I recently received an email from a hard-working mom, who asked a very simple question: “I was not a picky eater. However, I have three children who all eat different foods. I end up rushing about to create several different meals every night. Why do I have this house full of picky eaters? I fix what they want, and then they often change their minds? What did I do wrong, and how do I fix it? It’s driving me crazy!”
The ‘driving me crazy’ part is likely something many of you understand. It is exhausting and frustrating. And for a portion of these very demanding picky eaters, the change in preference for a meal can change in an instant. So, let’s look at why this happens and then discuss the solutions.
Why the House Full of Picky Eaters?
Many parents wonder about this, and yet the answer is so remarkably simple. Picky eating evolves because we feed the pickiness. Think about it. Hunger is the key motivation that gets us to eat. If we are protected from ever getting really hungry, we can hold out and be as picky as we want.
Most parents have been led to believe that you can’t let your child skip a meal, and thus there is this catering to the whining, complaining, and picky demands for ‘what I want.’ In addition, many professionals are more and more accommodating to this being the ‘new norm’ and thus they raise less concern, sometimes falsely suggesting that they will ‘just grow out of it.’
Adding to this is the fact there are more addictive, simple carb driven fast foods available than ever before, and many picky eaters thrive on these simple carbs.
Finally, many parents do not feel strong in their parenting and feel ill-equipped to deal with an all-out screaming tantrum overeating veggies. When trying to do the right thing, they end up in a huge battle, and this feels awful. It’s easier to just give them a bowl of pasta or that pizza they demand.
When we add this up, we can see why many households are full of picky eaters! So, what do we do about this?
How Do We Help That Picky Eater?
Begin with This: Start by Helping the One Who Feeds the Picky One.
That’s right! We must start with you…not your child. If your mindset and approach don’t change, this is a lost cause. And the first shift must occur in your perspective on how you will get a result. I do this by asking this question of you:
- Who is going to work harder at getting the picky eater to eat healthily?
To expand the foods your child eats, it is essential to let go of the idea that you can (or should) force or demand your kids to eat healthy food. This will just create tension and ongoing conflict.
This is not to say that you relinquish the goal of healthy eating and having them enjoy a wide range of foods. It simply acknowledges that negotiating, pleading, reminding, yelling, or demanding your children to eat healthier will not work. If it did, no one would likely read this article.
Next, Allow the Upsets When Offered Healthy Food
So, it’s dinner time now. Let’s assume you wisely did not give them a snack 45’ ago, and that they are feeling some hunger. And, you have a healthy meal in front of your picky eater. It’s yummy and good for them.
Perfect. Your work is done (for this moment). The key question to hold in mind at this time is this: Who is going to work harder to resolve your child’s hunger…Mom/Dad or child? If they whine, complain, and tantrum…let it be.
This is critical to master. when your child is exposed to healthy food and they turn away even though they are hungry, don’t try to fix it. You provided healthy food, and that’s your job. Their job is to simply learn from their choice. If they eat, their hunger will go away. If they don’t, it remains. That’s their job to discover, and you really can’t do that for them.
When the picky eater complains and picks at their food, do not engage them in any fashion during these times. Instead, engage with someone else at the table, simply ignoring their complaints and criticisms of the food. When your child begins to talk without complaint or begins eating, engage, and talk to them freely.
Is this hard? VERY hard. It feels like you are not helping them. But you are. Healthy food is sitting right there. Relief from their self-imposed struggle is sitting right in front of them.
Okay, that’s where you start. Next week, we will iron out the other details. But try your best to wrap your head around this piece, as success will be contingent on that.