Monday, August 20, 2012

Life Beyond Picky Eaters

Joy has always loved pasta and just about any food

I was standing at the counter last night making chicken tacos for dinner, squished between my girls who were both standing on chairs so they could help me.  Joy was my runner which means she got everything I needed from the pantry.  Lizzy was my chopper, stirrer, and bouillon cube peeler.  They both took turns mashing the avocado to make guacamole.  

We sat around the table eating dinner, everyone had a second taco, everyone said it was good.  

Two years ago this would not have been the scene in my house.  David would have either refused to eat the chicken or would have sat there for an hour whining as he ate tiny bites until his two real bites of chicken were all gone.  Lizzy was hit or miss if she would eat it depending on her mood.  (Joy has always been an adventurous eater so she's exempt from this conversation)  Dinner is so much better these days.

David was a premie who spent a week on the ventilator and ten days being fed via a tube down his throat.  I can't say for sure this was the cause of his picky eating habits, but my research says it could have definitely contributed.  When we tried to transition him to solid food, he would gag and throw up any and all foods with any texture that wasn't completely smooth.  Cheerios?  Nope.  Chunky baby food?  Nope.  Rice?  Nope.  Bananas that didn't come out of a jar?  Nope.  

After six months of occupational therapy, he finally was able to eat a greater amount of texture, but his fate as a picky eater was pretty much sealed by that point.  Any meat that wasn't breaded and deep fried or came in a sausage casing was seen as suspect.  My sister-in-law didn't believe us that David would take his one bite of meat and put it in his cheek where it would stay for hours until we finally either made him swallow it or let him spit it out until she was over for dinner one night and witnessed it for herself.  

David fell asleep while eating

Slowly, slowly, over years, David started eating a larger variety of foods.  It almost always involved whining and crying, but he would eat his required two bites.  And then one day he ate a hamburger.  I almost fell out of my chair.  Another day he declared that he liked chicken on the bone.  I personally didn't at that point so I had always only ever used boneless skinless chicken breasts, but Hubby asked for chicken legs, so I made them.  Imagine my surprise when my entire family declared they loved them and now beg for them.  

One day David ate a taco with meat on it and gasp!  Asked for seconds!  One day he asked for something other than a sunbutter and jelly sandwich for lunch (can't eat peanut butter due to allergies).  He wanted to try ham and then salami (Yuck! But everyone else in the house likes it).  

Food?  Forget it.  Give me paper--Lizzy

For years the only fruit he would eat were grapes.  Then he started eating apples.  Two years ago we were in Northern Michigan during cherry season.  I bought cherries and we had a cherry spitting contest.  David was not about to sit there and not spit something over the balcony like the rest of us, so he ate his first cherry.  And then another one and another one until he decided he likes cherries.  Cutie orange season hit and he started eating oranges in large numbers.  

How did we get to this point?  Is there hope for other parents of picky eaters?  As a mom who has already walked through this fire, I have a few suggestions.

1. Do not make more than one meal.  I made this mistake for years.  If I served something my kids didn't like, I would make them something else.  This just taught them that they didn't have to learn to eat "grown up food" because if they whined enough, mom would make them a sandwich.  Now I do have a few exceptions to this rule even now--If I am serving fish, David always gets something else due to allergies.  On the very rare occasions that Hubby buys good cuts of steak, we eat steak and serve the kids something else since they have yet to develop a love for steak (Is it wrong to hope that doesn't happen for many, many years??).

2. Make eating fun.  I never imagined letting David spit pits over a balcony would get him to eat and love cherries.  This summer we went blueberry picking and David sampled the berries.  He still doesn't like them, but a few more years of berry picking will hopefully fix that.  Sometimes we have veggie eating contests to race to see who can eat their green beans or broccoli the fastest.  

3. Don't make a big deal out of it.  I used to stress over getting my kids to eat.  Every meal turned into a battle of wills.  It took me too long to learn that I was always going to lose because you really can't make someone eat.  These days I put a little of everything on my kids' plates and tell them they need to eat it.  If someone is putzing over their dinner, we just walk away from the table and said child sits there until they're done.  No discussion, no power struggle.  Nothing.  

4. Understand that there are foods that some people just hate.  I hate peas.  I hate brussel sprouts.  I despise quite a few foods.  So I just don't serve them.  Kids don't have that same luxury.  They can't just not cook things they don't like.  I try to be sensitive to this.  I know that David still gags on bananas so I'd never make him eat one.  I know that Joy will eat asparagus but only if I cut the tips off.  Joy only likes mushrooms if they aren't cooked.  Hubby doesn't like spaghetti sauce so I rarely (like once every three months) make something with red sauce.  And then sometimes I make things I hate because everyone else likes them--like peas.  Where did I go wrong???

5.  Keep exposing them to a variety of foods.  Just because someone doesn't like a food now doesn't mean they will always dislike it.  This summer I decided I was going to make myself like a larger variety of fruit.  I just kept eating strawberries, raspberries and blackberries until I started liking the taste of them.  I'm still not a big fan, but I can at least appreciate them (now if only someone would come up with a way to make them seedless so there isn't that crunchiness).  When I married Hubby, I was a rather picky eater myself.  Hubby kept cooking things that he liked (pretty much everything but red sauce) until I learned to like them as well.  I now eat mushrooms, onions, asparagus, sweet potatoes, curry, fish tacos, and whatever other creations Hubby comes up with.

6. Be patient.  Just keep exposing your kids to a variety of food, have them take a few bites of everything, and eventually their whining will turn into pouting which will turn into no reaction at all.  Maybe one day they will even like it and ask for it.  I know, hard to imagine when you're in the middle of it.

7. Bribery.  When all else fails, bribe them with dessert.  We put all of the kids' candy that they get from Christmas, Easter, Halloween, birthdays, parades, etc, into a bag on a high shelf.  They get 1-2 pieces most evenings for dessert if they eat their dinner.  Sometimes Hubby makes popcorn.  But these treats are only if they eat their dinner.  All we have to do is remind them that they won't get candy if they don't eat their dinner and that's enough to get them eating.

The transition from a very picky eater into a picky eater into a mildly picky eater is not a fast process.  It takes years of persistence.  But once you make it to the other side, life is so much easier.  There is hope.  David was seven before he transitioned.  

1 comment:

  1. This made me laugh! The pictures are great. Good blog, Lisa!