Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Advantages of Picky Eaters....and How We Deal With Them




Picky eating....it's a topic most parents struggle with.  How to deal with it?  Do you allow it?  

Picky Eating Has Advantages....Yes, it really, really does.  At least in my very, very limited scope of experience.  My children who are picky are naturally thin and more in tune to their body's natural feelings of fullness and satiation than my child who is not picky.  I've seen these children (on occasion) leave the bottom half of an ice cream cone because they were full.  They frequently leave food on their plates.  I consider that a good thing, because they don't overeat...ever.   Even if it's their favorite food, they don't overeat. In our society nowadays, that is big. That is HUGE. That ability to be in tune to your own body and not overeat is major.  Maybe if we lived in a society where food is scarce, this would be a disadvantage.  But, in the land of the plenty, I consider it to be an advantage. 

My experience with adults is even more limited, but I think adults who tend to be a bit picky may be a bit less likely to overeat and a bit more in tune their body's natural feeling of satiation.  Just a generality and there are a million and one exceptions, but very, very generally speaking the people I've have known who have been on the picker side, tend to be a bit on the thinner side.  Again, there a million exceptions, or course.

Since some kids are naturally choosy about what they eat, we only let them choose healthy foods.   We generally eat a very whole foods, natural diet.   My kids can't be all, I'm only going to eat frozen chicken nuggets and Kraft Mac N' Cheese and Lucky Charms, because I never buy those things.  Never, ever, ever.   Our weekly grocery shopping cart generally consists of things like milk. cheese, yogurt, meat/fish, eggs, butter, oatmeal, whole grain bread, peanut butter, "natural" jelly, pasta, rice, beans, nuts, baking supplies, large amounts of fruits and vegetables and of course ice cream (which is only for Sundays). 
  We don't buy convenience foods or packaged foods or things like that.  So, my kids can't decide to only eat crackers and chicken nuggets and peanut butter fluff sandwiches because we don't buy those things. 

I try to make at least one thing each person likes at each dinner.  Our dinners generally consist of meat/starch (rice or pasta or potatoes)/vegetables or something meatless like homemade macaroni and cheese, homemade pizza or bean dishes.   Each child does not have to eat everything, but they have to eat something and they have to eat at least a very tiny portion of vegetables.  

If they are still hungry after dinner.  If they absolutely don't like anything (besides the vegetables), they can choose to eat an acceptable dinner alternative, but they have to get/make it themselves.  The choices for this in our house are pretty much yogurt (whole milk, plain, organic), oatmeal, peanut butter sandwich, cheese sandwich or eggs.  I don't cook a second dinner, but I don't prevent them form making their own healthy alternative either. 

I don't make them clean their plate.  If they don't finish everything, I put it away and usually Ben or I will  eventually eat it as leftovers.   I'm not picky that way. 

I make sure they are hungry. I've found that not allowing snacks in the 2 hours before dinnertime encourages better eating at dinner.  If they're hungry, they eat more, eat better and are less picky. 

I don't sweat it. In my experience, most kids do outgrow picky eating and become a bit more adventurous as they get older. They may still not eat everything, but they eat more and more. 

Some big parenting expert...can't remember who...(maybe Dr. Sears?  maybe Ellyn Satter? anyone know?) once said something along of the lines of your job is to provide healthy foods, your child's job is to eat it.  It was something like that anyway.  The gist is, the parent decides what is served and when and the child decides if they want to eat it or not.  And, that is what we do.   Starting with babies.  I basically do child fed weaning, which means I let my babies self-feed themselves, starting with table food, right around 6-7 months.  They basically feed themselves from then on.  Yes, this is quite messy, but they get pretty adapt at feeding themselves and using utensils earlier than they probably otherwise would.  And, since they are given table food right from the beginning, they never have to transition to it, they just start eating it. 

This is what we do.  It remains to be seen of course, but I'm hopeful that our children will continue generally healthy eating habits once they are grown.
How do you handle picky eating in your house?  Any tips or tricks?  What works and doesn't work for you. 
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14 comments:

  1. Here's a shock jock opening comment: we make our kids eat everything in their plates (making sure to give reasonable portions of protein, veggies,etc), and if they don't finish, they have to eat the remaining food for snack or the next meal, before they get to eat anything else.

    This HAS resulted in 24 hour hunger strikes over green beans, but it has also resulted in "ok Mom, I'll eat all my quiche even if I don't like the spinach!" The latter more frequently, and our oldest doesn't refuse to eat anything any more and Number Two went from the green bean strike to the spinach eating in a few months, so I think we're on the right track! Theresa B

    I'm not saying there's anything wrong with what works in your family, just telling our story. :-)

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    1. Ha..nothing shocks me! I will freely admit that I am a wuss when it comes to discipline like that.....I could not handle a 24 hour green-bean strike. I am just not a strong disciplinian so, I would totally crumble. Plus, knowing my kids, they would just drink half their weight in milk (or whatever liquid I allowed) during that time.

      I also have a sordid past involving a (thankfully mild) eating disorder so I tend to be really "jumpy" about food and control. But that is just me and my issues.

      Anyway, thanks for commenting! I love reading about how these things work in familes and I'm super impressed at your fortitude in this!!

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  2. I just commented and now . . . where did it go? Anyway, this is encouraging b/c it's basically what we do EXCEPT that I make the girls' "alternative" meals for them (usually a sandwich). I'd like to start the process of teaching my older one (just turned 5) to make it herself. . . . and I've tried the "you have to eat it or you go hungry" route, and the misery it causes the whole family is awful. Not worth it for us.

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    1. 5 is probably about when the kids started making their own sandwiches. I only have 1 kid under 5 (so far), and she is only 1 so still in the "will eat anything you put in front of her, edible or not, phrase."

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  3. The fortitude is mostly my husband's, as I wanted to cave many times -but even seeing us eating his favorite foods and cookies (treats are rare in our house) didn't make him give in, so I could see it was a battle of the will.

    Our motivation is simply to teach our kids to be grateful for the sacrifices others make for them and the food they are given to eat, no matter where or with whom they are eating.

    We have (I think) a healthy fear of spoiling our children unwittingly, and we don't want to fall into that trap, since one never knows with absolute certainty what income or "standard if living" one may be called to in this life, and we hope we can prepare them (and ourselves) to bear with hardship or poverty well -that is, with patience, humility, and gratitude.

    Those are our lofty goals, anyway. :-)

    Your lively, creative children don't seem to have suffered from making their own peanut butter sandwiches however, and I'm glad you've found a good balance for your family. Theresa B

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    1. Those are good goals, that is for sure! Our recent circumstances (being in law school and well....poor) has done a lot towards teaching our kids gradtitude and sacrifice. Not that we ever didn't have enough to eat, but they definitely knew that we can't afford to eat certain things we used to, we can't afford as many treats, they get fewer presents, etc., etc.

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  4. This is kind of what we do, too - well on a good day. :) If they don't like dinner, they can have a pb&j. I do make them eat all of their fruit at each meal though, but they never have a problem with that. I also buy chicken nuggets and popcorn shrimp, but there intended use is for lunches. What do you do for lunches?

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    1. Lunch is sorta loose and it just depends. Sometimes Heidi makes lunch for everybody (usually something like cheese quesadillas or grilled cheese and bread pizzas (just pizza on bread)). Sometimes she makes herself leftovers or she and I have leftovers and I make something like cheese quesadillas or bean/cheese nachoes for Greta and John. These are all super easy to make and require practically no prep work. We rarely have enough leftovers of anything for all of us to eat if for lunch. Sometimes Greta and John choose to make their own lunch (usually yogrut of pb sandwiches or oatmeal. And, then they can also eat fruit/carrots, etc. Sometimes we have homemade granula bars or "healthy cookies" if someone (usually Greta) decided to bake something. We sorta just cobble lunch together from whatever we have, but usually it's just something quick. Lately, we've been really into bean/cheese quesadillas so we eat those for lunch a lot. I make them in the oven so they are super easy.

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  5. I love this, Amelia. I don't make second meals, either. Our rule is "2 bites to be polite," of everything, and then a bit more of the veggie. I like the idea of allowing them to prepare their own alternative, especially because my pickiest is 6 and I think she could handle it.

    I've also laid down the law recently that under no circumstances do they say anything akin to "This is disgusting." In our house, the required terminology is "I don't prefer this," because it's important to me that the kids show respect for the process of preparing food. It keeps be from becoming overly annoyed at their pickiness, too. Another thing that helps is getting them involved in the cooking process. They always eat more. Oh, and I cut off all snacks except veggies after about 4 p.m. Then if they don't eat a ton of veggies at dinner, I know they have eaten some ahead of time.

    Good quote, too!

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    1. Yeah, we don't let our kids say anything like "this is disgusting either." We only really had to tell them once that it was rude and disrepectful to say something like that for them to stop. Now they just say "I don't like fish" or "I don't like onions." or whatever it is they don't like. For some reason, having them list the disliked ingredient seems "nicer" to me than just saying "I don't like this" ...I guess it just seems less personal...it's a specific ingredient they don't like, not someone's hard-worked cooking.

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  6. Love this Amelia. We're pretty similar on this. I think you're a little nicer and I have a little more processed stuff in the house. But it's the same idea!

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    1. Yes! I remember reading your post on the same topic.

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  7. I really like the way your philosophy on picky eaters!

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  8. Hope you don't mind my commenting on an older post. We do roughly what you do, only I don't allow alternate meals. My 3yo -- who is the picky one -- would choose snacks over dinner any day, and anyway he can't cook his own. Because of our budget, snacks have to stay snacks; if cheese or bread is getting eaten at other times, we run out. But it isn't really an issue because he never asks for an alternate .... he just goes to bed hungry at wakes up at 5 a.m. Ugh.

    So I am extremely careful not to serve anything "weird" for dinner. I don't let him get too hungry, because when he's over-hungry he gets cranky and pickier. I often serve some kind of sauce with dinner, because he likes to dip things. And in the end we do resort to bribes -- he gets to watch a cartoon with Daddy if he eats every bite. Oddly sometimes he is more wiling to eat it if we will ladle the food into his mouth. I hate this, but if it's what it takes to get a small dinner in him before bed, that's what we do.

    But I am not making this a battle of the wills with my kids. There is enough in their lives that doesn't go their way; the right to say no to food is one of the few opt-outs they have. I do find trying to force my 3yo to eat something he doesn't want is the surest way to make the whole day a battle. And I'm hardly the expert on what they need to eat like they are! They often surprise me with the weird things they're willing to try, so long as they aren't pressured into it -- shellfish, eggplant, dandelion greens, lentil sprouts. I figure they'll grow up just fine.

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