Whenever I read an article about kids and eating — especially if it touches on picky eating — there are always about a million comments along the lines of, “In our house, our kids eat what we serve, or they don’t eat at all.”
In essence, it’s the “eat it or starve” argument, and it comes up often as a solution to end picky eating, or at least to prevent it in the first place. As the mom of a picky eater, it has been suggested to me personally several times by well-meaning people who want me to know that there is another way to do things when it comes to feeding my child.
I like the idea, in theory. I totally agree that I shouldn’t have to prepare separate foods for my picky eater. Frankly, it’s annoying and stressful. I don’t like when I prepare him a meal and he rejects it. If it were up to me, I would prepare one meal for my entire family, and everyone would eat it with no issues whatsoever.
But the thing is, for a real picky eater, this method does not work at all. To put it more bluntly, it’s actually totally fucking absurd, and any parent of a picky eater will tell you this.
First, though, we probably need to define that a truly picky eater is. Picky eaters aren’t just your average 2- or 3-year-olds who have suddenly decided to reject anything that isn’t in the bread and cereal group. No, picky eaters were picky from the moment they started solid foods. They might have even been fussy nursers or bottle feeders.
Picky eaters are physically revolted by certain foods, and they have very strong and finicky feelings about what will or won’t touch their lips. Many of them have sensory issues too, where they feel particular about the textures of their foods (as well as their clothes, or other objects that might come into contact with their bodies).
Picky eaters have a short list of foods they will eat, and usually won’t veer too far off the list, at least until they are a bit older. And it really is as specific and particular as you can imagine. My picky eater liked pizza, but it had to be pizza from the pizza place in our town; he wouldn’t touch pizza from anywhere else, no matter how similar it was.
People would constantly try to offer him other pizza, but he would take one bite, and tell them that the pizza was vastly different than the pizza he liked. To him, they were two entirely different foods.
Picky eaters are born that way. My son likes to joke that he has one hundred times the number of taste buds as the average person.
I have two sons, one a classically picky eater, and one a normal eater who is picky sometimes. I didn’t do anything differently in terms of how I fed them. I breastfed them for extended periods. I offered them fruits and vegetables when they were ready for solids, and stayed away from anything processed for as long as possible.
The first time I offered my picky son solid foods, he acted like I had fed him a spoiled piece of codfish. (It was a banana.) My second son scarfed down the avocado I gave him in about two seconds and begged for more.
And yes, I tried everything I could think of with my picky eater. We made him try new things, as many times in a row as he would let us, because we heard that it takes at least 15 tries for a kid to know if he really likes something. But usually, my son knew the first time he tried it, and wouldn’t budge for every tortuous time we made him try it.
We tried the “eat it or starve” thing, and he simply chose to starve, skipping meals until we fed him later (I would never feel comfortable sending a hungry child to bed).
If my non-picky eater rejects dinner, I can say, “Spaghetti and meatballs are what’s for dinner. If you don’t like it, then don’t eat dinner.” A few minutes will go by, and he will usually just say, “Okay,” with a timid frown, and then gobble up the food.
Actual picky eaters are different. They are very, very insistent about what they will or won’t eat, and they won’t let up. If you have never experienced it firsthand — if it’s not something you deal with on a daily basis, for 3-5 meals per day — please, please, please keep your lips sealed. We really don’t need any more advice.
Don’t look down on us parents of picky eaters and assume that we are pushovers. Don’t assume we are spoiling our kids. Don’t accuse us of making our kids into the picky eaters they are.
They were born that way. And according to all that I’ve read, most of them do outgrow at least some of the pickiness eventually. It might not be until they are older kids or teens. Many of them will be slightly picky for their whole lives (you probably know some grown-ups who are like that).
Over the years, I have learned not to fight the pickiness so much. So yes, I make my kid his own meals sometimes, if I know he won’t eat anything I cook. I try not to shame him or chastise him for how he is. I know he can’t always control it. I know he tries his best.
And things have gotten better on their own. At 9 1/2, my son is definitely becoming less picky, more willing to try new things, and just less particular and strong-willed about what he will or won’t eat.
Now, he will eat pizza from about three or four different pizza places. He’ll even eat my homemade pizza! He still won’t eat all pizza or many other foods, but it’s progress. And I’m damn proud of him for making it.