By Rachel Hoeing
Picky Eaters. If you don’t have one, you should feel lucky.
Before having kids I always smirked when I heard parents say things like, “Oh I wish I could serve casseroles for dinner, but my kids just won’t eat that.”
My thought: “How can kids not eat something? You make it. They eat it. Period. What is the problem?”
Now I know. I have two children who have been raised the same way. They have been offered the same foods. They were fed at the same times, by the same person (me) with the same love and care. So why in the world do I have a son who would try a frog covered with hot sauce if you asked him to, and a daughter who doesn’t even like a slice of cheese? Bad luck, bad parenting, or just different kids?
Most of the world, I have decided, thinks it is bad parenting. Or maybe not even bad, but just wrong. Any time someone gets a glimpse of my daughter’s picky-ness I get the “Oh I could fix her if she were my kid look” followed up by a suggestion or a comment about how they have solved their children’s bad eating habits. Little do they know, I spent the majority of my daughter’s childhood trying absolutely everything.
“You should let her go to the store with you. If she can pick out the foods herself she will be more likely to try them.”
Been there, done that numerous times.
“I make one meal for my whole family. I serve it and that is that. If they don’t like it, they go to bed hungry.”
Check. Did this for months and ended up with a miserable family sitting around the dinner table watching my daughter cry and go to bed with no dinner every night.
“Give her just a little of a new food at a time. A small spoonful on her plate every night. Eventually she will try it.”
Strawberries on plate every other day for months. Never tried them once.
“Maybe when she is at a friend’s house she will try new foods that her friends like.”
Can I tell you how many of my friends brought her home only to comment on how little she eats and how she politely declined the delicious dinner and opted for a piece of bread?
“How about time-out until she tries it?”
Been there, done that. Stand off for hours was the result.
“Don’t give her any other food until she tries what you gave her.”
Check and check. Kid went to bed hungry more times than I can count.
“Just re-heat what she didn’t eat for lunch and serve it to her for dinner. She’ll get the picture.”
Did this until the food was so disgusting I would not even feed it to pigs.
What else? I am sure someone out there has a sure-fire plan for my stubborn child, right? Each time I heard a new suggestion I felt like a bad parent for having a daughter who was so picky. I would try each idea, only to see the same results.
Here was my turning point. When she was about five or six years old, I had made Shepherd’s Pie one night for dinner and served it up on everyone’s plate. As usual, my daughter began to cry. I told her she would have to eat it and she could not get up from the table until she did so. Of course she sat stubbornly for a good 45 minutes and remained there well after everyone else had gotten up and cleared the table. I went back and tried to reason with her. No luck. I tried to ask her to just take a bite. No luck. Next thing I know I had her in a headlock and was shoving a spoonful of Shepherd’s Pie down her throat.
HOLY CRAP. What was I doing? I suddenly saw myself from another person’s point-of-view and tried to figure out who this crazy woman was who was shoving food down her daughter’s throat. I put the food down, dismissed my daughter from the table and went upstairs for a good cry. I felt like I had failed. Why was my daughter like this? Was I to blame?
Shortly afterward we went to the pediatrician and as I always had at every visit, I voiced my concerns about her eating and told him I was ready to throw in the towel. He asked me if she ever seemed to have no energy. My answer was no. Did she take a multi-vitamin? My answer was yes, every day. Did she eat at least some fruits? Yes. Some veggies? Yes. Some protein? Yes. Was I able to sneak healthy foods into her diet? Yes, smoothies were an answer for getting many nutrients into her little body without her ever knowing.
He then looked at her growth chart and told me I had done a good job in getting my daughter the nutrients she needed. She was growing properly and she was healthy. Did she probably have some texture issues deep within that caused some of her finickiness? Yeah. And could she have a little more meat on her bones? Probably. But all in all, my daughter was a healthy, normal kid.
At that point, I clocked out. I clocked out of my job as Sergeant Eat More. I was done. I was no longer going to make mealtime miserable. It was just not worth it. Was it more important to make one meal that the entire family would eat (which of course came with tears and arguing) or was it better to make steaks for three of us and noodles with butter for my daughter and sit down as a family for a delightful dinner which resulted in communication, laughs and time together?
I opted for the latter.
So here I am, many years later from “the Shepherd’s Pie incident” with a daughter who will eat peanut butter but not jelly, pickles but not cucumbers, Kraft Mac & Cheese, but not homemade mac & cheese, soft tacos with meat in them but not ground beef alone, scrambled eggs but not poached, apples but not pears, the list goes on and on.
Does it drive me crazy? Absolutely. Do I still get comments and suggestions from friends as well as strangers who can fix my child? Yes. But as for me, I am done. She gets the nutrients she needs and slowly but surely every few weeks I will catch a glimpse of her trying something new.
It is nice to have happy family dinners again. At this day and age, the last thing in the world I ever wanted was for my daughter to develop any kind of negative association with food. We all know the struggles that tweens and teens can face, and I want her to be comfortable in her body and know that finding a balance and being healthy is what is most important.