Picky (Teen) Eaters

So you were hoping the picky eater would grow up by now, right?  Many picky toddlers and kids do grow out of their aversion to anything green/healthy/fluffy/creamy by age 10 or 11, but not always.  Recently, I have stumbled upon more and more families who have increasingly intense fights during meals because of stubborn teen eaters.

1) Make sure it is not about being heard

At least once per week there is a battle over dinner in the Greyson household.  The daughter (14) hates pasta with peas.  The brother likes it. The mom thinks it is easy to make and has protein, carbs and veggies.  When Mom inevitably makes it for dinner, daughter blows up and refuses to eat anything.  Mom feels underappreciated and yells, “This is not a restaurant and I am not your personal chef!” The daughter gets punished and eats nothing for dinner. The night is ruined.  While working with the family I talked to the daughter about her strong disgust of pasta with peas. Instead of talking about how revolting she finds the dish, she instead shared her feeling that her mom makes the dinner when she is trying to be punishing. “If she knows I hate it so much, why would she make it?” I realized this was about her being heard and listened to, not really about the actual meal.  I explained this to the mom and then also explained to the daughter…

2) How difficult dinner can be

She had heard her mom vent about making dinner after a long day, but had not truly sat down and thought about all of the ingredients, timing the meal, making it balanced and pleasing everyone.  The mom and daughter struck a deal. No pasta with peas if she made dinner once per week.  This taught her exactly how hard dinner was and it gave mom a break.  It also….

3) Let them take ownership

Picky eaters who are older often have control issues with food.  It is true they might have a limited palate and truly do find certain foods indigestible, but more likely is they want to be in control of what they are eating and when.  Unfortunately, living at home and being a minor makes this a bit more difficult.  Yet, I have found with the picky eaters I have worked with that giving them ownership of their meal times really helps them eat.  This can be cooking a meal like above.  It can also be doing meal planning at the beginning of the week, going grocery shopping on their own or with a parent to pick out food for the house.

4) Vegetarian and vegans

When my sister went veggie, the house went under.  There was a time (maybe still) where my poor mother had to make gluten-free meals for my dad and I, veggie meals for my middle sister, meat heavy meals for my brother and cheesy meals for my youngest sister.  Even when she ignored personal preference (my sister likes cheese, my brother likes meat and potatoes) we still had dietary concerns that she had to cook for.  Many teens are now going vegetarian and vegan despite being raised in a meat loving family.  I am lumping this with picky eaters because it causes the same kinds of issues–mom feeling underappreciated, kids under-eating or eating badly and dinnertime disarray.  I think it is extremely important for vegetarians to take ownership in their meals and let them see how their decision (it is their right to decide what goes in their body) affects everyone (see tips above).

5) The 15 times rule

They say that if you try something 15 times you will begin to like it.  I think this is true with a slight amendment.  I do not like fennel, but I have eaten it 15 times and now I can stand it.  I still do not like it.  Make a deal with your picky eater that they at least have to try a bite of everything you make to be able to stick with their staples.  This expands their palate slowly.

It is completely normal to have a older picky eater.  With patience, their palates will mature and they will pick food not to be picky, but because they enjoy it and it is healthy.

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