Thursday, June 7, 2012

How Do You Cook When You Have a "Picky Eater?"

I wasn't going to go here.  But then I got into a heated debate on a Facebook group regarding the question "Do you make one meal or do you cook separately for your child(ren)?" and I felt I must say something.

The list of foods my 7 year old son won't eat is 5 times longer than the list of foods he will eat.  He is labeled a "picky eater," which frankly, is a label I truly dislike.  My son has Sensory Processing Disorder, which means he cannot process stimuli the way an "average" or neurotypical person can.  For example, he is hypersensitive to loud noises.  What might be a shout or a loud bang to you and me, might seem excruciatingly loud for him.  He cannot stand to have water in his face.  He is constantly moving because he doesn't realize he's moving at all.

Foods that seem to have a perfectly acceptable flavor to you and me are significantly too strong, too bitter or too sour to him.  We struggle especially with vegetables.  He will not eat most vegetables, nor eat a food he thinks has touched a vegetable. (Although we had a major victory the other day when he ate and swallowed an entire baby carrot!)

I have tried all the "conventional wisdom."  I have let him cook with me, garden, pick out the foods he wants to eat, threats, bribes, just putting it on his plate, instilling the "one bite" rule, hiding it.  You name it, I've tried it.  His doctor says as long as he's eating fruit (which he will all day long) and is making an attempt at vegetables, he's healthy.  So we continue to offer and hope that one day, just like with getting water in his face, he will learn to be okay with foods he currently refuses to consider trying.

In my debate, a lot of moms said that if their child didn't eat what was served, their child didn't eat.  While I agree we mothers (and fathers) shouldn't be expected to be a short order cook just because a child takes a whim, I believe forcing a child to eat something he or she simply doesn't like is not a very loving method of parenting.  There are foods I don't like and don't plan to eat again.  Why should I be denied nourishment because I don't care to ever eat another Brussels sprout?  Our children know what they like and what they don't.  Taking their tastes into consideration isn't catering to them.

I try hard to cook the same meal for everyone, knowing that won't always happen.  When I do my meal plan each Friday or Saturday for the coming week, I look for recipes and meals I know my son will love and recipes I know he will eat with some minor modifications.  I also note any recipes or meals I know he will hate.  I try to make sure there is only one recipe, if any, in the meal plan per week he won't touch at all.  Then I see if there is some way to give him something similar.  For example, he doesn't like fettuccine Alfredo, but he does like macaroni and cheese.  (I don't understand it either).  So I fix the fettuccine for my husband and me and the mac and cheese for my son.  If we have chicken in our fettuccine that night, I serve my son some of it as well.  It's close enough and I call it a day.

If the recipe just needs a modification for my son to eat it, I try to determine if it's a modification we would all enjoy or if I should make a small separate serving for my son.  We love Tuscan Chicken Stew.  Just before tossing in the spinach, I dish out my son's serving and pick out the roasted red peppers.  When I make Chicken Santa Fe, I leave off the tomatoes.  Everyone is happy.

Sometimes it means my husband and I get one thing, and my son gets something completely different that has nothing at all to do with our meal.  Recently, we had eggplant Parmesan and he had refried beans, for example.

At nearly every meal my son has a side of fruit.  He is especially fond of strawberries, mangoes and pears.  It takes about 2 minutes extra to prepare his side.  I don't have a lot of extra time in my day, but I have two minutes to make sure he gets the nutrition fruits provide.  It sure beats spending 15 or 20 minutes arguing with him to eat a vegetable and losing the battle.

It occurred to me much after the debate, that perhaps the people who insisted their child(ren) eat what the parents fix or nothing at all may have the misconception that parents who cook separate meals for their children are fixing french fries and chicken nuggets as replacement meals every night.  At least in our house, that couldn't be further from the truth.  We do have french fries once a month or so, and I do like to occasionally fix breaded chicken.  (My 7 year old's favorite is when I coat it in cornmeal.)  But he still gets a nutritionally sound meal, whether he has what I have or not.


  1. I certainly feel for you and understand your frustration with those who may not understand your circumstance. My 6 yr old grandson will not eat anything but broiled plain chicken and white steamed rice. Only recently has he added and occasional strawberry or grape to his diet, or peanut butter on dry wheat bread no jelly. He likes water not juice and no sweets or vegetables. He is healthy and happy and not willful about it. It's just the way it is for now. Someday it may change. Why make the whole family miserable and create life long food issues, struggles surrounding meals? The other children in the family are omnivores with no issues...

    1. Thank you for your kind note. I think children know better than we believe what they can tolerate and what they can't for whatever reason. Good luck with your grandson. You're right: someday he may change.