My Kid Is a Picky Eater, and I’m Still a Good Mom

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picky eater
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I knew there would be a laundry list of things keeping me up at night when we became parents. The lack of sleep is certainly no secret, as any parent will readily tell you. I didn’t, however, envision the recurring nightmares of chicken nuggets and pancakes swirling through my unconscious brain at 3 am. Like most things in parenthood, there is no preparation, and having a “picky” eater certainly caught me by surprise.

When my oldest was born, we did our best to introduce him to all sorts of foods, serve him fruits, vegetables, and protein regularly, and attempt clean ingredients, like many first-time parents. As he gradually became pickier, the variety lessened, the snacks increased, and then we had a second kid. I gave it a solid effort for a bit, and sure enough, he was even pickier than our oldest by the time he was 18 months or so. He went from a chunky baby to a scrawny toddler overnight, and I began to panic. Was it due to his lack of nutrition? After all, he spent most days subsisting on goldfish, applesauce, and freeze-dried strawberries. Clearly, there was a problem; he was deficient in some areas, and obviously, it was my fault. If only I had consistently curated perfectly balanced meals for him then he would be the kid devouring salmon and broccoli like the other toddlers I saw all over the internet.

I turned to multiple friends to try and gauge where my kid fell on the pickiness spectrum and diagnosed my kid as the official pickiest kid on planet Earth. The pediatrician assured me his weight was fine and to continue putting things on his plate even if he didn’t try them. I felt my anxiety worsen each afternoon around 4 pm as I prepared to make dinner. I began the inner dialogue with myself about whether or not to serve him the pesto orzo we were having or the chicken nuggets he requested every night to avoid the tantrum that would most certainly ensue if I chose the former. I so badly wanted to be a mom with enough gas in the tank to calmly say, “This is what we’re having tonight. You are welcome to eat it or not,” but the truth is most days I just didn’t. I wanted him to eat, and I wanted to eat my pesto orzo in peace.

I spent many days attempting to talk myself off the ledge, but my kid’s food preferences sent me into a tizzy, and I became consumed by his obsession with treats and the refusal to eat anything else. I tried my best, I didn’t deny him any type of food, I tried to offer healthy options too, but at the end of the day I felt my kid’s pickiness was a direct reflection of me as a mom, and I couldn’t separate the two. As silly as it sounds, it weighed heavily on me, and I wanted to feel like other people understood. Could we start a picky eater support group? I would like to nominate myself for president.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m here to report my son is now 4.5 and as picky as ever. His food list includes pancakes, chicken nuggets, goldfish, graham crackers, apples (Honeycrisp only), strawberries (preferably freeze-dried), mac and cheese (white cheddar shells exclusively), the occasional banana, and any sort of baked good (but don’t you dare serve him a crescent roll or biscuit). Just when I think he can’t get any pickier, he comes down in the morning declaring he no longer likes Cheerios (the one easy breakfast food he eats). I take a deep breath and begin a mental list of other things I might have in the pantry to offer him.

I call my sister for my weekly picky eater rant, and she calmly reminds me that he could eat graham crackers every meal for months and be just fine. “The fact that we’re even having this conversation is a sign you’re a good mom,” she patiently says to me. And she’s right. I am a good mom who loves her kids, who does her best to feed them, and what they choose to eat or not on any given day will never negate those facts. It won’t be for you either. For whoever needs to hear it, “You’re a good mom. You are giving it your all, you love your kids, they know it, and that’s enough.” Take heart, open your pantry, and let the goldfish be the hero today.

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