I did a search this morning for blog posts about picky eaters.
And now I feel compelled to write a blog post about picky eaters.
I came across sooo many shared experiences, so many opinions and tactics. Some of them inspired me, some made me laugh, some made me sigh in solidarity, and some of them disturbed me quite deeply.
A few of the thoughts I found include…
“Picky eaters are spoiled kids.”
“They’re manipulating the parent.”
“As the parent, I will win this fight.”
If you hadn’t already guessed, these are a few of the thoughts that I’ve personally come to find unsettling and potentially harmful. (See this post I wrote about fighting battles with your kids) But…as a mom of a picky eater (and a mom of a kid that will Hoover down anything you offer), I understand the immense frustration that comes with a “selective eater” in the family.
So, here we go with links, data, research, and my own experiences and opinions!
Let’s start with a few of the different types of picky eating.
Sensory-dependent eaters reject a food because of its texture or smell (“Yuck, slimy!”).
Preferential eaters shun new or mixed foods.
General perfectionists have specific needs, such as foods not touching one another.
Behavioral responders may cringe or gag when right is not “right” (“Ham and cheese should be on white bread, not brown!”) or may refuse to come to the table before they even know what’s for dinner.
It’s not always about how a food tastes. Appearance, routine, personality type, mood, energy level, etc… They all play a roll. Your child might not be eating because they’re hungry and feeling tired, weak, or just bummed out. Consider all of these things, not just the number or forkfuls going into the kid’s mouth.
Could it be simple biology?
Children are born with natural, even reflexive, aversions to potential dangers. This article by Parenting Science explains this idea really well.
Bitterness is a signal of potential toxicity, and kids—with their smaller bodies and less-developed capacities for detoxification—are more vulnerable to the effects of toxins.
It wouldn’t surprise me if natural selection has equipped children with an extra-sensitive system for rejecting bitter tastes (Glenndinning 1994).
There’s also a possible genetic cause.
The researchers found that kids who possessed at least one copy of the bitter-sensitive allele were more likely to detect bitterness at low concentrations. In addition, these kids reported preferences for sweeter drinks and cereals with higher sugar content. They were also less likely to name milk or water as a favorite beverage.
Understand that picky eating is not always just about food and stubbornness.
About 20% of the children were picky eaters, meaning they either ate only a restricted number of foods or could not eat with others because of their limited range of food preferences. Only about 3% fell into the latter category of severe selective eaters. Those children were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or social anxiety. Even children in the moderately picky eating group were more likely to show symptoms of depression, social anxiety or attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder compared to children who weren’t picky eaters.
Picky eating may seem insignificant, but it deserves (needs) to be handled appropriately with measured and thoughtful methods.
One also can’t help but wonder if these disorders are a correlation, caused by nutrition issues, or a result of emotional, mental, and physical stress stemming from unhealthy methods and situations. (e.g., forced eating)
Understand that picky eating is often a perceived problem rather than an actual problem.
The majority of children between one and five years of age who are brought in by their parents for refusing to eat are healthy and have an appetite that is appropriate for their age and growth rate. Unrealistic parental expectations may result in unnecessary concern, and inappropriate threats or punishments may aggravate a child’s refusal to eat.
Parental efforts to make small eaters eat more may have the opposite effect. Caregivers may pressure children to eat without appreciating the physiological decrease in appetite that occurs between one and five years of age (4). Children’s appetites tend to be erratic during these years. Although toddlers and preschoolers vary considerably in their intakes at meals during the day, their total daily energy intake remains fairly constant (6). Healthy children have a remarkable capacity to maintain their energy balance over time when offered an assortment of nutritious foods (6). Parents who believe that their child is abnormally small or nutritionally at risk are more likely to overreact to variations in the child’s appetite (7).
And then there are all these factors…
- Kids and babies go through growth spurts and periods of decreased appetites. The medical field is well aware that weight gain slows and appetite decreases in children of a certain age. This is normal.
- All animals are born knowing when they are hungry and when they are full. Forcing a child to eat when they aren’t hungry and denying foods when they are hungry teaches the child to ignore their body’s natural cues and creates unhealthy eating standards during their most formative years.
- Children who are heavily pressured to eat foods actually eat less. Source
- Adding conflict, anger, frustration, feelings of defeat and marginalization, and fear do not make for a healthy eater.
- Some children have legitimate, sometimes severe, sensory processing disorders that can make mealtime an anxiety ridden experience full of mental turmoil and physical discomfort due to their brain’s inability to process what their senses are experiencing.
Here’s what you can do
- Present new foods as standalone items. For example, offer just peas rather than peas & carrots or peas inside a casserole.
- Present new foods over and over. The general consensus is that most people, children included, need to be exposed to a new food about ten times before developing a taste for it.
- Offer new, even unfavorable foods alongside other preferred foods. Hate broccoli but love carrots? Serve both.
- Include children in food preparations.
- Accept a child’s preferences and experiences as legitimate, just as you would an adult’s.
- Model good eating habits and behaviors.
- Make meals an enjoyable and positive family time.
- Treat eating as you would any other learning experience. The brain power and dexterity to tie shoes doesn’t develop overnight. The ability to process and enjoy spinach may not come overnight either.
- Never force foods, especially with the “clean your plate or else” method.
As I said… I have a picky eater. The kid that hates trying new foods, the kid that is adamant she doesn’t like a certain food even though she’s only seen it once on a Food Network show. The kid that will spend an hour saying, “I’m still eating!” even though nothing has been touched on her plate.
My experience has taught me that choosing to fight this battle is what creates and perpetuates the battle.
“Winning” and having your sobbing child finally swallow that last bite of chicken before they slump out of their chair and run away to find a comforting toy while you toss dishes into the sink because it’s 9PM, and this is absolutely friggin ridiculous… It’s not worth it.
You didn’t win. You once again cemented the child’s feeling that dinner time sucks and food makes people feel bad.
I feel like I can say these things, even though some may find it to be a little harsh, because I’ve done it too. I’m now in repair and recovery mode with my child, and I want to spare other families from enduring the “just three more bites” game yet again.
Take everything you think you know about picky eaters and dump it. Parent your child. Look at them, not the plate. Be the encourager, the sympathizer, the example, the helper. Let’s lead our children to victory instead of demanding victory over them.
I’d love to hear some other thoughts and experiences. What’s worked for you? What’s failed miserably? What were your experiences at mealtimes as a child?
Although I’m done birthing babies, I still absolutely LOVE all things pregnancy and birth. My crunchy journey jump started when I switched to a midwife-led freestanding birth center from a standard OB/GYN practice during the second trimester of my first pregnancy. I switched because I could no longer stomach paying $500 per visit for a three minute appointment with a doctor that couldn’t even address me by name. I wanted something more personal and less debt-inducing. I’ll admit I was skeptical… Midwives? Do they even know what they’re doing or do they just wave around ribbons and fan incense? OH, how wrong I was.
My husband and I attended the birth center’s weekly orientation to check it out. The two hours spent there listening to a Certified Nurse Midwife (with multiple degrees and decades of experience) absolutely changed everything in my soon-to-be-a-mommy world.
Did you know…
- …states with midwife friendly laws have better birth outcomes? Less cesareans, less stillbirths, more evidence based medicine, more family centered care.
- …the maternal death rate in the Unites States is RISING? In 1990, the US was ranked #22 out of 180 countries. In 2014, the US had fallen to #60. Mom’s today are twice as likely to die in childbirth than their own mothers were.
- …having a doctor *think* your baby is “big” is more dangerous than actually birthing a big baby? The assumptions and prophylactic measures create unnecessary danger.
- …being on your back is one of the worst positions for giving birth? The baby has to travel parallel to the birth canal and then UPWARDS to exit.
- …full term is 39 weeks? Who thought it was 36-37?? Some in the medical field still don’t know when full term is.
- …you are not overdue until you are over 42 weeks? A due date is not an expiration date. Most first time mothers will go into labor naturally between 41 and 42 weeks.
- …the “no food or drink” rule is based on an observation of women under general anesthesia for a cesarean in 1949? The risk of a woman asprirating on her own vomit is negligible with today’s anesthesia methods. How many other days during pregnancy are women advised to abstain from all food and liquid?
- …the eye antibiotic applied to babies immediately after birth is to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted disease from mom to baby? If you don’t have an STD, your baby does not need the ointment.
- …one in ten mothers come away from birth meeting the criteria for post traumatic stress disorder? Recurring nightmares, flashbacks, blackouts, anxiety attacks, etc.
- …many care providers in the US do not follow current best practices and instead follow traditional, outdated, INCORRECT guidelines? Continuous electronic fetal monitoring, late term ultrasounds, cervical checks before labor, routine episiotomies… All in contradiction to the recommendations of (inter)national research and medical bodies.
I’m not being preachy, I promise. I’m just desperate to share with others so that they too might have that lightbulb moment and realize it’s okay to learn about what’s happening to you. No matter HOW you birth, knowledge is your ally. Being informed about your body, your baby, your options, your provider, your legal rights, and modern medicine does not make you a control freak. And it doesn’t mean you think you know better than a medical professional. Having a birth plan does not make you selfish and naive. It means you are planning the safest route earthside for your baby and are educated about the possible outcomes and your alternatives.
Birth plans are about wellness and safety.
Let’s get that straight.
I’ve seen so many moms-to-be say, “My doctor has been to medical school. I trust him more than someone rambling on the interwebs.”
Trust is great! Trust is one of the top priorities when choosing a provider. But do you trust them because you think they know best? Or do you trust them because you know they know best?
This is the 21st century. We have legitimate medical research at our fingertips. I’m not saying we should think we know it all because we read a research paper, but I’m saying we need to be active, educated participants in our care. Make decisions with your care provider. With access to so much information in this generation, and with the birth statistics going downhill so quickly, we just can’t afford not to educate ourselves.
Evidence Based Birth is a real resource, founded and ran by Rebecca Dekker, a nurse researcher, professor, PhD, and mother. These articles are based on the same medical information and resources that any other doctor would use. All her references are clearly cited and her articles are thorough and well-written. If you are an evidencebasedbirth.com virgin, I promise you, this site will change everything you think you know about pregnancy, birth, and medical care in the United States.
And for the love of all things precious and new… PLEASE never ever ever tell a woman, “well, all that matters is a healthy baby.” A mother’s health matters too. And… A baby born to a certifiably traumatized, clinically depressed, and/or physically injured mother is NOT in any way part of a “healthy” situation.
Peace on Earth begins with birth.
I had a Pinterest Mom moment today. I made quinoa veggie nuggets…in fun shapes…for lunch today. And I was suuuuuuper close to having a vegan recipe.
Who does that?!
But anyways, I was quite proud of myself for trying something new and experimenting with healthy alternatives. I was reveling in my Pinterest Mom buzz. I decided to do a search and see what other moms had come up with.
Cue lots of “I’m not a pinterest mom” posts followed by “Ugh, friggin pinterest moms and their clean kitchens” rambles.
CAN WE JUST NOT?
Instead of finding fun and new ideas by other moms, I uncovered entry after entry of moms speaking negatively either about themselves or other moms… other hypothetical moms, at that.
Everybody wants to hate on the Pinterest Mom because she has herself so together, no one can compete with her. Newsflash. Pinterest contains a collection of ideas, not biographies. Pins are not trying to surpass you in mothering standards. The issue is when people take a teeny tiny sliver of an idea someone else possibly likes and turns it into a battle.
Betty Sue, living on her homestead with her goats, may clean her kitchen with all natural products she whipped up herself and bring hand crafted gluten free cookies to the homeschool co-op she organized, but so what!? Betty Sue is doing what makes her happy.
I have plans to make my own essential oil diffuser necklace from clay I’ll dig out of my yard. I don’t give two hoots if you bought yours off Amazon.
Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean someone else has been offensive.
A person living differently from you is not a personal attack.
There are a lot more people self-implementing judged feelings than there are people actually judging others.
Check yo’self, momma. It’s okay.
My nuggets were FABULOUS.
I know this is a sensitive subject for some, but I feel it’s *most* sensitive to the ones that can’t speak for themselves. I will be their voice.
I want you to have just as much peace and confidence in God’s design and your son’s capabilities as I do.
“YAY, we’re having a boy! Should we have him circumcised?”
I am so glad someone shared this information with me. And now I share because I care about babies and their families. I also share because so many people felt it necessary to ask me if we would circumcise a boy during my pregnancies. When we said no, we were met with confusion, even disgust (at a baby!?), and a whole lot of misinformation.
I don’t judge anyone. I don’t do the “mommy war” thing. I share what I know out of genuine love. Here are just a few myths and concerns posed to myself and other moms I know. Debunked.
A lot of the spirited child blog posts I read include a small snippet about how the parent “gets it” because they too were a spirited child.
But what about those of us that were (are) not like that?
Unlike my daughter, I’m not a pusher of the limits. I’m a private, sort of self conscious person. She is loud and proud, and you’re lucky if she even acknowledges your presence in her fabulous world. The really scary part is that we’re both extremely sensitive but in different ways. She gets frustrated in an almost ragey fashion whereas I get frustrated in a deeply saddened way.
You could say our relationship is somewhat turbulent.
I’m pushed towards (and sometimes shoved over) the absolute brink of my mommy threshold every day, multiple times a day. Motherhood is a beautiful thing, but we often make the mistake of thinking “beautiful” equates to happy hugs and constant laughter. My laid back, all smiles boy brings me peace and softness. My girl is ruthless in her passions and carries a fierce intensity that I struggle to fully understand. She is beautiful in the most vivid, extraordinary, breath-taking, painful way.
Oh, how I wish I could be *that mom*. The mom that finds pure joy in her children all the time. (I really think she’s just a myth.) But I have to be honest. I often find myself with feelings of “I can’t do this. I don’t know what to do. I’M SO LOST.”
Mothering a spirited child is beyond hard. I’ve ugly cried in my shower on so many occasions.
“Am I ruining this child?”
“I’m trying so hard to help her be the best she can be.”
“WHY DOES SHE HATE ME?!”
Now let me stop my moaning for a minute to clarify. My child is not bad. She doesn’t really misbehave, and she’s not an off the wall wild child. I’d describe her as intense decisive, opinionated, strong, intelligent, independent… Powerful. Like a teeny tiny explosive sun blasting rays through your mind and heart at a rate so unrelenting, you feel like you’re going to poof into ashes at any moment.
She’s quite impressive.
The first almost five years have been absolute pandemonium for me in terms of mommyhood. I thought I would know how to parent. How to love a child. But I was blessed to raise one of the world’s most mighty people, and she has brought to light so much that I don’t know. I believe in gentle and peaceful parenting because my only other option would be to go down in flames, taking her with me.
For as long as it takes, and as hard as it will be, I will be the balancing weight for her. I won’t crush her spirit, and I won’t try to wash away her determination. My ultimate goal is to help her reach her perfection. Not to change her, but to offer her assistance in full development. I don’t want her to be less intense, I want her to scorch through any and every issue she is passionate about. I want her to know it’s okay to feel things at a level most of us simply can’t fathom or handle.
My child and I are complete opposites. It’s taken years to figure it out, but I now know we’ve been given each other for precisely that reason.
Opening up to the notion of peaceful or gentle parenting can ironically be like smashing into a brick wall. Repeatedly. While little people stare at you like you’re insane.
Something that has hit me hard in my efforts to become a more gentle parent is the idea of winning battles with our children. For example… “You will use this blue cup. I don’t care how much you would like the red.” Or maybe “No, I will not read you a story, go to sleep!”
Traditional (modern?) parenting would have us believe that we, as parents and rulers of the home, should require, demand, and enforce total subjugation of our children. If they disagree, we still have to make them do what we want. We don’t even have to listen to why they disagree because it doesn’t matter what they think.
I firmly believe in appropriate discipline methods, but it’s really eye opening to realize that for in order for us to always be the winner, our child has to always be the loser.
In order for us to be a “successful parent,” our child has to become a conquered and defeated enemy.
The feeling of accomplishment we have every time we win is countered by the feeling of failure our child has.
Every win for us is a loss for them.
Imagine if we parented our children as if we’re both on the same team.
I no longer try to fight battles. I encourage and assist. I explain and also listen. I’ve learned to value my child as a person, not someone to defeat, and I strive to have them value me as an ally.
I like to frequent several parenting groups throughout the interwebs, and I’ll bet you’re not surprised that infant sleep is one of the most common threads I see on these pages.
“My baby wakes every two hours!”
“My baby was sleeping through the night but stopped at four months!”
“My baby only sleeps in my arms!”
I’d like to say I’ve never said these things or felt this way, but I’ve been there too. And when you don’t really understand what’s happening, it can be the most exhausting and frustrating period of your entire life. Why won’t the kid just SLEEP?!
I’m not going to tell you how much of a better mom I am or how I “cured” my children of sleeplessness or neediness and how they’re “such great sleepers!” now. That would be a huge pile of poo and not helpful in the least. I’m going to keep it real and share a few realizations I’ve come to over the years. These realizations didn’t make my kids sleep any better (and I didn’t get much more sleep either), but knowing and understanding what’s really happening can tremendously ease a tired mom’s mind. A peaceful, tired mind is better than a frazzled, tired mind.
First thing first. Babies are babies. They are not animals to be trained. They are not adults and shouldn’t be expected to keep an adult routine. They do not suddenly become self-sufficient after lying alone for two hours. However, they are a lot more simple than we give them credit for. Babies need food, fresh bottoms, and lots and lots of comfort. They don’t need to learn how to do anything. They just need to experience life in a safe, loving way. That’s it.
Secondly, babies wake up for a reason. And guess what! It’s not because they’re little jerks. Babies wake up because they’re hungry, confused, scared, lonely, etc. All of these reasons are equally legitimate and normal. Meeting your baby’s emotional and mental needs is just as important as meeting their physical needs. If your baby could say, “I’m so hungry,” you’d feed them, right? If your baby could say, “I’m so scared,” you’d reassure them, right? Babies cry to communicate. If your fed and freshly changed baby is still lying in bed crying, it’s safe to assume they have another very real need that only the arms of a parent can meet.
And you can’t spoil a baby. I know you’ve heard some say you can and some say you can’t. But let’s think about this logically. By definition, spoiling means to diminish or destroy the value or quality of and to harm the character of (a child) by being too lenient or indulgent. Do we really believe comforting our children is damaging to their quality? Do we really believe showing our child dependable love will harm their character? Is holding our child really seen as an indulgence to offer when we feel lenient? We need to drop that whole idea right this minute.
And the biggest mind blower for me… We’re trying to meet the expectations of people that don’t even matter. Who’s bright idea was it to insist (sometimes force) all babies to sleep great lengths of time in a room all by themselves? This is not normal behavior for any living being on the planet. Yet we have medical doctors (who aren’t qualified to assess behavioral, mental, or emotional needs), for-profit sources (buy this book, get more sleep!), or society as a whole (is she a good baby? sleeping through the night for you?) telling us that we NEED to have our infants sleeping long stretches, independently, at all costs, and by any means necessary…even if it rips at our hearts and damages our baby’s trust.
The bottom line here is I will meet my baby’s expectations and no one else’s. I will not veer from the perfectly natural habit of responding to my crying child. I will not deviate from the perfect design of baby and mother interaction that’s worked so well for centuries.