Okay – quick poll everyone. Clap your hands if your kids are thrilled to eat what you make for dinner every night. Is the sound of silence I hear? Every mom has experienced the challenge of living with a picky eater, whether it is for a few days, months or, in my case, going on 8 years. I bet that even Gordon Ramsay’s kids have occasionally turned their noses up at filet mignon and just wanted mac and cheese. I have two kids and while the first one went through a picky phase, she eventually outgrew it. Even at her worst, she still tried new foods. My son is a different story. He has a very limited food repertoire and a palate that is about as basic as it can get. While I cannot say that I have all the answers, I will share how I got into this predicament and the baby steps we are taking to get out of it.
I recall talking with my grandmother once about when my mom and uncle were young and what she would do if they did not want what she made for dinner. She gave me this incredulous look and let me know that they had two options – eat it or don’t eat it. There were no substitutions; no second dinners made. She grew up during the heart of the Great Depression and turning down food was something she could not fathom. I do think that picky eating is a generational phenomenon. We want to please our children and have them enjoy mealtime with the family. This is the trap I fell into with my son.
Something I look forward to after a day at work is eating dinner together as a family. If preparing more than one meal would maintain peace at home and enable us to eat together, then that is what I opted to do. My son ate lots of grilled cheese, peanut butter sandwiches, and pizza, but at least he was doing so at the table. He would make up stories about how “tomatoes were poisonous” or “the only part of chicken that tastes good is the nugget.” Even getting him to cook with me did not translate to eating what he cooked. However, I discovered that this was a slippery slope and the two meal solution is still in place at least 2-3 nights each week.
Recently, we are making some strides. And while we have a ways to go, progress is bring made.
The “Just a Taste” Test
This one worked better for my daughter than my son. We would introduce a new food and the rule was she had to at least lick it. If the taste was completely appalling, she did not have to actually eat it, but more often than not she was willing to give things a try. My son is more likely to turn down a food just on sight, but at least gives a polite “no thank you” when he does.
Try Some “Gateway Foods”
I describe a “gateway food” as the version of a type of food that your picky eater will find the least offensive. They will at least try it and maybe it will lead to a willingness to expand their horizons. My son started with chicken nuggets: regular, dino-shaped, and even chicken fingers. After about 6 years of nuggets, he will finally eat a homemade piece of breaded chicken. Fish sticks led to clam cakes. Spaghetti with ketchup will hopefully lead to spaghetti with ANYTHING OTHER THAN KETCHUP! Start with the basics and hope for the best.
Do Not Discount Peer Pressure
My son’s day camp provides lunch every day. He recently came home and regaled me with the story of how much he loved the enchiladas with rice. This is the same kid that a couple of weeks earlier would not eat a plain cheese quesadilla. He is a much more adventurous eater when surrounded by kids who are all having the same thing.
Determine Your Hill to Die On
I am fine with making concessions, but even I have to put my foot down from time to time. My son has long said that yellow American cheese is disgusting and will only eat the white kind. Recently, he complained that I had bought the wrong brand of white cheese. That was the last straw. I was not throwing out a gigantic package of cheese. Amazingly, when presented without the wrapper on, it tasted just fine. Sandwiches will be made on wheat bread, even if it is not his first choice. Everyday has to include at least one or two servings of a fruit or vegetable – even if it is just applesauce or 100% juice. These may seem like small things, but not to me.
I still hold out hope that my son will become a more adventurous eater. His sister, who at one point in her life seemed to subsist on dairy products only, gladly eats salads, salmon, mussels, and lots of other foods. I know that he will not be serving peanut butter sandwiches at his wedding, although he may have bagel bites as a passed hors d’oeuvres. Like so many things in life, I have to remind myself that this too shall pass. Now excuse me while I go grab the ketchup.