As a mom, it’s my job to nourish and feed my little people. It’s instinctual. It’s primal, if you will.
When it comes to the world of food, there are few things more frustrating and maddening than being the mother of a picky eater. Why? Because your child being a picky eater rubs up against that instinctual and primal desire to nourish and feed your little people.
This past week, the celebrity chef Curtis Stone shared this quote about picky eaters and he caught quite a bit of flack from mothers around the web.
“I think the problem is too many parents worry about their kids being hungry that they let their children dictate what they eat,” Stone said.
“I don’t see the big deal in letting kids go hungry a few times. They’ll eat when they’re hungry.”
He also said no snacks between meals is also important, and if what you’ve made for dinner doesn’t work, serve it up again for breakfast.
“Say you make a fish pie and the kids won’t eat it; I’d wrap it up, put it away and offer it again later when they’re hungry,” is Stone’s advice.
“What’s wrong with fish pie for breakfast? I’d love a fish pie for breakfast.”
I read it with a “heck yeah” battle cry, until I remembered our story. (Except, maybe not the Fish Pie thing…maybe Meatloaf or Chicken Parmesan…)
Let me explain:
I think he’s right on one level…the problem about too many parents worrying about their kids going hungry, so the kids end up dictating what they will or will not eat. I think this makes sense for those parents who are dealing with the first level of “behavioral picky eating.”
But there are 2 levels to picky eating, and he doesn’t account for both types or explain for both in his comments.
He and I are in the same boat in that we are always cooking up different things in the kitchen – him for his shows and me for this here little website. We have the advantage of ‘variety’ on our side because of what we do and how we operate in the kitchen. So he can say these things with confidence, and so can I. I have not dealt with extreme behavioral picky eaters because:
1. I haven’t tolerated it. (We have always had and enforced a “one bite” rule…and we have never gotten to the point where we allowed a kid to miss a meal because they refused. Read more below on why we avoid power struggles…)
2. I have always offered a wide variety and I don’t succumb to nuggets & fries.
3. My husband does an amazing job of encouraging the boys to appreciate the work that I do in the kitchen and has been a great example to them with his adventurous eating. (Picky husbands is another story for another day…and a subject that I can’t really empathize with!)
But I have plenty of experience with this other level of picky eating. Two brief stories for you…
When Tyler was 4 months old, he weighed in at 22 lbs. I was applauded for being a “champion nursing mom.” I patted myself on the back. I kept nursing, introduced solids eventually and by his 9 month checkup, he was still weighed 22 lbs. Zero weight gain in 5 months and a large enough drop on the growth chart to mean an instant appointment with the feeding team at the local hospital. We had all kinds of studies and tests done, we went to therapy. Bottom line…he couldn’t swallow properly so over time my milk supply dwindled, it took him about 6 months to learn how to drink from a bottle, then another 3-4 months to drink well from a cup (he skipped the whole sippy cup thing), and still to this day, if you watch closely enough, he swallows ‘funny.’
As we introduced solids, moved to table foods and into toddlerhood, he was very selective with his food. He was picky. Why? Because he didn’t have the oral motor skills he needed. He didn’t move food around inside of his mouth properly. He didn’t chew properly. He didn’t have full mobility and ‘separation’ of his tongue from his jaw. So he had medical reasons for being picky.
This is the second level of picky-ness. The “there is something wrong with your mouth and your sensory processing” level.
When I applaud and agree with Curtis Stone’s comments above, I’m not at all talking about this second level of medical and neurological issues related to eating. That’s a completely different set of problems. To which I say, get help immediately.
Because you’re still on the hook to provide for your child’s nutritional needs. While Tyler was picky and had issues with feeding, went to OT for months to learn how to swallow properly and for me to learn how to best help him, I still offered him a wide variety of foods even has he continued to be picky.
Because I am 100% responsible for meeting his nutritional needs, I would offer him as many options as I could and work hard at helping him expand his palate, following the advice and strategies from his occupational therapists. (I also would not add as much food to my own plate, as I found myself not wanting food to go to waste, so I would eat what he didn’t. But over time, he’s learned to be quite the adventurous little eater. In large part because I didn’t succumb to only feeding him chicken nuggets and french fries. In fact, I buy chicken nuggets and frozen fries about 2 times a year. That’s it.)
Another story…my niece was born small. She never loved nursing. She never loved taking a bottle. She never loved food. She fell well off the growth chart, literally, around age 2, and my sister was given the choice to take her to a special feeding clinic in Denver for a month or put in a G-tube. She chose the clinic and spent a month with her there, ‘re-learning’ how to eat and learning new strategies and methods to help her at home. Turns out my niece is the example of the ‘picky eater perfect storm’ in that she had BOTH medical/oral motor issues, as well as the behavioral issues that come with a strong willed personality.
This first level of picky eating is the behavioral level. This is one where a child just refuses to eat what they are offered or told…having no medical issues whatsoever. And this behavioral level can be broken down into 2 components.
- Phases – these would be typical phases, likely through toddlerhood, where children are learning what they can and can’t control in their expanding worlds. Food is often one they attempt to control, but for a typically developing child/toddler, it’s a short phase. (Press through it, and don’t lose hope!)
- Outright Refusal – these would be the super strong willed children who have taken full control of all things food and who are in this battle to be in a battle with their caretakers. I would say these children are older and past the typical toddler phases of refusing to eat or try new foods.
While the way that you handle all types of picky eaters may slightly differ, the below strategies can be helpful.
- No power-struggles at the dinner table. The trouble with many picky eaters is that they want to be in control, in general. Food is an easy thing for a child to control. When a child sees that you get upset when they don’t eat, they keep refusing…to keep making you upset. Your negative reaction will only perpetuate the cycle. Stop reacting negatively, muster up some fortitude and respond with a smile. Over and over and over. Until they take the # of bites you have set forth. You are less likely to get into a power struggle when you’re responding positively. (While I am a believer in eating your dinner or going to bed hungry, I also don’t think that strategy works for a super strong willed child. The next one would be better for them…)
- Motivation. Set up a motivational chart or reward system. i.e. 7 nights in a row, trying 5 bites of new food = trip to ice cream store. This also helps remove the power struggle, as it puts the control into the hands of the child. The goal is to get them eating more variety, so whatever the motivation is…do it. (For my oldest son, it would be working towards something related to basketball. For my 2nd son, it would be $$. For my 3rd son, it would be a trip to the toy store to pick out something he wants.) Whatever it is, use it to motivate them and put the control in their hands.
- Variety. Keep offering variety. Just keep at it.
- Check out the other idea on this Picky Eater Swaps ideas list – the sneaky smoothie tip is GOLD!
If you’d like more information on all of this, I’d encourage you to watch my ‘live video’ on the subject. It’s an hour long, and the feedback I’ve received from it is very encouraging, so might be worth the watch! 🙂
My encouragement to you is this: because you are responsible for helping your child eat a well balanced diet, it’s crucial for you to not get flustered by your picky and work hard to get them to try new foods.
In an effort to help you increase variety, I created this great graphic to help you decide what other veggies to try to feed your kids. So, if your kiddo will only eat green beans, try to get them to eat asparagus or snap peas. I’d recommend cooking it with the same method (sauteed with olive oil, salt and pepper or boiled then slathered with butter and salt and pepper.)
My hope is that this graphic and information will help spur on your creativity and give you ideas on other foods to offer your picky eater…to expand their palate and get them eating more foods. 🙂
It’s important to know this too…you are not alone!!!! Keep at it, stay strong and focus on continuing to offer variety!
For more great ideas on other veggies to try with your picky kiddos, check out this amazing Picky Eater Swaps Ideas & list of tips.
P.S. I am not an OT, medical professional, or child psychologist and this is not meant to be medical advice. If you are really, really struggling with feeding your child, talk to your pediatrician…be their advocate! I am a mom who has experienced both levels of picky eating and am here to encourage you! Mwah!