This widower learned to cook his late wife's recipes to help the grieving picky eater, but his mother-in-law said he was spoiling her with food accommodations.

By Alex Hazlett
June 07, 2021
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An image of a little girl sad at the dinner table.
Credit: Getty Images.

Losing a loved one is devastating in ways both big and small. For a child who's lost a parent, food can be a difficult reminder of the person who's gone, and making beloved foods can be a valuable connection to them.

One dad took to Reddit to ask for advice dealing with a 6-year-old who's an even more picky eater in the wake of losing her mom, and a grandmother who got into a power struggle over food. 

Reddit user 0gravity0respect described how his daughter "loved her mother's cooking and refused to eat anything that isn't made by her mother. I decided to learn to cook her favorite meals that my wife used to cook and my daughter has been loving 'my version' of her mother's cooking."

It sounds like a touching effort to support his kid in a difficult time. The trouble came when he started a new job, and his mother-in-law, his late wife's mom, began babysitting her granddaughter three days a week. The dad packed his daughter's favorite foods, so she'd have something to eat. Grandma disliked the practice, saying that he was spoiling his daughter by accommodating the food preferences of the grieving little girl. 

Some days later, the girl told her dad that she'd only been eating snacks at her grandparents' house. When asked why, she explained that grandma threw away the food her dad had packed and tried to make her eat grandma's cooking instead. "My daughter refused and has been only eating snacks at that house," he wrote. 

After confronting his mother-in-law, and again being accused of spoiling the child, the dad decided to find alternate babysitting arrangements, visiting those grandparents only after they'd eaten at home. Had he been too harsh, he wondered?

Commenters rallied around the dad for his compassionate attempts to help his grieving daughter after the loss of her mom. "Her mother died, and her dad decided to help his daughter eat by learning his deceased wife's cooking," wrote one. "No way on this blue earth would I let her babysit my daughter again."

Beyond that, some commenters took issue with the grandmother's methods in dealing with the child's picky eating. "You don't fix picky eating by letting a child go hungry," said the top commenter. Other users chimed in with horror stories of being forced to eat foods as children, many of which they still don't like. 

"Picky eating," or only eating a small variety of foods, is a common challenge for many families, though there are many ways to help it. Parents want to make sure their kids are eating a healthy diet, and it can be painful to watch a child refuse to try something that a caregiver worked hard to buy or prepare. Studies have shown that often kids have to be exposed to a new food several times before they can try it. This leaves parents a corner: Keep offering a food and be turned down, or accept a (possibly passing) preference and move on. 

A middle ground is the so-called "division of responsibility" method, associated closely with nutritionist and author Ellyn Satter, and recommended by many pediatricians. Caregivers are in charge of what's eaten, where, and when, but kids are in charge of whether they eat and how much. 

Serving one family meal that has components that are acceptable to everyone (bread, fruit, etc.) can give picky eaters something to nosh on without cooking a separate dinner. Whatever method you choose, power struggles over meals are only likely to backfire, increasing a kid's desire to exert control by refusing to eat, and increasing the stress for everyone. Getting into a battle of wills at the table, as many redditors attested, can be painful experiences that are remembered for a long time.