Long ago, before my kids entered the picture, I read an article on picky eating written by an editor at one of the prominent food magazines. He admitted that he struggled to feed his kids healthy foods despite his own love for food.
I wondered how he could have let that happen. I assumed that my kids would fall into line with my own style of eating. That they’d grow up in a wondrous and accepting food environment where they’d eat a broad range home-cooked meals.
I was wrong. I highly underestimated the degree to which my children would develop their own picky eating tendencies; how they’d turn their heads when I presented them with homemade spaghetti and meatballs and vegetarian lasagna. In the early months they’d eat pretty much anything I’d put in front of them, but by age 18 months, they had developed minds of their own. In an act of salvation, I turned to the nugget.
It was like crack. The kids loved; immediately it became their most requested food. Nuggets and fruit. Nuggets and fruit. Nuggets and fruit.
So began my painstaking efforts to offer multiple options at every meal. Like a cheap watch salesman on Canal Street, I’d open my worn briefcase and hawk my wares. “What d’ya want, you want broccoli? You want rice? Noodles? Dear God please say yes to noodles.” Of course the answer was always “no”. At last, so that they wouldn’t starve: “nuggets”?
And so it went, for months on end. They had total control. They were schooling me, not the other way around. My son at one point had become so picky that he barely wanted to eat anything at all.
My rock bottom moment happened one day when I was trying to coerce him to eat his lunch. “Just ONE bite” I pleaded.
As usually, the response was “no.”
His favorite toy of the moment was a stuffed cat, and, brilliantly, I decided to put his plate on the floor. “Look Sam! You can eat just like catty. Meow.”
I sampled a piece of chicken from the plate, picking it up gently in my teeth. Nobody said rock bottom looks pretty.
After I stood up, saw the plate on the floor, ,and realized the tragedy of the situation. It was all too Neanderthal for my taste. Or anyone’s taste for that matter.
I couldn’t continue like this, that I knew. It was time to resume my role as mother and rule maker. I would no longer be an accomplice.
I bought a book called “Coping with a Picky Eater: A Guide for the Perplexed Parent.” It’s a mystery why I chose this book out of the 562 results that appeared when I searched “picky eaters” on Amazon. I suppose that it was the word “perplexed”. Which seemed like a good analogy for “completely screwed.”
I read the whole book the day it arrived. The greatest piece of advice was that my children wouldn’t starve and that by presenting them with a host of options, I was actually making the picky eating worse. Which seems obvious, but when you’re not aware of the first rule, everything else flies out the window.
This book changed us and we’ve made remarkable strides. I serve one meal at dinner, and if they’re not into it, that’s it. If they’re hungry later, they’ll get something that I can easily hand to them – a banana or a few crackers. In no way do I start prepping a different meal. If they skip dinner, they’ll wake up the next day and eat a bigger breakfast. Simple. And if you don’t believe me, try it for a week.
To keep them on the right track, I decided to challenge them to eat 100 new foods. Once a week for nearly two years, I introduced my kids to a new fruit or vegetable that they’d never eaten before. We learned about the food using all of our five senses. What did it look and feel like? Did it make a sound if you shake it? What did it smell like? Above all, what did it taste like. By awakening their five senses, it piqued their curiosity about new foods, and above all, made them feel a little bit more brave. I’m not saying that it was easy. But the result – being able to hand my kids a bowl of greens and watch them eat every last bite – was well worth it.