Picky eating has ruined my mental health

The parent decides when to eat, what to serve, and where to serve it, and the child decides whether and how much to eat.

But what if there’s never a whether or a how much.

What if your kids just don’t eat. What’s a mama to do?

I was complaining to my husband about my kids lack of nutrition, and he remarked, “Where are the kids getting all their energy? Photosynthesis?” My reply was milk. We have milk drunk babies who would prefer to drink their calories than eat.

Our children are extremely picky, not picky as in what’s developmentally normal.

Let me define picky for you as defined by my children. Picky is no cake and ice cream at birthday parties. No McDonald’s french fries. No ooey gooey grilled cheese. No pizza. No burgers. No spaghetti. Or even buttered noodles. Basically, nothing that’s on a children’s menu!

My husband doesn’t think their eating is a problem because they’re both staying on their growth curves and hitting developmental milestones. I don’t like that they’re at lower weight percentiles, but he’s right – they’ve never fallen off their curves. So what they don’t eat off of fast food children menus. My husband’s pointed out they’re eating organic yogurt, whole grain Kashi cereal, a variety of fruit, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, deli meat, macaroni and cheese, carrots, corn, and other occasional foods. It could be worse.

Oftentimes, when I try to commiserate with other moms on the playground or around town, they all chime in about their picky eaters. However, picky eaters for them means their little ones didn’t eat the vegetable or the salmon that was being served that night for dinner. It’s a very frustrating experience, but it doesn’t begin to describe mine.

Picky eating for me means my kids have a very restrictive diet where they eat fewer than ten foods in a food group (fruits/vegetables, whole grains, proteins, etc.). The point of my post is to reach out to all moms and dads who have kids like mine. How do you deal?

For me every breakfast, lunch, and dinner feels like a failure. Another moment for me to berate myself as a parent. And I hate it and want it to stop, but somehow I can’t make it end. I’m confronted with a negative thought when I see a full plate of food that I must throw away. With each scrap of food in the trash, there goes my dignity.

It’s deeply ingrained in me that a parent’s job is to feed her kids healthy food. Moms feed her kids. The fact that I can’t get my kids to eat a) a quantity or b) a quality of age appropriate foods feels devastating. It makes me feel like less than a mom. I need help thinking it’s not my fault if the kids don’t eat. Instead, it’s my job to provide the healthy food only. The rest is up to the kids.

Here’s what I do at mealtimes. It’s been informed by my sessions with occupational therapists who have worked with me and my son. I’d love to hear what works at home for you though.

  1. There’s always something on my table the kids will eat. Anytime there’s a new, “non-preferred” food, it’s paired with a familiar “preferred” food. I try to introduce a new or “non-preferred” food at least once a week.
  2. I encourage them to take one to two bites of the vegetable, protein, fruit, etc. they don’t want to eat that’s on their plate. I don’t force them to “clean their plate.” If they choose not to do this, then they don’t get their chocolate milk or apple juice.
  3. They drink water during meal times.
  4. They have to sit at the table until everyone is finished eating. This is just at lunch and dinner. (We’re working on this with our 3-year-old.) The kids eat breakfast in the living room, while watching cartoons.
  5. I try to keep the chocolate or white milk to 16 oz max daily.
  6. Keep desserts or treats to one a day.

In between meal prepping and meal cleanup, I can’t help but wonder would the kids eat better if I was a better cook? If I tried harder? Or if they had a different mom?

I tend to write more outcome oriented posts, but this one is a call to help from my readers. Not getting your kiddos to eat is an emotionally tense situation, and my nerves are overwhelmed. If you have any suggestions for this mama who all-she-wants-to-do-is-stay-in-bed-at-mealtime, I’d love to hear from you. Please drop me a line or two in in the comments, by email stayinbedmom@gmail.com, or on one of my Instagram posts or via direct message @stayinbedmomblog. It takes a virtual village, and Stay-in-Bed Mom Blog needs you. I’m no Stay-in-Kitchen Mom!

In the meantime…

A Final Thought – From the Pillow

One day your son may grow up to be a Michelin chef. (fingers crossed)

So in the meantime keep presenting healthy food.

Is there an issue that has broken you or affected your mental health? Please tell me more.

Do you have an extremely picky eater at home? What has worked for you? I’m desperate for tips!

12 thoughts on “Picky eating has ruined my mental health

Add yours

  1. My 6 year old is an extreme picky eater as well and mom guilt gets the best of me sometimes. But he’s healthy and growing so I try to focus on that. Even when he’s eaten Mac and cheese for lunch and dinner! LOL

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I feel your frustration! My toddler is so picky, he is living off bananas and goldfish. What works to get him to eat one day is a total flop the next day. I like your strategies and will add them into the rotation. Best of luck keeping yours fed, happy and healthy!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for sharing. It makes me feel so much better that other moms are going through the same thing. We’re in this together. I like that goldfish come in a whole grain variety and you can’t tell the difference, very tasty. One day soon maybe they’ll eat a little more quantity and quality, but in the meantime, we’re doing the best we can! Hugs to you!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. My husband is my picky eater. Talking to him about food stresses me out. He wants me to cook but then is a total control freak about what I’m cooking. How cook it. How I season it. I swear half the time I don’t put in the effort because know its gonna be wrong for one reason or another. At one point in his life he was very poor and his dad dumpster-dived for food so I know his food trauma is real but now he’s pushing that on me and our kids. We are both overweight because he wants to eat 10,000 calories a day and is too picky to eat portional sized meals that include healthy items. He thinks that by seeding everyone more it shows his love for us.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I can relate to not putting in the effort because I know my food prep will be wrong/won’t be appreciated. I’m sorry you’re having struggles at home. It’s so tough living with a picky eater. Can you cook meals for the family and he cooks meals for himself? If he doesn’t want to do that, then he eats the family dinner. Or you can meal plan one day a week together. I know, it’s so hard though.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I was your kid exactly. I ate the same five foods until I was about 10 (cheerios, pasta with butter or cream cheese melted in, toast, carrot and celery sticks, fruit). I remember my mom putting me on Ensure at one point, and I used a divided plate like a child until I was in middle school because i didn’t want my foods to touch each other. I didn’t experiment with salad until college. Where I was a healthy two-sport varsity athlete.
    I have really strong feelings about this because I think my parents did an amazing job. And it looked a lot like what you’re doing. There was always one thing on the table they knew I’d eat. I was welcome to get up and make myself something else without causing a fuss. I was never shamed or forced to try anything, and I also was only allowed to have one treat per day. I was never hungry. I never threw tantrums or made demands to be catered to. The only negative memories I have around food is are related to the fear and anxiety of being some place where I would be made to feel embarrassed for not eating what everyone else was eating. I turned out fine.
    For some kids, food is just not an adventure. They may have some sensory defensiveness and prefer familiar tastes and textures. If they aren’t walking around as generally anxious people, if they have other ways that they explore and take interest in new things, and if they’re healthy and not defaulting to white bread and Doritos as their diet, they’re fine, and you’re doing awesome by not giving them a complex. Really.
    As an adult, I live in Nepal (hey, I blog at http://www.allthepieces of.com) where everyone eats the EXACT SAME MEAL twice a day, every day. And FWIW, as an relatively adventurous grownup, I STILL prefer simple, familiar foods. The obsession that we have in western culture with food diversity is totally arbitrary and should not be a source of judgement or self-judgement for you or your little ones! South Asian kids are completely fine eating the same thing all the time for their entire lives. Don’t worry 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for such a helpful, personal, and thoughtful response. Your comments about America’s obsession with food diversity were especially interesting. Your post made me feel a lot better about my picky eater. I’ll have to check out your blog soon! Thank you so much for visiting mine.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My house is full of picky eaters. I am in constant negotiations of please take a bite, and I will take your privileges if you do not finish your food. It is so exhausting. Sometimes I let them feed; however, they feel like to catch some mental break from the fight. I console myself with phrases like they will eat when they are hungry, and they are making their growth milestones.

    Liked by 1 person

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