When your child’s diet is so limited and mealtimes are a battleground on the daily, it’s hard not to start to take it personal, but doing so can actually make it harder to make progress and help your child. Learn how to leverage those feelings instead!
When it comes to having a child that’s a picky eater: The. Struggle. Is. Real.
It never ends because there’s always another meal to be attempted, another unhelpful comment from someone you barely know about how you should be handling your child differently. You desperately want your child to eat and you try. My goodness have you tried. But, they always say “No”, “Ewww, gross”, or just throw it all on the floor.
It’s even worse when you’ve spent an hour trying to recreate some recipe that every picky eater supposedly loves – except yours.
And, in that moment, when you know you shouldn’t be hopeful, but secretly are, you put your hard-worked meal down in front of them and they don’t eat it, it’s hard not to take it personal. Don’t they know how hard you’re trying? Can’t they at least try it?
You swear they’re refusing these foods just to make you crazy!
While eating is one of the few areas a child does have true control over in their life, and they do like to wield it’s power at times, they don’t want to be a picky eater. The hard truth is that they are picky for a reason and they need our help.
Why picky eating isn’t personal
You are so attached to the food you serve your child because you’ve gone through the effort to offer it to them, whether it’s because you hit up the drive through or slaved over the stove all day. You have made this effort and it isn’t received.
Not only is it not received, it’s rejected. Denied. Did not pass go.
And, while that may be fine for a preference of shoe color, sometimes you may not have other foods to offer them. Sometimes they refuse to eat everything that you offer. And, that’s when the worry sets in because they do in fact need to eat, and more than just crackers. You become desperate to get something, anything, into their little bellies so they can learn, grow, and have energy.
This anxiety that builds in your chest only deepens the whole “taking it personal factor” – when they refuse to eat.
Imagine this though…
Imagine yourself in your kitchen right now with your child and you’ve just put their dinner down in front of them. You’ve tried hard to put something together they like, but it looks like they aren’t going for it. Your blood pressure is quietly rising within you, but your child’s experience is totally different.
Imagine what they are thinking as you walk over to the table and set down this plate of food with big hopeful eyes. You look down at the plate, and can’t seem to recognize any foods. You see some apple slices that you eat every once in a while, but these ones look a little brown and they might taste different.
Your child is likely worried about what the food will feel like. They may not be sure how to eat it, or they may not have much of an appetite because of those couple of goldfish crackers they ate an hour ago.
There’s a lot of different reasons your child may decide not to eat any given food in that moment, and that is why it’s not personal. Their picky eating isn’t about you, they don’t even think of you. They are thinking about their own bodies, appetites, and if a food is safe. Kids were designed this way, it’s in their DNA to be leery of new, different, or bitter (think: veggies) foods.
But It’s So Darn Infuriating! Just eat! Aren’t you hungry?
So while it’s frustrating, you have to let go of being connected to the food you serve your child. It has nothing to do with you, and yes, this is my own self-talk, too.
When you separate yourself and your hopes/emotions from the food you wish your child would eat, it allows for a new way of thinking which is critical to actually helping your kid learn to like and enjoy lots of different foods. That means approaching mealtime neutrally, you’ll have to talk yourself down from any hidden hopes.
Heck, it even means expecting them not to eat anything, but still trying. Because, giving up and ONLY giving them their favorite foods can cause picky eating to spiral deeper.
It’s about switching your perspective from disappointment, control, and worry to total empowerment. Yes, there is a way for your child to eat more foods and enjoy family meals.
“These kids aren’t trying to be picky eaters!”
Last week, I was talking to a Mealtime Works (my picky eating program) student, Ellen, and she holds this empowerment perspective perfectly. I wish she could talk to you and tell you how distraught and desperate she once felt. This is part of a post she shared in our private student facebook group earlier this year:
“Y’all, this takes me back! This memory popped up on my news feed from FOUR years ago… (see the pic below) This was one of those breakthrough moments my husband managed to capture. My son willingly putting food in his mouth. At 15 months, he was refusing all solids except freeze dried bananas and all liquids except breast milk. It was so scary!…”
This was before Mealtime Works, and before she fully learned what she said as we talked, “These kids aren’t trying to be picky eaters!”
Those words rung in my own head when I heard her say them, because it’s a truth we don’t hear enough. We want to blame our kids, or ourselves, as we search to understand and cope with the often hourly struggle.
And, that blame is what keeps us stuck. You get worn down and it seems impossible to move forward.
But, if you can begin telling yourself, “My kid isn’t trying to be picky, it has nothing to do with me.” It can be the beginning of something new because you’re open to hearing strategies that help and getting to the bottom of the problem.
Because Picky Eating is Journey…
That’s not to say that picky eating isn’t a journey. In that same post Ellen went on to say:
“The biggest game changer? Mealtime Works! Max is almost six, on the growth chart, and loves broccoli and baked potatoes. He eats enough that I don’t cry packing a lunchbox full of crackers and freeze dried fruit anymore to send with him to school. He doesn’t cry anymore when there’s a new food on the table. We still have a ways to go. He hates fresh fruit and refuses most protein, BUT, he will tell you, “I just don’t like them, yet.” Thank you Alisha for all your support and expertise and encouragement! Keep working it, mamas. It really does get better!”
What I love more than anything is that because Ellen got that her son was picky for a variety of reasons, none of which were her parenting style, she’s leaned into his picky eating. She looked at him in a different light and saw that there was a way and was willing to try, and it has paid off. And, their relationship deepened because of it.
That doesn’t mean that her son eats every and all foods. But, it does mean that they have peaceful meals, that he’s exploring new foods, and eating more than he ever has. That is life changing and a small step you can take on your child’s picky eating journey is to surrender taking it personally.
Ellen’s story isn’t over, it has it’s own path and yours will too. You can do this!
Small but Key Changes Can Change the Way Your Picky Eater Eats
You’re doing great Momma! You’re here, reading this post, aren’t you? Heck yes you are and that says a lot.
But now you need some real strategies that can change what your child eats and what meals are like in your home, all while strengthening your relationship with your child. For a limited time, you can join us inside the Free Picky Eating Challenge where I teach you some of my top strategies from my picky eating program: Mealtime Works.
These strategies are imperative for any picky eater, no matter how severe to begin to make progress. I’ve got some freebies inside too.
More for Picky Eaters
Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 14 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.