My Picky Eaters Have Now Grown Up and Here’s What It Took To Get Them To Eat
By Emma Waverman
Photo © darby/Twenty20
Jan 24, 2019
Chrissy Teigen is a mother of two, married to the dreamboat John Legend, vacations in Bali, is a social media rockstar and is the author of two cookbooks. She even made a laminated menu with pictures and prices for her daughter Luna to try and get her to eat. On her Instagram post, she recognizes that she is being “psychotic." She knows the pain of picky eaters just like the rest of us.
I know because I’ve been there.
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When my son was three, he was on the all-bland diet of noodles, chicken fingers and apples. And just like Teigen, I did something radical. I co-wrote a family cookbook, Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them, to try and get myself, and others, out of the same situation.
And now, as my pickiest eater turns 18, I have important information to share from the other side. Namely, you can stop worrying.
Your Picky Eater Grows Up
My 18 year old now eats things that have colour — he came home from university asking for vegetables. He tries new food, he can eat at other people’s homes. He is more than six feet tall and studying engineering at university. It all turned out just fine.
I wish I could tell you that I solved his pickiness, or that there was a magic answer that turned it around for us. But the answer is time.
At some point picky kids get hungry — very hungry. They also want to hang out with their friends in the real world and live a normal life without getting side-eye. And of course all those annoying teenage hormones mean that they are starving for food that will fill the empty pit and propel them through their growth spurts.
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Before They Grow Up, Picky Eaters Want Control
Kids do care what their parents think, too. They care so much that I've found they use food against us, using it as a tool to establish their own power. The more power that you give them by catering to their whims, the more they will push back on you. A parent of a picky eater knows that once the kids have limited themselves to pasta, it becomes a certain pasta shape. The battle is never-ending. But you can’t see yourself as opposition to your kid. You can be a benevolent dictator — finding solutions with kindness.
To end the battle and gain back your on sanity, I've learned through my own picky eater that you need to give kids room to change their minds and try new things. They can’t do that if you are constantly fighting about food, and they can’t do that if you are also catering to them. And you definitely can’t use punishment, yelling or shame. My son now tells me that he wishes we had never called him a picky eater because that was a label that he had trouble shaking off.
We established some rules in my cookbook that helped set my kids up for success. The rules are good ones, and we still use them.
- Serve food family style. All the food goes on the table and people serve themselves.
- Always serve one thing that even your pickiest eater will eat. This way, kids won't come to the table with a chip on their shoulder.
- You choose the options in the home, but the kids can choose how much and if they will eat. They need to learn their own hunger and fullness cues. You are not in their body, so let them go hungry once in a while. They will survive.
- Don’t short order cook. Unless you live in a greasy spoon, you don’t take orders. One meal for everyone.
- Take your emotion off the table. You got into this situation because you cared, now you have to pretend that you don’t. Food is food.
Now that I am on the other side of the great picky eater war. I would make some additions.
- Teach your kids to make themselves something if they don’t like what is served. Kids as young as five can make toast. Give children the tools and the options to make themselves sandwiches, pasta or whatever it is they desire. My middle son learned how to make boxed macaroni and cheese for himself while I was upstairs bingeing on Netflix. These are good skills that will allow them to fend for themselves, and maybe they will learn to appreciate the cook a little more.
- Make a list of the foods they like. I wouldn’t make a menu with photos like Chrissy Teigen, but having a list will probably show you and your kid that they like more than they think. It is also a helpful reminder when they have to make their own meal.
- Take them to new environments. Kids will often eat different foods at daycare, at their grandparents and in places where the power dynamic is different. My kids were much more adventurous on vacation and in restaurants. I started to seriously contemplate putting my homemade dishes into takeout containers to get them to try new things.
I can’t pretend that once the kids hit puberty that everything becomes easy. For some kids, picky eating isn’t a power play — it’s tied up with other developmental, emotional or sensory issues. I have three kids and they all like different things, and they still dislike some foods, too. Feeding them all can sometimes still be irritating.
My oldest who was the pickiest can now be the most adventurous — he loves dining out and can tolerate spicier foods. But he still can’t go near a tomato. This means pizza, which is an entire food group at university, is something that he misses out on. But that’s not my problem anymore, it’s his. And he deals with it just fine.
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