Episode 10: When It Comes to Picky Eating — The More You Stress, the Worse It Gets.
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In the last episode in our three-part series on picky eaters, we explored the topic from perspectives on two ends of the age spectrum: Amy Palanjian of Yummy Toddler Food spoke to us as a mother of young children and family food writer with a focus on young eaters, while Debbie Koenig, mom of 12-year-old Harry, chimed in from the other side. What’s it like having lived with a picky eater for years? Does it get better? Does how we intervene when our picky eaters are young help improve their habits as they get older?
There may never be a way for us to know —certainly not for every child. But exploring these questions is pretty interesting, and it certainly helps connect us. And maybe that’s what this is really about: Helping us feel more at ease so that we can let go, give our kids space, have more fun at the table, and relax. Just a little bit. Is that possible? While they talk about it quite differently, both Amy and Debbie hope so.
I Love You Even When You Make a Dinner I Don’t Like
Amy Palajian is a food editor who writes the wildy popular food site Yummy Toddler Food and co-hosts the Comfort Food podcast with friend and fellow food writer Virginia Sole-Smith. As a mom to two little girls — with another child on the way — and someone who writes about toddler and early childhood eating daily, Amy offers up tons of insight for how to think about young children’s eating habits. As just one example, Amy urged us to remember that even just simple life events like potty training or changes in childcare can impact a child’s eating habits:
It’s not always about the food. In fact, she thinks that it’s often not about the food. Remembering that means that we have to keep from making it about the food too. Easier said than done, right?
Amy also offers a slew of tips for how to cope with young kids moving through picky phases, especially when it comes to veggies. You’ll have to listen to get them all, of course, but they range from who-would’ve-thunk-it clever (eat your veggies outside, in a garden, the backyard or at a picnic, so that you diffuse the regular dinner table dynamic) to practical parenting skills that you can apply in other areas too (ask your kids to tell you more about why they’ve refused something, because it might be as simple as they were served something similar for lunch at school or it’s cut up in a way they don’t like).
And as she shared all of what she’s learned over the years, a theme emerges: Just let the food be the food. You don’t have to talk about it so much. You don’t have to take it personally if your kids refuses something you cook. You don’t have to go overboard hiding vegetables. You don’t have to go nuts making dinner super special if dinnertime doesn’t work for your schedule.
Take the pressure off, and maybe even take eating out of the equation. Let that be between your child and the food you prepare. Instead, try to center your focus on putting fun back into the experience of being around the table — or in the garden or at a restaurant or in the apple orchard or on the picnic blanket — with your child.
More from Amy’s site: TODDLER WON’T EAT DINNER? 10 EASY THINGS TO TRY
The More You Stress, the Worse It Gets
Debbie Koenig is an award-winning food, diet, and parenting writer, and the author of the cookbook Parents Need to Eat Too: Nap-Friendly Recipes, One-Handed Meals & Time-Saving Kitchen Tricks for New Parents. She lives in Queens with her omnivorous husband and their stubbornly non-nivorous son.
Get it? Non-nivorous. Not easy to say — which is why she calls him like he is (picky) — but pretty damn hilarious.
Everyone we spoke with about picky eating was surprisingly level headed and totally non-judgey (side note: how awesome are our guests?!), but seriously, of them all, Debbie made us feel the best and we think she’ll make you feel good too. Because she’s been through the ringer and out the other side. Well, if you count making it through 10 years of dealing with a picky eater — from the time that her son Harry was 2 to now, when he’s 12-years-old.
And after all those years it’s not like Debbie can say: It all works out, parents. Harry’s fine and eats everything, so don’t worry! Nope. He’s STILL picky. So much so that Debbie even looked into a selective eating diagnosis at one point (he doesn’t have it, but yes, it’s a real-life diagnosis categorized in the DSMV and everything).
But it’s exactly that experience — being in the trenches all these years, doing the research, coping, and finally accepting that Harry is who he is and will have to take responsibility for himself, his habits, and his own body — that makes her knowledge, experience, and point-of-view so powerful and helpful.
It helps that Debbie is also whip smart, funny, and candid. She openly shared with us what she learned about and the relationship between sugar, ADHD, and Harry’s picky eating. The years of hard work she put into trying to “fix” him. The anxiety and guilt she carried about his eating habits. And how she’s finally learning to let go.
Debbie’s an inspiration and the only person we stubborn ladies have been able to take to heart when encourages us to let it go too.
If you’re deep in a season of pickiness, too, Debbie suggests starting with Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense by Ellyn Satter and re-shifting your focus on teaching hunger cues rather than obsessing over meal times. Listen for more lessons that inspired her from this groundbreaking book.
About Our Sponsor
A huge thank you Mom’s Best for sponsoring this week's episode of Didn’t I Just Feed You.
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What We're Digging
These days, Meghan is super excited about a new cookbook by her friend and Kitchn colleague Kelli Foster called Buddha Bowls. Not only is the book chock full of healthy, fortifying bowls that are perfect for weeknight dinners, but also smart meal prep strategies that are really helpful for busy family cooks.
Additionally, there’s a whole chapter on sauces, which is pretty brilliant. They not only make Kelli’s bowls delicious, but they can be used to take other simple home cooked meals from basic to brilliant.
This week, Stacie’s digging a recipe from her site for Hearts of Palm dip that also made it into her first cookbook, Make It Easy. If you’ve never tried hearts of palm before, it usually comes in a can or jar and has a flavor and texture similar to artichoke hearts. It’s commonly called for chopped in a salad, but Stacie loves whizzing it in a food processor to turn into this dip that’s sort of like a lighter, brighter version of hummus.
She makes her unbelievably simple and easy Hearts of Palm dip for every cocktail party and swears that at least one person (but usually more) asks for the recipe — it’s that delicious. She also makes it as a school lunch dip for her little one, who loves it as well, since the sesame seeds — i.e., tahini — in hummus are not allowed in his school.
Try This At Home
While Amy and Debbie had different perspectives on picky eating given the very different seasons of parenting they’re in, they both spoke extensively about giving kids age-appropriate autonomy. One easy way to do that with kids at nearly any age is to serve dinner family-style and allow kids to plate their own dinner.
Meghan’s been doing this for about six months with great success (and her kids are only 6- and 3-years old!). She asks her kids to put at least one bite of everything on their plate, but beyond that, they can choose how much they want to eat. She also makes sure that there is at least one thing on the table that each kid really enjoys eating. If you give family-style eating like this a try, you might want to consider doing the same.
We also have a few Try This At Home updates from past episodes!
In episode six on meal planning, Meghan challenged Stacie to stop meal planning all on her own and to pull her boys — her husband and kids — into the mix. Not only did Stacie listen, but the conversation about sharing information more effectively set a larger conversation in motion, and Stacie and her husband have been updating how they manage all of their shared to-do’s.
They’ve experimented with a few apps and, of all things, are finding that shared docs on Apple Notes is working best. That’s where Stacie has been meal planning, so she — and her 11-year-old who also has Apple Notes! — can check out the plan, make notes, suggestions and requests. Also, Stacie’s put the boys in charge of two meals a week! You can check out the Didn’t I Just Feed You Listeners Facebook group where Stacie has been sharing her meal plan details. (Remember: The answer to the super secret question is whiskey.)
Meghan on the other hand has been working on her meal prep. Inspired by episode seven where we chatted with Tracy Benjamin of Shutterbean about meal prep as self care and by Stacie’s big batch meal prep try this at home from episode nine.
Meal planning is Meghan’s super power, but meal prep is still a struggle — so she’s been focusing on meal prepping lunches and breakfasts for the whole family one week at a time. Don’t hate her because she still enjoys cooking dinner from scratch every night!