Let me start this by saying that I’m not going to argue with you about why your child is a picky eater. Yes, I believe that all children (and bigger people, too) are different and have different likes and personalities. Yes, there are certain foods that I prefer not to eat. However (you heard that coming, didn’t you?), I challenge you to find a child in China who will only eat chicken nuggets, or one in India who can’t handle moderately spicy food. I feel that most children who identify as a picky eater have been trained to be that way.
Here’s what I think happens.
Scenario one: You offer a baby something that they have never had before, such as mashed carrots. Baby makes a terrible face and shoves most of it back out of her mouth. Based on that one interaction, you assume that Baby does not, and perhaps will never, like carrots. As she grows older, she will hear you saying that she doesn’t like carrots, and she will believe you.
What we do: When baby spits out the carrots, I assume that it’s because this is a taste or texture that she has not tried yet. I try a few more times at that sitting to offer the carrots. She may tentatively try it, or she may decide she loves them, or she may still refuse them. It doesn’t matter… I will try again another day, even if I wait a few months for her preferences to mature. As she gets older, even if she never seemed to get the handle of carrots, I will continue to offer them, without making a fuss about it. They will appear on her plate if we are eating them, too. She makes the decision as to whether or not they actually go into her face, but no matter what happens I will never say “You don’t like carrots.” Because kids believe what we tell them.
Scenario two: You know what else I won’t say? “You are a picky eater.” They would believe that, too, just as readily as they will believe that they are human, have brown hair, and ten fingers. I have seen kids, and, hell adults, proudlyproclaim that they are picky eaters. It has become a part of their identity. This is the same reason that I would never say “You are stupid” or “You are bad.” They will believe it, and start to act the part, as well as taking a self esteem smashing.
Scenario three: Mary is making dinner for her two kids. The kids have been snacking off and on all day, and now they really aren’t interested in eating the lasagna that she’s prepared for them, even though they have tried it in the past and liked it. She coaxes, pokes, prods and begs for them to take a bit. The fact is… they aren’t hungry. Fearing that they will starve to death overnight, she finally decides to pull out the big guns; something that she knows that they can’t refuse. She pops some chicken nuggets in the oven, and serves them up with ketchup. The kids have just learned that if they refuse the meal in front of them, they will get something that they love. They are going to use this again, trust me.
What we do: Set lasagna in front of child. If child doesn’t eat it, put plate in fridgeso that it doesn’t go to waste. Another food is not offered, and our kids are not forced to eat at a meal if they are not hungry. They are asked to sit with us while we eat and chat, and then they can be excused after a reasonable amount of time. I will likely pull the lasagna out again for lunch the next day and offer it. It is usually eaten at that time.
Kids don’t have our metabolisms. They store their calories, and some days, they just aren’t hungry. They may eat three bites all day, and be just fine with that. A few days later, they will eat everything you have in the house. This is normal, and it’s ok. In fact, it’s better not to push a not hungry child into eating, because that sets up some really bad habits, such as eating when you’re not hungry… have you ever done that? We also don’t make our kids finish their plates, for the same reason. I was trained to finish mine, and now it’s an issue.
Scenario four: Your family is invited to a friend’s house for dinner, and your friends has cooked food that your child is not familiar with. Your child looks at what is being offered on the plate and seems dubious. You see the look, and start tomake a big deal about how delicious this foreign food must be. You talk about how the kids only has to eat it once, just try a bite, come on, be a big boy, we don’t want to disappoint our host, pleeeease try a bite? I’ll give you ice cream if you eat it!…… Making a big deal out of the weird food is going to make your child want to try it less. They will be sure that you are trying to poison them. Also, if you have made the chicken nugget mistake in the past, they know that they can hold out for something better if they just plain refuse. This is where you make mistake number one again: “I’m sorry he won’t eat your food… he’s a picky eater.”
What we do: Don’t talk about the food. It goes on a plate, the kid sits in front of it, and we start to eat. Naturally, if the food is good, we will make yummy noises and compliment the chef. If the kid’s hungry, it will be eaten. If the kid doesn’t eat it, you can apologize to the host if they look especially offended, but don’t label your kid. And if a food is served that I’m not particularly fond of, I simply say “no thank you!”
Another note: We gave our kids all kinds of food when they were babies. So long as it wasn’t a major allergen and was thoroughly mashed as to be easy to swallow, it went in their bowl. They would eat what we ate, so long as they were able to chew it. We would gently spice their mashed food with cinnamon, curry, and other flavors. By the time they were graduating to food that they could chew themselves, they were fond of all kinds of textures and flavors.
So, now we have the kids that will eat just about anything, and rarely do we hear them say “I don’t like xyz…” In fact, if I hear that, I will usually say “You probably like it; you just don’t want to eat it right now.” This is called priming. Our kids chomp on durian, enjoy jellyfish, and love hot wings (we never told them that kids aren’t supposed to like spicy food). If we visit a picky eating friend, I will make a comment to my daughters about how proud I am that they love to try all kinds of food. We will be able to travel the world and not have to worry about where we can buy food that the kids will eat, too.
If it’s too late for your kids, or even you, then I’m sorry… you all are missing out on so much amazing edible stuff out there!
-Originally posted as Country Mouse
- elizebethjoy posted this