Picky Eaters: Four Moms Interviewed
“I don’t think there is such thing as a picky eater,” said one of the mothers I interviewed recently.
But another one suggested, “Some kids are just picky eaters.”
I don’t know which mom is correct, nor do we have a fail-safe system. But this article does have lots of innovative and old-school ideas that work. I interviewed four great moms:
- My Mom (I was picky)
- My Aunt Lynne, the mother of a farming family (no picky eaters)
- A current-day mother of triplets, age six (one picky son, two girls who are good eaters)
- A current-day mother/nutrition expert with two good eaters (one boy, one girl)
My Mom grew up on a farm, has a BA in Home Economics, and had a twenty-year career providing culinary education. After that she raised my older sister and me full-time for seven years. I remember being picky and eating cut-up wieners while everyone else was eating something I wouldn’t try (something harmless like a stew, for example).
I was quite the picky eater, wasn’t I?
“No. I just cooked something different for you.”
So you catered to me?
“I guess I did cater to you. Those wieners weren’t a big no-no back then. We were on a budget. You survived. Haha.”
Ok, so that was easy. Mom went with conflict-avoidance. But with the state of processed foods nowadays it’s not an option to feed your kid processed meat a few nights a week (I’d go with never).
I grew out of it. The first salad I ate I was at age 14. It just suddenly appealed to me (maybe because it had mandarin oranges in it). The next time I ate salad was a few years later with my Dad and his buddies (peer pressure). It was okay and I eventually liked salad.
By Grade 12 I was making food choices based on my body composition and sports performance. So it was never about the food, it was about social acceptance.
- Sensitive child is picky eater (this is common)
- Mom made something quick that the child would eat (and assumed it was healthy)
- Mom was always trying new ways of presenting foods and eventually some worked
- Food choices expanded to fit in socially and to improve sports performance/body composition
Picture a big white farm house and all the natural beauty and machines that surround it. Picture the wife/mother-of-three making meals in the kitchen — that’s my Aunt Lynne. She managed this operation from tending a huge garden, to making all the meals, and jarring her own jams. Her boys always ate what was put in front of them.
Were there any disputes at the table around picky eating?
“It could have happened…I’m not saying it never did but it was never an issue. I don’t remember scolding anyone.”
Do you think this was because your house was strict and they knew better than to question you?
“That sounds like a horrible place to grow up! I hope it wasn’t like that!”
Why were they such good eaters?
“Maybe because they were always outside playing or working? Maybe they just followed one another, seeing the older one eat.”
Did you feed them in-between meals?
“They were allowed one cookie or a piece of fruit after school before they went out playing.”
When do you think kids started getting fussy?
“I think as soon the moms say, ‘Do you want’ or ‘What do you want?’ — that’s the beginning of the end.”
Oh yeah? Why’s that?
“Well, firstly you’re giving the kid the upper hand. Secondly, of course the child is going to pick his favourite, [instead of what’s been made]. Our kids never had any choice. I was in charge and that’s all there was to it.”
I love the old-school mentality. Is it out of date? I don’t know, but both modern moms I spoke with hold their ground.
I asked one of my cousins about Aunt Lynn and picky eating. He said that the food was good and he was always hungry from being very active. Yes, he also knew he had no choice, but it never occurred to him to ask for something else.
- They weren’t picky eaters, genetically speaking
- All the food was fresh and mostly organic, thus it tasted better than the food available to us city-folk
- They were so hungry from all the activity/work/playing that they ate whatever was put in front of them
- Food tastes better when you are hungry/active
- Social influence/peer pressure
- Didn’t occur to them to ask for something different
- They knew there were no other meals/snacks in available until next meal
- Kids were afraid to dispute meals
Things that worked:
- Fresh food (taste)
- Batch cooking, canning, jarring, preserving, gardening, baking, etc.
- Mother not having a second job so can manage entire operation
- Eating together at breakfast, lunch, and dinner (except the kids ate lunch at school on school days)
- Not offering a choice
Kate, mother of a picky eater
Jack is a bright, sensitive, and funny six-year-old dude and a very picky eater. Kate is a highly-educated and extremely-committed mother. You know the tough-on-the-outside metaphor? She’s like truffle oil wrapped in Adamantium. On her tiny but muscular frame she carried triplets five painful weeks longer than the doctor recommended (35 weeks total) and it permanently damaged her torso. I only know this because she complained about it once while installing a kitchen sink.
When I asked her about picky eaters, she said, “You can’t fight it because nothing works. You just gotta get food in the tank and hope it sustains them.“
That sounds pretty grim, but I analyzed Jack’s intake and he’s eating healthier than most kids and is hitting his growth targets.
Why do you think some kids are picky eaters?
“My theory is control. He can only control a few things in his little life: what he wears, when he goes to the bathroom, and what he eats.
“Also texture. Certain textures don’t appeal to him. I can’t say he doesn’t eat fruit and veg because he will if I puree it. He likes crunchy things like chicken nuggets, but chicken — he won’t eat.”
Take me back to the first conflict.
“There was never a problem until one day he wouldn’t eat peas. He used to eat them fine, now he won’t even eat the meal if peas are in it. I don’t understand why, other than he made a decision. He’s putting his foot down.”
Is he a stubborn kid?
“No. With chores, he eventually does them. With food though, he digs his heels in, and likes to show us he’s really upset…stomping up the stairs and saying he’s not going to say goodnight to us.”
So what do you do when there is a conflict?
“I’m not going to cater to him or give him cereal. He is going to eat what we are eating, or he can have a glass of milk and go to bed. And believe me, a lot of times that’s the way it goes. The only time I’ll bend on that is if he has sports after dinner.
“What’s bizarre — is that sometimes he’ll ask for a food that he hates. We say, ‘YAY!’ and he thinks it’s funny. Then we offer it next week and he says no.”
- Sensitive child is picky eater (this is common)
- Child is exerting control or independence (having two sisters might have something to do with it)
- Pureeing healthy food (veggies) and putting it into whatever he will eat (shakes, pasta sauce)
- Not letting him see vegetables going into the puree!
- Keep trying!
- Using nutrition knowledge to ensure child gets the most-nutritious options
The Nutrition Pro
Amanda has been an athlete most of her life and married one of the most-respected fitness professionals in the word. She can be found congratulating women in the grocery store who shop with two or more children. “The doctors can say things that make you feel like you’re not doing a good job. Meanwhile the mom is just trying to survive.”
Tell me your thoughts about feeding infants and toddlers.
“A mom can influence hunger cues and how the child will respond to eating.”
“I listen to their tummies (if they are growling, they are hungry). I feel if their stomach is expanded to see if they’ve eaten enough. As a toddler we try to make her aware of hunger cues simply by asking them how they feel and if they want to eat.”
Amanda uses “adult” eating strategies, for example assessing their activity level vs. amount of food/calories eaten. That may sound hardcore, but why not? Living things need more calories the more active they are.
Tell me about other solutions you’ve tried.
“Just like adults talk about their lives at meals (which infants can’t do), mealtime can be about something other than eating. So we set up the ipad with a game, or do the alphabet.”
Wow! What about appetite awareness and obesity?
“As they get older we won’t let them eat in front of the TV, but by that point, hopefully the toddler is a good eater.”
What about conflicts around eating?
“Sometimes it’s not about the food. When she was one-and-a-half, she did not want to be strapped in to her chair. So for a month we had meals ‘on the go’ and ‘grazing’ where her plate was near her toys in the living room.”
“A few times there was an issue in the grocery store and I’ve just abandoned the cart. We got home and she was asking for a snack, and I said there wasn’t anything to eat.”
So you taught her a lesson.
So then what’d you do?
“Went back to the grocery store.”
Here Amanda could have bought a pizza or fast food on the way home but she chose letting them see what happens when food isn’t made a priority. I liked that hard-core mentality.
Do you let the child pick the meals?
“No. But she likes what we eat. Maybe because she doesn’t know what a goldfish cracker is or what chips or ice cream are. If we are having cheese as part of a meal, she can choose what kind of cheese it is.”
I’m sensing some Aunt-Lynn-type of rules going on here.
Like most mothers, Amanda has put her children first. But I think she had an advantage with because nutrition has always been on her mind. She didn’t have to adapt to learning about nutrition at the same time as having a child, as most mothers do.
Don’t compare yourself to her or anyone, but I did like this statement: “I refuse to buy a double stroller. I just carry the other one in the car seat.” Man that is so badass.
Do you think other moms are intimidated by you?
“I hope not. Maybe though.”
Do your children get treats?”
“Not really. Sometimes if there is a purpose. We made cupcakes for a birthday once and she didn’t finish hers. She will go into the fridge and start eating a pepper like it’s an apple.”
So why are some kids picky?
“I wonder if they are good eaters but it hasn’t been discovered yet. Maybe the mom doesn’t have resources I do. Maybe something else is going on. My mom thought I was picky but actually I was trying to eat less because my skating coach was always talking about weight.”
- Her children are naturally good eaters
- Food-focused nutrition-professionals made eating a huge priority and as a result, things fell into place
- They have endless resources on how to feed children
- Lack of feeding processed food/sugar made real food more enjoyable to child
- Organic/fresh food tastes better
- Distracting the child from eating by playing games during meals
- Figuring out the real issue to turning down food (high chair uncomfortable)
- Involving them in buying and making the food
- Making healthy food taste good
- Setting the example
There are four hard-working moms here. Yes, a child is going to be a product of its parenting but we can’t blame the parents if a child is a picky eater. Sensitive kids are going to be more picky. Make sure you’ve tried different systems. Investigate. Have a back-up plan. Be consistent. Try working with the picky eater when the siblings aren’t around.
Use common adult sense and try to apply it to your children. For example, the more sugar you eat, the more you crave it. The more vegetables you eat, the more you appreciate them. You can’t eat a snack right before dinner and enjoy dinner. You use meal time to converse with your friends. Thanks to my Mom, Aunt Lynne, Kate and Amanda for sharing their personal experiences to help others!
Here is a cookbook all about hiding veggies in food.