Parenthood is a blessing (I can picture most parents making a squinty face as if to ask, “Is it though?”). It definitely is. On the one hand, you get to experience watching this tiny version of yourself grow and develop to become their own little person. They develop their own tastes and personalities and they also ensure our perpetual immortality through the continuation of our DNA. As I look down at my oldest son, who kindly spilled some mio-infused water on my carpet just now, I realize that they’re also little demons that are sent to punish me for all wrongs I’ve committed, known or otherwise. But once again, I digress…
But the purpose of today’s post is actual children’ inability to eat what’s in front of them. As I’m sure any parent knows, most kids have a hard time blindly accepting the food in front of them. A lot of different factors will play into why they won’t eat what’s provided, but it causes strife and difficulty for the parents who are trying to keep their kids nourished. Allow me to provide an example.
Yesterday was my oldest son Nathan’s fifth birthday. We had planned a fun supper idea involving stuffed crust pizza (his favourite) and we had purchased a rather large, colourful slab of white cake in which to enjoy afterwards. He had a number of gifts coming his way from my wife and I as well as a number of relatives.
Loads of fun, right? Not so much. It seems that while I was out at work, my son was offered a small portion of slow-cooker chicken and mashed potatoes for lunch. He took one look and refused to eat it. Although this isn’t totally unusual for Nathan, it’s still a source of great frustration for my wife and I, especially since he hadn’t even tried it before dismissing it.
My wife and I have a simple rule: you WILL try your food. I totally get that he may have tastes of his own, but we refuse to unnecessarily waste food in this house, so while we can promise that we won’t necessarily make that meal again if he doesn’t like it, we still insist that he eat some on the first occasion that it’s made. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Not to Nathan.
Once he refused to eat his lunch, the usual penance was invoked: no other food would be provided until he ate what was in front of him. Although that might seem cruel a punishment for a five-year old, it ensures that our son will grow up learning the value of what’s provided, rather than the “flavour of the day” attitude that seems to exist in today’s society.
Here’s the hiccup in our plan: that penance means he wouldn’t get his stuffed-crust pizza OR any of his birthday cake… ON HIS BIRTHDAY! The threat of that didn’t seem to sway him at all, despite being repeated. The stubborn little mini-me was sticking to his guns and wouldn’t fold. I should point out that this was definitely a punishment to me as well. So, why the hell are kids like this?
The reality is that your child isn’t refusing or being picky because he’s trying to be an asshole. At least not in most cases. But there are a number of reasons why your child may be as picky as he/she is in relation to their food. For the most part, the texture and/or colour of certain foods may throw them off. We need to remember that young children view the world in a significantly different way than Mommy and Daddy do, and some things may look “yucky” despite being absolutely delicious (my slow-cooker chicken was delightful, by the way).
Jill Castle, a registered dietitian and childhood nutritionist, explains that between the ages of two to about six, children become picky eaters because their growth begins to slow for a period of time and so will their appetite. Castle goes on to explain that “food neophobia”, or fear of new food, can cause young children to be wary of trying new foods and vegetables, often based on texture, colour or appearance. In fact, forcing or demanding that your child eat may only reinforce this behaviour as young kids are usually not game to being coerced into ANYTHING (and my son is no exception).
Some children are also “Jag” eaters, where they eat a handful of typical and repetitive favourites without leaving room for anything new. Tuna and peanut butter (not together) are Nathan’s go to foods. Although they may not be eating a variety of foods we’d like to see them eating, they’re eating enough based on their hunger and requirements. They may also be distracted (I’m VERY guilty of this) where you allow your child the use of an electronic device or toys at the dinner table. This takes away from their focus on the food in front of them and may have a negative impact.
Jill Castle wrote and excellent article on this with WAY more information than I shared here. You can read it at https://jillcastle.com/preschooler-nutrition/12-reasons-child-wont-eat/
Realistically, there’s no easy answer as every child is different. All one can do is show the proper example and offer lots of food varieties and eventually your kid SHOULD get on board.
So, what happened with Nathan’s birthday, you ask? Of course the little booger got his damn pizza and cake! What am I, heartless???
My wife and I agreed that Nathan’s birthday only comes once a year, and it was more important that he celebrate that, and the rest could come tomorrow. And I think this was a good call, as everyone had a great time with Nathan and shared his joy as he enjoyed his cake and played with the toys he got for his birthday.
Stick to a schedule, keep offering lots of options and eventually, your kid will outgrow the pickiness that drives all parents nuts! ☯