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Stefanie Wilder-Taylor is the host of Parental Discretion on NickMom as well as the author of four books including Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay and Naptime Is the New Happy Hour. She also hosts the podcast For Crying Out Loud.

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The Secret Shame of Raising Picky Eaters

By Stefanie Wilder Taylor |

Over the holidays late last year, I was at a family party with my kids when another mom asked me, “What’s your secret?”

“My secret?” I asked. I am not usually someone asked for their secrets so I was a little confused. But she was referring to my four-year-old daughter Matilda who was happily munching an endive leaf green salad with goat cheese, cherry tomatoes and garlic croutons.

“I don’t believe I’ve ever witnessed a kid that age eating salad by choice. How do you get her to do that?”

“She just likes it” I answered truthfully.

When she was three years old, Matilda asked me if she could have broccoli for dessert. I kid you not. Obviously, I was a bit taken aback. But after looking around for hidden cameras I realized the kid was completely serious. So I indulged her with a fresh pack of raw broccoli that I happened to have on hand for use in a grown up pasta dish I had planned to make later. I believe Jon and I ate Lucky Charms that night. Pretty much from then on Mattie always preferred fruits and veggies over more standard kid fare. Now at four she’s one of the healthiest eaters I know  among the preschooler set. Yesterday I packed turkey chili in her lunch. After school she requested an apple for a snack while Sadie munched goldfish crackers happily nearby. It’s just normal to me now.

“But you must be doing something right. I need to know what it is.” The mom at that party gestured at Matilda who’d moved on to red pepper hummus and pita.

“What can I say? My kid loves a whole grain. I think I’m just lucky. And I guess I don’t push it on her or have a reaction to what she chooses to eat either way. I stay neutral. I don’t worry about it.”

“But I’m so frustrated with my daughter’s eating habits!” Party Mom said. She was having trouble getting her two-year-old to even try a latke (potato pancake) even with gobs of apple sauce on it and I could see it was making her feel like a failure.

I understood her pain. Elby, my oldest, is one of the pickiest eaters I know. There was a period of about a year where she basically ate a plain bagel with cream cheese on it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Yes. For a year. I tried everything to break her out of it, offered every kind of food, lots of healthy choices, you know the drill. But nothing worked. So in order to get her to eat something, I always broke down and gave her a bagel or one of the other three or four foods she’d eat when in an especially daring mood. I didn’t tell many people about it because it seemed so embarrassing like it was something I was or wasn’t doing.

Some of my friends who had her over for dinner were amazed at her lack of adventurousness when it came to all things edible. The kid wouldn’t even try a piece of candy corn because it “looked weird.” No matter how much peer pressure was exerted by the friends’ kids, Elby wouldn’t bow to it. She stood her picky ground.

Jon even bought us (okay me who are we kidding here?) that Sneaky Chef book where you can smuggle some spinach into a brownie the way a stoner smuggles weed. But I always found that technique suspect. How good can chocolate taste with spinach in it? And if it’s such a tiny amount that you can’t taste it how can it do any good? Plus, I don’t like the idea of tricking my kids with food. I feel like they should come to love healthy food on their own. Much like I came to love men who weren’t assholes.

The thing is, I was even pickier than Elby at that age. I don’t think I ate a vegetable until I was twenty, and that was just cauliflower, the most mild mannered of all veggies.  Yet now I eat almost everything. Well, I still hate onions but they are a horribly offensive food. I’m also not going to ever enjoy liver, olives or anything with raisins in it. Please please think before adding raisins to a dessert. They have the ability to ruin a perfectly good rice pudding or cake. Other than that, I am fairly open and I believe that my kids will turn out that way too if we don’t freak out about it.

So there’s my secret. I don’t have one. Go figure. I encourage my kids to try new foods but don’t force it and when they love something healthy I make it more often. But really, I think kids grow out of the picky phase on their own. I’m happy to report that Elby now seven, loves sushi, Thai egg rolls, apples and carrots. She also still adores a bagel and cream cheese but at least she’ll put a little lox on it.

As an added bonus, here’s a little sampling of the foods I ate as a kid with a humorous explanation.

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The Secret To Raising Healthy Eaters

Charms lollipops

I wasn't picky about the flavor. Okay, that's a lie -- I mostly liked cherry but the blue one would do in a pinch.

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About Stefanie Wilder Taylor

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Stefanie Wilder Taylor

Stefanie Wilder-Taylor is the host of Parental Discretion on NickMom as well as the author of four books including Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay and Naptime Is the New Happy Hour. She also hosts the podcast For Crying Out Loud. Read bio and latest posts → Read Stefanie's latest posts →

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11 thoughts on “The Secret Shame of Raising Picky Eaters

  1. Rebecca says:

    Ya know she sounds a whole lot like Joey. That kid will eat fresh raw vegetables and fruits over bread, pasta, cheese, carbs! What is wrong with him? But yeah, oftentimes his lunch and dinner is just fresh, raw veggies. And for some reason I feel like I’m neglecting him. What is up with that?

  2. Arnebya says:

    My girls eat like Matilda and Sadie. One will ask for an apple or grapes as dessert and the other asks if there’s pie. While I’ve never had a problem from either with healthy eating, when it comes to choice — if we have it, one wants fruit and one wants baked goods. Of the Hostess variety. The boy pretty much eats what’s presented. What I love though, is that all three will eat veggies no matter what. I’ve never had to sneak them in. I appreciate that and agree there is no magic answer. When people see my 2 yr old eating sugar snap peas as a snack that he asked for (“peas, pease”) or a salad with feta crumbles, strawberries, cranberries, egg, onion, and tomatoes, I can only say for us there is no trick; he likes it.

  3. Heather K says:

    I did the buttered white bread thing in the toaster as a little girl my mom was so mad but I thought that’s how the butter melted. I didn’t’ understand cooking at all haha.

  4. Amy says:

    You might like a page I put on my blog yesterday http://www.onthemonkeytrail.com ‘kid-food-wisdom’ . I have 4 kids and I wrote this because it’s a little different – have had heaps of positive feedback from other mums. Let me know what you think and feel free to pass it on to anyone you think it will help.

  5. Angie says:

    My almost-3-year-old loves veggies, is very picky about her meat and will not touch bread of any kind with a ten foot pole. C’mon kid, eat a sandwich! At least when a kid won’t eat veggies there are a million ways to sneak them in. How do you hide meat?

  6. Toni says:

    My 3 (almost 4) year old has eaten basically nothing but pizza for 2 years. We have offered him every food under the sun and he has melt downs if something like mac & cheese touches his plate. He wasn’t a fan of my homemade purees as a baby, so we started grinding our food with a baby food grinder and he refused that. He was terribly hard to wean from his bottle (he couldn’t breastfeed thanks to a posterior tongue-tie). I wonder if the tongue-tie led to his extremely sensitive gag reflex, which he still has and if you try to sneak a slimy strawberry in yogurt down he vomits it back up. I dread meal times with him. He will not touch a veggie or fruit or meat. His short list of foods he will eat looks startlingly like yours with the exception of dried meats. He is currently in OT and ST trying to get him to eat anything with chunks and even after several months we have not made progress.

    I feel like a huge failure, but then I look at my 11 1/2 month old and that kid eats everything. He cherishes meal times. He loves everything that his father and I don’t care for and I keep on giving it all to him. I have vowed to let him eat anything he wants (within reason) and he loves fruits and veggies. I wonder what I did wrong with my first born and what I am doing right with my baby and honestly I think that it totally comes down to the kid’s personality. I am hoping I don’t have one that starves to death and one that becomes an obese over eater.

  7. Karen says:

    I totally felt like a failure for my son’s picky eating habits until I had my daughter, who will eat anything. She was proof that some kids are adventurous and some aren’t!

  8. [...] more from me on Babble? Try The Secret Shame of Raising Picky Eaters or  Have You Gone To the Parenting Dark [...]

  9. [...] more from me on Babble? Try The Secret Shame of Raising Picky Eaters or  Have You Gone To the Parenting Dark [...]

  10. Larra says:

    I consider my childhood self a fairly picky eater. There was a decent range of stuff I would eat, but it all had to be “made right.” For example, don’t even think about burning my grilled cheese, and anything with canned diced tomatoes? Forget it. However, I have never seen the equal of one of my sister’s childhood friends. My mom knew she was insanely picky, so when she found out this particular little girl was going to stay the weekend with us, she asked her mother what she would eat. It was all very basic kid fare: PB&J, Mac and cheese, pop tarts, etc. I kid you not, this child (between 6 and 8 at the time) didn’t eat a single thing my mother fed her for 36 hours because it wasn’t brand name, or we didn’t have any white bread. My mom ended up taking her home a day early because she couldn’t get her to eat.

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