I love my work: that thrill when a client makes a connection, sees things a new way, perhaps understanding how the things s/he was doing to try to make a child’s eating “better” may have actually slowed progress. A dad I talked to recently shared the following, when we discussed how his own history around food can help him relate to his daughter’s picky eating and food worries.
For a little background, this dad was very picky as a child, eating only a handful of foods. He remembers a lot of nagging, rules, and bribing with desserts. He shared that both he and his wife now enjoy a great variety of foods in many different preparations. I asked how and when he thought this changed for him, that is, his willingness to explore. His answer was so clear and inspiring, and explained so many principles well that I asked him if I could share, and he graciously agreed. (Paraphrasing…)
“Well, I can actually pinpoint it to one meal when I was about ten. I remember sitting there, having my plate of whatever it was, I don’t even remember, I just know it was really plain and what I ate all the time. I looked over at the Chinese food my parents were eating. I vividly remember thinking, ‘Wow, that smells and looks so much better than what I’m having.’ So I tried and liked some of it.”
As I probed further about his family meals growing up, and why he thinks he made the shift, he went on to say that he thinks he only got to that point because his parents had “given up on my eating“: the nagging had stopped, and they just ignored what he was or wasn’t eating, though they still sat down to family meals. By the end of that summer, he reports eating about “ten times more foods” than at the start. Often once that barrier is broken, progress can come quickly…
“As we talk about all of this, and how our daughter may be feeling pressured and put off, I can see now that I only tried new stuff after my parents had given up, when there was no pressure.”
Rarely do I hear adults able to pin down one meal (though my facebook discussion on this topic readers pinpoint a sandwich with tomatoes, a study-abroad semester, a casserole…) I thought this account is particularly fun and hopefully reassuring to parents of picky eaters out there. It can take time, often more than you like, but even picky eaters can and do learn to branch out. Here are a few things the story illustrates that will be familiar to regular readers:
- Pressuring kids to eat more or different foods usually backfires.
- Internal motivation (I want to try that) is the key, and that is what parents can nurture with supportive feeding.
- It can feel hard not to lecture, praise, pressure, and bribe because right now, “good parenting” in the cultural norm most often means pressure and controlled feeding.
- Ignoring your kids at the table, (okay, not really) but in terms of what and how much they are eating from what you provide helps to bring down the pressure and anxiety, and allows that internal curiosity to flourish. “Hmm, that looks better than what I’m having!”
- It can take a lot of time before you see that internal motivation kick in. Your child may not be three and eating sushi, but she might try it when she’s 13.
What have you seen with your kids? How about your own eating?