Picky Eating, when doing the “right” thing isn’t enough!
Working with 100 families a year, as a Picky Eating Consultant, gives me an enormous insight into what is happening day in day out, in relation to picky eating.
What I have discovered is that often parents are getting many of the basics “right” but are falling at some of the hurdles that recovery from fussy eating throws in our way.
1. Looking for THE solution. Picky eating is a spectrum. There are children who prefer not to eat vegetables, ones who find pizza terrifying and others who will gag at the smell of oranges. It is not realistic to think that all of these can be supported using exactly the same formula.
Every child is different, as are their ages, stages, their reasons for finding food a battle and the environment in which they live.
Although there are definitely strategies that are supportive for a wide range of children, there is not one template we can use for all.
2. Magic bullet. Very similarly, there is no magic fix. Resolving picky eating is normally a long-term project. Knowing many of the diverse systems used by experts around the world to help families support their children with fussy eating, I also know that all of them require time, energy and commitment.
3. One of the most common reasons parents struggle to get results, is due to consistency.
This is not a criticism, in fact, it is the opposite. Virtually no one realises just how often we must repeat actions as a parent in order to get results. This is why I commonly relate picky eating back to reading.
We spend years reading to our child without hearing a word back, and yet carrots are given months or even weeks before they are declared a fail.
Knowing that familiarity is bred over months and months of effort, can seem depressing, but if we do think in reading terms, it makes sense.
Our child does have to see foods regularly and consistently to build the basic comfort level necessary to be able to manage steps forwards.
The good news is though, that once they get used to doing this things can speed up dramatically.
4. Doing the right thing, and not realising progress is being made. I speak to parents every week who are getting so many things “right” but give up because they feel that their child is not responding in the way they expect. Or their child does not seem to make any progress. Or they feel that what they are doing is not working.
So often what they are doing is working really, really well, they are just not noticing the signs of progress. If their child doesn’t eat something new, then everything is a bust.
But eating does not work that way. There are many steps along the path to eating and only looking at the final step, which is putting it into the mouth, chewing and swallowing prevents many parents from continuing with things that really are working.
It is like having a baby and being disappointed that they are crawling, because we want them to walk. We all know that crawling is a step on the way to walking and that it is great progress. With eating we get very focused on the eating part and can fail to see all the mini steps along the way.
For example, having a child that is disgusted by a specific food but then accepting it onto their plate, could be a massive step forwards. No, they are not eating it, but it is part of the progression towards eating and for them could be a big breakthrough.
5. Believing you can make a difference. I know that fussy eating is super frustrating and that the more we try things that fail, the more difficult it is to believe we can help our child. In fact, often as time goes on, we start to think that our child is beyond help.
Almost every family I have worked with has called their child stubborn around food. This is perfectly normal. Having very strong emotions around food is logical if food is a challenge. Saying no is much safer than saying yes, and the more we say no the more we get used to saying no.
I also know that parents are almost always the ones best placed to work with their child and support them to add new foods to the diet.
Part of being able to do this effectively is to know, believe and then behave as though you are able to make positive changes. Which you can!
6. Support and strategies. Most parents ask friends, family, various community services and often the GP for help. What they receive is a hodge podge of advice – often conflicting – and not necessarily helpful for their situation and the age and stage of their child.
Book III, which is what I have been dreaming of writing for years, will be a guide that brings all the information together in one resource and is a place to get the answers you need.
Until that is published finding strategies that support your child where they are now is critical. I am always happy to give parents advice around this.
What can you do?
Understand that there is no magic fix, but there are strategies that are almost universally supportive:
i) Consistently serving the foods we want our child to learn to eat
ii) Always making interactions around food positive
iii) Setting out to make a difference
iv) Sharing family meals
v) Having our child involved on many levels
If you would like to know more about how you can effectively work with your child and create positive change you can:
– Join our FB group Creating Confident Eaters: https://www.facebook.com/groups/222522335605100/
– Organise a complimentary chat with Judith: https://calendly.com/judith-23/bookatimewithjudith?month=2020-06
– Get a copy of Creating Confident Eaters shipped to your door: https://theconfidenteater.com/buy-book-the-confident-eater/
Judith is mum to two boys, a tween and a teen and is the author of Creating Confident Eaters. My dream is that every child is able to approach food from a place of safety and joy, not fear.
I delight in showing parents how to get picky eaters eating in simple, gentle, practical steps that anyone can master. I graduated from Cambridge University and have qualifications in nutrition, parent education and am a trained telephone support worker for ParentHelpline. I am currently working towards a Masters degree in Psychology. I would love to understand more of the “why” behind fussy eating and to eventually spearhead research in this area.
Learn more about Judith here: https://theconfidenteater.com/about/