Picky Eater

Going out in public with my children can sometimes be a challenge. Especially if going out involves eating, and that eating is taking place either in someone else’s home or at a restaurant my girls aren’t familiar with. Far too often I deal with someone looking at my children at one point and sighing, “So what WILL they eat?”

I have picky eaters.

I’m well aware that my kids have a small list of foods they will eat, and I’ve probably already heard every criticism and judgment someone could think to throw at me. I didn’t expose them to a wide enough variety of foods when they were younger. I didn’t expect them to eat a bite of everything placed in front of them. I gave in to their demands for the same meals over and over. I’m raising children who will have a limited experience with food and force others to bow to their whims.

Yep, I’ve heard it all, and honestly? I don’t care. I know I’m doing the best I can to give them healthy foods to eat. I still make the effort to have them try new foods, even while I give them the foods they like most of the time. And if anyone claims to know anything about dealing with a picky eater, it should be me – I was one of the worst picky eaters as a child, and now I love trying new foods.

Mira is the more adventurous one when it comes to food, but even she can be picky. Occasionally, she’ll try something new, but only if we make it seem like we want it all and really don’t want to share it with her. If we’re asking her to try a bite, then clearly it’s poison and must be avoided at all costs.

(Although it’s hilarious when she does beg to try something and doesn’t like it. She’ll take one tiny bite, force a smile and say “Yum! I like it!” just because she doesn’t want to admit that she begged for something yucky. Ask her if she wants a second bite, though, and she’ll suddenly become generous and say, “No, I just wanted one bite.” Sure you did, kid. Wish you only ever wanted ONE bite of my garlic bread.)

Cordy is far more cautious with food. Her autism and sensory issues make food a very touchy subject. She likes mac and cheese, but at home it has to be in an easy mac bowl. (And she really likes it to be neon yellow, which she can’t have due to her sensitivity to dyes. It’s been a long journey to get her to eat the white cheddar mac and cheese.) Milk has to be white – no flavored milks for her! Applesauce must be unflavored.

She refuses to drink water and will let herself get dehydrated rather than drink it – a splash of 100% juice makes it acceptable to drink. Any foods she normally eats that are presented in an unfamiliar way (like potato wedges vs. french fries) are usually rejected.

But even with her picky eating, Cordy’s short list of acceptable foods includes several healthy options. She loves salad, as long as it is lettuce and dressing only. She’ll eat apple slices and sometimes bananas, although all other fruit is unacceptable. And while she certainly likes cookies, crackers and gummy treats, I try to only buy organic and dye-free varieties for her.

It took some effort to convince her the cheese wasn’t carrots because carrots cannot exist in salad. 

I know it frustrates my family that Cordy and Mira often refuse the foods they made for all of us to share. My mom has commented on more than one occasion that they’ll never eat healthy by being this picky. However, I think that the years have clouded her recollection of my youth.

Here’s what I remember from my childhood. For main dishes, I ate only a handful of foods: mac and cheese, spaghetti, pizza, ham sandwiches, or fast food. I gagged at the very sight of rice. (Thanks a lot, Lost Boys – it took me years to overcome that aversion to rice.) The only vegetables I would even allow on my plate were green beans and occasionally carrots. My mom would beg me to try new foods and I’d turn my nose up at everything. She never forced the issue, though, and more often than not she would give in to my demands for a familiar food.

From that history, you might assume I grew up to have a limited palate. But instead, my tastes matured as I moved into my twenties, and I sought out new foods. I ate new vegetables. I actively tried new foods at parties. Chinese food became a favorite – yes, even the rice! As I matured, my food interests matured with me.

Now? I love food. There are only a handful of foods that I’d politely refuse to taste. And most of those are due to being forced to eat them at some point as a child, creating an aversion so strong that I don’t even like the smell of those foods.

I have faith that no matter how picky my daughters are now, they will not remain this way forever. I refuse to start a negative relationship with food by forcing strange foods on them. So we are short order cooks in our house. Aaron and I have our dinner, we invite the kids to join in on those foods, and if they don’t want to, we make them something else. Occasionally they eat the same thing we do, and we heap praise on them for trying something new.

Out in public, both Mira and Cordy understand that if there’s nothing they’re willing to eat, they may go hungry. I usually have snacks available if I know we’ll be gone for more than one meal, but otherwise I leave them at the mercy of their picky natures. If they’re really hungry, they’ll eat something, even if it is just a hamburger bun.

Someday they’ll be ready to try new foods, but it will happen at their own pace. And when they’re ready, I’ll be waiting to introduce them to all of the delicious foods I’ve discovered after my days of picky eating.

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  1. I grew up with a mom who couldn’t cook. We ate the same few meals over and over and half of them I hated. Plus they weren’t exactly healthy. As I got older and left the confines of my moms house I was exposed to many different foods and now I eat just about anything (except seafood because the smell makes me ill). Tastes change as we age too I think. I would never even consider eating beans or cauliflower or cabbage as a child but now I LOVE them!I think your kids will be fine. You know them better than strangers who give you judging looks. And honestly, what kid isn’t a picky eater to some extent? My kids went through the phases where they would only eat chicken tenders or pizza or mnc & cheese…I never considered it a big deal.

  2. I think those of us who remember what it was like to be a picky eater realize that it’s not manipulation and it’s not a power struggle: those foods really ARE horrible, and one of the biggest perks of being an adult, for me, is that no one forces me to eat things against my will. I began expanding my list of acceptable foods when I was 18 (adding salad) and I’ve kept on from there, adding seafood and sandwiches in my twenties, and adding ethnic foods in my thirties. I enjoy most foods now, and there is a definite process to adding a new food to my diet – at first I can tolerate only a few small bites (often in conjunction with other foods) and I gradually work up from there.

    Bub has a very short list of foods he will eat. Most of them are healthy, but they are also brand-specific, so it’s almost impossible to take him to a restaurant, or even to someone else’s house unless I pack a lunch for him. Most nights he gets his own supper, and Pie can choose between what he is having and what the adults are having. What has helped, though, is the education they did in grade two about the food groups. Now Bub will often independently compile a meal with items from each of the four food groups, and this has made supper-time a bit less chaotic.

  3. Headless Mom says:

    I have one that is somewhat of a picky eater. Only certain cereals, no sandwiches, meat can have NO visible fat, that kind of thing. Funny thing is, since they were babies we have exposed them to all kinds of vegetables and my picky eater asked for beets the other day. What other 11 yo do you know will ask for beets?

  4. Rachael says:

    I think you’re exactly right. First of all, people have picky kids. I would never complain about a child not eating food I’ve made, and am NEVER offended when someone brings food for their child that’s different. Kids are kind of crazy. Kids with sensory issues? It can be hard, and sometimes you’re just happy they’re eating. My son eats about 5 foods, and they’re all kind of mushy & soft. But at least he’s eating something. Kid’s tastebuds are also different than ours. That’s why more kids than adults are picky eaters!

  5. yeah, um Codi eats chicken nuggets. Thats it. Okay not true. He eats one certain brand of mini pancakes. Whipped cream only no syrup. Anything chocolate. apples…but only sometimes, and no skin. cheetos and donuts. THAT IS IT. so when we go out, if I don’t think there will be chicken nuggets I will cook them and pack them for him. If I ask him to try something new he will cry and scream and gag and say it will hurt him and freak out. It is so horrible..

    Brandon eats everything

  6. I’m a picky eater as a kid as well but turned out to be a food lover by the time I turned 15. I kind of think it’s a phase that every kid goes through. My kids are relatively good eaters now but we did have that phase as well. I guess some kids get over it quicker while others take their time to be more adventurous with their food list.

    I do have one rule when it comes to eating though…if you’re already at adult and still a picky eater, never show it in front of my kids please.

  7. I was a picky child and still am a picky adult, but I have expanded my likes.

    Someone recently suggested that picky eaters may actually be supertasters and have extra sensitive taste buds.

    It is an interesting theory.