Adventures of a "Picky Eater's" Mom

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As a toddler, my “picky eater” would not let his fries touch the ketchup until he dipped them.  In elementary school, he shunned my healthy tuna sandwich because his friends picked on him. As a teenager, new foods were considered with great caution and barely tasted. Dinners were dismissed unless they were ones he chose.

My “picky eater” had a mild case in comparison to many, but the issues were the same. Food was about sensory acceptance and needed to be understood before tasted...and
drinkstasted...and tasted yet again before accepted. He inspired me to dig into the research around sensory issues related to food choice and apply it in a practical way.

I applied the "trust model" for eating. He learned that there was no requirement to eat something. He learned there would always be something he would eat at a meal.  He learned it’s Ok to leave food on the plate (I learned to quietly fume about how much got left behind). I learned to create meals with his preferences in mind. He learned I was listening. Somewhere along the way he learned to be a food explorer.

Now as an adult, his palate is continually expanding. Why, he’s eating some nuts now! But the best part is this: he invites me on food adventures. It’s great fun.

On a recent visit (he lives in Texas at the moment), we had some time to fill before leaving for the airport. What did we do? We went on a food adventure!

My son had spied a shop he wanted to try, called The Teahouse,  where one can order different types of teas (blended, iced, cream tea, and tea with tapioca). We walked to the mall and hit the food court to try it out.

We spied the menu, and both knew we were most intrigued by the tapioca tea, which I now understand is called “bubble tea.” After pondering the overwhelming number of options, he chose the honeydew cream tea with tapioca. I chose hazelnut cream tea with tapioca. We both chose unblended.

At this point I want to remind you all of the sensory stages to accepting a new food. Everyone goes through them. Some have more steps to each stage. Here’s how it went for me:

Step one: existence
Check!picture of person drinking tapioca tea

Step two: smell. 

Step three: appearance. 
Check! (or so I thought) We took pictures of the drinks, including the lids with Japanese writing. I did wonder about the diameter of the straw that came with it (wider than a Slurpee straw), but it looked fine.

Step four: taste. 
Check?  A small sip reveals it’s a little too sweet, not enough hazelnut.

Step four-and-a-half: mouth feel.  
ACK!  Complete freak out. There are weird, huge globs in my mouth. They come at random moments as I suck on the straw and catch me by surprise. 
It’s a little freaky. I don't like it. 

Jump back to step three: appearance. 
OMG!  There are black things going up my son’s straw! 
OMG! They’re all over the bottom of the cup! They’re in MY cup! They’re in MY straw!  
I thought tapioca was clear. It is in the pudding I make. They look like bugs! OMG! 
We’re drinking BUGS!  (As my brother knows, three OMG's is cause for alarm)


Step-five: eat.  


Who freaked first? Not the picky eater! He drank more than half of his, analyzing how it tasted, how it made him feel, and so on. Meanwhile I kept hopping around like he was drinking actual bugs and making freaky girl noises. This made him laugh and drink more.

I’m not sure, but it may be the first time my son has seen me freak out over a food before him.  What’s the lesson? Trust and taste works. Teach and trust your picky eaters to listen to their body. Then add touch and taste to your family’s food experiences. These are important life skills. When they grow up, you may find you have a food explorer on your hands!

Oh, and “bubble tea” isn’t for me. 



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