old, I’d had it with her picky eating.
I was sick and tired of having to make a pot of mac-n-cheese with every meal my husband and I ate just so she’d have something to eat.
So I tried the tough love.
One night I made lasagna, which she, of course, couldn’t even look at without gagging.
We put a small square on her plate (no lie, it was like a 1″ square) and told her she had to eat it before she could leave the table.
Swear to God, that child sat at the table crying for over two hours with us yelling and threatening and storming around increasingly as the clock ticked away.
And — spoiler alert — she didn’t ever eat the lasagna. If we hadn’t have changed the consequence (the details of which all these years later I have forgotten) she might very well still be sitting at the table today, 12 years later.
So I did what most first time moms do when all else fails.
I took her to the doctor.
And to this day, I am grateful to that woman for her advice.
She told us things we already knew and had tried; things that had been a source of frustration in their failure for years:
- Have your child help plan the meal. (Done — many, many times — and which always resulted in the same thing: pb&j’s and apple bites)
- Make sure your child knows that it is the parents’ job to cook the dinner and the child’s job to eat the dinner, and the consequence of refusal is hunger. (Harsh, but okay, I could live with that as long as my child didn’t end up looking like a sad, malnourished child that large groups of famous singers were singing songs about.)
- Always have at least one thing on the table that your child likes. (In our case, a basket of bread and a bowl of apple bites. Every night.)
- Most importantly? Do not make dinnertime a battle.
The doctor told us to go home and recommit ourselves to these rules for two months — however pointless we thought they were — and then return for a follow-up.
In the next two months, nothing changed.
Thing 1 still only ate carbs and apples and didn’t try one new thing, but my husband and I kept our mouths shut and followed the rules.
When we went back to the doctor two months later, she asked us how dinner had been going.
At the exact same time, I said “terrible” and Thing 1 said “great!”
The doctor looked at Thing 1 and asked her why she answered that way, and she said, “Because dinnertime isn’t so mean anymore and I’m not sad at the table.”
Here’s the lesson in that six year old’s honest statement (as told to me by the doctor, but that I still carry with me, all these years later) –
As a parent, don’t make food a control issue with your children (especially important with girls).
Eating shouldn’t be associated with stress or fear.
Lay out clear expectations and try your best not to cater to to your child, but don’t make eating be about power – on either side of the table.
And maybe the best lesson?
Your kid will not starve.
And something else I need to say:
Mothers with children who eat meat and fish and broccoli and sushi? Please don’t judge.
Please don’t roll your eyes when our kids don’t eat your green bean casserole or sloppy joes when they’re at your house for dinner and poke at their mashed potatoes. Contrary to what you might think, we’re not catering to our kids and feeding them only BBQ potato chips and string cheese for dinner and letting them walk all over us. We don’t know why our kids are picky and yours aren’t any more than we know why your kid might wet the bed or suck his thumb at age six and ours doesn’t.
We’re just trying our best – like you are – to raise our kids with a healthy attitude towards food. And by healthy, I may not mean one that is chock full of vitamins A and D, but one that doesn’t turn on them when they’re teenagers.
And it’s not easy.
In fact, like so many areas of parenting, it’s damn frustrating.
My girls are insanely picky eaters, but they are healthy (they get sick fewer times than most kids) and are growing just as they’re supposed to be growing.
Do I wish they ate soups and mexican food and chicken and veggies and eggs and beans?
Sure I do.
But I know that given their own space and timeline and ownership over their control of the food they eat, they eventually will.
The other day Thing 2 tried edamame and ate a whole bowl. Now it’s all she’s requesting for dinner.
Thing 1 ate three shrimp when we were out to eat the other night.
Sure, I was kinda pissed that I had three less shrimp to eat, but still was pretty damn impressed, and felt just fine with the way I’m raising my picky eaters.
Okay, fine, it doesn’t, but it will bring you welcome distraction from whatever it is you are avoiding by being on the computer.
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