Friday, September 12, 2014

Picky Teen Eaters - The Chopped Champion

Are you aware of the popular competition cooking show where chef'-contestants are given a basket of mystery ingredients and then asked to make an amazing "creative" edible dish that is then judged and critiqued and then after a small session where the chefs are given their reviews one of them is sent packing and the next round starts. 

Does this sound like dinner every night at your house?  A pantry of mystery ingredients, strange foods from the back of your fridge and forgotten purchases at the grocery store and a panel of hungry "judges" ready to find fault with the plate put before them. "Is this what you call presentation?!!" 

I feed quite a variety of judges / diners everyday. I am lucky enough to have a child or two that appreciate everything. (or at least are willing to TRY everything). I have a toddler that is wary of new foods and I have a kindergartner that bases what he likes wholly on what his siblings think of the dinner offerings. (Which is why no one is allowed to say anything is "disgusting" no matter how much they personally don't like it). But the pickiest of all my children is my oldest. Feeding a picky teenager is going to seriously be the Death of Me!.

 Not only does he eat just a few things, but at time, I feel he prides himself on being such a picky eater. I have my fair share of teenage boys who are willing to eat anything and everything, but having a teenage picky eater can be a challenge all its own and there doesn't seem to be a lot of helpful ideas to overcome it like there are with toddlers and preschoolers.  

The very first thing you want to be aware of is that a lot of eating disorders can begin in the pre-teen and teenage years. Take a step back from the situation and look at what you are dealing with: is this basic fussy eating or something larger and perhaps more serious.  If your teenager suddenly loses a large amount of weight or criticizes her weight and appearance, she might have an eating disorder. Other symptoms of eating disorders include major changes in her eating and exercising habits and physical complaints, such as a headache or stomach ache, that can't be explained by other ailments. If your teen develops an eating disorder, make an appointment with her doctor to develop appropriate treatment options so her long-term health doesn't suffer.

If you feel like you are dealing with regular run-of-the-mill (but still very frustrating) picky eating, sit down and have a heart to heart talk with your child. You don't have to raise the white flag and give up, but open the conversation and really express how you feel. Explain why you feel like eating a balanced diet is so important (especially for growing bodies) Don't just surrender your position and allow your child to pursue an unhealthy diet. That won't do anyone any favors. At the same time, you cannot afford to make this discussion into a power struggle. Its possible to outlast an upset child, but a teen has a will and the energy to match your own. Furthermore, they are just discovering their independence. If you appear to be trying to stifle it, you'll lose.

Instead, you are going to have to meet your child half way and treat him or her like the rational adult that they are becoming. Begin by allowing your child to speak about the food issues. Really listen to what he or she is saying so that you can get down to the underlying issues that have caused this struggle.

Make sure that you insist on certain concessions even as you are preparing to negotiate. You are the parent and your concern for your child's health should trump frivolous grievances. Suggest that you will not force your child to eat food they find distasteful if they will commit to a balanced and nutritional diet made up of their favored foods. Also ask that the child continue to try new foods, suggest that they take at least one bite of everything served before they reject it.

These types of options allow you to serve both masters by addressing your teen's right to choose their food and still insisting on privileging their health. If your child is truly set against eating a balanced diet, consider suspending the conversation to take them to a doctor or nutritionist for help. If the two of you cannot communicate effectively about the issue, then consider asking a counselor for help navigating it. Do not engage in power games or attempt to lie about food to your teen as that will only erode the trust that you have worked to establish.