Frequently Asked Questions
Why do you think some kids are picky eaters while others are not? A lot depends on the environment, and that’s what I work with parents on changing. If the current mealtime environment isn’t working, let’s change something. The attitude around food can involve pressure because oftentimes parents feel a lot of pressure from their own parents, friends, and other people regarding what they “should” feed their child. Other times it sparks from something that changes in a child’s young life, like a sibling being born, which shakes up what they are used to. There are many factors that go into being a picky eater, and I work with parents on figuring out what it is and how we can resolve it.
For young picky eaters (rather than adult picky eaters) do you work with the child? No, I work with the adult on altering the mealtime environment. A child is less likely to be reasonable and decide they want to change their eating habits. Instead, the parents and I work together on changing the dynamic around food. Rather than it becoming a negative thing, I want it to become positive. That will help the child develop a good life-long relationship with food.
How soon does the picky eater behavior start? It can be as soon as they change from breast milk to baby food, but I’ve seen it most often when they feel they have a choice over whether or not they are eating. Children have very little control over most of the things in their life, but closing their mouth and refusing food is a common thing they can control. From my experience, it doesn’t begin later than about 6, but kids definitely go through phases. It’s important to create a good environment around food before it snowballs into a bigger problem.
Do you see this in more boys than girls or about the same? I haven’t noticed either one being more common.
How can mom's love and encouragement sabotage mealtimes? Their love and encouragement can easily turn into pressure for children. Often rewards come into the picture, either dessert, a sticker or some other treat, if they eat their vegetables… and that solidifies the child’s thoughts of “veggies are gross.” There’s a study about two groups of preschoolers who were given a new food to try, and one group was rewarded after eating it and the other was not. The group that was rewarded was LESS likely to try it the next time. The reward puts more emphasis on that food, and the fact that they were rewarded showed them it probably wasn’t very tasty because they needed a reward to eat it.
How did you become interested in this subject? I was a picky eater for 23 years! When I was offered a job to teach English in China, I took it, with hesitation because I ate the “kid’s menu diet” I like to call it. Mac & cheese, grilled cheese, pizza, no fruits or veggies. Kid food. In the couple of months before I left to move across the world for a year, I prepared for a big change. I imagined eating all the things I didn’t eat then, and imagined liking them. And then, my first meal there, because I was so far outside my comfort zone and had no one pressuring me or watching me, I tried everything on the table.
What background do you have in nutrition/food science? I started my certification course after I started really enjoying new foods and had broken my fear of trying new foods. I graduated from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition where I studied over 100 different diet plans and how different ways of eating work for different people. I was never interested in food before, because honestly, it only caused stress and anxiety for me. Because I started trying and liking new food, it became really fun and I wanted to change my path from teaching to coaching picky eaters so that they could make similar changes that I made.
What are the biggest mistakes modern parents make in perpetuating the problem of the picky eater? Often when parents are so worried about their child’s eating, it magnifies the problem. I know how much my mom only wanted to help me because she loved me so much, but it put so much pressure on me to please her. When I would go to try a new food, I was scared, sick to my stomach and always felt like I disappointed my parents. It’s a lot on a child. The first and most simple thing I suggest to a parent dealing with a picky eater is to let go and step back. Try to be curious rather than frustrated or judgmental.
What foods pose the biggest problems? Typically vegetables. For me, also fruits. Often picky eaters will say it’s a texture thing rather than a flavor thing. Working with picky eaters of all ages I know that every picky eater is different.
What do you want people to know about picky eating that they might not know? Often people who aren’t picky eaters can’t understand the struggles of being a picky eater, because they’re quick to assume it’s a choice or for attention. Most children are picky at one point or another, and often they grow out of it. Without the proper support and change in environment, picky habits can stick with a person for their whole life. It’s something that is challenging in social situations, not very healthy and often shameful. There’s not a whole lot of awareness around it, and I hope to bring it to attention in a new way.
Do you consult on an individual basis? Yes, I work with both parents of picky eaters and adult picky eaters on the phone or on Skype. I have programs that I mold to fit each person’s needs. We work on specific ideas and recipes that might work for their family. I offer small, doable steps that change their mealtime environment so that they can see deeper, most lasting results. In turn, the picky eater will develop a better relationship with food, which IS the goal here. Click here to learn more.