The Picky Eater Conundrum

I’d like to think that I am doing a good job most days with these two little gorgeous creatures of mine, that they are growing up happy, healthy and very well loved.

But sometimes, with the exception of a few close friends who are in tune with my mealtime pain, I feel like I am alone in the parenting world when it comes to dealing with picky eaters. Article after article I read – and again just tonight another new one from a fairly popular food blogger- has me shaking my head and raising my eyebrows.

And wondering if I am crazy. Which I am, of course, but this time I mean about this certain subject.

For those of you who know me and read my blog – bless you for that- you’ll know that I am basically a short order chef at mealtime. My son is almost a complete vegetarian, my daughter hates anything spicy and my husband, bless his soul, finally has learned to be adventuresome and eat what I cook.

And I guess I am completely doing it wrong.

Tips and tricks such as “Don’t punish them for not eating. By not catering to them and not making what they like, you’ve punished them enough” are thrown out to parents who are eager for a solution to the three course meal they have to serve every night to make sure everyone eats.

Or “If they don’t eat it, make sure not to let them eat after supper. Once it’s done, it’s done. They won’t starve, you know.”

And I really liked the advice that tells parents to always serve bread to fill them up. Are you serious? Bread? Instead of something they like? BREAD???

Wheeze gasp pant.

I’ve settled down. A little. There’s still some heavy breathing going on over here while I try to master my anger.

What gets in my craw is that parents really and truly do take some of this advice to heart. Advice that I think is completely the wrong advice. There, I said it. I disagree with most of the picky eater advice out there.

So here’s my theory.

All this craptastic advice is written by skinny bloggers.

Yah. I said it. I WENT THERE.

I do not understand how any person who has a weight issue, or battled their weight, has to work hard to control their weight or has any food problems whether serious or slight can write the tripe out there. Any person who has to really think about their eating habits knows that just the mere three things I have used as examples above are things in our own paths that we are desperately trying not to repeat with our own children.

I read those and warning bells go off in my head with full flashing red lights and sirens. I fight in the weight battle. I am not a skinny food blogger. I see the warning signs loud and clear.

Let’s get one thing straight: Most of that advice is going to send our children straight down the food control issue path.

BREAD?? FEED THEM BREAD!!

No, really, I am over the feed them bread. Really. I am going to let it go. Letting. It. Go.

But filling up on empty carbs is exactly the wrong thing to do. We should not teach our children to turn to a piece of bread when there’s nothing else to eat.

But by now you are thinking, Magpie, you surely like to beak but you haven’t given me a single solution.

So here’s the advice from a non-skinny blogger who does have to watch what she eats, all the time.

1. Take up drinking wine at mealtime. Works wonders for your nerves.

2. Respect your child’s eating habits. If I wrote about how I didn’t respect my son’s dislike of almost all meat products and tried to make him eat meat all the time I would surely have PETA all up in my grill about it. But truly, who am I to tell him that he has to like it? He gamely tries meat when asked and he hates it. That said, the child needs protein. Which leads me to my next tip.

3. Find healthy, quick pre-packaged foods for those nights when you are making supper that only you and the husband eat. It IS ok. I came to grips with the fact that I cannot possibly whip up Dal Makhani (lentils and spinach) whenever my son needs protein. I have a stockpile of a wonderful line of preservative free vacuum sealed lentils and beans. He will also eat plain chickpeas, so be it. I have a stockpile of those too.

4. Natural peanut butter is an amazing protein. Nut allergies? Pumpkin/sunflower seed butter is so dang good. Embrace alternative foods.

5. Accept the fact that if someone walked up to you when your stomach was growling and told you -in a house full of food-  that you had to eat what was on the table or go hungry, you’d punch them. Hard. Then you’d go and get what you liked to eat.  Ok, maybe that’s just my rage issues. But why is it different for children? We have to nourish their likes and tell them it’s OK when they don’t like food. Don’t make issues out of it. Please for the love of all that’s holy, do not make issues out of them not liking food. It’s damaging to their self-esteem and makes them view food in a bad way.

6. Realize that they will not eat this way forever. They won’t. My cousin Karlee lived on PB sandwiches for her entire childhood -no, really she did,  Karlee you better comment and back me up here!- and now she eats everything from sushi to squash. I never heard my aunt and uncle get on her case for it, she was just known in our family for her PB sandwiches and we all just catered to it. No biggie. We like to think she grew up just fine.

7. Take a really close look at YOUR eating habits. Ouch. Sorry about that. But you know what? Not one single article I have ever read has suggested this. We aren’t perfect. Maybe the food we eat isn’t always the tastiest for kids. Maybe their teeth can’t chew it well. Is it too spicy? Salty? Greasy? Look closely at what you serve for dinner and think from the viewpoint of your child. Perhaps, like my son keeps insisting,  beef IS just darn gross to chew. Or a certain child’s taste buds cannot handle too much flavor, I swear my daughter is like this.  Some foods are just too much for her palate, just like some are for mine. This is not me telling people they are bad cooks, it’s me telling you that you have 20/30/40 years of developing your palate while your children have less than a decade.

8. Learn how to serve everything plain with sauces on the side. This has saved my sanity.

9. Meals do not have to be the image that we are inundated with by marketing every day. You are not a bad mother if your child likes natural peanut butter on whole grain toast with a side of fruit for dinner. That’s proteins, grains and a serving of fruits. Tell me what’s wrong with that? Who says you have to roast a chicken? Make pancakes! Bacon! Throw convention out the window. We don’t have to be the perfect mom serving a full roast beef meal wearing an apron and a smile. And that sounded dirty so just stop right there.

10. Last but most importantly, reassess your views on meals.  Let go of what we have been told all our lives and embrace new lines of thinking such as:

–  nobody, not even adults, should feel that they have to eat everything on their plates

– we do not need three squares a day, grazing 5-6 times has been shown to be far healthier. Embrace the small meals that our children naturally seem to want.

– snacking on healthy foods is great

– a small snack before supper is ok. Why must we sit and gorge ourselves all at once? Warning bells again!!

And lastly, don’t let anyone tell you that you are a pushover for catering to your child’s eating habits. You are respecting their choices, fostering a healthy relationship with food and making sure they develop healthy eating habits. Just because it’s the same foods over and over doesn’t mean a fiddle.

Whew. That felt good. This post has been brewing for years upon years I think. It’s a topic that I have only talked about with my close friends and in great detail. We all have picky eaters and funny enough, we all mostly follow the rules above.

But there in that sentence I would also like to challenge that term. “Picky Eater”. I don’t think most kids are picky eaters – excepting those  children like my cousin of course- but they are just slower in developing more adventuresome palates.  Would we rush children to read books when they aren’t ready and refuse them storytime if they won’t read? Make them ride a bike when we know they don’t have the balance yet?

So relax. Drink that wine which is my suggestion #1. You are not alone. We’re all out there. You can now know there are people who think like you do and not just me. I know a lot of women who are raising their kids the same way.

Everyone has differing opinions, yet to be honest I think a lot of people are scared to voice the one that reflects mine. I just blatantly disagreed with about 95% of the internet when it comes to picky eaters. And I can, because this is my little piece of the internet and boy it’s nice to have my own soapbox. This post was a mixture of advice, tips and ranting so if anyone is interested in more survival tips, email me and let me know. I have quite a few!

I actually could go on for pages and pages when it comes to this topic. This is me cutting myself off.

I am sure there are so many people who will disagree with everything I say. And that’s ok. We all do what we think is right for our kids. No one certainly has to follow my advice.

And remember, if there’s one thing that’s certain, I haven’t learned half of what I would like to know and usually don’t know most of what I talk about.

Love,

The Mother of Two Little Developing Palates Magpie

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