• Wed, Nov 21 2012

You Don’t Have To Feel Guilty Because Your Kid Is A Picky Eater — Even At Thanksgiving

picky eaterSo mashed potatoes and gravy aren’t your child’s favorite foods? I’m not surprised. Who takes the time to make homemade gravy for a normal dinner? Not this mom! Let’s not even get started on green bean casserole. My daughter prefers her green beans sauteed in some balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil.

Let’s face it, Thanksgiving meals might feel like homey, familiar comfort food for the adults, but it’s a table full of oddly rich mush for plenty of kids. These traditional meals just aren’t how lots of modern mothers cook. And if you have a picky eater like I do, that can cause a little bit of drama once these big family get togethers roll around.

I cannot count the number of times that an aunt or sister-in-law has become disappointed when my daughter refused to try her “Famous Five-Cup Salad” or “Great-Grandmother’s Baked Beans.” My daughter turns up her nose and grimaces at the food, then they look at me, fully expecting me to force feed my daughter and make her pretend to enjoy every bite. It makes my meal stressful and full of whispered bickering with my daughter.

But what would happen if I just decided not to make my kid scarf down a bunch of food she doesn’t like? Ohhhhh, the mom guilt. I’ve tried it once or twice. I get glares from other parents who are going through the same fight with their kids but haven’t thrown in the towel just yet. Inevitably, their little one says, “Why doesn’t Brenna have to eat it?” Then, I feel guilty for making another parent’s meal worse. Other extended family glare at me, wondering why I can’t order my child to eat something. It becomes an unspoken indication of my lax disciplinary skills.

Well you know what, guys? This year, I don’t want to feel guilty. And I don’t want to spend my Thanksgiving arguing with my daughter under my breath. I want to let her eat macaroni and cheese and homemade rolls and call it a day. Maybe I’ll make her try one bite of the foods I put on her plate. If she doesn’t like them, she doesn’t have to eat them.

Then, I want to look around the table and feel completely justified in not turning our meal into a battle of stubbornness between my four-year-old and me. I want to face the glares head on and explain that my child is a picky eater. She’s not big on new things. And this day is supposed to be a holiday for everyone. I’ll fight with her over trying new foods another time.

Every kid has their food hang-ups. You did when you were little. I refused to eat melted cheese. That included on top of my pizza. It included mac and cheese. I didn’t like any melted cheese, ever. I hated the texture. My poor mother wasted more time trying to make me try things with melted cheese in them than I care to imagine.

What if we just let our kids have those hang-ups? What if I just accept that my daughter hates potatoes of every shape and kind. Sure, it’s an odd thing to dislike so strongly. But it’s the truth. She doesn’t like them. So maybe I just won’t make her eat any this Thanksgiving. If someone wants to make me feel guilty about it, they can try. But I’d like to see how stubborn an adult would react if you loaded up their plate for them and then demanded they eat every bite, whether they like it or not. I think that would make anyone a bit cranky.

(Photo: Gladskikh Tatiana/Shutterstock)

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  • C.J.

    I just don’t think a holiday meal is a good time to force a child to try a bunch of new foods. Maybe one or two new foods but not all of them. Really, if small children eat anything at holiday meals we should be happy. We do the one bite rule at home. They have to try new foods and foods they haven’t liked yet, if they don’t like it they don’t have to eat it (they do have to take a real bite). I tell them their taste buds change as they grow so they need to keep trying things they don’t like every couple months. It seems to work, eventually they start liking most things since they had time to get used to new tastes and textures without it being forced. Now they are not that picky and they get excited when they like new things. We never forced them at holiday meals as long as they ate something. People shouldn’t expect kids are going to like all kinds of things they are not used to eating at a holiday meal. That would be way to overwhelming for a child to handle. Especially since they are likely already overwhelmed by all the excitement and probably tired. You shouldn’t feel guilty, it’s unreasonable for people to give you a hard time about how many things your child has on her plate. All that matters is that she eats something, even if there are only one or two things she likes. Kids like new foods at their own pace, putting them on the spot and trying to force it at a gathering will likely make them not want to try things even more.

    • LiteBrite

      I have a very picky eater too (well two if you count DH), and I use that same rule (you have to taste it). It works well for the boy but not so well for DH. :)

      I agree with everything you said. Holidays aren’t the best days to expect your child to try new things, especially Thanksgiving when many foods are only eaten once a year. Honestly, I’ll be pleasantly surprised if he eats at all.

    • C.J.

      They do go at their own pace don’t they!! My older one started eating new things easily by four. My little one only started to like new things since she turned seven. I do think we adults stress too much about this. I think it is important to encourage them to try new things but not worth stressing that much over when they don’t like it. With encouragement they will all get their in their own time. My dad was forced to eat things he didn’t like until he got married at 18, he is the pickiest person I know. My mom never even had to try new things if she didn’t want to and she isn’t much better. I figured I would try the middle ground and hope for the best!

  • Andrea

    I hear ya. My kids are the world’s pickiest eaters. Thankfully though, I come from a LONG line of picky eaters, so no one in my family is surprised when my kids won’t even try something. Every family members understands because they have all been there!

  • LindsayCross

    You guys are making me feel so much better about tomorrow!!

  • CW

    “Why doesn’t Brenna have to eat it?” “Because Brenna’s mom is a WUSS and doesn’t care if Brenna is rude to those who have spent a lot of time and energy preparing a meal for her.” No, I wouldn’t actually say it, but I sure would be thinking it.

    • LindsayCross

      There’s the guilt and crappiness I was referring to!

    • lea

      Seriously? If I prepared a meal and a guest or family member tried it and didn’t like it, there is no way I would think they were rude for not eating it. I’d probably even offer to fix them something else. Why should anyone (let alone a child) have to eat something they don’t like?

    • Tinyfaeri

      Ditto this. If I’ve made a mid-twenty-something friend a separate meal than what I was cooking for the other friends we were having over (she didn’t do so well with new things either so she ate pasta), surely a 4 year old’s tastes can be accomodated at a family meal. Family should be even more forgiving than friends, not less.

    • CW

      When you refuse to eat something that someone has spent a lot of time and effort preparing, you are doing the equivalent of saying “F.U.” to the cook. Nobody is saying that you need to eat a huge portion of a food that you don’t care for, but you can certainly manage to eat a few bites for politeness’ sake. The hostess is not a short-order cook paid to make 20 different meals for 20 guests.

    • Tinyfaeri

      Really? Because you made it, everyone has to eat it and pretend they like it even if they don’t? That’s the holiday spirit! lol

    • CW

      It’s called basic manners- something that apparently this generation of parents has forgotten to teach their children…

    • Tinyfaeri

      Yes, it’s the height of politeness to insist that guests eat every single thing you cook and say “mmmmmm” …and pout and huff and glare at them or their parents if they don’t. Especially if the guest is 4.
      Do I think kids should try foods? Sure, and often because you never know when tastebuds will change. But I certainly don’t think the cook has the right to cause a scene if someone doesn’t eat her green bean casserole. Manners go both ways.

    • jessica

      Actually I think it is called narcissism- on your part.

    • Rachel

      I would just say something like, “Brenna probably already tried it before and either didn’t like it or isn’t in the mood to eat it right now. If you try it and don’t like it, we will get you something else.”

      If our baby doesn’t like certain things (he’s only 10 months old now, but this will apply when he’s older as well), he doesn’t have to eat them, at least prepared in that style. Seasoning/cooking style can make certain foods, particularly veggies, taste completely different so it’s not really reasonable to allow a child to refuse green bean casserole of any variety before they’ve tried several. But if the child does give certain foods fair chances and honestly just hates its taste/texture no matter what, why force it? Skip the green beans and go for broccoli. There are so many amazing ways to prepare veggies that it’s not really possible for a child to hate all vegetables, regardless of how it’s served.

      That, and Thanksgiving dinners generally have so many dishes that anything more than 1-2 bites of each one is too large a portion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/helen.donovan.31 Helen Donovan

    It appears that your are way over-thinking this. I don’t know any people (now that a particular aunt has passed on) who gives a damn what items what kids are eating as long as the item are from the table & not the cat box. I expect the reason people look at you is because, when offered a specially made recipe, your child “turns up her nose and grimaces at the food” instead of just saying “no thank you.” There is no reason”picky eater” has to equal “snotty, rude child.” As a picky eater from day one I understand Branna’s dislike of potatoes – mashed especially (hard being a child in an Irish family with that odd dislike However, as soon as I could voice an opinion about food, my mother began teaching me how to POLITELY refuse something. Put half the energy you are investing in guilt and planned speeches and teach her some manners. Everyone, faimily, you and the kid, will be happier in the long run.

    daughter turns up her nose and grimaces at the food,

    Read more: http://www.mommyish.com/2012/11/21/childrearing/picky-eater-thanksgiving/#ixzz2D7tUC07E

    daughter turns up her nose and grimaces at the food,

    Read more: http://www.mommyish.com/2012/11/21/childrearing/picky-eater-thanksgiving/#ixzz2D7tUC07E

    daughter turns up her nose and grimaces at the food,

    Read more: http://www.mommyish.com/2012/11/21/childrearing/picky-eater-thanksgiving/#ixzz2D7tUC07E

    daughter turns up her nose and grimaces at the food,

    Read more: http://www.mommyish.com/2012/11/21/childrearing/picky-eater-thanksgiving/#ixzz2D7tUC07E

    • jessica

      Um… the kid you’re talking about is 4 years old. You have to patient with little kids because they are still learning. I think the author made it pretty clear that she’s on it.

  • Amy

    She turns her nose up and grimaces? Have you not taught your daughter to politely refuse food? THAT’S what you should feel guilty about in the parenting stakes- that you haven’t taught your daughter enough manners to simply say “No, thank you, I don’t like (insert food)”. I don’t think children should be forced to eat food they don’t like, but that doesn’t give them carte blanche to be rude to someone who has spent time and effort cooking.

  • Xie

    This one is straight out of the mouth of someone who used to be queen of the picky eaters–I hated most vegetables, the spicy food my parents adored, seafood, garlic food, anything with a strong taste to it at all–and spent the majority of her childhood being berated by her father for not being willing to try “just one bite”. Don’t force your child to eat anything they don’t want to. If you really want to put on a show for the family, tell her words to the effect of “Mommy would be very happy/proud if you tried that. If you like it, you can have more. If not, you don’t have to eat it.” This makes your daughter feel like she is making the decision and not being corralled into it, and that gives her that ever-important sense of self assertion that children desire. She may be refusing foods simply because you’re trying to force them on her, and if you provide her an :”out” she may find that she enjoys them. Never ever force your child into eating something they don’t want or more than they want–it breeds nothing but resentment towards you and the food. Try to come across as a friend who wants her to try something new and neat; she’ll be glad for the support and feel less inclined to make sudden or unwarranted decisions. Picky eaters can be frustrating, especially at family time, but it is certainly not your job to force your child into something that she doesn’t want to do. Look those other parents in the eye and say “Well, it seems as though she just doesn’t like it.” and end it there.

  • Meg

    I guess I don’t see why a compromise is impossible, here. Yeah, I think it’s rude to not even try items; why can’t a 4 yr old have the world’s tiniest helpings of new items, and a mountain of whatever dish makes them happy? It IS polite to try new foods, and if you don’t like it? I was taught (at 4) to say, “I don’t think that’s my taste but thank you”. It really isn’t cruel to request a child to toss back a tiny mouthful of beans to get to their favourite dish…Nor is it fair to force-feed them. So….yeah, tiny helpings and basic manners sound like a solution?