Trust is a key factor in fixing picky eating – what to look for
Trust, on all levels, is critically important when it comes to picky eating and helping our child to eat more widely.
It’s a question I always ask parents of fussy eaters. Does your child trust you when it comes to food?
Sometimes, the answer is not clear-cut. So, let us dive a little deeper into what this means in practical terms.
Trust in picky eating
Trust comes in many different forms. Let us look at some of the key areas:
Trust in what is being served
Is your child comfortable with the food on their plate? Or do they pick at it and lift it up and examine it? If they do these things, it could be a sign that they are not 100% sure that they believe what you say the food is, is what it actually is.
This is one of the main reasons I am very anti-hiding. I know that it seems like a simple solution and an easy way to get more nutrients into our child, but I feel it is a short-term, parent focused exercise.
Yes, we may be able to grate a bit of carrot into a meatball, but our child is:
i) Not learning to eat that carrot
ii) Is not going to voluntarily add a carrot if given independence
iii) Probably not going to have a good reaction if they spot it?
I have spoken to dozens of parents who have been caught out adding something to a favourite muffin or smoothie or meatball. Their child has spotted the unwelcome ingredient and now refuses to eat that food.
I always think of hairs when I’m explaining this to parents. How would you feel if you were eating a chocolate muffin and came across a hair in it?
Would it gross you out enough to stop you eating them, at least for a while?
This often happens when a picky eater finds that bit of grated vegetable “hidden”.
What we are working towards is serving a food, explaining exactly what it is, and having our child acknowledge that they can trust that that is the case.
If trust has been lost, it can take a bit of time to build it back.
Trust in themselves
Children who do not find food easy to eat, often lose the confidence that they can comfortably eat something new.
If we think about something like swimming. It can take a long time before we believe that we can put our face in the water and be OK, or that we are able to swim across a section where our feet don’t touch the ground.
Eating is the same.
Learning to trust that something new may be OK – even great – takes time and patience. It can be a slow process of building trust that a child can take a new step without it being awful.
This is why I always advocate for making it super easy for our child to take a tiny step in a new direction. Every time they do this, they begin to have more confidence that they can do something different, eat a slightly new version of a food.
Us trusting them
As parents it is important that we are in charge and do set boundaries for our children in many areas. It is also important that we trust them and give them the opportunity to learn to trust themselves.
1. We trust that they can eat new foods. We are their number one cheerleader and if we do not believe they can eat something new, how can they?
2. We gradually gift them the tools they need to trust themselves in the food sphere. Often, as parents we put ourselves right in the middle of the food equation. This takes away our child’s ability to learn and to grow. Let us look at some examples:
i) It is fabulous to teach our child to learn how much food is the right quantity for their own body and energy needs. If we always portion size foods, we are determining how much they should eat, rather than allowing them to gauge this for themselves.
ii) Serving new foods shows we know our child is capable of eating different things. If we always serve the same foods (I know, I know, those are the ones they will eat) then we are not trusting that they can eat something new.
Here I am suggesting having new foods available rather than just giving them a new food and taking away a favourite.
iii) Trusting our child to make good food choices takes time and modelling and mistakes. But if we do not go through the process it is far more difficult for them to be able to do this for themselves.
For example, if we continually micro-manage what they eat, or direct them to eat this before that, we are putting ourselves in the middle of their relationship with food.
Stepping back and allowing our child to make decisions around food, within boundaries, is a really positive way to gift them great tools for long term positive eating.
Trust that it will all work out in the end!
So much about resolving picky eating revolves around having goals to work towards, but an appreciation that it may take time.
It is also rarely linear. Our child may suddenly add two or three foods and enthusiastically eat something new in a restaurant. We feel this is it, we have cracked the fussy eating.
Then they stop eating all the new foods and refuse to even eat a favourite at dinner. This is common behaviour and part of the learning curve for our child. They have a burst of confidence, then, suddenly feel overwhelmed or overtired and it all falls apart.
But, that falling apart is a set-back rather than a disaster. If things have worked, why have they worked? How can we replicate that and support our child to take more new steps?
If they do go a little backwards, then appreciating that it is part of the learning and not stopping is critical. It is way easier to sit back and do nothing, rather than consistently looking for ways forward. But finding ways to support our child to take steps is where we need to be.
If I can leave you with a summary:
Trust is a key part of success in working with a picky eater. Them trusting you, you trusting them, them trusting themselves, and the belief that the effort you put in will be worthwhile (which it is!).
Have you thought about trust when it comes to your child and picky eating?
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 qualifying as a psychologist. 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/