Parenting the Picky Eater
By Pam Griner
“No, thank you.” Polite, but definite, is how my child has responded to most foods since he could talk. Can you relate? Anytime I speak to a group of women and mention food struggles with my youngest child, desperate moms who parent incredibly picky eaters come up to me afterwards to share their frustration and the extreme guilt they feel about their child’s peculiar appetites.
Why are so many children finicky about what they consume? My experience has taught me that there are a variety of reasons: textures, allergies, and power plays are all common origins. For my son, it involved all three.
When Colby was one year old, he had an allergic reaction to eggs. From that point on, he refused to eat any foods with which he was not already familiar. After several years of allowing him to control the issue, and my pediatrician advising me that one day he would just begin eating normally, we received invaluable advice to seek help from an occupational therapist that specialized in sensory issues in children. Not knowing where to find such as person, within a few days God amazingly introduced us to a therapist in our church that focused on eating issues in kids. She became a huge answer to our prayer.
After several months of therapy, we saw great strides in Colby’s eating. It was not easy or quick. We even discovered during therapy he was also allergic to peanut butter. I even left several therapy sessions in tears begging God for a breakthrough. I would ask myself where I went wrong from my oldest child who would eat anything I put in front of her, to this child that would not even eat chicken nuggets or French fries. But with perseverance and determination we began to see results. So if your child will not eat, here’s what you do.
Get professional help!
If your child’s issue revolves around texture issues or fear of ingesting certain foods after an allergic reaction, a trained professional can work through those issues. Most licensed therapy groups will accept insurance. Check with your insurance company for details about what your plan will cover, such as the number of visits or specific deductibles or co-pays. Be prepared to give a thorough history of your child’s eating habits and known allergies. We discovered not only did Colby have panic attacks when trying a new food, but he actually had trouble maneuvering the food around in his mouth and chewing it up. He also preferred foods that were crunchy over smooth foods. A good therapist can work on these issues and teach you how to continue building on a personalized plan for your child.
Whatever your therapist has begun during the sessions, you will need to continue in your meal and snack times at home. Food chaining, where you continue introducing the same food multiple times over in small amounts, and then introducing very similar foods can bring success as well. For example, Colby really liked yogurt and he would also eat soft vanilla ice cream, so we began introducing vanilla pudding repeatedly. Remember, you ultimately are in control as the parent and you can limit the rewards and type of food that your child desires to help expand his food choices. As tempting as it may be to give in to his or her favorite foods only, instead, use those food as rewards for trying new items. We found rewards worked much better than punishments with our son. You, as the parent, should stay in control of the situation. Don’t let the food issues become a power play that disrupts your family meal time or detracts attention from your other children.
Teaching a picky eater to eat a wide variety of foods is a slow and arduous process. Celebrate small victories and always reward effort, even if your child did not really like the new food he tried. When Colby finds a new food he likes, we pull out the “You are special” plate reserved for special occasions. You may never get your child to eat everything listed on a menu or that you cook at home, but if he begins eating a few new foods you have achieved a huge victory. Have patience with your child and when you become frustrated ask God to give you the grace to parent well.
You are not alone as the parent of a picky eater. In our case, it actually turned out to be a blessing as Colby had peanut allergies of which we were not even aware. With his pickiness, I don’t have to be as concerned that he will accidentally ingest something to which he is allergic. I believe that God has used Colby’s pickiness to protect him in more than one potentially dangerous situation.
If you allow, God will also use this area of your parenting to refine you and build even more of Himself into your character by teaching you patience, perseverance, endurance, and mercy simultaneously. And these are the fruit that are favorites even to the pickiest of eaters.
Pam Griner is a wife, mother of two, high school teacher, and a respected women's ministry leader. Through her speaking, teaching and writing ministry, women of all ages and life-stages have found encouragement and hope. Pam serves as a Speaker and the Web content manager for MotherWise (www.motherwise.org) and regularly leads women to discover deeper insights into God's word through her local church ministry.
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