“Dear Mom and Dad. I like carrots, brocally [broccoli], mash potatoes, ledis [lettuce], chicken, your homemade chiken [chicken] nuggets, and all of the fruits. And not to be hertful [hurtful], but I don’t really like the foods your [you’re] making. This could really change my life. Thanks.”
This was a note written by my 7-year-old son about a month ago, which he quietly left on my nightstand to find when I went to bed. When we discussed it later the next day, he said it was easier to write out his feelings on the subject of food than to tell me in person. To say I cried a few tears upon reading this would be an understatement.
When discussing, analyzing and trying to “fix” the issues associated with parenting a child who’s a picky eater, we often think in singular terms and how their pickiness affects us as parents and caregivers. We come up with creative strategies to fit more veggies into their meals, devise devious plans to trick them into eating cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, and we wring our hands when we see another plate of perfectly good food go to waste, not a single bite eaten. Depending on your parenting style or how generous/frustrated you may be feeling on any given day of the week, you may enforce the rule of not getting up until their plate is wiped clean, or you may withhold or offer the coveted sweets as a bribe in hopes of getting them to eat. Still others try not to make a big deal about it and simply encourage them to at least try something before refusing it, and still others may reluctantly fall into the role of short-order cook, making multiple meals to appease the pickiest of the bunch. There’s literally a hundred different scenarios and ways to deal with picky eaters, but most squarely they fall into the categories of: a) getting them to eat more, and b) how to stay sane through it all. Very rarely do we try and look at this pickiness through the lens of the eater themselves and wonder what it’s like to be the one refusing so many foods.
Prompted by this letter, I’ve been trying to figure out what it’s like for my son to actually be the one dealing with this fussy way of eating. As I’ve slowly come to find out, it’s no picnic. In fact, in addition to his heartfelt and sincere letter, he also told me that he wished he had different taste buds so he could eat and enjoy more foods. These conversations have been eye-opening for me and have dramatically changed how I view his behavior and even how I deal with his pickiness.
As it turns out, from my son’s point of view, it’s pretty darn alienating to eat and live this way. Especially being in a family full of adventurous eaters, where his 9-year-old sister and 2-year-old younger brother will out-eat him in quantity and variety just about any day of the week. He’s a smart, observant kid and now realizes this and sees how it automatically makes him different. He also realizes that many times, it has put a strain on our relationship. He grows resentful when I make foods he doesn’t like, and I grow resentful when he refuses to eat good food I work hard to make. Of course not every night is full of tragedy and drama, but we’re human and I’ll admit we’ve had our fair share of tears and anger at the dinner table. Hurtful words about my food being “gross” and accusatory remarks questioning why he has to be so difficult.
All this to say, we’ve come to a turning point now that I’ve realize how hard this is on him, and if given the choice, he really wouldn’t choose to be this way. If he could, he’d get his different taste buds and would eat all sorts of foods, just like the rest of us. But he is different, with a unique set of taste buds, and I’m now working hard to let him know that that’s totally okay. We encourage him to try new foods, but if he doesn’t like them, we don’t make him feel bad about it. Instead we offer thanks to him for trying something new, and then we move on. I’m coming up with new ways to help him get involved in the kitchen, letting him choose and prepare foods he’s excited about so he knows his opinion matters too. Of course we can’t all live off of rice and homemade chicken nuggets, so it’s give and take, which he seems to appreciate. And I’m making some accommodations to dishes I cook as well, leaving his plate sauce-free or leaving foods I’d normally combine separate so that they don’t touch. If he’s at least given a new meal a try and still isn’t happy with any accommodations I’ve made, then he’s free to look in the fridge and grab a cup of yogurt or an apple to top him off, but he is responsible for getting and preparing any “additional” food items himself.
I’m sure plenty of fellow moms would think I’m going about this the wrong way, and many have suggested I take him to see a physical therapist for possible sensory issues, but really, we’re just trying to ride this out a bit. As each year passes, we see him becoming more and more open to adding more foods to his repertoire, and overall, his eating habits could be worse. He’ll eat a small handful of vegetables; he loves eggs, yogurt, and chicken — all great sources of protein; and like he said, he loves “all the fruits.” He’s healthy, growing, and is smart as a whip — just ask his teacher. If refusing to eat curried chicken is the biggest of our concerns, I consider us pretty damn lucky.
I’ve written about my son’s picky nature here on Babble no fewer than three or four times, and over the past year and a half I’ve analyzed, researched, and talked this thing to death. After all this hand wringing, we seem to have hit a stand still, and I’m actually okay with that. I’m not giving up or throwing in the towel, I’m just ready to stop trying so hard and let us all just be for now.
Images courtesy of Thinkstock and Andrea HoweMore On