It took awhile, but we’re finally getting somewhere. Little is actually eating real food on a continual basis. Not just pretzels. Not just Apple Crushers. Not just Cheerios. Real food, friends. I wanted to share some things that worked for us, and hopefully will work for any struggling parents. Firstly, read this, ‘Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating.’ Awesome book on educating parents/caregivers on the reasons behind struggling eaters. I picked up a handful of ideas from this book, then implemented some of my own. A lot of trial and error. But, I’m feeling good about where we are.
I started a routine; Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner. I tried not to waiver too much from this, but adjusted the timing when I needed to. For each meal I put three to four options, including a ‘safe food.’ The book discusses the importance of a ‘safe food’ quite a bit. A ‘safe food’ is basically an item that your child will eat no matter what. For Little it was corn or peas. So either of those was served with just about every meal, so that something familiar and comforting was always on his plate.
According to the book, Kids often feel a great deal of pressure to eat. Pressure increases anxiety and decreases appetite. It makes kids like food less. Even praise and acknowledgement is considered as pressure, because they may feel that if they don’t eat their food tomorrow, they are failing you.
So we cut out all praise, any conversation about food…we completely stopped. I’m not going to lie, This was actually really difficult for me. I didn’t realize how food-centered our conversations were. In the beginning, I had no idea what else to say. The book actually lists things you can talk about with your child while eating, because apparently a lot of parents struggle with this. Sometimes, we wouldn’t even talk to him while eating, and I’d notice that he’d venture out and try different items on his plate. Why? No one was hounding him, bribing him with dessert, asking him why he wasn’t eating, telling him what to do, or forcing a bite into his mouth. No anxiety.
I tried to focus on my job; what he eats, and when he eats. That’s it. How much he eats, is up to him. This took the pressure off of myself too. So at the end of the meal, when he would get up from the table with his food almost untouched, I told myself that my job was done, and that hopefully the next meal would go better.
And it did. Some days are a lot better than others, but I’ve just accepted that it is what it is. Not everyday will be a success. To me, success is the fact that Little demands almond butter in his oatmeal now. And he’s obsessed with cashews, and cucumbers. I would have never thought I could say that a few months ago.
The toughest part of of this process has been explaining the plan to others. Some people think I’m crazy. Some people think I’m over-doing it. Some people just don’t get it. How is it possible that I try not to say one food-related thing to him, other than are you all done or do you want more? How is it that I don’t constantly ask him to eat his chicken? Why is it that I don’t want people constantly commenting that he’s a good eater or bad eater? Why am I ok with him not touching his food, and not encouraging him to eat? Why don’t I promise him dessert so he eats his food?
Million dollar answer, because I know my kid. As soon as I say anything about his food, he will start playing with it and eventually throw it. When he hears people talking about how much or how little he eats, his ears perk up and to a certain extent his attitude changes. Once I promise that dessert, he will stop eating his food.
I’m not saying I’m perfect, I’ve made a lot of mistakes myself, it’s a learning process. For any parent who struggles with their child’s eating, they can empathize with how stressful and frustrating something as seemingly simple as food intake can be. But fortunately if you stick to what feels right for your child no matter what kind of feedback you get, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Baby steps, and courage,