Picky Eating: From Their Perspective

“Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

Have you heard that one before?

Or you might be familiar with Jesus’ golden rule of treating others how we desire to be treated.

Let’s do a thought experiment, I want you to trade places with a toddler.

Your mind has all the thoughts, you don’t have the full vocabulary, but you know how to get the thought across that you are or are not having a good time.

Imagine that your parent puts a food in front of you that not only have you never seen before, but you’ve never smelled or touched anything like it! Let alone had it within reach!

Being an adventurous little explorer, before you attempt to swallow the food, what would you do?

Surely you might poke it, touch it, mash it, sniff it. If you are feeling particularly brave you’ll maneuver it to your lips and lick it, but you might also begin to panic because of the newness of the moment! So you signal distress and just scream because you don’t want to have to touch it to remove it from your comfort zone!

Now consider how different and distant those thoughts are from what we experience as adults. We are often so removed from what little ones are experiencing that we show them such a lack of grace that we quickly scold them, remove the food experience from them and give them the handful of foods that they’ll eat without causing a scene.

BUT, what if the scene is exactly what’s needed for children to expand their understanding of food?

In my soon to-be-released picky eating course “Turn Picky Eaters into Adventurous Eaters” I discuss 5 key points to understand what is taking place BEFORE a child actually eats the food. These are called “pre-feeding steps”. I want to take a moment and explore just two of them.

First, tolerating the food.

As an adult we say, “my house, my rules.” For our children though, their house is as far as their little arms will reach. That’s their comfort zone. When we are bringing food to their tray or plate, we are bringing food into ‘their house’.

If I showed up at your house and put food on your plate without a full understanding that’s probably going to cause a scene.

BUT, imagine I began doing so several times a day for consecutive weeks. Eventually, you’ll begin to accept it and maybe even embrace it. That doesn’t mean you’ll eat it every time or hardly take a bite. I do imagine with your manners you’d simply say, “Thanks Sarah, but that’s not for me today.” Though you didn’t eat the food I presented, you will have begun to tolerate new foods into your environment which is a HUGE win and a foundational element of shaping an adventurous eater who one day will be able to accept and try a variety of foods.

Young children obviously lack most of those manners, those come with time so their way of saying, “Thanks Sarah, but that’s not for me today” may look like a brief episode of crying, whining or even throwing…but that’s all part of them learning to accept new foods in their comfort zone. Every time you experience this, though frustrating, it is like putting money in the bank you’ll be able to benefit from in the coming years as they decide to try the food or simply eat the things around it and leave the non-preferred food.

Second, interacting with the food.

I have nearly an entire session on this point alone, and I found that so many parents have a strong aversion to permitting their children to interact with their food in a way that’s actually extremely natural and healthy.

As adults, it’s rude to ‘play’ with our food. Poke it, move it, experiment with it.

But for young children, this is the way of understanding. I encourage you to embrace this process. Purchase kid sized plastic tongs and allow them to use them. Show them how to play with the food, poke it, stack it and then use the tongs and bring the food to your mouth.

You are building your child’s food exposures (many children need over 40 neutral or positive exposures of a food before determining what they think of it). These fun and positive exposures to a new food will lead to a mature diverse eater and allow you to take yourself a little less serious by having a little fun along the way. Keep your phone handy and capture the memories. When that child is heading off to graduation you will prize those pictures and smile as your young adult child willingly accompanies you to try out that new restaurant across town.

I’ve equipped hundreds of families in how to raise up adventurous eaters. When we as parents gain an understanding of how to navigate and remake our picky eaters our world and theirs begins to change.

  1. If you have or are regularly around/feeding little ones my upcoming ‘Turn Picky Eaters into Adventurous Eaters’ course is tailored for understanding, navigating, and remaking picky eaters (sign up to join my mailing list and be notified when the course released).

  2. Or if you’d like to explore one on one virtual counseling schedule a free initial consultation.

  3. Adults, let me help you take ownership of your health and build a sustainable approach to eating, check out my course ‘Adapt and Overcome.’

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