I was never going to be one of those parents with a “picky eater.” I hate picky eaters, especially adult picky eaters—the type who ask for substitutions at restaurants for no legitimate reason whatsoever. As someone who grew up eating fresh octopus and whole lambs roasted in my backyard, I admire adventurous eaters, and I intended to raise them.
My first kid came along and proved my assumption that picky eaters were coddled by well meaning parents. I offered her everything we ate, and she was mostly a willing participant. I mean, the child would eat! Clearly, I was to be congratulated.
So when my youngest started getting fussy about certain foods around 18 months, I didn’t fret. I knew this was developmentally appropriate:
“The technical term for this behavior, which peaks between the ages of 2 and 6, is food neophobia, and it may actually be a relic of an evolutionary survival tactic: Animals old enough to forage for food alone but too inexperienced to know what’s safe are less likely to accidentally poison themselves if they are cautious about trying new foods” (Slate).
We went from loving foods like shrimp to despising them. Shrimp was vile, insufferable, and grotesque. Simply, Ugh.
So I waited her out. I waited and waited and waited some more. I continued to offer her all the same foods the rest of the family was eating. I prepared those foods under suspicion in a variety of ways. Carrot sticks, shredded carrot, diced carrots in broth, baked carrots with honey. But the answer was always the same. “No ma’am, I ain’t puttin’ that in my mouth.”
Eventually, I started to worry. Was I being impatient, or was I…raising a Picky Eater?
Our doctor said she’d grow out of it. Be patient. But when does patience give way to allowing poor eating habits to form? Plus, there was this other thing.
Not only was she refusing food. Even when she did have the very best intentions, she couldn’t get the food down. Case in point: the homemade cake bribe:
We spend all afternoon making a cake from scratch, frosting and decorating it. I promise her she can have a piece if she’ll eat her grilled chicken. She promises she will. She tells me she likes chicken!
She puts the first bite in her mouth, begins to chew, starts to swallow, and gags. She pauses, the table watching, and tries again. Again, she gags. And that’s when I abort mission, fearful of projectile vomit at the dining room table.
The gagging concerned our doctor. She recommended a series of X-rays to see whether little one’s swallowing properly. Whether there’s something lodged in her esophagus that’s inhibiting her eating or something. But my gut says that’s extreme, so we go with the second option: food therapy.
Oh, you’ve never heard of that? Yeah, me neither. It’s a thing. For reals.
So for the last couple of months, my daughter has had weekly sessions with a speech-language pathologist whose been trying to get to the bottom of her picky eating.
Is it a texture issue? A color issue? A temperature issue?
Is she chewing with her front teeth instead of her back teeth?
Does she have trouble moving the food around in her mouth, sucking through a straw, breathing while eating…?
The final diagnosis? PICKY EATER.
There’s not a thing wrong, nothing physically at least. And maybe that’s the point. She’s growing normally; there’s no nutritional concern. Just a lot of tears and fighting at the dinner table, and some not-full tummies at bedtime (mine included).
Am I asking too much of my three-year-old in expecting her to eat what our family eats without a big scene at the table? Will she ever be able to eat more than white rice at Japanese restaurants and naan at Indian restaurants and cheese quesadillas at Mexican restaurants?
Is there hope for us yet?