How my picky eater brought joy back to mealtimes

As a Registered Dietitian and mom of a picky eater, I sometimes feel like a fraud.  How can I possibly help other parents if I'm not successful in getting my own child to eat adventurously?

I have 2 boys, and their eating habits and preferences couldn't be more different.  One eats everything in sight and seeks out complex flavors and new textures.  He is naturally curious about new foods and is always willing to try something new.  I didn't "teach" him to be adventurous.  He just is!  My other son is an incredibly choosy eater.  Even the wrong brand of string cheese is quickly identified and he will always just skip eating entirely if foods served don't appeal to him.  To appease my picky eater, I found myself doing the typical cajoling, bartering and cooking of multiple foods.  My educational background and professional experience told me that it wasn't the "right" thing to do, but my exhausted and worried mom self had me doing something quite different.  The experience left me feeling drained at meal times, focusing on how many bites, running around the kitchen like a whirlwind and generally feeling frazzled.  Meals were not joyful for our family.  They were like a pressure cooker and often I was just trying to "finish" and move on to the next, more pleasant task.  

After some unexpected family loss, I had a lot of deep thoughts and most of them centered around being present and being joyful.  I realized that I was squandering the opportunity mealtimes presented.  My best intentions had created a environment that wasn't routinely joyful.  I immersed myself back in my resources and primarily the work of Ellyn Satter.  I let go of expectations about if and how much my picky eater consumed at mealtime.  Instead I gauged my success by the number of laughs and stories he shared at the table.  I began to focus on feeling positive about the environment I was creating and not just the foods he ate.  A funny thing happened.  My picky eater relaxed.  In our now calm and often full of laughter mealtimes, he nonchalantly samples new items.  I don't even ask him to.  While I wouldn't describe his meal choices as wildly adventurous, it doesn't matter!  I would describe his attitude and our mealtimes as joyful, and to me that is all that matters!

My perceived "failure" as the mom of a picky eater used to be something I didn't like to share with others, out of fear of being judged or damaging my credibility as a Registered Dietitian.  In reality, the experience gave me great insight into the complex feelings of guilt and frustration that parents of picky eaters can feel.  Through my personal experience, I've developed great passion for working with families to implement sustainable nutrition strategies that focus not on "fixing" issues like picky eating, but instead put the spotlight on ensuring that eating challenges don't remove the joy of eating and family mealtimes. 

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