I was—emphasis on “was”—that parent who didn’t understand why other parents would complain about picky eaters. My attitude was that my kids would eat (or not) what I made them. I am not a short-order chef — I offered them choices within reason, including making two veggies at every meal. I wasn’t unreasonable. If you hate broccoli, to the point it makes you gag, I will make carrots, too.
It was all fun and games—or, more like order—until my fourth kid came along. She was a typical baby, took bottles like a champ, and tried baby foods without issue. Then she hit the stubborn toddler years, a stage I’d been through with three previous children, and she would sometimes toss food on the floor or refuse to eat it. I considered this a stage. That is, until it wasn’t just a stage. Now I need to apologize to the other parents. My scoffing at their picky eaters wasn’t fair.
We try our best to make our kids meals that they all, mostly, enjoy. In fact, we have a meal and snack schedule which we created based on our kids likes and dislikes, as well as any food allergies. With six people in our family, we don’t want to waste time or money on meals and snacks that our kids won’t eat. We generated a list, thinking it would help—and it has—for most of us, anyway.
My youngest is a typical youngest child. She’s a little bit spoiled, I readily admit. She’s our last baby, and I can’t quite say “no” to her as often or as firmly as I did with her older siblings. I’m not the only guilty party, either. My husband and the youngest’s three older siblings all pamper her a little too much, too. We can’t help ourselves.
The older my daughter has gotten, the more out of hand the picky eating as become. She refuses almost all meat, half of the fruits and veggies we typically serve, beans, anything she deems “too spicy,” and much more. I absolutely refuse to serve her five favorites on rotation, mostly because she would only eat melon, popcorn, and chocolate desserts. These aren’t exactly nutritional superstars or life-sustaining.
I have one year until she goes to kindergarten, and I know I need to get a handle on her pickiness. This leads me to the questions I see all over online parenting groups. We don’t know how to get our kids to eat more than a few favorite foods. I’m not talking about a child who has sensory issues or other needs to consider. I’m talking about typically developing children who are just downright stubborn.
Of course, I won’t be pushing any toxic eating standards on my child. We don’t have a “clean your plate rule” or tell our kids how dare they waste food because there are people starving in another country. Parents have tried these for ages, and we all know they don’t really work. I also won’t stoop to hiding in veggie purees into junky food, only because I’m just as stubborn as my kid.
Not only is my child a picky eater, but she’s a slow eater. Think of a great-grandma working on her dinner plate. That’s my kid. She’s so distracted by her siblings’ antics and conversations (she has a bad case of FOMO) that eating is hardly her priority. She wants other people to spill all the tea—you know, the gossip and not actual tea—and she’s all ears, ready to soak up anything she can get.
At this point, I don’t really know what to do about her eating. She’s a healthy weight and height. I hate eating battles, and I’m not willing to sink down to a level. You know, one that involves threats, sticker charts, or “eat three more bites and you can have dessert.”
I’ll tell you, this situation is resonating with me. We should, as parents, never say never. You know, I will never co-sleep with my kids. I will never give my baby a pacifier. Think or hope what you may, but until you have that kid, you know the one, who will test all of your boundaries, you have no clue what you would do or not do.
At this point, I just offer my child healthy options. If she’s not hungry, that’s fine. The healthy options will still be available at the next meal or snack time. I’ve learned to shrug off this drama. After all, she’s growing, she’s healthy, and I’ve got better things to do than portion out food on her plate and implore her to take just a few bites.
Plus, I remember as a kid hating certain foods. Mine was due to sensory issues. I gagged easily on things like pineapple and meat, leaving my parents up in arms. This was long before we knew much about sensory processing disorder and had options like feeding therapy. Even though I don’t feel my parents pushed the clean plate narrative on me, I still remember feeling embarrassed and anxious about having to eat certain foods that seemed extra chewy to me. On the off chance that this is my kid too, I’m not going to add any stress to the meal or snack time situation.
I’m not letting her live on crackers and soda, so I’m winning at parenting, right? If all she eats for lunch one day is an apple, then so be it. Does my inner health nut-self cringe that there’s no protein or healthy fat in that moment? Yes. However, I’m not going to let my daughter’s picky eating get so far under my skin that I push any toxic food habits or body image issues onto her. Women have a enough of that crap to deal with already. Now excuse me, it’s dinnertime. I’m pretty sure she won’t be eating most of what we made.