When my son started eating solid meals and snacks at one year old we didn’t think anything of the fact that he mostly ate chicken nuggets. And we should not have, children that are new to solids are going to be limited in what they eat. But as time went on, his friends starting becoming obsessed with the foods kids typically are obsessed with (mac and cheese, pizza, and pasta for example). My son is three and still refuses to eat any of these foods.
When we began to realize he was a picky eater we tried all of the methods. We offered him the food we wanted him to eat and if he didn’t eat it he would be offered it at the next meal. We catered to what he wanted. We didn’t cater to what he wanted. Ultimately, we ended up putting him in daycare when I went back to work in hopes that being around other kids would help him eat better. Not even that worked. Eventually, he ended up in food therapy.
Upon research, we learned that our son isn’t just a picky eater, but an extremely picky eater. He was so much anxiety about trying new foods that he would seriously rather go hungry then eat it. His eating was so bad that when pictures pop up from my memories, I can see that he used to be chubby and is now skinny and it makes me sad and worried.
When I was working it was impossible to do family meals. He would get whatever was quick and filling. When his sister was born I became a Stay at Home Mom again and being the one that gave him at least three meals and two snacks a day showed me just how much his eating had not improved. I made it my project to make it better. I don’t know if what I’m doing is the right way, but it seems to be working for us.
The first thing I did was make a schedule that made it so my son was eating every two hours that he was awake. Each offering, whether it was a snack or a meal, was high in protein and calories (snacks being less than meals as they are, well, snacks).
I make sure he drinks water except for at meals, which is when he got whole milk after he ate. I made sure he was not filling up on snacks and milk so that he’s actually hungry at meals.
I make sure he gets ample running around time, preferably outside. I try to get him to work up an appetite.
The one thing that I have done that has made the biggest difference is I started having family meals again where we all sit at the same table and eat the same thing. Phones and devices are not allowed. I make sure there is at least one thing on my son’s plate that he will eat. But he is offered what we eat. Sometimes on days when he hasn’t eaten much I panic and make him a smoothie because I’d rather him have something than go to bed hungry.
My son is still an extremely picky eater. I’m learning that this is a process and that he isn’t going to get better if I don’t show him healthy eating habits. We still have sensory snacks where we just play around with food to get him used to it and hopefully try it. I’ve also learned that a good portion of his poor eating habits is about control for him. I can offer him something that I “know” he will eat and he won’t just because he knows I can’t or won’t force him to. It is a very taxing battle.
I am not an expert in anything parenting related. But I can say that from my experience, everything that you want your child to learn needs to start at home. Lead by example. It’s one thing to tell your child to eat a well balanced meal, but it’s another to offer it to them and eat it along with them. Let them be little, but know they can’t be little forever.