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How to deal with a picky eater



Mealtimes need not be so stressful

There is hope for parents of picky eaters


Up until our son’s toddlerhood, he was a great eater. He’d been nursed ‘til almost two, and then ate all manner of green vegetables and fruit and multigrain bread. We allowed some junk food – chicken nuggets, Eggos, French fries – but for the most part, he had a good diet.

Then, approaching preschool, as with many kids – especially “only children” – he became excruciatingly picky. His pediatrician at the time advised us to “Let him go hungry” and not to make a separate meal for him. We did neither of those things, all the while fighting and fretting about it, and desperately hoping he would outgrow this pickiness – which we did not understand, and which he could not explain to us. We were, and remain, very conscious about what we put into our bodies: no soda, no sugary cereals, nothing with high-fructose corn syrup or trans fats, very little fast food, not a lot of red meat. So our fretting about what was going on became dramatic at times.

Writing for Goodtherapy.org, Christa Raypole explains that those facets of our situation are not uncommon - the sudden palate change around age four, the inability to figure out the “why,” the frustration, and the worry.

For parents only just now dealing with a picky eater, Raypole repeats what we’d once heard from some helpful parent peers (but not from our pediatrician): “Most developmental picky eating will resolve itself by the time your child begins school.” While it took a bit longer than that, our son’s “all brown” diet (Eggos, French fries, nuggets, seashell noodles, peanut butter, et cetera) did eventually broaden significantly.

READ MORE: Working with picky eaters

At four, our son, like most kids, was just beginning to find his sense of independence. Raypole says, “Preschoolers don’t have many opportunities to demonstrate [their] newfound independence, so they often choose the table as their stage. This can lead to any number of battles over food – whether the issue actually involves the food or not.”

Raypole mentions that anxiety and stress can play a part in food intolerance. That was part of our story, too. It was a difficult time in our family, a rough couple of years in a lot of ways. “Everyone has preferred comfort foods: soup, macaroni and cheese, ice cream, popcorn, etc.” Raypole writes. “Children experience stress and unhappiness, too, even if they don’t know how to talk about it. Confronting a new spiky green vegetable may be the last thing they want to do after a long day that left them tired, cranky, or otherwise out of sorts.”

What to do? Raypole advises not to force or bribe your child to eat something. I’m glad to say we did not do that. But she also advises not to serve separate meals, which we did do, and which I, personally, do not advise. Finally, she says to involve your child in food prep, which we did a little, and which I wish we’d done more.

A fellow dad told me his pediatrician said, “It’s not what they eat in a day, it’s what they eat in week.”

Even with our questionable choices, now that he’s out in the world, our son is eating well, and is in good shape. Although if we’d had a second child, I’d like to think we would’ve done a few things differently. For instance, I would’ve saved all of the Eggos for myself.


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