My son has always been a terrible eater. Even when he was a baby, if it was good for him, he would spit it out. Despite my best efforts to get him to eat a variety of good foods, my stubborn child would starve before putting certain things in his mouth.
Dinner time has always been a challenge and a tremendous source of stress for me. Trying to find something healthy and fulfilling for my son to eat seemed nearly impossible. The list of food that he would allow passed his lips has always been short: Chicken nuggets, cheese, hot dogs, pizza with no sauce, yogurt, and peanut butter are a few of the items that he would tolerate.
Rarely would my son eat the meal that I made for the family. His pickiness often required that I make something else just for him. I was often told that catering to him in that way was the root of the problem and that if he was given a choice between eating what I put on the table or starving, he would ultimately choose the food. I was also told that I should let him go to bed hungry if that's what it took.
I don't know if I was weak or just stupid. But I couldn't do it. I couldn't allow my son to go to bed hungry. And that's exactly what he would do if the food served was something that he couldn't get past his lips. He was always thin and I couldn't watch him get thinner. For me, it seemed like a lose - lose situation. If I let him go to bed without eating, I would feel guilty. If I feed him a special meal, I'd failed to instill in him the importance of good nutrition through eating a variety of healthy foods, and I'd feel guilty. It's also embarrassing when others are telling you that you are doing wrong by your kid. It is not pleasant when others look down on you as a parent.
Some say the picky eater problem is just a battle for control. And in my house, there have definitely been some heated battles. But I'm not willing to say that my son's issues were solely related to wanting to be in control. I do believe that he has had an odd sensitivity to certain tastes and textures.
I think I did some things right, though. I always tried introducing new foods and if he didn't accept it the first time, I'd try again, perhaps with a variation on how it was cooked. I would also always do my best to make sure that his daily meals came from the four major food groups. If he was eating peanut butter, it was on wheat bread. He liked apples and raw carrots, so he had them every day. And he was a big fan of cheese, yogurt and milk, so those items were on his menu daily. Sweets were offered only in moderation and usually as a treat. As my son got older, I also made him fend for himself and make his own meal if he wouldn't eat the family meal.
I know that my experience is not unique. I know other parents who have the same challenges. Folks have even tried cashing in on the problem by writing cookbooks focused exclusively on sneaking healthy foods into the meals of picky eaters.
Over the years, I have sought advice from many sources, including from nutrition articles and my son's pediatrician. Most say that introducing foods more than once may be necessary before a picky eater will try and hopefully accept it. It is also a gradual process which is not resolved overnight.
I recall being told many times that my son would eventually outgrow his pickiness. I must say, I thought that would happen much sooner. But I am happy to announce that at the age of 11, my son can now add snow crab legs, lobster, cheeseburgers, and grilled pork chops to his list. In fact, he is finally trying (and liking) most foods that I put in front of him, and he even has made suggestions of healthy foods that he would like to try. Indeed, the day he came up to me and told me he wanted to try lobster and shrimp, I thought I'd fall over. I was so stunned and excited that I found myself telling all of my friends, posting it on Facebook, and making reservations at a local seafood restaurant. Turns out he was inspired after watching a fishing program on T.V.
So, if you have a child who is a picky eater, there is hope. It just takes patience and diligence - and cable T.V.