Of all my shortcomings as a parent, the one of which I am most embarrassed is my children’s picky eating. Going into this (“this” being “parenthood”) I was resolute that my children would be healthy eaters, eating vegetables and the crust and self-selecting whole grains. I intended to serve “normal” food with every expectation that it would be consumed, and not create opportunities for pickiness to take hold. [I did, however, intend to be reasonable. I think one taste of an adventurous or distasteful food (such as the liver of my childhood that I will not be serving) should be enough. I think when one has established an aversion to runny egg yolk that a preference for well-scrambled eggs should be honored. And I think the mother of a 24-year-old should process and respect that her child does not like peas and lamb, and should know better than to suggest such a menu for said child’s birthday celebration.]
For the most part I’ve held up to my intentions, but my expectations for my children have crumbled before my very eyes. My kids are impossible eaters, especially my middle child. How do you define “impossible eaters”? How about won’t even eat pasta? When your kid won’t consume a noodle the whole deception-and-disguise method of sneaking nutrition in the back door is really out the window. Ketchup-on-everything works to a limited degree with my oldest; my middle child is a condiment-purist. We’re still holding out hope for the baby.
My goal at this point is to try to keep them eating whatever I can get in them, as they are all featherweights (no surprise), and to make whatever I feed them as nutritious, calorie-dense, and healthy-habit-ingraining as possible. My kids love hot dogs (cured meats of all kinds, really), so I buy the nitrite-free variety. Our chicken nuggets are whole-grain and hormone-free. All our bread is whole wheat and I bake more than I’d otherwise be inclined to try to sneak vegetables in where I can. They love pizza, so investing in a backyard brick oven was worth every penny. They drink little juice and I try to get them to consume something that grows from the ground at every meal; these days success is limited to strawberries which are, of course, out of season.
I’ve sought and put to use a wide range of professional advice. A speech therapist advised that aversions to textures could be the cause, but I can’t quite figure out what textures correspond to like and dislike. I’ve had them help me grow vegetables in the garden, which provoked a reaction not unlike one you would expect if you attempted to cultivate a six-year-old’s interest in sex by showing him a birthing video. I’ve read many cookbooks which all ended up going to rummage, the one exception being The Family Dinner, by Laurie David, which I think takes a really thoughtful approach to the value of eating together as a family and the many critical aspects that aren’t limited to the food on the table itself.
The wisest advice I have received has come from my pediatrician and a nutritionist who herself has a picky child, who have both pointed out that picky eating is primarily a matter of control, so fighting it can only make matters worse. How much worse? There’s a trick in my family known as an “Uncle Chuck”, named for my mother’s brother who, at age 4, spent an entire afternoon touring Brookfield Zoo with a mouthful of uneaten peas in his mouth, only to spit them out in his grandmother’s bushes upon return.
Now it seems we may have our own Uncle Chuck in the making. Since we will be out of town for Thanksgiving, last night I made a mini-feast for us to celebrate as a family featuring such exotic delicacies as roast turkey breast, mashed potatoes, green beans, and apple-cranberry crisp. My oldest son, who has become more cooperative as he has matured, took at least a “no thank you” bite of everything. My middle son, however, drank two glasses of milk and was going for a third as dessert when my husband decided enough was enough and forced a bite of mashed potatoes into his mouth. Knowing what would come of this, I held onto my plate like the grandma chasing the other grandma’s cigarette ashes in Sixteen Candles, and was in just the right spot when JP intentionally threw up. Unfortunately, I did not accompany him when he was sent to his room, so was not in ready position when the vomiting continued on his duvet. I think JP would do beautifully on The Apprentice, as the many clever names for the teams in competition (“Tenacity”; “Rigor”; “Vomitorious”) suit him to a tee.
This category is about “What Works”, but in this case I am posting it as a question and not an answer. I’d love to hear from anyone who has any brilliant suggestions for new foods, approaches, preparations, or other strategies to outsmart a canny, donkey-stubborn preschool-aged diner. Comment below! In the meantime, I give you a recipe for Morning Glory Muffins, which are not only delicious but also dense with fiber and nutrition, and really who can’t use more of both.