is what I say when my kids don’t want to eat what I have painstakingly made. (Violins being played, actually, I am not a very good cook!) But I hear over and over from families who love to eat well, one of the parents is a fabulous cook, and their kids will only eat 5 things, of course none of them being whatever the parents love to eat.
It can be demoralizing. Frustrating. Insane making. But is it a problem? Parents ask me: “How can we get our kids to try more foods? There must be something!” In this blog I am going to offer some tips, but they will not necessarily be directed to ‘getting your child to eat’ those foods if whatever you have tried hasn’t worked. I am going to help you figure out if in fact there is a problem here, and hope to reassure you, that this is one of the most typical ways young kids do eat.
Working with hundreds of parents in doing research for my book, I found that kids can have a particular style of eating, almost like a personality trait. These can change, but I found these 6 categories were typical in childhood:
The Beige Food Eater, The Grazer, The Trouble Transitioner, The Picky Eater, The Sugar Demander, and The Spurt Eater. This blog is dedicated to The Picky Eater. (I promise to follow with the others!)
It is useful to look at eating habits of younger children as partly developmental. If you think about it, food is the earliest thing our kids can do to control their lives. They can purse their lips, and shake their head: “No! I don’t want to eat that!” This is part of them establishing themselves separately from you. This is good, that they know what they want and don’t want, particularly that they may not be hungry or that their body is telling them not to eat that food. Some allergists believe that picky eaters are protecting themselves until they build up the immunity to the foods that they are staying away from.
Additionally, it is important to know that formerly adventurous eaters when this is most of their expanding world, can become very picky eaters, as they move on to building skills in other areas. It is way more interesting to chase that ball, than to try that new food, for example. These are the most important questions to ask yourself: Is your child thriving? Are they on THEIR growth curve? Is the doctor concerned? Most often, your child is fine, unless they have sensory integration issues which can affect oral motor development. (If you have concerns please consult with your pediatrician; I have a list of things you can look out for if you are concerned in Take the Fight Out of Food).
So ask yourself: What is the Problem? “Well, my child only eats the same five things over and over.” Are they getting a range of the food groups roughly, or are they at risk for scurvy? Usually those questions are yes, and no. But parents still pull their hair out.
Many parents worry that their kids will miss out on an enjoyable part of life. Like most aspects of parenting, “DON’T’ PREDICT THE FUTURE!. More often than not, this is a stage that is totally typical of childhood that your child is passing through. Most picky eaters grow out it by age 13 when biology kicks in, (growth spurts) and their senses fully develop. (Remember, eating involves the three senses: touch, taste and smell!)
But it can be a drag if other relatives, particularly at times, grandparents, might criticize your parenting either overtly or discreetly, implying that you are too ‘easy’ on your child. And, simply, it really gets boring when your child has a truly limited palate.
A word of reassurance: All of the pediatricians and nutritionist I consulted with in researching this, state that kids get their nutritional needs met on a one to two week basis, and are usually fine. They end up getting what they need. Even if it is one fruit, or one vegetable of that food group. Over and over and over!
But here are some tips to cope with your Picky Eater:
1) Have a “Oh good, more for me!” attitude. Model eating and enjoying theirs and your food.
2) If you have other kids, ‘leverage the siblings.” They can take the carrots from the little one’s plate which often makes that child want it more. If you have one child, perhaps you can do this.
3) You may subscribe to the offer it to them until they try it, or they need to try it once before they decide they don’t like it. You can pick what you prefer. I didn’t have the patience with my youngest, my pickiest eater and I wasn’t worried about it, so it was easy to do more of the reverse psychology method.
4) The less issue you make of it, the less anxiety you create in your child. Your child needs a calm mommy, not an anxious mommy, Besides, anxiety cuts appetite, or will create opposition. You definitely don’t want your child eating for you, to be ‘good’, or to use this for power struggles.
Continue to enjoy the beautiful food you make with your partner, wife, husband, and model your enjoyment with your kids. Continue to eat together. Take the stress out of the mealtimes, by all of you, relaxing and enjoying the food. Be dogmatic about mealtimes being about connecting and hanging out together, not necessarily about eating. Enjoy those golden moments. Now that can fill you up. Who knows? One of them might become the next Alice Waters.