There are so many parenting strategies when it comes to handling a picky eater: Forcing, bribing, cajoling, hiding and sneaking healthy foods onto their plates all come to mind. As for me and my family, picky eating isn’t an issue, and it’s not because my kids are great eaters who prefer carrot sticks to cookies. Picky eating isn’t an issue in my house because my parenting strategy is to Let. It. Go.
I know what you’re thinking… She must be a lazy, junk-food-bingeing slob preaching from a permanently butt-indented recliner. I’m not, so hear me out.
As a child, I was an incredibly picky eater, but my parents (like so many parents) weren’t cool with it, and I get why. My family still jokes about how I only ate hot dogs for several years. I vividly remember sitting at the dinner table long after everyone else was finished eating, firmly resisting that last bit of disgusting (sorry, Mom) casserole. The only time I ever remember “winning” a food battle was when I repeatedly gagged on green beans, forcing my parents to finally relent. I don’t want to put my kids through that, but even more significantly, I don’t want to deal with what my poor mom and dad must have gone through just to get me to eat one freaking green bean! Was it really even worth it? I don’t think so. Here's why...
Haters gonna hate
As someone who was an intensely picky eater growing up, I can say that as I aged, my tastes evolved. While I still love a good hot dog (my college roommate even remembers me telling her that the only green thing I liked to eat was mint chip ice cream!), my palate has widened considerably, and I now enjoy a variety of healthy foods. Research suggests that kids are just pickier than adults, and for good reason. Studies show that as we age our taste buds gradually stop regenerating, leaving us with a duller palate. Flavors that were once intense to us as children eventually become milder and thus tolerable. In other words, there is hope. Just because you have a picky eater now does not necessarily indicate what kind of eater he will be when he's an adult.
Keep calm and parent on
I want my kids to be healthy eaters, I really do, but I decided early on that food was not a battle I wanted to fight with my own children. I’m not saying I have given up and serve my kids junk food for every meal, but I choose not to make food a source of contention. I want the dinner table to be a place where my family comes together and talks about our day and our dreams, not where there are tears shed over a piece of broccoli. If that means making an additional picky-eater-friendly option at each meal so they’ll at least eat something, so be it.
Don’t force it
Many experts believe we can teach our minds to enjoy different foods. This is one theory behind why parents so often force their children to eat their veggies. I understand the intention: If children are required to eat healthy but “gross” foods often enough, not only will they be getting healthy foods in their system now, but they also may eventually learn to love them. But is forcing kids to eat healthy foods (while gagging up those revolting Brussels sprouts) really the best way to encourage them to experience new foods? What if forcing kids to try new foods turns the experience into a negative one long-term? You don’t want to turn them off salad for life, do you?
Nature vs. nurture
Obviously, proper nutrition is a huge part of a child’s growth and development, but it’s not the only piece of the puzzle. Do you think every short, slim or slow adult you know refused to eat vegetables as a child? And by the same token, do you believe all tall, muscular or smart people lived on salmon and asparagus as toddlers? I doubt it. The truth is that much of our physique and even our mental capacity is determined by genetics, not by our nutrition. If your kid loves a good grilled chicken salad with balsamic on the side, congratulations! Maybe she will turn out to be a freakishly tall, svelte genius. And maybe she won’t.
Pick your battles
If you aren’t afflicted with chicken-nugget- and goldfish-cracker-obsessed children in your house, cheers to you. But for the rest of us, there’s nothing like a good multivitamin to fill the void when the closest your kid comes to healthy food is the occasional fruit snack. My method isn’t going to be the right one for every parent, but I know that accepting that my kids are picky eaters makes me a better parent all around. I have resigned myself to the fact that I cannot control what foods my kids enjoy or don’t enjoy. So, most days rather than battle them, I let it go. We're all happier and healthier when I do.