Do you have a picky eater? If you’re unsure, you don’t. Those of us who have picky eaters cannot deny that we do. There’s no question. Raising a picky eater is no easy task. But as with many things in parenting, it comes down to training.
Lucas is my picky eater. William is decidedly not a picky eater. At the right are a couple pictures of William eating food that many picky eaters wouldn’t even consider touching (sushi and steak salad). I’m thankful that he’s not picky because he’s my child who has the most food issues. He has a slew of food intolerances and blood sugar instability that might be diagnosed as hypoglycemia. With his restrictions, he cannot live on pasta and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like many picky eaters do.
I’m lucky that my youngest is my picky eater. William has taught me that kids can eat a wide variety of foods. I was a picky eater as a kid, and my mom would typically make me new food when I refused to eat. So I’m sure if my oldest was a picky eater, I would have done the same. But after seeing William eat everything from broccoli to lentil soup, I knew that Lucas was perfectly capable of eating these foods, too.
I remember when Lucas was still sitting in a high chair, I always made it a point to put a green vegetable on his tray. At first, I didn’t ask him to eat it. I just wanted him to see it. Most days, he would move it away and put it in the tray’s cup holder. He wasn’t shy about the fact that he had no intentions of eating it. But I kept putting it there, day after day. Whatever green veggie we were eating, I put one small piece on his tray. We ate spinach salad quite a bit back then, so I usually put one small leaf. Well, my plan worked. After time, he decided that it wasn’t so scary after all. He eventually started taking small bites, and years later, he’s now to the point where he’ll happily eat a whole serving of green vegetables.
Some might say that given this experience Lucas isn’t truly a picky eater. I do believe that picky eaters are born, not made. I recognized this the first time Lucas would take in a bite of a casserole and filter out the meat so he could spit it out. But I also believe that parents have the power to change their kids’ picky eating habits. We don’t need to simply throw up our hands and say there’s nothing we can do.
There’s also something to be said about food intolerances and picky eating. Typically, when we have a food intolerance, we tend to crave that food. So if a child doesn’t tolerate wheat, she may want to eat nothing but pasta and bread. It sounds counterintuitive, but when we don’t tolerate a food, it creates an opiate effect in the brain. It’s a drug! If a child eats a food that doesn’t feed that opiate craving, they want nothing to do with it. They will get to the point where they’ll eat nothing but the foods they crave. I’ve had a few friends who I’ve described this to, and a couple were completely fearful of the idea of eliminating the food the child craves. They said that the child would eat nothing! Kids are smart. They won’t starve themselves. I have one friend who heard my advice, and after eliminating wheat, her daughter got so healthy and made great strides in social and physical development.
The other reason I believe that parents can change their picky eaters is that many kids often decide to stop being so picky because they see that their siblings eat well. I have a friend whose oldest is a picky eater. After little sister came along and showed her brother that she could eat well and there was nothing scary about it, he got better.
If you have a picky eater, I have a few words of advice:
1) Your first goal should be to not make special food. Always feed the child something you know he will like (e.g., plain rice along with the chicken he doesn’t like), but never make a new meal. The child should eat what the family eats. With the one food you know he will eat, he won’t starve.
2) Eat together as a family. If he sees that everyone he knows and loves eats this food, he’ll be more inclined to eat.
3) With foods that the child finds particularly distasteful, simply put them on his plate day after day, but don’t require him to eat. Encourage him, but don’t require him.
4) Limit the child’s liquid intake before a meal. Lucas used to fill up on milk or water to avoid having to eat what we were serving.
5) Use dips to your advantage. Kids like to dip, and if ketchup helps cover up the taste, so be it. Let him.
6) While you’re working on his picky habits, talk to his doctor about nutrients. Find out if you need to supplement calcium or any other vitamin.
7) Don’t tell other people, within the child’s earshot, that he’s a picky eater. The more you validate it, the more he’ll live up to the label. Convince him that he’s capable of eating any food.
So trust that all hope is not lost with picky eaters. Train your child to eat well in the same way that you would teach him to read. Take it slowly and be patient. Every child is capable of breaking habits, which is exactly what picky eating is. Help him overcome his picky eating ways, and he’ll thank you for it when he’s an adult.
I’d love to hear from you if you have a picky eater. Have you found any other tactics that work?