“There’s no such thing as a picky eater, just a spoiled child.”
I’ve heard this phrase, in every version possible, over the last few years.
My oldest daughter, Penny, is a fiery and independent three-year-old. You can feel her strong presence from a mile away. When we realized Penny was a picky eater we decided, as parents, we needed to take control of the situation.
My husband and I assumed our daughter’s picking eating was her attempt to gain power in our home. Many people agreed with us, and we spent many nights fighting with Penny to just “try one bite”.
It wasn’t until a couple of years into our battle that I started to wonder if there was more to this story. Perhaps there was a deeper issue beyond personality or parenting style that was leading to our daughter’s refusal of food.
After consulting with a few professionals, and meeting with a highly skilled pediatric occupational therapist, we discovered the answer to our questions.
Penny has sensory processing disorder (SPD), and her feeding challenges stem from her inability to process tastes and texture like most people do. SPD is a condition where the brain has difficulty receiving and translating sensory signals.
Time and time again I have read articles condemning parents who allow their children to eat whatever they want, and claim that by following a few simple steps the battle at the dinner table would end. One viral article in Macleans made the rounds on my Facebook newsfeed and made me especially angry.
Many people don’t understand that sensory processing issues truly exist. I was one of those parents. Today I am relieved to know there’s an answer to my daily struggle and there’s help for my family too.
Any parent that has experienced an extreme picky eater knows the anxiety that comes with meal time. Something that was once simple becomes extremely complicated and many parents dread tasks like packing lunches or making dinner.
Not only do parents of picky eaters experience a daily battle within their home, they also must go to battle whenever food or eating comes up with well-meaning friends, family and even strangers. A simple playdate with other moms becomes challenging when snack time arrives, or going for dinner at a family member’s turns into a night of shame and lecturing.
Now that I have answers to my own daughter’s picky eating, I feel informed and educated. When others suggest I be firmer with my daughter, or try something I’ve tried fifty times before, I just smile simply and explain that’s not what our therapist recommends. We follow a special program that helps introduce Penny to different textures and tastes and promotes a peaceful environment at dinnertime.
We even have a special routine for meals at home, which allows for peace while we eat together—for the most part. Now that we don’t have huge expectations for our child to eat whatever we’re eating, we can be content having her eat foods she’s comfortable with, while gently encouraging her to smell, touch, or even lick something on our plate. We make a game of it, and if she’s not into the game, we move along.
My fierce little girl seems much more content, and is eating healthy and fresh foods that she helps me prepare, even if her choices are limited. Once we gave her the respect she deserved during meals, and relinquished some power at the table, we saw her give up the fight.
Some days we spread a white table cloth over our maple table, and it makes me think of a white flag of surrender. In some ways, it describes our family perfectly. We lay out our white flag of surrender and enjoy a peace we once only dreamed of.