OHBaby Magazine interview with The Confident Eater – Autumn Edition
I was delighted to be interviewed for a four-page spread in the autumn edition of OHBaby magazine and would love to share some edited highlights here.
I was asked why I do what I do:
“My goal is to ensure that all children can approach food from a place of safety and joy, not fear. Knowing how many families are struggling around food I appreciate that this is an enormous task.
However, I believe as a society we’ve minimised the scope and the severity of the picky eating problem.”
I know from talking to parents how widespread the challenges around eating are. I also appreciate how inappropriately, in general, we, as a society, respond to these problems.
As a society we do not take picky eating seriously. The concerns of parents are often discounted, and they are made to feel that they are failing but paradoxically also panicking unnecessarily.
However, some children are destined to be more uncomfortable around food than others regardless of parenting. I frequently work with families with two children who eat competently and one who really struggles.
We all have different skills and challenges and for some children food is difficult. Add to that, additional challenges like ASD, sensory sensitivities or allergies, for example, and those eating issues are often magnified.
OHBaby said: “Parents are often told to just relax, and their child will grow out of picky eating. They will eat if they are hungry etc. What’s your response to that?
“This a question with multiple layers so I unpicked it in my answers!
Relax: Being relaxed around food is great advice. The more relaxed we are, the more likely we are to eat. Any sort of pressuring or battling over food can have the opposite effect to the one we’re looking for.
Grow out of it?: But, if we do have a child that is really challenged around food, why would they just magically snap out of it in the short to medium term? If food is difficult, why wouldn’t you say no to anything challenging? It’s perfectly logical.
Why eat broccoli when crackers have proven to be nice and safe? “No” becomes the default position and almost automatic as it ensures safety. Better than to risk a yes.
The longer a child eats in a certain way, the more that becomes a pattern and as we can all attest habits around food are incredibly powerful.
More so, studies have shown that avoiding certain tastes or textures can make us more sensitive to them over time. This compounds the challenge for parents and means children can become more, not less resistant to new foods.
In fact, many extremely selective eaters drop rather than add foods over time. They become bored or have a bad experience with one of their limited choices and so stop eating it.
Let them get hungry: being hungry enough coming into meals is important. Constant snacking is the enemy of eating well. But, giving a choice of eat this or go hungry, feeds into one of the myths around picky eaters.
Firstly, for those with a real discomfort around food, being hungry is infinitely preferable to eating something that to them is akin to eating spiders for us. Sadly, going hungry is a far more palatable option.
Secondly, tactics that force children to do something, seem counterintuitive. Eating is about joy and pleasure. Putting a child in the position where they are choosing extreme discomfort around food versus hunger doesn’t create love for food and therefore a long-term positive relationship with eating.
This does not mean, of course, that we only feed them their favourite foods. In fact, the opposite. Exposing children to a variety of foods and building a basic comfort level with them regardless as to what gets eaten is critical”.
OHBaby asked: “Why do children accept something one day and not the next?”
The simple answer is comfort. If food is a bit of a challenge, then conditions are more likely to have to be perfect for eating to be okay. One day the nugget looks great, the next it seems a bit too brown and suddenly the confidence that it will be okay is gone.
If our child is tired, over stimulated, cranky, or feeling slightly under par for any reason then the default position is executed. If food is difficult it’s easier to say no, so they do.
Power may also become a part of this but that’s a whole new conversation!!
OHBaby asked: “What are some of the common questions you get from parents of picky eaters?”
“The two I hear the most are “how do I get my child to try new food?” and “how do I get my child to eat more/or any fruit and vegetables?”
These are in some ways the same question.
Learning to eat a new food is the same whether it’s an apple or a piece of cake. Foods like toast and crackers are more commonly accepted because they are predictable and tick boxes in terms of texture and taste. A piece of broccoli on the other hand can be more of a challenge.
Despite not having the same street cred as a cracker though, fruit and vegetables can absolutely become part of a child’s diet. There is good and bad news on this front.
Eating is physiologically very complex. It’s also social, emotional and culturally driven. When something goes wrong, fixing it requires addressing challenges on multiple levels. There is no magic formula to instantly change a picky into a competent eater.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that there are a series of steps that truly will make a difference with time, energy, and focus.
Whether you have a child who is two or twelve, who survives on peanut butter on crackers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner or who prefers to avoid anything green there is proven methodology for making a difference.
My book Winner Winner I Eat Dinner works through seven, simple, steps to success. Each chapter is dedicated to one step.
Discover strategies that fit into family routines to gently put the fun back into food for everyone.
Every action recommended has been tested on Kiwi families with a selective eater and many have been game-changers for both parents and children.
Part of the challenge with having a picky eater is how to start. What can we do when we’ve tried everything, and nothing works? What can we do when our child is too stubborn or anxious around food to accept something new?
Winner Winner shows you how to start. How to go back to the beginning and support your child to relearn in the same way babies do – but via age-appropriate actions. It’s also perfect for navigating the toddler fussies and having fun doing it!”
OHbaby asked: “What can we do to help our picky eater?”
“There is no manual for parents and food and feeding is one of the areas where there is paradoxically way too little and way too much information available.
We are bombarded with messages about what we ‘should’ feed our children but there is little available help when this ‘loving, organic process’ stops working (or never gets going in the first place). A big part of the issue is that we are repeatedly told to do the impossible.
Not possible is going from Step 1, on the table to Step 7, eating. Most of us expect to serve a food and have our child eat it.
If that happens, it’s a win. If not, it’s a fail. But there are 5 other steps in between that we are skipping. Obviously, this leads to ongoing fails.
Every time this happens, we feel a little more demoralized, and become convinced that we are not able to resolve this problem for our child. But parents are usually the ones best placed to help a child, no one is more invested, spends more time or knows a child better than a parent”.
The interview continued with more questions around supporting a child that struggles to eat.
I know that many parents ask the same things as they are facing similar challenges.
Although there is no one-size-fits-all strategy, there are many ways that we can make a difference and often this is better done earlier than later!
If you feel you need additional help please feel free to sign up for a complimentary first appointment: https://theconfidenteater.com/contact/
Judith is an AOTA accredited picky eating advisor and internationally certified nutritional therapist. She works with 100+ families every year resolving fussy eating and returning pleasure and joy to the meal table.
She is also mum to two boys and the author of Creating Confident Eaters and Winner Winner I Eat Dinner. Her dream is that every child is able to approach food from a place of safety and joy, not fear.
Learn more about Judith here: https://theconfidenteater.com/about/