It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Different strokes

William is the world’s slowest eater. He is also picky. The pickiness is not a big issue, because (thank heavens) it’s never been pandered to at home. He may eat what he’s given or not, but there are no substitutions. Exactly my policy. It make take a while, but eventually they learn that being picky means being hungry, and they make other choices.

The slowness doesn’t bother me, either. I put him at the table five minutes before everyone else, and he’s there ten minutes after. No skin off my nose. If he’s still there when naptime arrives, he’s removed from the table. Some days, if he’s avoiding something he doesn’t want to eat, that’s fine with him; other’s he’s dismayed. And again: It may take a while, but eventually he will learn that if he doesn’t eat in a reasonable period of time, he risks being hungry. (Note: these days naptime is a full 45 – an hour after lunch. All told, he’s getting 50 – 90 minutes to finish his lunch.)

Apparently, the slowness bothers his mother. At lunch today, when I am teasing him for the tortoise speed — “What? That’s the same mouthful in there? Are you hoping it will melt so you don’t have to chew?” — he explains to me,

“My mommy goes like this.” And he strokes his throat with his palm. (I’ve seen this manoeuvre. It’s the one you use with an animal you’re trying to coax to swallow a pill.)

“Your mommy strokes your throat to help you swallow?”

There is a pause while we gaze upon each other. I picture lunchtimes from here on in, me sitting beside William, picture of patient duty, stroking his throat with each reluctant mouthful.

Yeah, right. I wouldn’t do that if he were the only child in the room. As it is, I have five or six. What would the other four or five children be doing while I coaxed him — the oldest child at the table — through his meal, micro-mouthful by micro-mouthful?

“Well, I don’t.” No snarkiness in the tone, just Firm and Clear Communication.


He swallows.

September 22, 2009 - Posted by | food | ,


  1. It may take a LONG while to learn to be less picky. I have a 13 yo who still goes to bed hungry several times a month. If you don’t like what I’m serving, you don’t have to eat it, but there is no other food until the next scheduled meal.

    I like Ellyn Sattir’s approach: the parent decides where, when, and what the child eats; the child decides whether, and how much to eat. This works whether they’re 13 months or 13 years.

    Not that I followed it 100%, mind you. 🙂 When my kids were older (school-age), they were allowed to have two items on a ‘don’t-have-to-eat’ list. They could amend the list from time to time — but not right before a meal! Everything else they were expected to eat, like it or not. (Until they were at least three, they were not allowed exclusions, but were expected to have a few bites of everything on their plates. Generally, one bite per year of age.)

    Comment by Katherine | September 22, 2009 | Reply

  2. She strokes his throat to… whaaaaa?? Huh. That’s… interesting.

    I have no room to talk, however, as I am currently eating humble pie over the pickiness issue. I was so pleased with myself when my son was 2 and 3 that he would eat absolutely anything put in front of him. So I was totally blindsided when at 4 1/2 he complains about EVERYTHING I offer. Not that he ever gets any other choice but to eat or not eat what he’s given (to the extent of supper being saved for breakfast if he flat refuses to touch it). Considering that he will eat anything at all at anyone else’s house (and I’m a decent cook), I’m convinced it’s a control issue. I’m determined that he is NOT winning this one, but dang, it’s a long battle.

    It sure sounds like a control issue to me. Do you dismiss him from the table, or have him stay with the family when he declares his refusal to eat? (Either way is fine; I’m just wondering what your policy is.)

    I’m sure you’re handling it just fine, but a small tip: When he says he’s not eating it, give him essentially no response — nod your head to acknowledge he’s spoken, and then very deliberately turn to talk to someone else at the table. If your policy is that he’s to leave the table, you can add “You’re excused then. Away you go,” after your nod. Then ignore him. If there’s no push-pull, a lot the appeal goes away.

    Comment by rosie_kate | September 22, 2009 | Reply

  3. Wow. Strokes. his. throat. Just… wow. I can’t imagine, unless you had a child who had originally had feeding, sensory, or weight gain issues, being willing to do that. And here I sometimes wonder if I’m coddling my babe and pandering to him too much because I still give him a bottle at bedtime instead of a cup. (He is 2 wks past 1 yr, so I’m thinking not quite too bad just yet.)

    At two weeks past a year, lots of kids are still being nursed before bed. (And perfectly reasonably so.) A bottle isn’t coddling at all. Don’t sweat it.

    Because this is a public forum, I feel compelled to add the preachy codicil about dental health and milk (or juice) bottle, and not leaving the bottle in the bed with him. But that’s for anyone else who might be reading this, not sensible, wel-informed you. 🙂

    Comment by kittenpie | September 22, 2009 | Reply

  4. I HAVE to ask: Do you think he may have a swallowing problem? Does he produce enough saliva? (Does he ever dribble? Can he produce a good spit if there was a spitting game happening?)

    If he doesn’t have a medical reason, then my response to the throat stroking is ‘Oh dear’.


    No swallowing problem. Anything he reeeeally enjoys vanishes in seconds. Yes, enough saliva; no, no drooling. We don’t play spitting games, but I’m betting he’d be fine. One would like to assume a parent would inform me of problems, but I know better than that.

    Oh, dear. That was pretty much my response, too.

    Comment by Maisy | September 22, 2009 | Reply

  5. At our house growing up, both my parents and my sister and I had several food allergies and it was impossible to create meals everyone could eat. So, after about 5 years old, each family member was guaranteed 2 meals a week you could eat and the rest of the time, my parents stocked the kitchen with healthy foods we could prepare ourselves (tuna, fresh fruit and veggies, etc.). It did sort of reinforce some of my pickiness, some of which is sensory (most of that involves avoiding fat and grease so that may not necessarily be a bad thing) but a lot is not.I honestly don’t know what else they could have done without cooking several meals a night. I’m probably the most adventorous eater now, I frequent a much broader range of international restaurants then most of my family is willing to.

    Comment by meep | September 23, 2009 | Reply

  6. Thanks for the food-battle advice. So far the policy has been that he has to stay at the table, but he can choose not to eat. As you describe it, it may be easier to excuse him so that he also doesn’t get the fun supper-table socialization.

    I will definitely try not talking to him about it. (It’s not like he doesn’t already know the drill.) It has recently occurred to me that this is going on an awfully long time and it seems like the only benefit he could possibly get is in the discussion and “fight”. Maybe if I can eliminate that, the problem will go away. You would think that as an only child, he would already get plenty of attention and not need “food fights.” 🙂

    Comment by rosie_kate | September 23, 2009 | Reply

  7. My kids were told (by someone else!) that the Japanese believe that every time you learn to eat a new food you add seven years to your life. This has really influenced my now-8-yo. he and his (not picky) brother are required to taste everything plus eat their age in bites of “salad” (1=1 baby carrot or cherry tomato, etc.) Ironically, the not picky kid has gone to bed hungry twice recently. I blame exhaustion having started kindergarten, but I’m not changing policy for him. Nor stroking his little throat. (Although I’ve thought about throttling it….)

    Comment by Jill in Atlanta | September 23, 2009 | Reply

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