Before I had a child, I used to be that person that laughed at people with picky kids. Parents who would go to the ends of the earth and back to accommodate their children's eating whims, exhausting themselves in the process. After I had my daughter and she took to solid foods like a pro, I became even more cocky and judgmental of the people I knew with picky eaters. Then the toddler years hit and my daughter who used to eat any and everything that you put in front of her started to refuse foods before she even tried them. I'm sure I thought it was karma at first; My punishment for being so judgy towards other parents. Almost instantaneously, it felt like my smugness disappeared and I was that person that was caving into to my child's picky eating and who bent over backward to make sure she ate.
It's no coincidence that picky eating typically starts around the time your child becomes a toddler. There are some kids who are truly picky eaters and may not like a certain texture or taste of a certain food. I'm convinced though that more often than not, people who have picky kids are just like me and at one point in time, they had a child that would eat anything. This flip in eating happens habits probably happens when your child becomes a toddler just like it did with me. The toddler years are a time filled with testing boundaries and seeing what they can get away with and this extends all the way to food.
The same way bedtime might go from a somewhat peaceful experience to a knockout drag down fight with your toddler is the same way that your little garbage disposal can become the grouch who says no to any food you put in their face. This means that for the majority of people that claim they have a picky eater, they actually have a child that's learned to play their parents to get what they want.
I discovered this to be true when I observed my daughter's eating patterns at school. She would eat every single thing that I packed for her at daycare and in some cases, I would pack something in her lunch that she refused from the night before. The only difference was that the food would be emptied at daycare versus refused at home. She knew that she had options at home whereas, at daycare, she had only what I packed for her. And like many parents, I'd bought into it.
Parents create picky eaters for a number of reasons. My personal reason was that I wanted...no needed my daughter to sleep through the night. She'd only just started to do so consistently right around the time that she started being picky about food and I wasn't about to let her middle of the night hunger undo that. So I gave her any and everything she wanted to make sure that I got my sleep. My excuse was a common one but when I listened to other people who had similar issues, the excuses varied. Some people were giving in to their kids because they were afraid that their kids would become malnourished, while others gave in because every day with their child was a fight and it was just easier to give in when it came to food.
Whatever the case, I was convinced that what our children were really trying to get was control and showing obstinance when it came to eating was the best way they knew how to get it. As much as we thought that we were doing what was in their best interest, bribing them to eat, giving empty threats when they didn't and chasing them around while begging them to eat was only making the picky eating worse.
My daughter got to a point where she knew she was winning our little power struggle and that when it came to eating, she had me beat. Just barely 2 but knowing that she was in complete control, she became even worse. She would ask for something and then refuse it. That's when I had to have an honest conversation about how much of a role I played in this and stop it before it got even worse.
Armed with advice from parents I respected that had successfully thwarted the picky eating phase, I set out to face this problem head-on. I had a conversation with my daughter letting her know that the rules had changed and that if she asked for something, she couldn't have anything else until she finished the first thing. Then I had to do what I said I would do and not give her anything else. This meant that she might end up going to bed hungry which meant that I might have interrupted sleep that night. She called my bluff but I stuck to my guns and sent her to bed without food. Sure enough, she woke up but when she asked for something to eat, I told her no and explained why. The next day, dinner went off for the most part without a hitch. She seemed to have learned her lesson.
She's wasn't quite as good of an eater as she was when she first started on solid foods but she was no longer what I would call a picky eater. Along the way, we've had relapses when it comes to picky eating but when I take a minute to think about why my daughter is being a picky eater again, it usually comes back to me becoming laxer and her picking up on that.
The good news is that each time we do have a relapse, it's very short term and I know exactly what I need to do each time to make mealtime pleasant again in my home instead of a nerve-wracking game of food roulette.