Home > Advice Column > Picky Eaters: How a cockroach helped a mom tighten up the snack routine, while a timer added some grease

Picky Eaters: How a cockroach helped a mom tighten up the snack routine, while a timer added some grease


PICKY EATERS sometimes respond well to having a way to save face when they are required to change their ways. - photo by Anna Migeon

I put some thought into my delivery and implementation of the new snack plan and today tried a new approach that totally worked,” Debra told me.

A mom of three, including one extremely picky child, Debra is a mom I’m coaching. I visited her home at dinner time a few weeks back, and observed that she spent the entire meal pressuring and manipulating the picky child to eat. As a result, nothing was getting better.

We looked at what ways she and her kids are “out in the woods” and where her fence posts are built.  She does have several fence posts in place: the main one being established meals at the table with the family. She does care what her kids eat and is willing to work hard for them.  The food she cooks tastes great.

One major problem in their routines was that there was no snack time: her children were eating their snacks anytime between after school and almost dinner time. It kept them from being sufficiently hungry for dinner. They also ate snacks wherever they wanted to, not just at the table.  It spread the mess all over the house.

So goal number one was to limit snacks to about 15 or 20 minutes, at the table only. It wasn’t easy. Her son gave her plenty of grief over it. But Debra was determined, and creative.

“As it so happens, yesterday afternoon there was a giant roach in the kitchen that had everyone screaming and carrying on,” Debra reported  to me. Here in Texas, we all have to worry about cockroaches.

“So today on the way home from pick-ups I announced that one of the reasons we had been having our snacks at the table now is because the old way we were doing it was spreading crumbs all over the house and the reason why we have bugs!  Everyone agreed that the new plan was best and came right in, no complaints, no arguments, no drama. After 20 minutes  everyone cleared up and went on their way!” Debra recounted.

Little ways to grease while you tighten

She also used a buzzer to keep the kids to a time limit.

Debra’s picky son, Jonathan, got a kick out of using the microwave timer, which shows the countdown by the seconds.

“Every couple of minutes, he would announce to everyone how much time they had left in minutes and seconds, creating an urgency in everyone to finish,” she noted.

She was pleased to report that she had completely enforced the new snack routine and everyone was complying.

I told Debra that I thought that for Jonathan, the cockroach reason and the fun timer may give him ways to accept the changes without losing face. It distracts him from the changes or gives him things to like about the changes without giving in, in a way.  It’s the idea of “grease and tighten”:  the screws are tightening but the grease makes it easier to accept.

Debra’s next goals:

1. Break out of the 10 meals that Jonathan will eat and COOK! Expose him to lots of new foods, so that even if he doesn’t eat them, he will see them, smell them, maybe touch them, thus improving the chances he will eventually eat them. Meanwhile the rest of the family gets to have a more varied diet.

Debra told me that she had been letting her picky child dictate meals for so long she had no inspiration for new meals. She went on spring break at the beach with six cooking magazines, to find new recipes for different meals for every day the week after.

2. Stop hounding Jonathan about eating, and start having real conversations at the table.

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