- Here is a picture of our boy’s lunch today. The salad includes Romaine and iceberg lettuce, baby spinach, tomatoes, beets, cucumbers, carrots, and a little sprinkle of Trader Joe’s Quatro Formaggio. All of the ingredients were at his request (well almost, I snuck in the spinach) and he ate it with only reasonable reminders to eat. Proud Mama? You betcha!
I was having a conversation with another mom the other day and she mentioned how jealous she was that I don’t have to struggle to get my son to eat veggies. This got me thinking, because we do have food struggles. Not everything is as easy and wonderful as I might wish or as might appear from the outside, but perhaps I do have something to say on the subject.
I must begin with an admission, I am shameless in the use of dessert to inspire him to eat something he isn’t fond of. The other day I was tired and pressed for time and didn’t give him a vegetable. He came to me and asked for it so that he could earn dessert. We have been very consistent with this rule and it has saved so many headaches, whine fests, and power struggles. He knows that if he doesn’t eat his vegetables and a reasonable amount of protein, then he cannot have dessert. It does mean that I have to have something on hand that he likes enough to inspire him as a reward.
There are a fairly large number of veggies he won’t touch for any reward including: onions, olives, peppers of any kind, and avocados. Who doesn’t like avocados? There are more, I just can’t think of them at the moment.
He has also, and this gets to the real reason I am writing this, moved away from eating Mexican food. He used to be happy with frijoles, enchiladas rancheras, sopa de arroz and many other traditional dishes as long as they weren’t too spicy. It now takes serious cajoling to get him to even try dishes with those flavors.
I swore that I would not be one of those people who catered to their children and fixed different meals for different family members. I am getting too tired to fight it very strenuously anymore. My husband and I really enjoy the traditional dishes and like to make them fairly regularly. Having to pressure a tired child to eat really puts a damper on our enjoyment of our own meal, especially since he will eat a salad or something equally nutritious with little prompting. I don’t enjoy the extra work a second meal requires, but it makes my husband really sad to see his son rejecting the dishes mi suegra (mother in law) taught us how to make. For my husband, food is love, and rejection of food is in some way a rejection of that love. It is like our boy is rejecting the abuelita he never met and that is painful.
We will continue to expose him to food of all kinds and will insist that he at least try everything prepared for him. Our hope is that, over time, those flavors will become a part of him. He still gets a significant number of meals prepared by my family. The food he eats there, and the rules about food are somewhat different than at my house. He still eats well and understands that different rules apply in different situations.
My strategy for dealing with the times that he does not want to try something I would call firmly passive. I don’t cajole or buy into his whining. He has to taste everything on his plate and I will tell him what I expect him to eat. If he does not, then he does not get dessert or any other food until it is time for the next meal. This works for us because it takes all of the emotional force out of the equation. He is generally willing to please and, most of the time, he eats a balanced meal. One day not too long ago, I prepared a salad for him very similar to the one he ate today and he didn’t eat it. After an hour or so, I wrapped it up and put it in the refrigerator. He got the same salad for dinner. There was no battle, just a quiet persistence.
I remember once, I was in probably fourth grade, that I sat at the dining room table for an entire afternoon refusing to take one bite of icky, slimy, nasty fish. I don’t remember who won that battle, I think I must have finally caved, or managed to feed enough to the cat when my mom was out of the room to serve honor on both sides. My mom would not have backed down, she has a will of iron under that gentle exterior. I do know that it took being served rainbow trout that I had caught just before, and had been cooked over the campfire to get me to begin to like fish. That was the only kind of fish I would eat for years. Just thinking of that fish, lightly dredged in flour and fried in a cast iron skillet, makes me want to go fishing. My mouth is watering right now.
I thought about that incident when figuring out how to approach food with my son. I feel that it is counter productive to make food a battle ground but it is very important that he learn to love vegetables and to eat well. Not one of the adults in his life is at a healthy weight, so there is a real worry that he will pick up our bad habits. My parents talk about their diet all the time and that worries me as well. I have no desire to convey to him an obsession with food in any way. One of the reasons that I have chosen the approach I take is to take the emotion out of food. There is no guilt or emotional blackmail and he can listen to his body and stop when he is full. It is important to me that food is not fraught as he grows so that hopefully he can have a healthy attitude about food as an adult.
How do you approach food? How do you get your children to eat their veggies? How do you deal with picky eaters? How does food play into keeping your ethnic heritages and passing them on to your kids? Have you faced any similar issues? What have you done about it?
OK, I am off to make dinner, Chile con Carne if you are wondering.