Many moons ago I was a small child who was a real pain in the butt to deal with when it came to food. Me being picky…well, that was an understatement. I would only eat certain things and they had to be prepared a particular way. Example A: I would eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with only the jelly. No peanut butter. I would request a PB and J and throw a fit when it came with the peanut butter. Example B: I hated hamburgers, hot dogs, steak, pork and my all time hate the most….corned beef. Wouldn’t touch any of them. Example C: No fish, lobster, crab, or shrimp would ever be on my plate. Did I mention I grew up in Scituate, with fresh seafood available 24/7? I was a nightmare to deal with and my parents probably got more than a few gray hairs trying to get me to eat and be nourished.
The food battle was on between myself and my parents. I was a thin little kid and definitely mildly underweight. This could also be because I was number 5 out of 6 kids and by the time the cereal box came to me it was usually empty. 😉 I remember one episode that I will refer to as “I fought the dog and the dog won.” The dog being a hot dog. As stated in Example B listed above…hot dogs were in my long list of foods I didn’t like. I hated them so much that during dinner I would ask to take my hot dog to the far end of the house to watch TV while eating. My mother would oblige and off I would go with a plan in hand. The plan was to break the hot dog into teeny, tiny bits and shove them through the screen door onto the deck outside, much to the delight of our cats. Which I did countless times. Then I would come back with a “clean plate.”
Now you might be saying, why would your parents care about you eating something as processed and un-healthy as a hot dog? Because pretty much every kid in America loves hot dogs, so why in the heck didn’t I? This must be the ONE thing I would eat right? I mean at this point, they would have been happy with me eating ANYTHING. A hot dog was not high on the nutritional scale, but it was something. My answer? Nope. Didn’t like them.
One day my father made dinner and like many Dad’s his culinary skills were limited to hot dogs, hamburgers and grilled cheese. Oh, and beans on toast. He’s from Ireland…where in 1975 beans on toast was a freakin’ gourmet meal. But I digress. So he makes me the hot dog and my Dad LOVED to eat burned food. The more burned it was, the better for his taste. Hamburgers like hockey pucks, chicken scorched into leather, you get the idea. So, I end up with not only a very unappetizing hot dog, but a burned one as well. I refused to eat it. Categorically, completely and totally refused. My mouth clamped shut. The battle was on. I was then ordered/forced to sit with the hot dog until I ate it. So I sat. And sat. And sat. The clock ticked on, my family cleaned up from dinner and retired to watch the black and white TV with three channels available. Yay 1975! About 8 hours later, ok, maybe like 45 minutes, but it felt like 8 hours, there I was with the cold, shriveled, burned hot dog. I realized that in order for me to move on with my life I would have to eat the damn dog. So I took teensy, tiny bites and ate 3/4 of it. Then promptly ran to the bathroom and threw it up. All of it. I think my parents must have realized at that time that I was a lunatic….just kidding – they realized that forcing your kid to eat something they hate will come back to get you. And, not in a pretty way. To this day, I have a severe dislike for hot dogs. Maybe I will have one a year, and the rules are I have to be the one who cooks it and it must be covered in relish and mustard. Side note, I still don’t like steak, pork, and fish, and most spicy foods. Once a picky kid…always a picky kid. But the moral of this story is this – don’t force your children to eat something they don’t like.
Tips for Picky Eaters:
· Don’t be a short order cook. All kids are picky at some point, and you cannot give in to every whim they have. Try to plan meals that include at least one thing the child likes (pasta, chicken, fruit etc.) Serve ONE meal for everyone and make NO exceptions for alternating meals. Oh yes, I know this is hard. Every bone in your body screams to get that kid to eat something healthy, so if they refuse what you have prepared it can be very difficult not to whip up some chicken nuggets so they eat something. Don’t do it. You are creating a path to short order cook for life which will eventually drive you insane. Trust me…I have been there.
· Try and try again with introducing new foods. It can take a child 12 or more times to try something different. It’s very normal for a child to be suspect of a new food and for them to be hesitant to give it a taste. Encourage at least one bite, but don’t force it. Keep trying and remember just because you love something, doesn’t mean your child will love it too.
· Bring your kids to the supermarket and let them pick out healthy foods. Now is the time to explain to them about what’s healthy vs. less healthy and for older kids about reading labels and even finding new recipes on-line. Most children are much more likely to try a food if they picked it out and/or helped prepare it. Educating them now about basic nutrition is a confidence builder and something that will stay with them through life.
· Never force a child to “clean their plate”. This ultimately leads to kids who grow into adults who overeat. I see it all the time in my business. The clean plate club is something that grew out of the depression era when there wasn’t enough to eat, so parents back in that time made sure their kids ate every nibble on that plate not knowing if there was food for the next meal. It’s 2019 and we thankfully don’t have to worry about food shortages. Let your child eat until they feel comfortably full. Teach them about what a happy, full tummy feels like and try to get them to sit for at least 10 minutes to get that “full feeling”. I know, I know…easier said than done…but try we must!
· Take a cooking class with your child. Often when a child learns about healthy eating, new foods and recipes from a third, neutral party this can push them out of their comfort zone to try new things.
Finally, take heart all of you…while I was a picky kid, I managed to grow up to a healthy adult who interestingly went into the field of nutrition and wellness (my mother laughs every day over that one!) Oh, the irony. Also, I have three adult children who at one time or another were all very picky and all of them have grown into strong, healthy, adventurous food eating, non-picky adults!