When I was a child, my younger sister was a very picky eater. She lamented on textures of meats and the uncomfortable consistencies of food in her mouth as she had to chew and chew and chew.
I still have vivid memories of leaving the lunch table at daycare while my sister had to sit alone, being forced to clean her full plate, tears puddling alongside the chicken now cold. I can still feel the anxiety for her, my sweet sister.
Today, she eats many meats and has a wonderful, diverse palate because, into adulthood, she finally got to decide for herself which foods she wanted to try and, therefore, foods she actually enjoyed. She also has an incredible empathy for her own daughters as they discover new foods as a family.
Having a picky eater in the home is difficult. A lot of work and love go into providing meals for our families, so it’s disheartening when our children wince as they swallow and follow up with a hard thumbs down above the plate, as my older son has done many times before. As least my toddler’s plate is always clean.
There’s patience in this, but we must acknowledge our children’s appetites as they are. What they disdain today they might come to enjoy next week — so long as we are not sighing in frustration and waiting at the kitchen table for them to do so. Just like in a Montessori classroom, it’s important that the adult prepares and provides the opportunities to try something new, but leaves the child to begin their own exploration from there.
If we force our children to clean their plates or eat something they don’t enjoy, as my daycare provider did so many years ago, we put ourselves in control and do not allow the child to take ownership of their own choices or appetite. Not only might this kind of authority enable picky eating even further, it deprives the child of truly discovering the joy and nourishment food provides. They might even come to ignore a growling stomach, for fear they have to put food in their mouth they don’t like.
Compassion. Consider these sensitivities as you prepare meals for your family. Even though we as adults focus a lot on how food tastes, children worry often how a food might feel inside their mouth, disregarding the flavor entirely and deciding immediately not to like it. What sort of healthy foods can you welcome into your kitchen that will be a positive tactile experience for your child?
Positivity. When planning meals with your family, speak positively about food and cooking. Talk less about foods that are “bad” for you and more about foods that fuel your body and make you feel good.
Inclusion. Include your child in the grocery shopping experience, explaining to them why you choose the foods that you do and the importance of eating well. Then, include them in the food preparation, too. Give them the opportunity to invest in the meals as much as you do by offering their own cooking space in the kitchen, their own cutting board or apron.
Grace. Then, if they still give a big thumbs down over their plate, give grace that your child was brave enough to try something new. Food exploration is an intimate, independent journey that is built on appreciation and should never be compromised or forced. Support your child in their own exploration as you reconsider yours. Is there something new you’d be willing to try tonight?
About the Author
Angela Tewalt is a writer and mother to two boys. She shares parenting stories and Montessori inspiration in Guidepost Parent.
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