Before I had kids of my own, I never believed that children could be picky eaters. I presumed they would eat what they were given and it would be as simple as that. Those that didn't were obviously just spoilt brats whose every whim was catered to. That's what I thought. That is, until I was blessed with an extremely picky young boy, and I learned that I was so very wrong. Despite my continued attempts to feed this child of mine good, healthy foods, he would not budge.
All his first foods made their way from the high chair to the floor before they ever had a chance to get in his mouth. He was so defiant for a baby, there was no fun game of "Here comes the aeroplane!" with him. His mouth was sealed. If by chance the food did make it into his mouth, it would more than likely be spat out within seconds. It was a constant battle to get my son to eat anything at all, except maybe an arrowroot biscuit or some yoghurt.
I took him to the doctor, who said not to worry. If I kept offering good foods, eventually he'd eat what he was given. As per her advice, I continued to offer him healthy, child friendly foods. No matter what I tried, he was not interested. He existed on a diet of milk, fruit, and sweet potato. Can't forget all the smoothies.
Bread rolls, sandwiches, spaghetti bolognese; none of these foods would be touched by my son, to name just a few. We tried every idea offered to us on various websites and forums. I lost count of the number of groups I was a part of that focused on fussy eating children. No advice I came across worked. It wasn't until he was almost three that he even tried a chicken nugget. And when he did, I think I may have actually wept a few tears of joy. I was just so happy to see him eat something other than a dry cracker or a tub of yoghurt.
That's when I fell into the trap. I'd finally found a safe dinner food my child would eat, other than fruit and yoghurt. So I gave him nuggets again. And again. And again. Soon, he was eating chicken nuggets and home-made sweet potato chips every single night. I'd add a mixture of other vegetables to his plate, but no matter what I tried, they were always greeted with a frown.
I'd mix things up some nights and offer him what we were having instead - salad, spaghetti, sausages and vegetables. Every time is was met by disappointment and tears. Dinnertime was a disaster if I didn't serve nuggets and chips. He was defiant. Convincing my son to eat any real foods was a constant battle. Before long I felt like a lazy mother, giving my child nuggets every night was never something I planned or wanted to do. So I stopped making them so regularly, much to my son's distress. Would you believe when I did serve them up again he would no longer even eat one? I felt like such a failure.
I've lost count of the kid friendly recipes I've made only to be disappointed when not even a single bite would be taken. I truly never believed it would be this difficult to get a child to eat a healthy range of foods. The universe sure showed me! I found it funny how he'd try any treats or junk food his grandparents would offer him, though. He certainly didn't have an aversion to textures, he just was stubborn and knew what he liked.
We returned to the doctor to discuss his eating habits, and she still wasn't at all concerned. He would be starting preschool soon, there he'd see all the other children eating different foods and he'd be convinced to do the same. It would all come together eventually. In the meantime, he was a healthy weight and height, he was energetic; there was nothing to worry about.
Soon, preschool began, and I filled his lunch with a healthy bunch of snacks each day. His school had a healthy lunch policy, so there were plenty of children eating cucumber and carrot sticks, never a Tiny Teddy in sight. Week after week, I'd send those sandwiches and vegetables along with his favourite fruits and yoghurt only for them to return home in the afternoon.
"Why did you send that yuck food Mum? You know I don't like it!"
We have discussed the topic of nutrition many times and how certain foods are better for him than others, about how he needs to eat lots of foods to get all the building blocks his little body needs to grow. No matter how hard I have tried, this young man of mine will not change his ways. "I'll eat them when I'm a grown up like you!" he quips.
They say a child may need to be offered the same food up to 20 times before they will even try it. I'm here to tell you that's not necessarily the truth. My son will be five this year, and he has been offered basically every food in existence at least 20 times now and he still hasn't taken a bite of more things than I can list. Meanwhile his younger sister tries and eats almost anything she is given. They are total opposites, even though they've both been parented in the same exact fashion.
If you know someone who says their child is a picky eater, believe them. Don't presume they aren't trying hard enough, because they are probably putting more effort into mealtimes than you've ever dreamt was necessary. Not so much in the preparation of things, but in the time taken to convince their child to eat the food in front of them, and in all their hours spent worrying that their child isn't eating well enough. Unless you have a picky eater, you will likely never understand the stress caused by a child who blatantly refuses to eat. If you don't understand all this talk about a picky eating child because you've never known one, I envy you. And if you are the mother of a picky eater, I understand how you feel. You are not alone.