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Food Fights

When our son was a baby, we followed the rules set forth by every baby book: introduce solid foods one at a time. Make purees of each food and make sure he’s not allergic before moving on to the next.
Diligently I went through the basic foods, and predictably, he spit them all out.
Sometime in the middle of this exercise, my husband and I took him to our favorite dim sum restaurant over the hill. He sat there in his bucket carseat and the food started to arrive at our table. As the scent of the food reached him, his eyes widened, he sniffed, and he literally started licking his lips!
“How far away is the nearest hospital?” I asked my husband.
“About five minutes,” he said. “Go for it!”
So I mashed up bits of dim sum and put them in his mouth. At the first bite, his arms and legs started thrashing wildly. More! More! he gestured with an open mouth.
He ate an incredible amount of food that day, and we gave up on the single food purees. Instead, we got a portable food masher, and he would eat what we were eating. We would take him to our favorite Thai restaurant and mash up the food for him. The waitress was amazed. “That baby eats spicy Thai food?” she asked. “What do Thai babies eat?” we answered. “Thai food,” she said. “But American babies don’t like spicy food.”
Well, that baby did.
Arrive the second child, who teaches you that everything you thought you were doing right before was actually 180 degrees wrong. She loved her single food purees. She loved avocadoes, plain tofu, plain rice. Then cashews, seaweed, squid and peanut butter. Pasta and sauce are great, but they must be separate. She’s almost six, but things are her plate must not touch.
Everything we knew about feeding a baby and small child were reversed. And I could no longer congratulate myself that we didn’t raise “picky” children.
Our son, who will eat almost every type of fruit, vegetable, ethnic food, or unusual food, is a gourmet. You might think this is great; however, try feeding a kid who prefers homegrown baby lettuce when you’re travelling in the heartland.
When he was in preschool, we brought homemade cookies to a party. Another family brought store-bought cookies dyed an array of lovely colors. I watched him pick up a pink cookie, take a bite, then with a slight grimace, carefully place it on the table and take one of the cookies we’d made. These days he’s in love with Trader Joe’s packaged noodle boxes, so he does eat some packaged food. But when faced with badly prepared food or nothing at all, he’s happy to go hungry and get cranky.
Our daughter is a more classic “picky eater,” but her pickiness is rather eclectic. She’ll happily eat a sheet of nori seaweed. For years a favorite thing was edamame. And one of her favorite things ever is plain, boiled squid rings.
Lately, they’ve been making things quite difficult with a new rule that caught their parents unawares: Whatever she loves, he refuses to eat; whatever is his favorite, she says is just plain yuck. This tactic drove us crazy for months till I realized that I just had to point out the obvious: OK, which one of you won’t eat pizza? (Neither wanted to give THAT up.) I guess one of you can’t have ice cream because we only have vanilla. (Solved with a bit of chocolate milk powder on top.)
But despite our little troubles and compromises, I think we did a pretty good job of getting them through the years when kids learn to think that they should be picky. We followed some pretty simple rules:
1) Mom should eat all her favorite stinky food when she’s breastfeeding. When I read that I wasn’t supposed to eat garlic because it might turn the baby off breastmilk, I knew I was going to disregard that advice. In fact, with both babies we made a point of getting Thai takeout the first week.
2) Don’t try to feed a baby anything they’re not attracted to. It’s not the right time to set up a battle.
3) Dr. Block’s Breakfast Rule got us through that rough period in both kids’ lives when they didn’t want to eat before leaving the house for school or an activity. Instead of fighting them, simply say, “If you don’t eat breakfast, you will be hungry.” Then let them go hungry. At some point, their brains will make the connection, and they’ll start eating. Both of mine finally did.
4) Offer everything to your kids and assume they’ll like it. A positive attitude goes a long way.
5) Let kids have dislikes. I won’t touch goat cheese, so can I complain that my son doesn’t like avocado?
6) Serve your kids good food! Kids brought up on bland, over-salted and -sweetened packaged food are going to have very narrow horizons when it comes to the array of wonderful things to eat in this world.

Posted in Parenting.

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