How do you transform a picky eater? First, you have to change their mindset. The mindset has to become I’m capable of learning to like new foods, instead of I’m a picky eater. Once the mindset shift has occurred, thoughts will change.
Your child may start thinking, I don’t really like scrambled eggs, but hardboiled eggs are okay. Once their thoughts about the hated food start changing, their actions change too, scrambled eggs are for breakfast, I’ll try them. Then as they are eating those eggs they’ve consistently rejected they think, huh, these eggs are actually not so bad, I could eat another bite. After experimentation with eggs prepared in different ways, plus a mindset shift, this leads to a change in results. Your child used to avoid scrambled eggs, but now (s)he’s found a way to like them.
This shift in mindset takes place over time. My picky eating recovery took over a decade. That makes sense to me because my picky eating mindset took nearly two decades to cement in my brain. Only it wasn’t really cemented, because in less than a decade I completely reversed it, without a how-to manual. I figured it out for myself because I liked the way I felt when I ate real, nourishing food. As I began to learn that food made in a factory (some of my favorites were Cheetos in the red bag, M&Ms, Mrs Baird’s white bread and Ritz crackers) made me feel gross, I had a strong motivation to kick my food aversions to the curb.
Picky eaters come in all shapes and sizes.
As the granddaughter of a farmer, garden grown vegetables were normal at dinner table, so I ate (most) of them. Yes, you can still be a picky eater, even if you eat a dozen different vegetables. Textures and combinations were the things I was averse to. I hated the dry crumbly mouth-feel of raw carrots and nuts. They made me gag. I didn’t like sauces or anything with sauces on them, including spaghetti! To appease me, my mom served spaghetti like a salad bar: noodles, meat, sauce, Parmesan all in separate bowls. I liked the red sauce, but only a little of it. I needed control to “mix” my own food using my own ratio preferences.
I grew up thinking I didn’t like nuts. False. My favorite food was PB&J sandwich or even better, peanut butter on Ritz crackers (with cheese or bananas, I could eat the whole roll of Ritz). When I think back on it, it doesn’t even make sense. How did my parents believe or convince me that I didn’t like nuts? I just didn’t like raw or whole nuts, but smooth creamy nut butter was yummy.
For texture and combination adverse kids it’s important to distinguish the rejection of the preparation versus the rejection of the ingredient. A raw broccoli hater may love cooked broccoli. I will not eat raw broccoli (read: crumbly mouth-feel.) However, blanch it for one minute, toss it in an ice-bath, and give me a tasty dip.
Studies show that dietary habits formed in childhood are likely to persist into adulthood. But I’m a good case in point that it’s never too late to overcome picky eating. Of course it’s optimal to form good eating habits in early childhood. Learning from the get-go is a far more elegant solution than unlearning and retraining. We’ve all heard of people who have lost their ability to walk due to an accident and then learn to walk again. Our minds are plastic. Assuming healthy brain function, older children and adults are capable of learning as young children do.
Learning feeding skills is a process not an event.
Just like reading, good eating skills develop over time, with daily practice. Why do our kids learn to read? Because they are read to at an early age, then practice daily at school for years, moving up level by level. Finally as competent readers they maintain their skills by daily practice. Even if you don’t pick up a book every day, you still see signage with language on it that you must read. So it is with food. We fuel our body daily with food. There are ample opportunities to practice good eating skills throughout childhood. Once kids are literate at proper food fueling, they can maintain their daily practice throughout life to maintain wellness.
So picky moms and dads, I challenge you to learn good eating habits right along with your kids. Change your mindset, and help your children change theirs. Think of them as good eaters, call them good eaters, expect them to be good eaters, and they will eventually grow into their new label.