How to combat picky eaters…

In my eyes, nothing is more frustrating than working on a good, healthy, nourishing meal and have someone at the table turn their nose up at it.   Which is not totally fair considering I, myself, am a picky’ish eater.   “There are green things in here… I do not like potatoes to touch my carrots… I only eat Mac n’ cheese out of the box.”   

The teenagers in our house have very picky styles, and honestly, I think I have made a handful of meals that everyone has enjoyed.   Breakfast, they all love breakfast… no wait one of them does not like French toast or something.  Well… I tried, but who is going to eat breakfast 7 days a week?  Good thing is that my boyfriend, is only partially a picky eater.

The crazy thing is that most picky eaters ate the things they claim they do not like in the past, for instance, Olivia… she has eaten meat loaf 100 times, and then suddenly, she does not like it.

Growing up I would dream of my family’s big lobster feed in Maine—or as they would say “Lobsta” but as an adult I cannot even think about it.   I cannot stand fish (that has been lifelong) but I will eat a tuna sandwich with relish in it.  Every once in a blue moon, I will eat a Shrimp Cocktail, but that is it.  But no more “lobsta” for me.    So, we are all guilty of it.

Most studies show that picky eating is at it worst between the ages of 2-6, in our house it is 14-19 oh and 40 hahaha.   Other studies and articles lead the picky eating to a change in taste to a fear of anything new, and a fear of change overall during the developmental years.  Which leads most of them to the chicken nuggets and boxed mac n’ cheese diet. 

It is also a possibility that the taste buds in the picky eaters’ mouth is simply not as developed as those of the non-picky eater.   As we mature or have dietary restraints due to health, we tend to find foods that we did not like in the past, are now an option and we eat them because we must. 

Some folks have even moved to a vegetarian life style simply because of the effect of meat on their system, or it is just easier to eat vegetarian than to try and fight off the foods they cannot have for health reasons. 

For instance, when I was on my diet where I lost 50 pounds in 90 days I ate things I didn’t like see blog below for diet https://savvymomsurvivalguide.com/2018/12/26/i-lost-50-lbs-in-90-days-and-never-stepped-foot-in-a-gym/ RAW tomatoes, those squishy things that explode in your mouth, the tomatoes were very low in calories and  I was able to eat them, to help continue putting my body in a calorie deficit—(it is explained in the post.)  I ended up not disliking them as much, I have always loved cooked tomatoes, and ketchup, and salsa but just something about the consistency of a raw tomatoes.  YUCK! 

Getting to the root cause of the pickiness:

  1. Find out what it is that they do not like about that food, is it the texture, is it the taste… would it be better with a condiment of some kind on it?    Work through those issues, do not get mad or frustrated, just find out if there is information missing that the picky eater may need.  They may have heard something terrible about asparagus from their friends… ya never know.
  2. Are they doing it just to get under your skin?   They may be testing their boundaries and want you to force them to eat the food.    I remember having to sit at the kitchen table long after my family had gone off because I would not eat something my mom prepared.   I do believe it was liver so in fairness… I think that one I deserve a pass on.   I am a fish hater—not going to lie, but liver tastes like the bottom of a shoe.
  3. Have the foods they do not like ever caused them to be sick?   Keep an eye out for anything odd if they eat something they do not like, especially in little ones because it could be a minor allergy that does not flare up in the normal outward sense.   They could be feeling sick and not really understanding or knowing why.
  4. Some studies have reflected that small children who have a violent or a out of the normal reaction to food, the preparation process, especially if they are sensitive to the “way” the food is prepared, or the entire food group – this may be an early sign of sensory or mental health issues.    Generally, the process of how the food is prepared causes a outrage or abnormal incident for your child, you may want to talk to them about what in the process upset them.  It could be as simple as not understanding that the chicken can in fact touch the counter, it just cannot be smeared all over the other food items.   Who knows what they hear and manipulate in their little minds? 
  5. If the issue is sudden and arises in a teenager who is slightly or more overweight, it may be peer pressure, or they are being teased at school about their weight.   It could also be low self-esteem, all of us had body issues as teenagers, I remember swearing off all foods, and only eating steamed vegetables with a little bit of butter on them for a month because someone called me Jabba the Hutt at school.    The other side of this is that if it is sudden and other issues such as distancing themselves from school, athletics, friends, and family—you may want to look out for eating disorder issues and see the family Doctor for information. 
  6. Or, do you have the teenager that out of the blue announces that “Meat is mean! I will never eat meat again!”   That is a decision that we faced with Olivia a few years ago, she did not want to eat meat anymore because of something she had seen on television.   I dove right into this, I found alternatives to her eating meat that allowed for her to still get her protein.  I am friends with a vegetarian and a vegan, so I get it, and I asked them a lot of questions.      But after a few weeks, she was back to eating meat.   We are carnivores in our house.  

How did they become picky?

We as parents may have contributed to it, when the children are small and we want them to eat because they are being fussy, we may let them get away with cereal for dinner one too many times.  We are not totally at fault though, there are other issues at play as well.

Or, when the children are the product of a divorce, parents tend to try and make the children feel comfortable and along with other efforts may spoil them by catering to their every whim on food—further creating the picky eater monster later on. We do the best we can do at the time, it is tough when you have a picky eater.

Genetics—some studies have pointed the fact that some folks are pickier than others due to genetics and the formation of taste buds as well as just having a more open mind and willing to eat different kinds of foods.

Socioeconomic—healthy food is expensive!!!  Again, see my blog on the diet plan and an upcoming blog on how to grocery shop within a budget.    If someone is exposed only to the foods that come out of a box, in lieu of foods that are green let’s say… they tend to continue to reach for the boxed foods.    This is one of the key elements in an obesity study that connected socioeconomic trends to obesity.  The fact is that the boxed foods contain much more calories, higher sodium, unhealthy fillers, and all the other bad junk that we do not need in our systems.     It is a crime that farms are going out of business, and healthy foods are so expensive, that is for another blog post.

Adult picky eaters in social situations:

As I said before I hate fish, tomatoes, bologna, have a strong dislike for IPA’s, and Ginger Ale.  Weird right… there is no correlation between any of those things.  It would be different if I said, I do not like any soda’s, or I do not like any lunch meat.   I ate the heck out of bologna when I was a kid, but as an adult I cannot put it near my face.   Maybe, I just ate too much. I wish the same had happened with ice cream, cake, cookies and all the other stuff that I should not eat.

When I know that I am going to a new restaurant that I have never been to before, I go online and check out the menu to ensure that there is at least one thing on the menu that is not fish—that is usually my fear that one of my friends picked The House of Fish and Bologna restaurant.    Another odd fact as I was thinking that a Caesar salad is always a go to—Caesar dressing is made with anchovies—FISH!     And, I could honestly eat those salads, all day, every day!  

Now, how do we combat the picky eating?:

One important note, if they are not underweight, or malnourished, and eat 89% of all the items that you put in front of them, they are not picky… they are just normal kids.   If they eat the chicken fingers and peanut butter diet and that is it, but complain of being hungry all the time, well, then you have a picky eater.

  1.   When preparing a meal for the entire family and you know that one person does not like asparagus—make it big enough that they can pick it out.  I would rather they enjoy most of the meal that I prepared then none of it.   
  2. Do not get mad!   Do not throw a temper tantrum much like the picky eater is, just ignore the behavior, introduce the foods a little bit at a time, ask your spouse or the other family members to cheer them on if they will be willing to try it.   Or, if they will eat mashed potatoes and beef but will not try broccoli, include a little broccoli into the meal and less mashed potatoes.   Tell them in order to get the one thing they do want, they must try the one thing they do not want. 
  3. Try and eliminate snacking between meals, this is like giving them permission to be the picky eater later at dinner because they are genuinely not hungry after their run through the snack bin.  Amazing what will happen when someone is truly hungry—as my mom use to say when I was being picky and she offered a healthy food—which I no doubt denied, “I guess you are not really that hungry than are you?”  
  4. Do not fall into the trap of making one meal for your picky eater and one meal for everyone else, the first time you do that… you may as well kiss your sanity good bye.   Plus, the picky eater wins.  You can offer alternatives from time to time, but just keep in mind that they do not run the show—you do!  If they do not eat, save the food until later says one expert, so when they are hungry, they will have the option to eat the food they snubbed earlier in the evening.  
  5. Condiment’s like I mentioned above… ketchup is a main stay in our picky eating clan.    If the picky eater is willing to eat ketchup on something, they do not like but is healthy… what is the harm.  Now, be very careful that ketchup does not become the main stay of their life and goes on everything.   Ketchup does have sugar in it and that can be overdone if not watched. 
  6. Try different spices or ingredients, some of the issues may be how spicy something is or the amount of pepper that is in the dish.   I could be something very simple that the picky eater just cannot explain, asking the questions above will help with this.

Overall try and keep your frustration to a minimum with the picky eater, they may be genetically engineered to not be an interesting eater, or they may be testing your patience.  

Either way, try some of the tips above and find out if there are some techniques that may help introduce your picky eater to the wonderful world of food.

See my blog posts on how I lost 50 pounds in 90 days below https://savvymomsurvivalguide.com/2018/12/26/i-lost-50-lbs-in-90-days-and-never-stepped-foot-in-a-gym/

As well as the post on https://savvymomsurvivalguide.com/2019/02/12/how-to-prepare-for-kids-all-day-sports-events/ to get some more tips on food, and our growing athletes and the best foods for them.

Hugs,

@mber

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  1. Great post. All of my kids have gone through picky phases. I have always asked them to take one “polite note” since I made is for them and they’ve always done that willingly. Forcing them to eat whatever I made has never worked for us. If they at least try what I made they can have cereal or a PBJ instead, but I won’t make them a desperate meal.

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