How I Finally Stopped Worrying About Having Picky Eaters

When my baby first started eating solid foods, I was excited about the transition. I knew that my breast-milk supply wasn’t as ample as other moms, and I had been incredibly self-conscious about my small and slow-growing son. Even though his doctor assured me he was following an acceptable growth curve, I couldn’t help but envy the moms of roly-poly babes with chunk to spare. I figured that once he started eating real food, that would all change.

However, it turned out that my baby was a picky eater—and my anxiety over his size only got worse.

At first I told myself that perhaps it was simply a phase linked to the baby food purees. He liked sweet potatoes, pears and peaches and not much else. He had a sweet tooth, who could blame him? I wouldn’t want to eat pureed peas or green beans either. Surely things would turn around once he began eating real food.

But the problem with his pickiness became even more pronounced when we started feeding him full meals. He wasn’t an adventurous eater, that was for sure, but he also rejected most kid-friendly foods as well. He eschewed chicken nuggets and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Vegetables of any kind were an abomination. Even the foods he did like he wouldn’t eat much of, the only exception to that rule was snack crackers or sweets.

I became obsessed with his toddler eating habits, constantly wringing my hands over the still full plates of food he would leave behind after announcing he was done. He hardly seemed to be eating enough to stay alive. I worried that any type of sickness that suppressed his appetite would be the untimely end of him.

I bargained with him to no avail. I tried making homemade kid-friendly meals from scratch, but that only exasperated the situation. I became even more frustrated as he rejected the food I had spent hours preparing, and soon I worried it was too big a risk to keep feeding him new foods that were sure to be left uneaten. Would my kid starve himself to death? Some days, I honestly didn’t know.

When he was three we began sending him to preschool where meals were prepared family style for the children. The chef was wonderful, but when I saw her menus I was immediately concerned. There were quinoa salads and tuna sandwiches. There was hardly a familiar food on the menu (at least to my son’s palate). I raised my concerns, but she assured me that most kids were much more adventurous eaters with peer pressure. I had my doubts, but waited to see what would happen.

I came to pick him up after lunchtime to find him clearing his plate after eating nearly everything on it. The menu was black bean tacos and salad, both of which he’d eaten without protest. I was amazed. While not all meals had the same rate of success, he was slowly outgrowing his picky eating, and before long his new eating habits transferred over to home.

By the time he was four, there was hardly a thing under the sun he wouldn’t try. If it didn’t smell putrid or appear truly disgusting, he would give it a go. His horizons have expanded in ways I never could have imagined during those picky toddler days when I would promise ice-cream and exciting outings in exchange for a single measly bite of chicken. He now enjoys cooking with me and actually eating the resulting food.

His younger sister on the other hand? Even pickier than he was. But now I have finally learned to give up the fight against picky eating. I let her choose from her limited list of acceptable foods, trusting that over time her tastes will expand in the same way her brother’s have. I offer new foods often but without expectation. It simply isn’t worth the endless worrying over what amounts to nothing more than a long and mostly harmless phase. It is still frustrating at times, but more often than not, I make the wise decision to let it go. She’ll eat well someday. In the meantime, she’ll eat enough to stay alive.

Gemma Hartley is a freelance writer with a BA in writing from The University of Nevada, Reno. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Glamour, Women’s Health, Babble, Yahoo Parenting and more. She lives in Reno, NV with her husband, three young children, an awesome dog and a terrible cat.

Related articles