Well, I finished reading the book and I’m all fired up with renewed enthusiasm. I’m going to outline the basic plan from it in this post, and then I’ll write another post about what I’m thinking and planning and doing and how it’s going so far. (Very early days. But that’s why I have a “Best Intentions” tag.)
This is the book: Helping your Child with Picky Eating, by Katja Rowell and Jenny McGlothlin.
When I showed it to Dash he spotted the flaw in the title’s phrasing immediately, and said he didn’t need any help with picky eating. Indeed: he’s an expert. But I read it anyway. And it was good.
This book is entirely complementary to everything Ellyn Satter wrote in How to Get Your Kid to Eat (and, I’m sure, her other books; that’s the one I’ve read). It takes Satter’s principles of Division of Responsibility (DOR) and draws them out to show you how to work it for an extremely picky eater, or a child who has physical problems that make it hard for them to eat, or even a child who’s been fed by a tube and is transitioning to solids. (And I thought I had it bad.)
Division of Responsibility, if you’re not familiar with it and didn’t just follow that link, means that you are responsible for where and when eating takes place, and what food is offered. The child is responsible for what and how much they eat.
The whole premise of the plan is that you get your child to the table, and once they’re there you take all the pressure off. You make the table a pleasant place to be, not one where they’re bugged and hounded and stressed about what they should and shouldn’t eat. You put a bunch of food on the table and everyone takes what they want and nobody talks about who’s eating what or how much. And your child always has at least one or two of their “safe” foods available, so they don’t have to go outside their comfort zone until they’re ready to.
The first part of the book basically lays to rest most parents’ fears and guilt about their child’s eating. It’s not your fault, it’s not something you did, and we can help you fix this without pressure or anxiety or making your kid cry. It talks about how if the dinner table is a place associated with stress and fear, your child is very unlikely to want to eat or to enjoy their food.
There are a few key points to the plan:
- You schedule “eating opportunities” at regular intervals, following the same principles for snacks as for meals (and maybe offering something more nutritious then than you might have thought of; chicken nuggets, anyone?) So if they don’t eat much at dinner, they know there’ll be another chance for food in a little while.
- You serve meals and snacks “family style”, meaning that you put everything on the table and each person helps themselves, or is helped if they can’t manage.
- You put one or two of your child’s safe foods on the table, always available. If they eat nothing but bread rolls for days on end, say nothing.
- You put the dessert on the table too. They can eat it whenever they want. No bribery, no “do this to get this.” It’s food, just like everything else.
- You don’t encourage anyone to eat anything. You don’t say “Mmm, try some of this,” or “Just take a bite,” or “You need to eat some protein” or “That’s not enough to fill you up.” Just don’t. You can talk about how you like your food, and you can ask them not to “yuck someone else’s yum” – that is, not to say something on the table doesn’t look good, but mostly you’re there to enjoy a pleasant time with family. The food is not the focus.
The book goes on to show how you can plan meals that everyone will eat (at least some part of), and offers suggestions for ways to manage if you don’t have time for cooking or don’t want to cook much yourself. It also gives lots of advice for parents of children who have physical difficulties eating, and discusses types of therapy that might be useful and how to approach these. They also talk about how to deal with eating out of the home – at a restaurant, with other family members, or with friends.
My favourite part was near the end, when they said you don’t have to do this all at once. It’s not an approach that’s doomed to failure if you don’t go cold turkey on your old, bad ways and turn over a new leaf that never turns back. It accepts that maybe you can only commit to one step at a time, and that things might backslide for a while, but that you can keep going and this will become your new normal and it will work. I also really like that this is a plan for the whole family, not just something you’re doing for (or with, or especially to) the picky eater in your life.
Sounds good, eh? Come back for the next post to see what’s happening in real life.