I Took the ‘Wait It Out’ Approach With My Picky Eater & I Have Zero Regret

My older son was the pickiest eater ever. The list of foods he was willing to eat when he was young was very small, and consisted mostly of foods of the bread and cheese variety. There were entire weeks when all I could get him to eat was pizza. No joke.

Thankfully, he’d eat vegetables … sometimes. The problem was that the only vegetable he’d eat was broccoli, and only when I prepared it myself. Apparently, I was the only person in America who could steam broccoli according to his standards. Who knew!

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Yes, feeding him was stressful. But the truth was, I had adapted. I kept our home well stocked with the foods he liked to eat, and they were easy enough to prepare for him alongside the foods I prepared for myself and my husband. According to his pediatrician, he was growing well and had no nutritional deficiencies, so expanding his diet wasn’t an urgent matter.

The hardest part of living with a super fussy eater was the pressure I felt from the rest of the world, and the feeling that I was a bad parent for giving into his whims. I definitely got a lot of flak from family and friends. There was tremendous pressure to just make him eat “normal” foods.

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I was told more than once to present him with the dinner I had prepared for myself, and that if he didn’t eat it, that was his choice — in other words, the “eat it or starve” argument. Let me tell you: I had tried a version of that a few times, and he simply refused to eat. For hours. It was a losing battle and it didn’t feel like a teachable moment at all to me.

At a certain point, I decided to adopt the “wait it out” approach to his picky eating. I knew that I was a very picky eater myself when I was little. I had heard my mom describe my eating habits, and they were similar to my son’s. I pretty much subsisted on pasta for the first few years of life. Not great, but somehow I’d survived.

I also knew that I eventually outgrew it. I’m a vegetarian and don’t eat dairy because it upsets my stomach. But other than that, I’ll pretty much eat anything! I love vegetables, nuts, fruits, whole grains, and spicy and exotic foods too. If I could overcome picky eating, so could my son.

Not only that, but I’m a firm believer in having agency over what I put into my body, and that eating should never be wrapped up in guilt and shame. I developed a disordered eating pattern in my early 20s, skipped meals too often, lost way too much weight, and developed an unhealthy relationship to food.

I didn’t want my son to feel that way, and making him feel pressured to eat a certain way — based on what others were telling him to do, rather than what his body was craving — seemed like a bad idea. I wanted him to eat healthy foods, of course, but I wanted him to come to love them on his own, without them being forced onto him.

After he exited the toddler and preschool years, his palate expanded … a little. He’d eat cauliflower and corn in addition to broccoli (yep, still only prepared by me). He started eating nuts and nut butter regularly when I explained to him that he needed protein to develop a strong body.

In fact, describing things from a science-y point of view actually helped him understand why healthy eating was important. He was a huge science and math geek, and thought the food pyramid was pretty cool even at a young age.

Well, fast forward a handful of more years, and my son is now a pretty good eater! Somehow, a flip switched as he entered his teen years. He is still picky by some standards. And like me, he’s a vegetarian who can’t really stomach dairy. But his favorite foods these days are tofu and veggie burgers. For real!

He likes Mexican food, Chinese food, and is a huge fan of Chai tea — so many different flavors I couldn’t imagine him touching when he was little. What’s even more wild is that he’s really into exploring foods now. There was a phase where he wanted to try the tofu and veggie dish from every Asian restaurant within a 10 mile radius of our house. And we’ve tried every veggie burger in town. These are huge wins for him.

As he was growing up, I definitely doubted my plan for him to “wait it out” in terms of eating. This was especially true after he exited the toddler years. Most people expect toddlers to be picky, but when you have a 7- or 10-year-old with a very limited palate, it raises a few eyebrows. But I stuck to my guns, and in hindsight, I’m so glad that I did.

I can’t say it wouldn’t have happened if I had tried harder to get him to try new foods when he was little, but I also know that letting him figure it out on his own didn’t hurt. I love seeing my son (finally!) truly enjoying his food, and taking pride in trying new stuff. Most of all, I’m so proud of him for being true to himself … and to his taste buds.

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