My son is the world's pickiest eater. At just 5-years-old, his tiny frame adds up to a mere 36 pounds — a weight he has maintained for the last two years. In the time since his birth and all the nutrition problems thereafter, I've learned helpful things to nudge him into eating a little more. I've also (out of sheer trial and error) mastered the worst ways to respond to my kid's picky eating habits and, after all is said and done, I have to admit that my son still hates the majority of what I offer him. Sigh.
Honestly, I can't say I blame him. After a traumatic entrance into the world — one where he had no fluid offering him some cushion while my umbilical cord was moments from snapping (and did at birth) — his feeding problems are nothing short of understandable. After being diagnosed with digestive issues and severe reflux, whether it was through breastmilk or an overpriced formula, he struggled to keep much of anything down. We spent countless nights standing guard as his swaddled body slept at an angle, to keep the food where it belonged, only to have him spit up his food the moment we'd close our eyes. It's frightening to think of all the times he nearly choked to death on his own vomit and, if we didn't lose sleep all those times to keep an eye on him, there's a good chance he would have.
So, as you can see, his picky eating habits apparently began sometime in utero and have successfully lingered up until last night's dinner, when he refused his mashed potatoes. He's had them before and loved them before, and yet here we are having the same battle we do over most foods every single day. Feeding picky eaters is an ongoing battle, and I say this as a picky eater myself. As a 34-year-old woman, you couldn't pay me to eat foods most people eat on a regular basis. So, in other words, I totally get it. My responses to my son, however, need some work. With that said, here are a few of the worst ways to respond to picky eating habits. I am your Food Yoda — learn from me.
The Begging Method
When the time comes for dinner and my child is literally just sitting there letting the plate get cold — the plate I slaved for an hour over — I become desperate.
"Please try it! Please? Please!" I've even gone so far as to get down on my knees and make heartfelt speeches about why eating the food is so important (uh, because I made it) and still my kids usually laugh it off or poke around at their plate some more. I can honestly say, I'm not proud of myself when reduced to this.
The Bartering Method
Let's talk about it, kid. What do you want and what can I do for you? You want a new toy? How about a new house? On the beach. In The Bahamas. Is that good? Is that enough for you to EAT YOUR DAMN FOOD?
The One-Bite Rule
If you have children who are picky eaters, I'm sure you've said, "Just try it. Take one bite and you can be done." more times than you'd care to admit. This, dear reader, is a mistake. A huge mistake.
What usually happens in my house? Well, my son will take one minuscule bite, defiantly say, "Done!" and then he has the upper hand. I mean, he did what I asked so why do I still feel like I lost? (Hint: because I did.)
The "You Don't Leave The Table Until You're Finished" Method
I try really hard not to force my kids to eat like, say, if they're not hungry or they've already eaten enough. However, there are those times where, yes, it's about power. I don't want it to be, but it is. If I give in and let my son leave the table without even trying his favorite meal I made just for him, what have we learned here? We've learned he wins and I can't let that happen. Not now.
So if we have to stare this out for a couple hours, so be it. (And for the record, this is the absolute wrong way to get your picky eater to, you know, eat.)
The Short Order Cook Approach
OK, I've done this more times than I care to admit. Picky Child #1 won't eat the sweet potatoes so I make Russet potatoes. Then, Picky Child #2 won't eat the Russet potatoes so I whip up some sort of mash. Ultimately, neither of them eat any of the 20 items I've spent three hours cooking so what's the point?
Oh, yeah. The point is: don't ever do this ever. All they learn from your slaving over a hot stove all day is that, for the rest of their lives, they can request whatever food they'd like (like ice cream) and voila! There it is! Sorry, kids, but life doesn't work like that.
The "We Eat What He/She Eats" Way
Desperate times call for desperate measures, right? Well, you know those nights when you're exhausted and cooking is the last thing you want to do (me most nights)? Plus, the thought of having the food battle on a crazy Monday is pure torture so what's a parent to do? I can tell you it's not to only fix what the picky eater will eat (yogurt and corn kernels, anyone?) because seriously — the rest of us can't survive on that.
Though, truth be told, in trying this method I did lose a few pounds, so I guess there's that.
The Snacking Way Of Life
Kids are natural grazers because their stomachs are the size of their little fists. It can only fit so much at a time so, when I'm busy with work, I've given in to the snacking method. "Just get a snack!" I've yelled on an almost daily basis. Then, when dinnertime comes, I'm completely shocked at how little my son will eat. Yes, it's my fault and yes, it will probably happen again today. Learn from my mistakes, people.
Satisfying a picky eater is rough. It takes a lot of patience, multiple attempts of offering the same foods, and probably a mix of all the failed methods I've just outlined above. If, after all this, your child still won't eat, there's one last thing you can do: nothing. You're a good parent and he/she won't starve. You're better off letting a meal slide here and there so your child can start making the choices on their own. Isn't that what this parenting thing is all about?