Jen from Pennsylvania asks:
What do you do about a picky eater? Let them live off the foods they will eat or insist they eat what they’re served and then fight it out at the table?
It’s like you were listening in on the phone call between me and my mom last week when she verbally finger-wagged me for telling my 4-year-old that I wouldn’t make her an alternative meal to what she’d been served.
My mom said she wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing there was other food in the house I could make for my kid but refused to, and I was all “I guess we’re just different like that, Mom. But you know what? I sleep like hibernating bear, and all the kids are healthy so…”
We’ve all heard the excuses about why our kids refuse to eat — or even try — certain foods:
“I can tell I won’t like that.”
“It looks disgusting.”
“It smells weird.”
“It’s too lumpy/smooth/chunky/creamy.”
“I’ll try it when I’m older.”
“I can’t eat things that smell like poop.”
“It’s too spicy.”
“That looks like I’m allergic to it.”
Picky eaters can make mealtimes super-exhausting and stressful for all involved.
We want our kids to be strong and healthy, and wouldn’t it be so great if they’d happily gobble up, if not at least taste (or even lick!), everything we placed on their plate?
Who wouldn’t love for their kids to eat a vast and wide variety of fresh fruits and veggies or any kind of chicken not in the shape of a dinosaur? For most kids, though, their palates are much more Guy Fieri than Ina Garten and convincing them to just try anything the earth made is about as easy as sneezing with your eyes open.
I used to cajole, negotiate, haggle, and plead with my kids to “try just one little bite!” which often resulted in whining, tears, and red-faced aggravation — and that was just me.
It suuuuuucked. These days, I’m all done playing food moderator and bargaining with tiny versions of me. Done.
I’ve adopted a different approach to how I handle my own finicky eaters, and this is what Tara Wood do:
When I make a meal — and believe me, I’m not serving anything crazy like borscht or haggis or cow ass — then my kids can, quite simply, eat it or not. There’s no longer any bargaining, compromising, or frustrations around here when it’s time to eat.
In parenthood, we often feel we must pick our battles. For me, warring with my children about food is just not a mountain I’m willing to die on. Because of this, I’ve found that the less I insist, the less they resist.
This is how it typically plays out in our house. When I’ve finished cooking, I ask if they’d like to try what I’ve made for dinner. Usually they ask for a sample, and then oftentimes, they voluntarily eat what I’ve cooked.
If they choose not to eat it, they can make themselves something else, but it has to be relatively healthy and approved by me or their Dad, like, it can’t be a bowl of Funyuns and Sour Patch Kids.
Also, if they opt to make a substitute meal, then they are responsible cleaning up the pots, pans, and dishes they used. Obviously, this tactic works best for older kids who are capable of cooking on a stove or using an oven, but even my 4-year-old is adept enough to grab an apple, cheese stick, and a milk box out of the fridge if she refuses to eat the savory and perfectly delectable pot roast I made.
Of course, sometimes there are special circumstances to consider when dealing with mealtime challenges. Certainly, there’s a difference between “picky eaters” and kids (including my 7-year-old) who have food aversions and texture issues due to sensory processing disorders. If you are the parent of one of these kids, then you already know they call for specific and individual considerations. My son isn’t not eating my pot roast just to be a butthead — he has a legit dysfunction and I have to be cognizant and respectful of that. Because he is younger, I do make a meal for him that I know he will eat. However, once he’s old enough to manage the stove and oven, I’ll expect him to make his own separate meal as well.
For all six of my other kids, though, I let them sort that shit out for themselves.
Not interested in noshing on my subjectively delicious pot roast, kid? That’s cool — more for me — but don’t even consider asking me to make you a sammich. I made a pot roast, and that’s what’s up.
I’m not a short order cook, and I’m won’t be engaging in half-hour long coaxing sessions when they can, if they so choose, eat greek yogurt and baby carrots for dinner every night until they go off to college; it’s a lot more than some kids have, and it’s a lot less frustration for all of us.
My kids get to make their own (within reason) choices about their meals, and I get to not pull out my hair or feel ragey exasperation. Win-win, bitches!
Most children aren’t going to “eat the rainbow” of foods as encouraged by the USDA. So the only genius alternative I can come up with is that maybe they’ll, at least, “taste the rainbow” if we let them dip red peppers and broccoli in melted Skittles, but nah, that’s nasty and not at all nutritious.
If your kid is a voluntarily adventurous eater and eager to try and enjoy new foods, teach me your ways — I’m listening. I mean, not really, because my tactic works for us, but I’ll be polite and pretend I am.
I can almost hear my mom shaking her head as she reads this. Different strokes, Mom. Love you!