Parenting a Picky Eater

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Parenting a Picky Eater

October 7, 2016

** DISCLAIMER ** Be prepared for salty language. My son’s picking eating has me on the brink of losing it.

If you look closely, you’ll see the remnants of oatmeal caked on the floor, an errant spaghetti noodle stuck to a chair, a piece of toast wedged under the table. I just don’t have the time, energy or detective skills to scrub every nook and cranny and I’ve all but given up on cleaning our dark hardwood floors. It feels as though I empty the dishwasher and sweep the floor hundreds of times a day; it never ends. I have two spirited children under the age of five at home full-time with me, which means we eat at home ALL THE DAMN TIME. The prospect of taking my two kids out for dinner sends shivers down my spine. So morning, noon, and night, I piece together meals that I hope they won’t spit on the floor. And the odd time we do actually eat at a respectable restaurant, I strategically pack a diaper bag’s worth of snacks to keep the wolf pack satiated until their meals arrive. So worth it.

errant-spaghetti-noddle

As a baby and toddler, my daughter ate anything and everything: spicy Indian dishes, homemade guacamole, even kale salad. Like me, she loved food. As she grew more verbal, she began to ask if we could go for “Vietnamese food” or out for “sushi”. I was so proud. I was confident that skipping the puree stage of infant feeding and instead allowing her to eat whole foods through baby-led weaning, was the reason why she was such a great eater. Relatives, friends and strangers would voice their surprise on a regular basis – they just couldn’t believe how well she ate. This fuel fed the fire. In my mind picky eaters were created, not born. I knew it. They were a product of bland foods and a lack of variety, not a developmental stage or personality trait. I’d heard legends of warrior children, standing firm in their pickiness until their parents succumbed to the inevitable – to feeding the kid what he wanted. I balked at this, at parents letting their children have so much control. A few years later, karma decided to bite my judgmental opinion in the butt.

And then, along came my son. He was a totally different kid. We had breastfeeding struggles, undiagnosed tongue ties, insufficient weight gain and nursing strikes. My job was to nourish and feed him and I felt like I was failing.  At 6 and a half months, after a few weeks of mashing and playing with his food, he became a great eater. He devoured avocado, veggies and hummus, and anything he could get his hands on. The pressure was alleviated, when I was no longer his main food source. And then at 16 months, he chose to stop nursing, to wean altogether. I was relieved and concerned. It was nice to have my boobs back, but I began to worry about his growth again. What if he wasn’t getting enough fat in his diet? What if he wasn’t growing enough? So I began feeding him spoonfuls of coconut oil and peanut butter and coating everything he ate in a layer of unsalted butter. Things were going well and I was content with his food consumption. I was able to breathe again.  And then he decided to become a fucking picky eater.

Even as she get closer to the 5-year mark, my daughter is a fairly adventurous eater. She’s decided that mushrooms, onions and avocado are now disgusting and she can no longer tolerate spicy food. I can live with that. My son on the other hand, where do I begin?

I sit here trying not to look at him, trying to ignore the disgusting mess he’s created on his plate. I don’t interfere, because I hope this freedom will allow him to let go of his newfound pickiness and eat, just fucking eat. He picks up bits of avocado, steak, and tomatoes, mixing them maniacally, methodically moving them from compartment to compartment on his plate. I don’t give him a fork or a spoon and I don’t mix any of his food. Maybe he’ll find the pile of mush he’s created more palatable? I hold my breathe as he sits for 10 minutes, contentedly mashing every thoughtfully-crafted piece of dinner into an unrecognizable pile of mush that even the hungriest of dogs wouldn’t eat.  He tries to put some of the new creation on his sister’s plate – she moves her plate away just in time. He continues to mash it around, eating bits of unrecognizable tomato and steak, covered in salsa. His final gesture, his big fat “fuck you” to me, is dumping the contents of his plate on the floor. I close my eyes and imagine for a moment, a world in which children do as they’re told, who eat their meals without complaint, and never waste a piece of food. I’m snapped back into reality when my son starts shouting “Ow! Ow!” as he tries to rip his bib off of his neck.

greek-bowlThis is my life now. It’s been almost a month of parenting a picky eater. There is no method to his madness; it is completely unpredictable. Today he will let me feed him a fried egg and tomorrow he will spit it on the floor. A few nights ago I made a tasty Greek salad and rice bowl with chicken, cucumber, tomato, red onions, tzatziki and homemade Greek dressing. He wouldn’t even look at it, as though its very presence was insult enough. I was floored. The next day I put together that same rice bowl for lunch in one big bowl to share. The three of us casually ate it in the family room while watching Paw Patrol. This time my son devoured it. After seeing his sister take a few bites, he started making his way towards me, opening his mouth and making frantic “uh-uh” sounds as though it were the first morsel of food I’d offered him that day. Every bite of food was accompanied by an “mmmm” until the bowl was empty. It suddenly became apparent: His picky eating is a choice – a way for him to wield some control over his universe.

picky-eater-ive-given-up

The message in this photo is clear: I’ve given up.

I’m thankful we don’t have guests over often. To watch the circus that ensues while trying to get my son to eat is downright embarrassing. I try everything. Some strategies that work today will not work tomorrow. Some foods that he will eat today, he will turn his nose up at tomorrow. So for now I pull from my arsenal of mom tricks to sneak in every bite I can. For those of you suffering through the picky-eating stage (please please please let this be a stage), here’s what’s in my tattered, crumb-covered tool bag of mom tricks:

  • Give the picky eater no utensils of any kind.
  • Give the picky eater several different utensils, including adult-sized forks. Perhaps he’ll feel like a big kid and eat his damn supper.
  • Offer dinner in courses, one food at a time.
  • Offer dinner in one bowl with everything mixed together.
  • Offer dinner on one plate with each component in its own separate compartment.
  • Let him eat from other people’s plates.
  • Let the older sibling try to feed the picky eater.
  • Let the picky eater’s favourite stuffy or blankie “feed” the picky eater.
  • Try not to look at the picky eater while he’s “eating”.
  • Feed the picky eater first and leave him alone at the table. Watch incognito from the kitchen so he doesn’t think he has an audience.
  • Make “mmm” sounds as he eats, hoping this will convince him his meal tastes good.
  • Make songs up while you eat.
  • Let him eat on the floor while watching Paw Patrol.
  • Casually offer the picky eater small bits of food throughout the day while he’s playing and distracted.
  • Feed the picky eater when he’s tired or just woken up from a nap or bedtime. His defenses are likely down and his picky radar has yet to engage.
  • Give up and cry silently to yourself while letting him eat whatever he wants, whenever he wants, wherever he wants.

It sucks, but deep down I’m proud. He’s 17 months of stubborn boy. He’s polite, thoughtful and steadfast in his decisions. There really is no making him do anything he doesn’t want to do. And while I’m certain he’ll make a strong, confident adult in the future, I just want him to do what I tell him to do now.

The stress that accompanies parenting a picky eater is palpable. It permeates every meal, every outing and every second of the day. Parents of picky eaters, I salute you! Hang in there, grab a glass of wine at the end of the night and repeat this mantra: “It’s only a stage. It’s only a stage. It’s only a stage.” Please let it be a stage.

~chelsey

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