How to Stumble Over the Cure to Picky Eating on the Road to Duty

Aug 1, 2013 by

“Happiness is not found by looking for it. You stumble over happiness on the road to duty.” — Dr. Bob Jones Sr.

If your child is a picky eater, you are looking for the cure. You are probably working hard to get him to eat more of the things you want him to eat. You are probably talking about it a good bit at mealtimes. You are probably offering your child incentives to eat. You may dread mealtimes. You no doubt worry a lot about your child’s eating. You might be changing what foods you offer in response to your child’s pickiness. You’re doing all you know to do. You are looking for happiness.

The problem is, and you’ve probably noticed it, that pressuring your child to eat isn’t solving the problem. It’s not that you don’t care or aren’t trying, but working hard at solving the problem is getting you nowhere.

Division of Labor: Do Your Duty

While you’re working so hard to improve your child’s eating, you may be doing all the wrong things at the expense of the right things. You might be actually failing to do your real duty.  Instead of looking for happiness, you may need to first look for what your duty actually is and then how to do it.

It’s not that you have been irresponsible about your child’s eating. But seeing your child eating better will probably only come about as a happy by-product of your doing your true duty. If you work harder at doing your true duty and stop doing what’s not your duty, you may find yourself stumbling over what you want: the happiness of a child who’s happily eating his broccoli and carrots.

You’ll find the happiness you seek while doing what’s really your own job, and making sure you don’t try to take over your child’s part of the process.

So What Is My Duty? How Do I Do It?

Ellyn Satter, author of How to Get Your Kid to Eat . . . But Not Too Much, bases her advice on what she calls the “Division of Responsibility in Feeding”:

“Parents are responsible for what is presented to eat and the manner in which it is presented.

Children are responsible for how and even whether they eat.”

You may say, “I can’t do just my part of that. I can’t let my child be responsible for his own eating. He’s not being responsible! That’s the problem.  I have a picky child. If I don’t make him eat, he won’t eat. I have to continue what I’m doing.”

OK, but how’s that working for you?

Your true duty, “what is presented to eat and the manner in which is it presented,” is complicated. Shopping, planning, cooking meals. Eliminating between meal snacks and foods that don’t nourish (without provoking a revolution). Creating a positive, pleasant atmosphere of mutual respect at the table, which doesn’t come about with the snap of your fingers.  Ceasing all pressure and manipulation to eat. Making the changes feel positive, and not deprivation. I know I’m hardly offering a simple magic cure. You may have a lot of skills to acquire. But these skills have nothing to do with making your child eat, and everything to do with everything other than making him eat.

But if you do your true duty well enough (not perfectly), your child will stop being picky. Your child will want to do his job naturally when you do yours. It may not happen overnight. It’s a step of faith to let go of your child’s eating. It may even get worse before it gets better.

If it doesn’t get better, you need to consider what else is going on. You may have a problem feeder  who needs professional evaluation. He may need medical attention and/or therapy. Whatever the problem, solutions do exist!

Need help with making this happen? Ask me whatever questions you have.