Updated: Jan 15
If there was one large battle between moms and kids it is food.
The Lord made kids to have a sweet tooth. The Lord also made moms to be able to read food labels.
And where those two clash is a battleground rife with landmines of restaurant menus, “helpful” comments of “When I was a kid, you weren’t allowed to be picky”, and internet warnings about how your child will turn out to be a dumb zombie if you don’t feed them the PERFECT nutritionally balanced, organic, gluten free, raw, diet ALWAYS.
So what’s the truth? Where do moms need to plant their flags, and where can they concede ground?
Mom, I am here with good news: There are no such thing as dumb zombies.
And I have more good news: “Perfect diet” is bunk used to drive internet clicks.
And the last bit of good news: The Lord made humans to survive and even thrive on “imperfect diets”.
You don’t need to beat yourself up AT ALL if your friend’s child loves raw veggies and yours loves the cheapest, vaguely dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets in the store. Yes, nutrition is important, but there is a lot more play than one might think.
I will admit, this post is partially a defense of picky eating. See, when I was a kid, I was a very picky eater. Even as an adult, trying a new food literally gives me more anxiety than speaking in public.
Yes, it is THAT big of a deal. I never even had my first pb&j sandwich until I was 35!
Here I am, not a dumb zombie, and ready to help you negotiate with your Picky Eater.
First, though, let me ask you this: Is there a sound, touch, sight, or smell that you absolutely cannot stand? Something that makes you shiver or cringe or recoil or instantly irritated?
Maybe you can’t stand the feeling of washable silk. Or the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard. Or the feeling of wet socks. Or the smell of specific candle.
We all have something that is truly an aversion to us.
That also happens with the sense of taste (or, more often, the texture of food).
Just like it would be incredibly unpleasant for you to, say, have to listen to fingernails on a chalkboard, for some people there are foods that are just as unpleasant. These are true aversions. It is fair that your child has some.
But I am also a mom…there is true aversion to a taste or texture, and then there is a stubborn will that simply wants mac and cheese for every meal. It can be hard to figure out which is which, but here are some tips that can help you:
1) Ask. Simply ask your child why they don’t like a food. “Yucky” isn’t a reason. Is it the taste? Texture? Or do they just want something different?
2) See if the child would rather skip eating than eat a specific food. This might be your cue that there is a true food aversion. If they always eat supper unless you serve, say, lasagna, and then they would rather go hungry, that is a hint that there is an aversion, not just a stubbornness.
3) Also, if they are generally pretty good about food, except a handful of them, that is also your clue.
What is a mom to do if there is simply an impasse? AH! I can help you there too!
1) Offer the food (for example, cucumbers) with dips. Many a child has developed an obsession with veggies because they got their own little cup of dip to dunk them in.
2) Try fun presentation. Carrot stick? No thank you. Carrot flowers made by using a small metal cookie cutter? Much better! (See our Pinterest page for ideas. We made a whole folder just for this!)
3) Try different cooking methods. Raw veggies might hurt tender gums of the child has teeth coming out or coming in (sometimes there is a real reason behind food aversions!). Some kids, though, might prefer raw veggies to mushy cooked veggies.
4) Provide a simple, constant substitute that they will eat that is nutritious, easy, but not their favorite. If the child won’t eat supper, they get a bowl of plain oatmeal or a yogurt. They don’t get rewarded for balking at food, but they also get to eat.
5) Try sprinkles. Even if it seems weird, a child might eat meatloaf with sprinkles.
6) Get the child to help you cook. They might try new foods if it is “Can you help mommy see if this is seasoned well?” or “One of the benefits of cooking the meal is that we get to snitch the good parts before everyone else gets to try them!”
7) Give and take respect. Don’t belittle or shame the child. But also don’t allow gagging and displays. Calmly remind them “It is ok not to like a food, but we still have to be nice about it to the person who cooked it.”
8) Require 1 bite (unless you know they really can’t handle hot foods or their mouth is too sore for chewy foods or something).
9) Don’t make food an ethical or moral or emotional thing. The table is the wrong place for a battle of wills. It will only increase anxiety or stubbornness at trying new food. Food should have no emotional connotation.
Relax. It all works out. My son would only eat ONE (1) food for about six weeks, then drop it and only eat another 1 food for six weeks (I did a LOT of praying during that time). Now he is an incredible cook who has a masterful hand with seasoning and experiments all the time with new food. Patience, calmness, firm but gentle boundaries, and enthusiasm are what will get your child eating.