Picky eater extraordinaire

Marcus once was a chubby little bubby.  At his 15-month appointment, he weighed in at over 29 lbs (Gavin was about 2 lbs less at the same age, and he’s no skinny mini).  Marcus’ adorable little fat rolls were due in large part to his very healthy appetite. The boy would scarf everything from chicken parmigiana to bibimbap.  If we ate it, he would too.  In fact, he’d get downright ornery if we didn’t share.  It was so awesome to be parents of one of those kids that just eats and enjoys everything.  At least for a little while.

When Marcus hit the 18-month mark, he morphed into Mr. Independent Toddler.  He tried to exert his will with regard to just about everything although with varying degrees of success (given that we were bigger than him).  But food was one of the few areas where he was in the captain’s seat.  If he didn’t want to eat something, there was nothing we could do.  It was a rookie parenting mistake on our part to let him see how much that bothered us.  Marcus wielded his new found power of refusal like a light saber, cutting us to the quick and trimming off his delicious baby fat.  He refused new foods, he refused foods he’d eaten before, then he refused what once were favorite foods.  At one point, Marcus wouldn’t even eat macaroni and cheese (which I thought was the standby of picky eaters across America) and actually gagged on watermelon.  I mean, seriously.  Who gags on watermelon?  It got to the point where Marcus would only eat chicken, bananas, yogurt, string cheese, and sometimes rice.  He refused pasta, potatoes, all fruits other than bananas and sometimes the random kiwi, and all vegetables.  I started drinking heavily the day he refused to eat a banana.  (Well, I should’ve anyway.)

Supposedly picky eating is pretty common, but it certainly didn’t seem like it.  One friend claimed, as I watched her son happily gnawing on tomato wedges and other vitamin-filled vegetables, “Oh, my son is picky too!  He won’t eat . . . chicken.”  Um, chicken is just about the only thing my son will eat.  Around another friend’s son we had to spell out fruit names during mealtimes.  If we forgot and mentioned “blueberries” in conversation, he’d stop eating and demand instant fruit gratification.  “Please.  Shoot.  Me.” I would think.  And then there were the countless books, cookbooks, and blogs that I’d read whose authors all had kids that seemed naturally more open to trying and eating different foods.  I bet their kids never gagged on watermelon or thought that their mom was trying to poison them with macaroni and cheese.

Picky eating is like childbirth.  You have to go through it to understand it.  You can’t explain the pain of having a picky eater to someone who has never had one.  You can’t express the feelings of frustration, anger, depression, helplessness, and guilt that pummel you as you watch your child time and time again refuse to eat food that you’ve lovingly prepared for him, food that you know he would like if he would just try it, food that he needs for his body and mind to grow strong.  All you can do is give him a good multivitamin, try your best to expand his palate without treading on his precious independence or creating psychological problems for him down the road, and grit your teeth when faced with non-picky eaters and their lucky parents.

All that being said, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  With Marcus turning 4 this November, it has been an incredibly long and dark tunnel, but I think we finally are nearing the other side.  After much trial and error (and we’ve tried just about everything under the sun), Marcus is trying and eating more foods, including veggies and fruits.  He gradually is expanding his palate at a rate that he’s comfortable with.  I think our success in helping Marcus overcome his food phobia is due in large part to two things:

  1. Having Marcus attend a preschool where he eats a school-provided breakfast and lunch with his peers.  It’s nice to be able to control what goes into your kid’s lunchbox, but that’s useless if your kid doesn’t ever eat it.  Marcus is more likely to try a new food if all of his friends are eating the exact same thing.
  2. Cooking “family dinners” with Marcus.  We recently moved to the ‘burbs and now have a spacious kitchen that is more conducive to cooking with kids.  Marcus loves to cut vegetables, taste and add ingredients, stir the pot, etc.  He’s inordinately proud of the meals he cooks and usually eats a good portion too.

We also found this 5-part series on picky eating from Raise Healthy Eaters very helpful.  It’s the most comprehensive guidance that I’ve seen that takes into account the fact that kids have different eating personalities.  Some kids are naturally enthusiastic eaters, some are more cautious, and then there are others who are ultra-cautious.  Eating strategies that work for one kid may not necessarily work for another.  (I’ve got my fingers crossed that Gavin continues to be an Enthusiastic Eater, but I know not to count my chickens before they hatch.  He’s only 16 months old, so we’re still happily in the I-will-scream-if-I-can’t-shovel-that-into-my-face phase.)

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Crispity crunchity delicious! « ngocinabout
  2. Trackback: Miso happy! « ngocinabout

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