Saturday, April 25, 2015

Winning the Food War with My Picky Eater

My eldest son at the age of three however once sat at the dinner table for three hours because he wouldn’t try his vegetable. Was I attempting to serve him rhubarb? Kale? Eggplant?

Nope. Corn. It was corn. Normal, yellow corn.

Flabbergasted by the absurdity of this standoff, I dismissed him. I dismissed him just before I had a Donald-Duck moment, worthy of his future blog called, “My Mom Was a Crazy B! ^(# and I Have the Emotional Scarring to Prove it!”

My son is a picky eater--of Biblical proportions. He had no interest in new foods, no matter what they were. My husband and I forced his mouth open to shovel in his first bite of vanilla ice cream. I remember the look of incredulity on my sister-in-law’s face when she gave him a donut hole, and he refused to try it.

I knew, of course, he would never eat it. It was not on the list. The list were the seven foods he would eat:
  • Chicken Nuggets (shaped like Dinosaurs)
  • Apple Sauce
  • Grapes
  • Cheese Pizza
  • Goldfish crackers
  • Cheerios
Um…I guess there were only six. Unless milk counts as “food.”

He was my firstborn, however, so I thought it was my job to feed him food he would eat. This nonsense meant mealtimes resembled a diner where I was the short order cook. I also brought food when we went out to eat or to other people’s houses. My family lives a few states away, so we would stop to stock up at the store on the way home from the airport. I was a certifiable helicopter mom (also of Biblical proportions).

Then, his sister started eating baby food, and his world would never be the same.

My mom watched the kids for me. When we returned, my mom told me my baby wouldn’t eat baby food.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “She loves her baby food.”

“She doesn’t eat it. You’ll see,” she said.

I didn’t believe her. So when we sat down to eat dinner of curried chicken for us, dinosaur chicken nuggets for my eldest, and rice cereal mixed with carrots for her, I wasn’t expecting what happened next.

When I presented the first spoonful, she closed her mouth and turned her head. I lowered the spoon and she turned back to me. I lifted the spoon again; she turned away again. Then, she looked at my plate with a ferocity of purpose that made it clear cereal and carrots were not going to cut it.

Dubiously, I shredded the chicken into an easy-to-eat bite (my kids had teeth super early) and offered it to her. She practically tipped her high chair forward to get it.

Then I tried carrots again. No go. Curry chicken? Yes, please.

Once she ate our dinner, baby food was out. More importantly, my short-order cooking days were, too. When I saw her gobble our food, it dawned on me all children could eat what we eat. 

Even picky, first-born children.

And so began a food battle, which was, you guessed it, of Biblical proportions. I don’t know where he gets it, honestly…

The key to winning the food battle is simple: never yield. Buddy Hackett said, “At my house the menu had two options, Take it or leave it.” From the curry chicken epiphany on, I made one dinner. It was the only choice. My kids could eat it or they could go to bed hungry. Period. No milk. No cereal. Nothing (and Cue the outraged dissenter comments now…).

We also instated the “No Thank You” bite. This means to be excused, children must try at least one bite of everything on their plate. While they will not be required to finish said food, trying it is not optional. However, if they don’t eat it, no dessert.

I lost the aforementioned corn battle. Issuing a stupid ultimatum, I told him to sit there until he tried it. He’s a pretty stubborn kid, so that was a rookie move on my part. Now, I put a time limit on the standoff. Otherwise, dinner can stretch into an hour-long cacophony of crying and cajoling, which doesn’t do anything but make me play jump rope with my last nerve.

Corn battle notwithstanding, I won a lot more of the food battles than I lost.--once they knew I meant business. Unfortunately, the food war with my picky, picky child was an arduous test of wills. I admire his tenacity and determination (he gets that from me.) The obstinacy, however, is clearly his father’s side.

My days as a short order cook are done. It is not my job to get my children to eat. It is my job to give my children opportunities to eat. At that point I follow Mrs. Hackett’s model: they can take it, or leave it.

He’s nine now and still particular. He still orders his burgers plain (yep, meat and bun—tasty!), but it’s a burger so I could give a hoot. He’s also loyal to one flavor of ice cream, choosing to go without, when the flavor isn’t available. However, he tries everything now, no battle necessary.

The other day, he tried one of his sister’s California rolls. He didn’t like it, but that isn’t the point. He tried it so he KNOWS he doesn’t like it.

Three hours is a long time to sit. I hate sitting that long for a flight, a long car trip or a waiting room of ANY kind. The only time I eagerly plant my keister for that amount of time involves hobbits, wizards, or the plantation at Tara. My son will likely sit there next to me.

You know what he’s eating? A bowl of frozen corn.