You can’t really call yourself a parent until you’ve slaved over a hot stove for half a Sunday, putting love into barbecued ribs and baked mac and cheese only for your toddler to turn up her nose at the soul food celebration and request a pack of Goldfish and hotdogs. Navigating the world of new foods with your toddler can be tricky and you’ll be tempted to throw out threats like, “The kitchen is closed!” or “This is not a restaurant!” You may even attempt to have them sit at the table until their fried liver with onions turns into fossil fuels before discovering the strategy is just as painful for you as it is for them.
I am currently elbows-deep in developing my preschooler’s picky palette. My daughter has easily survived on a regimen of hotdogs, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, goldfish crackers, and chicken nuggets. We manage to get fruits, dairy, veggies, and protein in regularly, but not in enough quantities that would meet any soccer mom’s standard of approval. My concerns of whether she’s eating enough and getting all the vitamins and nutrients she needs are met by her pediatrician’s reassurance that it’s a common phase of development and that as long as she’s eating something and getting at least some of the major food groups and water, then there is nothing to worry about. However, that doesn’t mean there is any less anxiety involved when it comes to approaching meal times. The picky eater in our household is up several points over the parents as we ignore all of the helpful hints in attempt to just keep the peace at mealtime by catering to her demands with separate meals, bribery to eat veggies to get dessert and letting her snack long after she refused dinner because she claims her “tummy rumbling” is interfering with bedtime.
It wasn’t until recently that I saved myself a small portion of frustration when I changed my perspective. As much as my toddler might hate blueberries because they “tie dye” her tongue, or it takes a whole intervention to get convince her those are seeds on the strawberries and not bugs, it turns out the picky eating may not be all about what’s on her plate. Dina Rose, PhD, a sociologist and author of It’s Not About the Broccoli reveals picky eating is more about your toddler practicing autonomy and struggling for control. Rose shares that your picky eater may indeed have issues with taste and texture but says ultimately it boils down to their emotions:
“But even in these instances, the refusal to try that food is an expression of fear or other feelings. Control and being able to control their own food environment is the primary problem.”
It all makes sense. A few months ago I realized I had threenager who decided she only wanted to wear denim or black leggings every day and began to battle with me over everything from fastening her car seat to having the sole power to press “Play” for her DVR’d episodes of Octonauts. When there’s a strong-willed preschooler making power moves in your household, you learn to choose your battles. A picky eater may not be enough to make you change the menu, but here are a few things to look out for that just might trigger your picky eater to make a mess out of mealtime: