My Support Team: My Mom
Parents play a large role in a picky eater’s journey. Even though they do not cause picky eating, parents are the most important support system a picky eater has when it is time to try new food. Parents know their child the best, so they can work with the picky eater like no one else can. My mom has played this role throughout my life. Even though I am 28 years old, she is still one of the biggest supporters in my journey overcome the fear of trying new food and become the Unpicky Eater. I honestly do not think I would be as comfortable exploring new food without her. If it were not for my mom, I would be stuck eating chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese for the rest of my life.
My Mom – The Executive Chef of le Casa Kaihoi
My mom is a mean cook. I honestly cannot remember a time my mom cooked a meal, and someone had something negative to say about it (other than me, of course, but that’s the picky eater talking). She has dozens of family recipes and cookbooks that she throws together like it’s nothing. But, she is the mother of a picky eater, which means she had a limited menu. I do not want to know how many times she made me Kraft macaroni and cheese (shapes only, because everyone can agree they are the best!) and sliced pears with the skin removed. I think that was my lunch every day in the summers because I refused anything else.
Even though she didn’t show it, I’m sure she was frustrated that I would not eat anything else. I am positive she was concerned about my health because I wouldn’t eat vegetables or most fruit. However, she would not lose her cool at the dinner table. She did not make me feel pressured to try something new every day, either because she was too tired to fight it or she did not want to cause me stress.
My Trust in My Mom Meant Stress-Free Mealtimes…for the Most Part
When a picky eater is pressured to try a new food, they go into defense mode. They start fighting, arguing, avoiding, and distrusting the person pressuring them. I cannot stress how important it is for a parent to keep their picky eater’s trust. If you don’t have their trust, you will gain no ground in the picky eating battle. By being the most important support system for your picky eater, you NEED to gain this trust.
Different Kinds of Pressure
Pressure isn’t just saying, “you can’t leave the table until you try your broccoli,” or “you will eat everything on your plate.” It can also be begging, “just PLEASE try it!” And bribing, “if you eat that bite of chicken, you can have ice cream for dessert.” Begging is just pressuring them with emotion, and that feels like pressure. Bribing with treats tells your picky eater that they are right in not wanting to try the new food. It emphasizes that the new food is bad because they should be rewarded for trying it. Does that make sense? It’s the same as if you comfort them after getting hurt. You’re trying to remove the pain of getting hurt by making them feel better. Well, with bribing, you are emphasizing the fear they feel when eating new food by giving them a treat later.
For whatever reason, my mom’s no-pressure approach grew trust on my side. I trusted that she wasn’t out to “get me” with new food or trick me into eating something I didn’t like. As a child, that is huge. As you may have noticed, kids are a bit dramatic. Many picky eaters think “if I don’t like this food, I will literally die,” and I was no exception. That anxiety and fear can transfer to the person pressuring if they aren’t careful. Thankfully, I can only think of a time or two that I felt that level of pressure from my mom. I trusted her above anyone else when it came to my eating. I know that is a major reason why chicken McNuggets aren’t the only meat I eat today.
My Mom Knows the Importance of Safety Foods
When my mom prepared dinner, there was always a safe food for me to eat. Whether it was bread, rice, bread, carrots, bread, apples, or bread, I knew I would have something to eat. Also, the reassurance of having safe food made trying new food a little less scary for me. Sure, I probably fought it every time a new food was put on my plate. But the “risk” of trying new food felt much less daunting if I had a slice of bread to eat. The bread was my safety net, which I could rely on if the new food failed me.
I knew my mom was looking out for me when she gave me this safety food. This increased my trust, leading to less stress and fear on my end as the picky eater. Over time, I learned that when she asked me to try something new, it was because she truly believed it was good for me. She wasn’t trying to win our arguments by tricking me into trying something I would hate. But rather, she was encouraging me to do something that would help me grow as a picky eater as well as a person.
She Used the Division of Responsibility…Even if She Didn’t Realize it
The Parent’s Responsibility
According to Ellen Satter, the Division of Responsibility is where the parent decides what to prepare and serve their picky eater. The parent decides what, when, and where to offer meals and snacks. That’s where the parent’s responsibility ends.
The Child’s Responsibility
The child then decides if or when they will try the new food. The parent does not force the child to try something new and how much (think, “you will not leave this table until your plate is clean.”). Instead, the child decides when and how much of the new food they will eat. Every parent knows that the best way to support their child is to raise them to be independent, strong adults. Well, that is true for their eating habits, too! As the most important support system a picky eater has, parents need to learn how to give their child the responsibility to choose to try new food.
Support for the Division of Responsibility
This should be a liberating idea for parents of picky eaters! It completely removes the pressure and responsibility off of the parent and puts it squarely on the kid’s shoulders. Now you may think, “this will never work. If it’s up to my picky toddler they will NEVER try a new food again.” But get this, this practice is recommended by:
- The American Academy of Pediatrics
- The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- Head Start
- WIC: the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children
- The USDA Food and Nutrition Service
- Expert Committee on Child Obesity
By the time I was in middle school my mom was living this practice daily. While I started this post I asked her if she knew about this practice. She said, “Nope! What’s that?” Ha!
What You Can Learn from My Mama
- Accept the fact that parents are the most important support system a picky eater has and live it daily!
- Don’t pressure your picky eater to try new food
- Keep the safe food on the table
- Use the Division of Responsibility