I have a picky eater on my hands. The baby who would eat a wide variety of things has given way to a preschooler who thinks sweet potatoes were sent by the devil. So you know what? When it comes to dinner, I let Jack choose what he wants to eat. I don’t play with dinnertime. I want his butt on his chair, eating a good dinner. If he rejects what is placed in front of him, I will talk with him and come up with a solution. I do not ever say things like, “this is what is for dinner, eat it or not”. Now in case you’re new the parenting game, this is the part where everyone chimes in with “unless you want to be a short order cook you need to stop that!”. Yes, this was just said to me in a parenting forum last night. Oh. Joy.
With all due respect, that doesn’t work in my house, and I’m comfortable with that. I don’t feel like a short order cook – I feel like a mom making sure my kid has something nutritious to eat before bed.
How did this all start? Why on Earth would I let a three-year old decide what he’ll eat for dinner? I’d say this all started back when Jack was a baby and we were desperate for sleep. When the universe sends you the world’s crappiest sleeper, you try a lot of things to get more sleep. Making sure the child has a good evening meal is one of those things. So we got in the habit of serving his favorite foods that we knew were both healthy and filling for dinner. Call us crazy, but we just wanted another hour of sleep. It never really made a difference, but it remains a habit. “Oh my GOD please just eat your dinner so you won’t wake up at 2 a.m. asking me for a sandwich!!!”
I’m also in the habit of asking my husband if he has any requests for dinner so I usually just ask Jack what he would like too. Why not? He often has to go to the store with me, he might as well be part of the process. You’d be amazed how fast a kid can pick up what are good dinner choices if you involve them in the planning and shopping. Yes, it lengthens the process, but he feels important when he’s involved and isn’t that worth it?
I’ve realized though that this whole feeding Jack what he wants for dinner thing goes way back to before Jack even existed. Back to before I even dreamt of having a Jack. My issues with Jack’s dinner go back to when I myself was a child sitting at the dinner table not wanting to eat green beans. Truth is I didn’t want to eat much of anything.
I was a picky eater.
Ask my mother about Jack being a picky eater and she’ll laugh her head off. Jack is easy – Jack will eat peas with glee. Me? The only vegetable I ate for years was carrots. Raw carrots please – cook them and I wouldn’t touch them. I am sure my mother looks at Jack’s pickiness and feels a certain satisfaction that justice has been served. I know I would. I surely made her life miserable as she tried to ensure I was properly nourished. Let me tell you though, my mother rarely made me suffer for my pickiness.
She respected my food choices. Yes, we had our moments – I still vividly remember the night I sat at the dinner table long into the dark evening all because I would not eat some green beans. I wish I could explain to you how gross green beans tasted to me back then. If your kid thinks green beans taste like that, you wouldn’t force the issue either. My mother quit forcing the issue, and I am forever grateful. She had little things she would do while making a meal to customize it for me. She’d set aside a portion of meat before adding a sauce or spice the other family members liked. She’d set aside raw vegetables for me instead of steaming them or adding to a mixed salad. I appreciated this – 30 years later I still remember it. Thank you, Mom for caring about how I felt about my food.
Please know that my three siblings just ate whatever she put in front of them. My sister would clap for joy when artichokes were on the menu. I just couldn’t. It wasn’t that I wouldn’t – I COULDN’T. That stuff tasted vile to me. So when Jack tells me he doesn’t like something I thank him for trying it and move on to something I know he will eat. It is far more important to me that he sits at the table with us and puts something wholesome in his belly for a (hopefully) long night of sleep. Knock on wood, he has a long life of trying new foods ahead of him – it doesn’t all have to happen in the early years. I learned to love asparagus at age 23. Not 3.
If you’ve got a kid who is adventurous with food and loves whatever you serve for dinner, keep on rocking out with that. Count your blessings and make some sauteed kale tonight. Those of you with picky eaters, I say let it go. You are NOT a short order cook, you are a mom helping your kid navigate the world. Sometimes in this house that means getting up from the table and heating up a plate of plain leftover pasta.
Here’s what I do if I’m making something I know he doesn’t like or has never tried: I put some on his plate and pretend nothing unusual is going on. When he refuses it, I ask him to please just try it and we’ll go from there. If it’s a good day, he’ll take a bite – if it’s a bad day I prefer to just cut my losses and move on. For me the key part of dinnertime in our house is that we all sit down together at the table and talk. The television is turned off and no distractions are allowed. I can push broccoli another time – dinnertime is time for us to be together and share our day. Eating dinner together is often the only time we three get to be together all day, it’s important.
When complaints about meatloaf or weird green things in the pasta sauce begin I try to remember that he is only three. It’s the end of the day and he is tired. I myself did not appreciate green things in my pasta sauce for years, and despite that I have grown into a healthy, fairly normal woman who likes a variety of foods. Green things in my pasta sauce make it extra delicious now. Picky eating is a phase. It might last for years yes, but we will get through it together.
I was a picky eater, and I remember my mom listening to me. I remember how that made me feel. I felt like my opinion and tastes mattered. I felt loved. My kid needs that more than he needs broccoli. I’ll just serve peas instead, thank you very much.