As a food writer with a notoriously picky son, I've found a million ways to blame myself for my child's dedication to unsauced pasta, fruit, and Goldfish. But Stephanie Lucianovic, a writer and mom who was herself a picky eater well into adulthood, has reassuring news for parents like me: It's not our fault. In Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater's Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate, she explores the science and the psychology behind the stress. I spoke to her recently about what she discovered.
Your book explains the science of picky eating, which mostly leads to "Relax, parents, it's not your fault." What do scientists believe makes a picky eater?
I say parents shouldn't blame themselves because I don't believe that it's the parent's fault at all.
Causes can be scientific, psychological, biological, or preferential--sometimes you just don't like something. I really don't think there's a common thread, and I say that because the scientists don't either.
Is there any one thing that most picky eaters have in common?
New foods are frequently treated with trepidation, because you have absolutely no idea what's going to happen once you stick it in your mouth. When you think about putting food in your mouth and swallowing, it's really intimately invasive. I think not knowing what a new food is going to do to you is probably the number one thing that picky eaters react to.
When we first have kids, we're preached to all the time to keep their naps consistent, keep your rituals consistent, keep their caregivers as consistent as possible. Kids find comfort in that consistency. So why are we surprised when they want that same sort of comfort from eating the same three foods?
What's your best advice for parents of picky eaters?
My first advice is: Relax. If your pediatrician is okay with your child's growth and development, then you need to be too.
Second piece of advice is: Take heart that things will probably change. As long as you're not bringing too much stress and tension to the table, your kid's not going to react to that additional stress.
Growing up as a picky kid, you had to follow the three-bites rule, which didn't work. We tried that briefly here and realized it was a mistake. After tons of encouragement my son would taste something, but he never once said, "Oh, that's pretty good." Why is that?
The three-bites rule is to make you feel better. It's to make you feel like you're laying down the law. It's to make you feel like maybe they're getting the nutrients in that you want them to get in. But it's a battle, and I still did everything I could to get out of even that small amount.
Kids don't have any control. We forget that as adults we get to decide what we want to eat that night, and we just assume that everybody in the house, including our spouses, are fine with it. I have a hard time working up an appetite if I don't know what I'm eating that night, but it's not like my kid can work up an appetite knowing I've got lamb chops in the refrigerator.
Think about not being able to choose, from our perspective, and how we would feel if someone were a caretaker, for whatever reason, and never asked us what we wanted to eat. That would suck.
Your son is now three. How do you deal with his eating habits? Is he picky?
When I was writing the book I was worried, but not so much now. Once he started to talk more and more, about a year ago, that was the last time I worried about his development.
I do find myself making things that I know he's going to like, and there's nothing wrong with that. I will still try to get him to eat things but if he doesn't eat them, I'm fine. He's going to fill that hole with carrot sticks or other things, fruit mostly. But the other night, I made the roasted broccoli recipe with smoked paprika vinaigrette that's in the book. He has, at times, taken bites of broccoli. That night, for some reason, he ate the whole thing. I was shocked.
So they surprise you every so often. It's hard not to be stressed, but it's okay to relax as long as your pediatrician is okay with it.
Copyright 2012 Meredith Corporation.