Understanding Picky Eating
from Both Sides of the Table
Our most recent installment in our lecture series featured Parent Talk’s “first child,” author and picky eating coach Jacky Lamenzo. Jacky and her mom, Parent Talk founder Tammy Lamenzo, spent the evening discussing Jacky’s story. A picky eater as a child, Jacky struggled with the idea of trying new foods into adulthood. It wasn’t until traveling to China forced Jacky out of her comfort zone that she took the step into adventurous eating.
So what was it about Jacky’s travel experience that changed 23 years of behavior?
Jacky points to three main factors that we can apply at our own dinner tables:
1. No labels. Being in a foreign place, Jacky wasn’t weighed down with the label she had had since childhood: “picky eater.” No one knew or cared what she ate. We can do this with our own children, too, by freeing them of the label and taking that pressure off.
2. The empty bowl. At the dinner table on her first night in China, Jacky had an empty plate and many things to choose from. No one was scoping out her choices or watching how she reacted; we can do this with our kids too. Offer up a few choices on the table, making sure to include at least one item you know your child will like, and let them choose without judgment or evaluation. Exposure is huge, and eventually, you may see your eater expand their horizons.
3. Make it fun. At Jacky’s life-changing meal, she had no choice but to use chopsticks. Why not mix it up with our kids too? Jacky suggests putting food on skewers, finger foods when you usually use utensils, or maybe even trying child-friendly chopsticks, as ways to keep things light.
Jacky and Tammy also touched on things parents try with pickier eaters that, while intentions are good, can later backfire. Offering rewards or bribes to eat food makes sense, but it also gives your child the message that what they are eating is “worse” than the reward. Hiding vegetables or making threats just cause your child to lose trust in you, and in food.
It is crucial to remember over everything that family meals are about just that: family. Perhaps making mealtimes more about relationships, and less about what your kids are eating (or not), will pay dividends as they grow into adulthood.