Jul 10 2017

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Parenting a Picky Eater (and a day I’ll never forget)

parenting a picky eater

Parenting a Picky Eater

We sat at our friends’ house eating a wonderful dinner. They were expecting their first child. We were the “experienced” parents of three children. They drilled us with questions. We waxed eloquent on the subject of parenting, especially the art getting kids to eat a variety of foods. “No, we don’t have picky eaters . . . We parented them that way . . . We gave them lots of different kinds of food . . .”

And then one of my children broke into our discussion to announce,”This is disgusting!”

The room went dead silent.

My heart stopped beating. After the words flew out of his mouth, I backed away from the table, grabbed my child’s hand, and led him to another room for a discrete talk. My face felt hot, and I searched for a way to rectify the situation . . . somehow.

I kneeled down and looked into his eyes. “Even if the food is disgusting,” I pleaded, “you never say that to a host. If you don’t like something, you don’t have to eat it all. Simply have some and don’t get seconds.” I stood up.” We’re going back in there, and you’re going to eat a ‘no thank you’ portion.” My child nodded in agreement, and we marched back to the table.

I sectioned off a small “no thank you” portion on his plate. Like two bites. As he proceeded to take tiny bites, I could almost read his thoughts. This is disgusting. This is disgusting. This is disgusting. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

One more bite, and then…

He was one forkful away from finishing.  And then he threw up on the table. On the table! I wanted something, anything, to make the moment magically undo itself. Or, maybe the earth would open up and swallow us whole. There was no way to recover from that, I swallowed. Life experience served me a huge piece of humble pie. I couldn’t opt out with a “no thank you” portion this time, I had to eat every bite. This was a day I’ll never forget.

At this, all the chairs moved away from the table. We cleaned up together as apologies tumbled out of my mouth. Our hosts extended unbelievable grace. And after that, I knew I had little to add to the parenting topic especially giving advice about picky eaters. Surely, this branded me as a parenting failure.

Fast forward many years

With one more child added to our family, I faced another common reality—parenting a child who defies what “worked” with the other children. Outside of the “This is disgusting” episode, my other children weren’t picky. My fourth child, however, was a straight-out-of-the-box picky eater. Texture. Flavor. They all mattered to her. She stood her ground at “No dessert” or missing a meal if she didn’t like the menu. I was floored. How did you get this way? I wondered. Didn’t you come from the same genetics and parenting?
Over the years, I waged the war for healthy eating. I kept to the “No thank you” portion plan. The only time she could opt out was if it was very spicy or I made food I didn’t think tasted good. Her taste buds expanded over time but not without interjections of humor.

I said that for you

picky eaterOne day, I made ham and bean soup for dinner. Babycakes, who was around 5 years old and decidedly against anything bean, got her obligatory “No thank you” portion. She felt ready for us to start dinner and led the prayer. After she ate some of the soup, she gave me an unsurprising and unsolicited two thumbs down dinner review. Bear, her older brother, questioned her disapproval.

“I don’t like the soup,” she said matter-of-factly.

“But you prayed thanking God “for this wonderful soup.”

“I said that for you guys.”

We had a good laugh at the dinner table. (This story was originally posted here.)

Babycakes ate her dinner and proved that a picky eater can learn to eat food she doesn’t like. Maybe the prayer helped.

More years have passed since her “for you guys” prayer. With over eighteen years of parenting experience, I’ve learned much from my successes and failures.

Each child is different. Even though you may have the same big picture parenting goals for all of your children, approach each child as an individual. Here are some things to keep in mind as you parent your picky eater.

6 Things to keep in mind as you parent a picky eater

  1. Tastes change over time. Unless you have a reason (like allergy), keep offering foods you think are good foods. In time, she may grow to like it. My picky eater has grown less picky over the years. She doesn’t dislike beans anymore, but it took time.
  2. Introduce other healthy options. Babycakes didn’t like beans, but, for whatever reason, she liked salad. I didn’t force a whole bean meal on her  if she asked for salad. Who refuses a child who asks for salad? I still can’t explain why salad was on the “yes” list.
  3. Sneak in healthy foods. The Sneaky Chef books have inspired me to add protein and vitamins into our favorite meals. There was a time when I played the “Can you guess what I snuck in the dinner” game with the kids. Now, they expect me to add “healthy” into our meals.
  4. Let them help you prepare food. Meals prepared with the help of little hands magically taste better. When they own it, they have more investment in the meal. Not only can this be an under-the-radar teaching and bonding moment, they get to feel the pride of making the meal.
  5. Keep parenting. Children are skilled at breaking a parent down. Don’t let them. If you learn a better way of parenting, change. But don’t stop guiding your children simply because they’re resisting. You’re the parent. If you have a “no thank you” portion policy at your house, keep at it. Your leadership in their lives helps mold them.
  6. Talk to a professional. If your child is picky, and it concerns you, talk with your pediatrician and possibly have him evaluated. There could be legitimate reasons why he doesn’t want to eat the food you’re serving. He could have sensitivities to tastes or textures or is experiencing discomfort after eating a food. Read this article: FAQ: Kids and Picky Eating

We can do this

As we parent, it’s easy to get discouraged and second guess every decision. Everyone has opinions on how to parent the right way. But remember, God chose us to parent the kids he’s given. Let’s purpose to pray for wisdom. Read good books. Get advice. Do our best. And meditate on this truth: I can do this with God’s strength. He has equipped us to parent, and he will give us what we need.

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  1. Janet

    Utterly fantastic writing keep them coming

    1. Cheryl

      Thank you.

  2. Jean Wilund

    You’re so funny! I love this! I’m passing it along. Thanks for being the transparent encourager that you are.

    1. Cheryl

      It’s one of those stories I can laugh about now.

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