Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Picky McPickerson

So, I have one very picky eater at home. The other two are fairly particular, but the middle one is in a class of his own. I was an extremely picky eater growing up, so it's very easy to put myself in his shoes. There were many family gatherings where I ate only a buttered roll for dinner. It caused my parents lots of stress. I remember many fights over food and always feeling self-conscious about my pickiness. Clearly there was something wrong with me, but I had a food comfort zone and the idea of breaking out of that was unthinkable. I'm happy to say that even though I would never call myself adventurous, there are many, many, many foods that I eat as an adult that I never would have gone near as a child. So ... long term, I'm not too worried. I know his tastes will change as he grows older.

But. BUT. Dealing with it in the meantime is a daily challenge and a struggle. I can think of a long list of foods that I ate as a child that he won't even touch. Hamburgers. Tacos. Chicken. Green beans. Pizza. Salad (plain of course, no dressing). Grapes. Bananas. The list goes on.

I've read lots of advice on magic ways to get kids to try new foods: charts! fun shapes! cool names! Yeah ... SO not going to work on middle child. The general school of thought seems to be: leave them alone, let them eat what they want. I'm cool with that. It's been our approach up to now. However, lately I feel like this approach is taking us two steps back, and he's now eating even less variety than he did a year ago.

Problem #1: Mealtimes are incredibly stressful for me. He will not try any new foods, period. He will not eat 75% of the selection of food put before him. But he's often complaining about being hungry.

Problem #2: He's bringing the other two down with him. Dora has always been a great try-er. She eats slightly more things than Theo and will try many things happily. HOWEVER. There's been a lot of "How come I have some on my plate and Theo doesn't? How come I have to try and Theo doesn't?" I remind her that she and Theo are different, though I sense that is not a satisfying response. The fact is that she is very agreeable in food matters, where with Theo it would cause a several hour meltdown / showdown that's just. Not. Worth. It. Consequently, Dora has been eating much less of a variety than she used to. AND I see Clark gradually following in their footsteps.

I've read not to use dessert as a reward, but we're a sweet family. We like our desserts. What do I do with a child who eats nothing but plain noodles for dinner and then expects to have ice cream with the rest of us? Letting him have an alternative snack after dinner just makes me crazy, even if it's a healthy option. Because once dinner is over, I am DONE serving food for the night. Listening to him complain about how HUNGRY he is makes me want to cry (and I do!)

I also want to add: I am a very simple cook. Nothing fancy, nothing crazy, food that I think an average kid would eat. I already try to serve at least one thing with each meal that I know he'll eat. (Short list: carrot sticks, green peppers, plain noodles, white rice.)

So, I'm turning to you, dear Internet. I'm ready for a new strategy and welcome all comments and ideas. Let me have it.


  1. I have a very picky eater as well. I spoke to our Dr. about the challenges. She suggested to put what you have cooked for dinner in front of them (things they like plus new things). Let them eat what they want. When dinner is done and the plate is still full, put it in the fridge. When they complain later about being hungry bring out their plate. It seems to work well around here. I always remind my daughter that their is nothing else until her dinner is gone. Around 7 when she is hungry and wants dessert like the rest of us, she eats and then enjoys the yummy foods she desires.
    Hope that helps.

  2. I agree with Corie. That strategy usually works in my house. Usually. Keep in mind too that what seems to be about food may not always be about food, especially with a middle child, especially at that age. Attention, power, self-assertion are all tempting lures to stage a mealtime showdown and later to request a snack. The good news is that his short list includes veggies and good carbs. Blog is fantastic, by the way.

  3. i was thinking along the same lines ... kids love to use meal times to exert their power as we as parents always worry about what they do/don't eat ... I remember the doctor telling me not to make a big deal of it - if he eats his meal great, if he doesn't he can eat it later - no tears, no stress, no force feeding, no giving in to 'what he wants' ... it's not easy but i wish you all the best with whatever you try ...