Small Victories — My Picker Eater

Do you have a picky eater in your family?

My youngest son is a picky eater. If it were up to my son, his diet would consist only of: bread, cheese, macaroni, chocolate, bread and chocolate (yes, I realize I put bread and chocolate in there twice). He will eat vegetables and fruits in very small quantities, but is reluctant to try new foods. We’ve had many discussions around eating foods that give us energy and help us live a long and heathy life, but my son’s not overly concerned (or particularly interested). At his age, I don’t think I was either.  It is common to hear him say, “No, thanks” when you ask him if he’s interested in trying something new, and common to experience a tantrum with him when you require him to try something new — we spend more time dealing with the tantrum – using logic, incenting, and then threatening consequences (and/or taking away privileges) than the actual time is takes him to eat the small portion. It’s very frustrating and can make me feel like a failure as a parent.

Imagine my surprise when we recently went into a local Subway to eat. Normally my son is only interested in their pizzas. If the Subway shop doesn’t carry the pizza, he’s not eating. Yet, on this particular day he did. “Mom, can I try a turkey sandwich?” he asked. “Sure, what changed your mind?” I said, trying to get over my shock. “I don’t know. What (my older son) gets looks good.” I decided not to ask any more questions, and instead ordered the sandwich.

Now, I have to confess that I was a bit concerned that when he got the sandwich, he would change his mind and say he didn’t like it after all, but that’s not what happened. Instead he took a bite and said, “This is AMAZING!” It felt like a small victory. My son was expanding his food universe and actually eating something that was relatively healthy (or healthier than the pizza would have been) and enjoying it. I was elated. As we walked back home from the restaurant he continued to comment on how much he liked the sandwich unprompted by me. “It tastes like the sandwiches grandma from Canada makes,” he said, “It was really, really good.” It made me smile (and I’m guessing it will make his grandmother in Canada smile too).

Maybe we’re turning a corner with our son, maybe now that he’s experienced something new he likes, he’ll be more willing to try new things in the future. Only time will tell, I’ll savor this victory for now.

How do you get your picky eater to try new things?

Meltdown

Do you struggle to get your child to eat the dinner you’ve prepared? My husband and I do. It got so bad recently, that our youngest had a meltdown at the table crying, “I’m so hungry, but I don’t want to eat anything.” Anything meaning the food we’d prepared. The meltdown continued and he eventually went to his room for the evening.

I have to admit fault, in that I’ve been a short-order cook for too long. When my children were younger it was fairly common for them not to eat much of anything. Growing concerned that they needed more nutrition than they were getting, I let the short-order cook in me emerge and live on.

I realized I needed to evaluate why I was cooking this way for my children and what I needed to do to change it. I grew up in a “clean-your-plate” household where dessert were scarce. As a result I’ve experienced fallout as an adult having to relearn how to eat (it sounds silly, but is quite a complex and emotional process), trusting my body to tell me when I am hungry and full, and knowing that I can have whatever I want (sweet or not sweet) whenever I want. No food is off the table or taboo. As I became more aware of my own eating struggles, I realized I was trying to overcompensate for them with my children, and instead of having the effect I wanted (e.g. allowing them to eat freely, and eating what they want) I was setting them up to potentially have weight or body issues too.

A book was recommended that really helped change this for me, “Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School,” by Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen. I found this book to be very insightful with actionable items to put a new plan in place for feeding my family. Part of the book talks about being authoritative (vs. authoritarian). It encourages parents to be in charge of what you serve your child, but you allow them to determine how much or little they want to eat. It makes sense and feels right to implement this methodology, however, my husband and I knew making this transition with our kids wouldn’t necessarily be easy. We expected there to be some rebellion, and were hoping to avoid any meltdowns.

Of course, the first week there was strong rebellion and it subsided, until our youngest had his meltdown. After going to his room and having a good cry and articulating his anger, I joined him to talk. I shared that while I didn’t like the way he was handling the situation, I certainly appreciated that he was disappointed that we weren’t serving food he preferred, however, Mom and Dad’s job is to teach him things and keep him safe, and part of teaching him things includes exposing him to different foods and providing a nutritious meal. He claimed, “I’m starving,” and I explained that if he was truly hungry he would find something to eat at the table. He asked for some broccoli which had been on the table, but we had already finished it by the time he decided he wanted it. He got upset when he heard this, but was able to calm himself down and asked, “Can I have some carrots instead?” There weren’t carrots on the table, but the fact that he was asking for a vegetable or fruit made it a reasonable request for us. He ate the carrots, and the rest of the evening went on without much fanfare.

I know there are likely more meltdowns in our future around food, but I’m hoping that as my husband and I continue to serve a family meal that we all eat, this will lessen.

How do you deal with meltdowns at the dinner table? Or how have you avoided them?