The Picky Eater Dinner Club

By Debbie Koenig

With his 12th birthday a few weeks away, my son’s picky eating remains relentless. After almost a decade of dealing with this (or trying to), I’m convinced it’s no longer an actual response to the way food tastes—it’s all about control and power. I’m teaching him to cook so he’ll have more control, and he cooks dinner for the family one night a week, which gives him some power. But that only takes care of one night. The other six are on me, and he’s no happier about it than I am. So when I heard about a “Picky Eater Dinner Club” run by a speech therapist, I asked kiddo if he’d be game to give it a shot.

Initially he said no, but then I pointed out that everyone in the club would be like him—kids who struggle to find foods they like to eat. He wouldn’t feel the unspoken pressure he experiences at our dinner table, since they’d all be in the same boat. That convinced him.

The final session took place last week, and overall I’d say it was a mild success. Only one other kid signed up, but he happened to be an almost-12-year-old boy and the two hit it off immediately. Within the structure of the club, both boys agreed to taste everything offered—they had to take a full bite, chew, and swallow, which never happens here with foods my son thinks he won’t like.

Week one set up the four sessions that followed, with the therapist talking the boys through what they like, what they don’t like, and why. He left that day looking forward to the next week, when all the food would be wrapped in dough. I considered this a major success.

Week two went nearly as well. While he didn’t care for the meat ravioli or the Russian pelmeni, he ate half of a taco wrapped in a soft flour tortilla, and gave a big thumbs-up to the chicken pot stickers. For the record, I’ve been making chicken pot stickers for dinner pretty regularly his entire life. He’s only recently been willing to eat the outer wrapper, and had never so much as tasted the inside before. In the club, he had no choice but to take a whole bite, and discovered they were actually pretty good (duh!). He ate two whole ones, and when I served them at home the following week he ate three. WIN WIN WIN!

On the other hand, the taco thing didn’t translate to eating much at home. The other day he went shopping with me to find the specific flour tortillas they’d eaten, and I made taco filling using the therapist’s basic recipe. With everything laid out on the table for us to fill our own tacos, he ate a plain flour tortilla first, then put about a teaspoonful of taco meat inside the second. He ate the rolled up taco from either end, ultimately leaving most of the taco meat on his plate. I nearly cried.

We saw diminishing returns from the remaining sessions. He continued to taste everything, but never found anything else he wanted to eat again. The therapist believes the boys got burned out, trying a bunch of new foods for five weeks in a row. We’re talking about continuing this into the school year, but as a monthly club instead. I still have hope. What choice do I have?

Follow Debbie on Connect @debbieskoenig

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