I was sitting down for lunch with a friend and the conversation turned to my seven year old son who I'm convinced is the pickiest eater on the planet. The friend with whom I was having lunch shared his own story if being a picky eater as a child and how he has grown into a healthy and functioning adult (something I'm of course paranoid my son will never be). I was so intrigued by some of the things he shared with me that I asked if he would be willing to write down his story in an interview type format. What you see below are the results of that request. Spoiler Alert… there is hope for us parents who have picky eaters!
So tell us how picky of an eater were you?
As a child I remember not wanting to eat anything my mother cooked for dinner. I remember long drawn out battles with my father not letting me leave the table until I finished my plate and me staying at the table for hours and hours. This took place over at least a three year span; probably around age 7 or 8 through age 10 or 11. I would eat cereal for breakfast and I believe peanut butter and jelly for lunch, maybe some fruit and chips too. But when dinner time came, I didn’t want it. I remember my parents and grandparents and family friends being concerned that I looked malnourished.
What things do you remember your parents attempting to do to help the situation?
After years of struggle, yelling, grounding, bribery … you name it, my Dad decided to stop fighting and let me eat want I wanted, but I had to learn to cook it myself. He taught me how to make omelets and hamburgers mainly. I remember cooking those quite frequently.
Did any of these things help or make a difference?
Something that finally helped me was making my own food and then eventually helping with the cooking process with my mom. When I cooked it food was 1) something I liked, 2) I was in control and 3) not pressure filled. The grounding and punishment made things worse and dinner more stressful. The bribery was at least more calming and peaceful than punishment but it still didn’t help as much as cooking my own food. When I started cooking with my mom, I got more input into the dinner which helped a lot and I could get her to cook chicken more often, which of all the meats she cooked was the most tolerable.
Do you have a sense for what some of the specific food challenges were for you? Taste, texture, or other things?
One of my biggest problems was I gagged on food a lot; I choked many times on pills and what not. So I was a little afraid to eat and would eat very slow. Meanwhile everyone at the dinner table would eat very fast. Every social setting was people scarfing down food while I struggled, so I didn’t like social eating whatsoever. When I cooked my own food I would do that while everyone else was eating and then came to the table and could eat without being rushed because I was now expected to take longer as I started later than everyone. It was a much more peaceful around dinner now. But along with the gagging the texture of the food was the biggest challenge. Anything tough was hard for me, which every meat my mother cooked was overdone and tough. I also couldn’t tolerate fatty meat and refused to eat meat if I saw fat on it.
In the end what were the things that made the biggest difference for you?
Once I started cooking myself and being more involved in the cooking process, the more I ate, the healthier I became, the less stressful dinner became and around age 12 I was eating more dinner my mother’s would cook without thinking about it as much. I eventually wanted other things than hamburgers and omelets so I was more open to eating more of what my mother cooked. The gagging/choking thing stuck with me well into my adulthood though, so I never really improved the speed at which I ate, so social eating remained somewhat hard for me.
Do you think that social eating (IE: at school, friend's houses, etc) had an influence?
Yes, social eating was very hard because of the pace I ate at. Everyone ate so fast and I ate so slowly. Being afraid of choking continued into my adult years so social eating was hard for years. I was open to eating and trying more foods, but I would mainly eat alone so I could eat at my own pace, which included lunches in high school and college, declining many offers to go out to eat with people, and learning to cook more things myself through the years.
What advice would you give to parents who are dealing with picky eaters?
No matter how hard and stressful their eating is making your life, do not make the situation more stressful for your children by yelling, grounding and punishing. Dinner was so stressful for me because of these things and it made it worse and made it last for years. Make eating fun and peaceful; let your children be involved in the cooking process; try new foods together with your children. Find a way to talk to your children nicely about why they are having problems eating. Make eating a loving process!