I have one child that eats goat cheese and one that won’t even eat cheddar. One child wants to try everything that I’m eating and the other thinks that the cafeteria’s hamburgers are haute cuisine. Both children feel that the the more processed a food is, the better it will taste and both are prone to loving something one day and then hating it the next. Maybe I just described your children too?
I love food, so having even a moderately picky eater just makes me sad. It can also fill me with hulk-like rage when I am rushing to pack lunches at 6:30 a.m. and the child who has just seen the food item she’s been eating all year go into her lunch box proclaims, “Yeah, I don’t really like [fill in the blank].”
I have not been great about raising adventurous eaters. I’m proud to say that I have almost never made separate meals for our girls, and because of that they eat things like salmon and asparagus. But, I feel like maybe we could have exposed them to more interesting foods or that we could have had a better plan for avoiding or dealing with food-related pickiness.
The problem is, I don’t know what that plan should be and over the years I have vacillated between forcing kids to try new things and respecting their preferences. You may have recently read this post about 6 words that will end picky eating. Spoiler alert! The six words are “You don’t have to eat it.” I like the basic premise: You do not make alternate food for kids or bribe them with dessert. If they say they don’t like a food, you simply respond “You don’t have to eat it.” Very kid empowering.
However, I have issues with this logic. Besides the main issue that a kid who doesn’t eat dinner is going to be hanging on your leg twenty minutes later begging for a snack, there are times when you absolutely should eat the food in the front of you. I will never forget the time that a lovely woman who worked for my husband invited us over for dinner. She had gone to such special care to set the table and make iced tea, which she knew my husband liked. She had made a delicious lasagna. Our daughter, who ate pasta every day, took one look at the lasagna and started pouting and crying. I was mortified.
Add to the food-struggles that many children have sensory issues. Did you know there’s such a thing as a “supertaster”?!? Look it up. Even as an adult, there are lots of times when I’ve planned something for dinner and then realize that it doesn’t actually sound good at all. In fact, that’s one of my husbands favorite games, to call on his way home, when I’ve been prepping food for half a hour and am elbow deep in raw chicken, and say “I don’t really feel like chicken tonight. Let’s get pizza!”
When I say that I know nothing about picky eaters, it’s not because I don’t have them, it’s because I have no idea how to successfully manage them. My worst crime has been inconsistency. I torture myself myself by saying “We should have a rule about this. By this age we should have had a plan in place for years and not be dealing with this,” but I also want to be understanding of changing tastes and respect my kids’ autonomy.
I’m proclaiming the picky-eater problem one that cannot be solved. Do your best and remind yourself that if you didn’t feed them gummy bears and cheeseballs for dinner, you did great!