If Your Kid Is a Picky Eater…

15 Jan

So many parents in the school where I work stress out and worry about their children’s nutrition.  Some force-feed the kids at home, making the little ones sit at the table for hours on end, spoon-feeding them until they’ve eaten “enough”; they expect teachers to do the same at school (we obviously don’t).  Others have simply given up and sustain their “picky” children on a diet of mac n’ cheese, Lucky Charms, and dinosaur nuggets.

If you, as a parent, find yourself caught in this struggle, maybe the following story will change the way you approach your child’s eating habits…

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When I was three years old, my family moved to a small condominium complex in Mexico City.  Our next-door neighbors, a registered nurse and her anesthesiologist husband, also had two young children.  The girl, Lorena, was my age, and we quickly became close friends.

Lorena was a pale and skinny little thing who was afraid of everything (including her over-bearing mother).  She would categorically refuse to eat anything except canned tuna fish.  Her mom would sit with her at the dinner table for hours, forcing her to gulp down cream of spinach or some other healthy food.  After hours of fighting (once she even tied her down in desperation), her mom would break down and open a can of tuna.

Apart from the eating issue, Lorena suffered from a slew of “ailments”, including allergies to cats and mysterious rashes.  She took medicine constantly and was regularly covered in ointment to heal her hives.

When I turned five, my family and I moved to the countryside near San Diego.   My parents bought a beautiful hilltop  house with a swimming pool and two acres of open land.  The first summer we were there, my mom called Lorena’s mom and, after much negotiating, arranged for the little girl to come visit us for two months.

When Lorena arrived, she brought a small suitcase with her clothes, and a larger one filled with medication, ointments, and cans of tuna fish.  A letter from her mom stated: “Lorena is a very picky eater, and frankly it’s a struggle to get her to eat.  When you get tired of fighting with her, feel free to open a can of tuna since it’s the only thing she likes.”

My mom took one look at the quivering little girl, stashed the medications and tuna fish in the closet, and announced that it was lunch time.

“What’s for lunch?” my brother and I eagerly asked.

“Turkey sandwiches and carrot salad,” answered my mom.

“I don’t like turkey and I don’t eat carrots,” said Lorena.

“OK, then don’t eat,” replied my mom calmly.

“Can we eat her food?” we asked, ravenous after playing outside all morning.

“No, that’s Lorena’s food.  She’ll eat it when she’s ready,” answered my mom.

“I’m not going to eat,” replied the defiant five-year old, pushing her plate back and crossing her arms in front of her.  “I want tuna fish.”

“There’s no tuna fish,” said my mom patiently.  “There’s turkey sandwiches with carrot salad.”

My brother and I wolfed down our food, and when we were done, we grabbed Lorena’s hand and ran outside to play in the pool.  My mom put Lorena’s untouched food away and picked up the phone to arrange for swimming lessons, because five-year old Lorena didn’t know how to swim.

That evening, after chasing frogs, riding tricycles, and going down the water slide for five hours, we were called inside for dinner.

“I don’t want to eat any of that,” said Lorena upon eying the chicken, potatoes and vegetables my mom had prepared.

“Well,” answered my mom.  “This is what’s for dinner.”

Lorena sat pouting with her arms crossed while my brother and I inhaled our portions and asked for seconds.

The next morning, we woke up to scrambled eggs and refried beans.

“I don’t like eggs or beans,” grumbled Lorena.

“Well, it’s what’s for breakfast,” answered my mom, while my brother and I piled our plates high.

To make a long story short, Lorena went on a two-day hunger strike.

On the third day, my mom served Lorena her usual portion of whatever was on the menu, and Lorena ate.  And ate.  And ate.

She ate vegetables, chicken, meat, potatoes, rice, eggs, milk, fish, fruit, and everything else my mother served her from then on.

The frail weakling of a child gained 10 pounds, achieved a healthy sun-kissed glow, and learned to swim.  Her allergies never manifested themselves (even though we had two cats) and she didn’t have a single rash during her entire two-month stay.

Towards the end of the visit, my mom arranged for Lorena’s mom to spend a week with us in San Diego before flying back with her daughter.  When Lorena found out her mom would be arriving the next day, she broke into a rash and pooped in the pool.

And she refused to eat anything other than tuna fish for the rest of the stay.

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3 Responses to “If Your Kid Is a Picky Eater…”

  1. sajbat January 19, 2010 at 9:35 pm #

    Fascinating! We take a similar approach to my kids–you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit, and if you don’t like it the next meal is in 5 hours. Not that dinnertime is always peaceful, but I refuse to become a parent who makes pasta for every meal because “that’s all he’ll eat.” You also wonder what the deeper issues were between Lorena and her mother.

  2. Cynthia January 24, 2010 at 11:42 pm #

    Well said! In the end, it is usually all about control, isn’t it? (I’m still shaking my head over the bit about the mother tying her child down!)

  3. MontessoriAbuela November 26, 2010 at 10:10 pm #

    One of my girls decided she no longer like spaghetti and refused to eat it any time it was served (which wasn’t too often). She, too, would leave the table hungry. One evening, one of her sisters put the pretend spaghetti (from their kitchen) on the plate. It created quite a stir but I think it was a turning point in the “spaghetti drama”.

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