It seems like our son has been a terribly picky eater since he was born. When he was supposed to take 2 ounces of milk, he’d stubbornly drink 1.5. As he grew older, he decided that he didn’t like any of his food to be “dirty.” By dirty, I mean that he wouldn’t accept any sauce or seasoning on any of his food. Not on his rice, nor on his pasta, nor on his vegetables. They all had to be clean with not a speck of seasoning on them. I found this entire concept appalling.
Aside from being completely unable to understand how anyone would want to eat something totally devoid of flavor, I was especially worried that he wasn’t getting the nutrition he needed to grow. My fears were not entirely without basis, as he is underweight below the 5th percentile of the CDC growth charts. Yes – that’s the “see your doctor if your child is below this line” level. Despite our pediatrician’s insistence that everything was fine and that he’s never seen a malnourished child walking the streets of Manhattan, I still worried. He assured us that Asian babies are typically slighter and that he didn’t find anything wrong physically or in his temperament that would suggest that our son had any kind of medical problem.
Eventually, I put my worries to the back of my mind and fought one battle of a time. We tried all kinds of tricks to sneak more nutrition into his meals with mixed results. We tried things like chopping up chicken breast really fine, almost to a powder and mixing it with his rice. It worked a few times, until he famously declared: “I Hate Chicken!!!!”. Who hates chicken?? We also tried making him beef rice inside the rice cooker, which makes it really soft. He liked that maybe once every four tries. He also seemed to like fried rice to varying degrees – garlic, egg and scallion fried rice worked for awhile, but that gravy train ended. Mostly, the only thing he would eat consistently was some pasta in a light broth with corn and that was only because we would put it in front of him. More frustrating was that he would often ask for something, only to consume one bite before deciding that he didn’t want it anymore.
Then he started saying: “I don’t like meat”. I started wondering if our son was a vegetarian? Ok, I wasn’t really worried that he was a vegetarian… he’s only 3.5! But, the jokes were getting louder and more people were starting to tease me about it. It’s not that I have anything personal against vegetarians, I just have a very unhealthy love for meat. I’m a meat activist and I enjoy being on top of the food chain. I feel empty inside if I don’t have meat in my meals. I love all kinds of meats and I’ll eat just about anything. Pig’s feet, chicken gizzards, livers of all types, duck web, goose brains, fish heads… I even roast whole pigs several times a year. What would I do if our son ended up being a vegetarian? How on earth would I manage that?!
But then out of nowhere, something magical happened. We were eating at a local restaurant, where my perfunctory piece of sirloin steak happened to be served on a sizzling platter. My son took a look at it and said he wanted a piece. I didn’t actually expect him to eat it.. but he did! And then he asked for more.. and more.. before I knew it, he had consumed at least one quarter of my order. That may not seem like much, but it was a milestone! The next day I decided that I would buy some skirt steaks, fry them up with a bit of soy sauce and serve with plain white rice. To my delight, he went at it again, happily enjoying his steak. I could scarcely believe my eyes and I swelled with pride. My boy was finally eating meat! I am happy to say that his taste for steak continues and he asks for it on a regular basis. He still hates chicken.
On a more serious note, I am very happy that he’s getting more protein now. I’m hoping that he can break above that 5th percentile and start gaining some weight and strength. As for me, I’ve better understood that kids go at their own pace and it may not always be productive to push them into something they aren’t ready for. I admit that it’s hard to not compare his habits and development with those of other children of his age. Maybe he just wasn’t ready to eat meat and he wouldn’t do it unless it was under his own terms. I can respect that too.
About the author
Edward Yau is a geek dad that writes code for his kid. You can see his projects at Dendro Kids [http://www.dendrokids.com] and Guess Your Baby [http://www.guessyourbaby.com]. Follow Ed on twitter @daddycoder.
As a new parent I worry about what my daughter eats or how much. As adults we just eat whatever and whenever. This is especially hard on me as a parent when we are away from home where I just can’t easily prepare something. I have to make sure that whatever restaurant we go to that they will have something my daughter of 15 months will eat and like. I like the fact that you tried for him to eat his meals in a variety of ways and that you did not push food on him. I was a picky eater as a kid and I remember being punished at the table until my food was gone. I hated all types of food as a kid and was always on the smaller side of the scale. I hope he continues to try new foods as his taste buds keep developing.
Edward Yau says
I totally agree, it’s very difficult for us when he only eats a few bites of plain pasta or rice and calls it a night. This worrying is exacerbated because he is so skinny! I admit, we did to our share of forcing.. but we also hold back because we don’t want to turn him off the eating experience. Our pediatrician sort of lectured us as well, saying we should never give in and to make him eat whatever we’re eating – let him go to sleep hungry so he’ll learn he’s got to eat. But how do you not give in to the sad “i’m hungry” whimpers? Feeding our young is a natural instinct!
I went through the same experience as you as a child – I wasn’t allowed to leave the table until the food was gone while my siblings all got to go play. But I ended up being a voracious eater as an adult so I’d say no long term damage was done on that front! But on the flip side, I was always small and skinny so I got picked on by the bigger kids. I just hope all these things work themselves out.
I remember those days of sitting in front of my cold food while my sister’s played outside. I have to agree that as an adult I have learned how to expand my palate to include foods from all over the globe. My daughter eats food that I never ate. I will give her what I eat and she will taste and drop it on the floor if she doesn’t like it so our dog can enjoy. Thanks for sharing your experience.
Adam G says
My kid is also 3.5 and is also a VERY picky eater. My wife is a picky eater too, and I am not. I just don’t get it. He is adverse to change. He doesn’t like dirty food either, and won’t dip anything on anything.
On occasions he will eat voraciously, and then the rest of the time he seems to be subsiding on nothing but rice cakes and air. He has a horrific sweet tooth, and that’s one of the ways we get him to eat– bribery/withholding of dessert.
He also will eat when we are reading at the table, so we do a page, and then he has to eat to get to the next page. This is true most of the time. Sometimes, he will have none of it.
Edward Yau says
Wow, reading to eat! We’ll have to try that one, thanks for the tip!