If you Google “picky eater” you’ll get plenty of results leading you to articles that all pretty much say the same thing. They tell you the top 5 ways to deal with a picky eater, most of which include things like, use colorful dishes, make fun shapes with the food, let them help you choose produce at the store and of course, be patient. Well, you know how most of us parents think our kids are different from the others? That’s exactly how I feel about my kiddo’s eating habits. I read these articles and think, these things don’t work at my house. My child is different from this – an especially difficult case. And although he may not really be all that different in this department (I don’t actually witness dinner at others’ homes much, so who knows), I can’t help but assume that he’s on the higher end of picky.
My 3-year-old son, Rowdy, has been super picky about food for about a year and a half now. Maybe “picky” is the wrong word. How about “limited”? “Close-minded”? Basically, the list of foods that you can guarantee he’ll eat is ultra short. The list of foods he will most likely eat adds just a few more to the mix. And then there’s that extremely short list of foods that he has eaten randomly a time or two. He’s not down with barely any of the stereotypical kid foods – macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, corn dogs, chicken nuggets, etc. For the sake of his health, I’d say that’s a good thing. So that makes it awkward to try to encourage him to eat these things when we’re around other kids eating them. Baby, won’t you PLEASE eat the super processed corn dog that came from the freezer? (For the record, I love corn dogs, but the fact that my child doesn’t like them is ultimately a good thing, right?) Sure, it would be easier on my husband and me if he would eat more of these kid foods. But it’s the long list of nutritious and semi-nutritious foods that he rejects that we’re more concerned with. He’s not a meat lover – never has been. I even tried to feed him those funky baby foods from the jar that have meat in them when he was a baby, but he was absolutely not interested (don’t blame him). What meat will he eat? Sausage that comes on a pizza, pepperoni on or off of a pizza, meat on a burger as long as it’s thin, and once in blue moon, a couple of chicken nuggets from Chick-Fil-A. A vegetarian would say that his meat aversion is totally fine and good. A meat eater would say that it’s a problem. I’ve even heard that if I didn’t eat much meat during my pregnancy then that’s why he doesn’t like it. Look, I may not be a major meat lover, but I can promise you that I ate plenty of beef enchiladas while I was pregnant with Rowdy, so that little fetus got some meat for sure (and cheese and rice and snow cones…). The good news about my cute little picky eater is that most of the foods that he does like are nutritious – PB&J on whole grain bread, fruit, raw carrots, corn, milk, spaghetti with meat sauce, cashews, raisins, romaine lettuce.
I’ve reached out quite a few times via general internet searches as well as social media conversations with folks I know, and many times I’ve heard the they-won’t-starve-themselves suggestion. Basically, you would not give your child an alternate option if they were turned off by the food in front of them, and hopefully by the end of the evening, maybe even hours later, they will come back to the food and eat it because they are very hungry. Many parents are very confident in suggesting this method. They are proud that they were able to convince their kiddo to eat what they serve, and they’re super happy to tell me I should do the same. Okay, so I’m not totally into that method, but I decided to give it a shot anyway. I tried it a lot… many times… over the course of a year or so. Wanna know how many times it worked? Once. There was one single time in which my son finally decided to eat a grilled cheese sandwich (yet another kid-ish food he’s not always into) that I had made for him several hours earlier. Now, I didn’t use this process at every single meal. That would drive anyone insane. But I’d say I did it at least a couple of times per week. He surely went to bed hungry several times. But many times I would finally let him eat something else as long as it was healthy. Rowdy proved that this method does not work on him. The you-have-to-try-one-bite method doesn’t work well on him either. That results in a major meltdown many times. I think it stresses him out. Just imagine how you would feel if every time you sat down for dinner you were disappointed and backed into a corner. That’s gotta be super frustrating. So what’s the solution? Compromise. I will continue to offer him new foods often, but I will make sure and include something on the plate that he does like. I will not send him to bed hungry ever again. Hey, if you’re able to do that and you feel like it somehow worked for your child, then that’s just fine and dandy. But this gal can’t do it. When my kiddo is down in the dumps and I hear his tummy growl, I’m feeding him. That’s all there is to it. And finally, I will be patient. Sometimes I have to remind my husband and myself that Rowdy is only 3 years old. I bet the list of foods I ate as a 3-year-old was pretty darn short too. Hell, he could ask to try some sushi on his 5th birthday for all we know. The bottom line is that this won’t last forever, he’s a healthy child, he’s growing and he’s happy.
This isn’t the first time I’ve realized that a common or well-known parenting method doesn’t work with my son. I feel like I’m constantly reminding myself to listen to my gut. Us parents truly do have natural instincts that can help our children if we don’t let other stuff get in the way. Okay, so who wants a corn dog now?