Recently, my friend Carla Naumburg, a clinical social worker, author and mom of two very picky eaters, wrote an article about picky eating that really spoke to me. As the mom of two picky eaters—one of whom has a very short list of foods he is willing to eat—I am tired of reading articles about “ending picky eating” or how to coerce your child to eat.
But this article, which appears on the Psych Central blog, is a breath of fresh air. The gist of it is that some kids (and some grown-ups, too) are just picky eaters, and as long as they are healthy, the best thing to do is accept that and then work with them to make the most of their limited choices—and most of all, never harshly reprimand them for the tastes they have.
I think that any parent of a picky eater will tell you that a message like that—especially one coming from a professional—is absolutely welcome. So often, we parents of picky eaters are given the message that something is wrong with our kids (or us), and that what we need to do is to take sometimes severe steps to “fix” our picky eaters.
If you're a parent of a picky eater, you should know that you are not alone. Based on an informal poll of my Facebook friends, it turns out having a very picky eater is actually quite common. And when I asked my friends what was hardest about having a picky eater, they said that it wasn’t so much the pickiness, but the judgments they get from others.
So, in the interest of putting an end to this kind of judgment, I present to you the top ten things that parents of picky eaters are tired of hearing. And (hint, hint) if you're someone who has looked down upon us parents of picky eaters, please take note.
1. “They will eat when they’re hungry.”
“This one bothers me to no end,” says Gail Hoffer-Loibl, mom of two. “This method might work for some kids, but many will forgo eating for a dangerous amount of time. Young kids do not understand concepts of time, let alone how long they can withhold food before they get sick.” This is 100 percent true. Some kids literally won’t eat, even when they are starving and withholding food only makes matters worse.
2. “Don’t give so many choices. Just make them eat it.”
“Actually, no, my kid will gladly just not eat ever if that's the only option,” says my friend E., a mom of one 4-year-old son from Connecticut. And I concur. If I don’t give my kids options, they don’t eat. End of story. I’d rather have a fed kid then a hungry one.
3. “Keep offering new foods and eventually they will eat them.”
“Our pediatrician said just keep offering the new foods and eventually if they are hungry enough they will eat,” says mom of two Jennifer Di Lorenzo. “My kids would go a whole day not eating anything.” Yes, sometimes offering new things actually backfires, and makes a picky eater too stressed to even eat at all, especially when their “staple foods” are withheld.
This was actually said to me more than once. And well, let’s just say that I tried it, it didn’t work at all.
4. "We use XYZ method that I read in a book. You should try it!"
“Or how about I don't?” my friend Sa’iyda Shabazz retorts. But, seriously, just because you read something in a book doesn’t mean it will work for all kids. We each know our kids best, and while it might be useful to hear new ideas, it’s usually better not to impose them on someone else, especially when it comes to eating.
5. "When I was their age, we didn't have a choice. If you didn't eat quickly, there wasn't any food left."
“That was also back when parents would spank kids, and kids were to be seen and not heard,” says Jennifer Rosen Heinz, a mom of two. “Not helpful, and saying this in front of my kids just makes them angry.” YEP. Best to just keep your mouth shut about what raising kids was like 50 years ago.
6. “Have them grow their own food. Then they’ll try it.”
This was actually said to me more than once. And, well, let’s just say that I tried it, it didn’t work at all. On the bright side, I became the proud owner of a boatload of freshly grown tomatoes and cucumbers (yum to me, yuck to my kids).
7. “Make the food look pretty, cute or interesting and they will eat it.”
“I was a picky eater and my paternal grandmother was always telling my mom how to make food look pretty and my mom said if she'd spend hours preparing my food and I wouldn't eat it anyway, she'd get desperate,” says mom of three Olga Mecking. Olga shares that she now eats everything, so maybe all that fancy food prep really was for nothing. And, seriously, who has time to turn a platter full of veggies into a smiley face when said veggies will likely be thrown across the room in two minutes?
8. “If they don't eat what you make them, let them go hungry. They'll learn."
“Last time I checked, there were better options than starvation,” says Kim Bongiorno, writer and blogger at Let Me Start By Saying, and mom of two. But it isn’t always a matter of doing nothing in those cases. Kim suggests teaching kids how to prepare their own meals if they don’t like what you’ve served. “Even a toddler can learn how to put slices of cheese, some fruit and other things on a plate to eat if they truly refuse to eat what you already prepared,” she says.
9. "You're letting him eat THAT?!"
“When you have a severe picky eater, trying any new food—even junk food or fast food—is a success,” says Jen Gregory of The Runaway Mama, and mom of two picky eaters. This is so important to remember. It’s all about expanding their palate and their comfort zone, even if that means trying onion rings from Burger King because my picky eater trying onions would be a huge win!
10. "Have your children cook with you. They are more likely to eat what they cook."
“That is a crock of sh*t,” says Elise, who asked to be credited as “Exhausted mother of short order cook to a 10-, 7- and 4-year-old.” She tells me that a plan like that actually just never works. “I even have them cook what they like, and THEY STILL WONT EAT IT,” says Elise. Yep, this exact same thing has happened to me, and let’s just say that I end up with a whole lot of untouched peanut butter sandwiches and buttered pasta. No thanks.
So, listen up, everyone. We parents of picky eaters are doing just fine. Yes, it’s sometimes a pain to feed our kids, but we make do. What we definitely don't need is all your sage advice about how to “fix” our kids. Basically, if you don’t have a truly picky eater (and I don’t just mean one who was picky for a month or two as toddlers), then kindly keep your lips zipped.
We would appreciate it more than you can ever imagine.