As some of you might know, I have two kids.
One badgers us constantly for Indian takeout and sushi and chili and burgers. He likes feeling adult and included in our family's culinary adventures and decisions. Whenever we get to a new city or destination, he wants to plan our days around the delicious-sounding restaurants and markets I look up in advance.
My other child does none of this.
To be fair, the one who doesn't (my six-year-old F) eats his fair share of healthy foods. He's got a decent-but-small repertoire of green veggies, fruits, meats, nut butters, whole grains etc that he likes. In fact, pack him foods that make his approved list and his lunch box comes back 100% empty every time. But he won't try new things. Not at home, or at a friend's house, or without me hovering, or at a party or anywhere. And if his favorite foods are suddenly prepared differently... Well, that pretty much ruins everything.
I've been to Picky Eating seminars and had consultations with a family nutritionist who specializes in this kind of stuff (they have those now, y'know.) I've read all the books (one of my favorites is It's Not About the Broccoli: Three Habits to Teach Your Kids for a Lifetime of Healthy Eating by Dina Rose, PhD.) and follow all the expert tips. I involve my picky eater in menu planning/shopping/prepping. I let him make choices. I reintroduce foods over and over again to help make them familiar. I make sure family meals have 'safe' or preferred foods that he can try alongside something new. I don't prepare him a separate meal. I don't let him replace food he's not sure he likes with a treat-like favorite. I model eating and enjoying a varied menu. I take the responsibility for planning healthy options and leave him with the responsibility of choosing which of the healthy options to consume. I've tried over praising him, under praising him, ignoring the whole issue, soliciting advice from friends and family and ignoring advice from friends and family. I go through phases where I seek out and stockpile surefire options to whip up. At other times, I give in and frequently make tacos.
I'll be straight with you: these machinations have driven me to hate feeding my family. Without question, it's the domestic task I despise the most. Give me a thousand Ikea mesh baskets of clean laundry to sort, fold AND PUT AWAY (oh, the pain of putting it away) over cooking a healthy meal for my family any time. And as a result, I've done everything you're not supposed to do when you have a picky eater, namely get upset, yell, enter into power struggles and shame him. (I'm horrible like that.)
And then there was today. Since it was cool and rainy, we decided on an excursion out of the city to this freaky cool historical attraction we pass frequently on the road, but never have time to stop at. Because it's a mining museum! With an underground ride through the abandoned tunnels! F has been asking to go for the better part of a year... and today ended up being his day, which rendered him chatty and happy and lovely. And bonus: the museum is located near the Zephyr cafe, which is all tofu goddess bowls and GF/DF/SF raw chocolate desserts. It's bliss. Plus, they also do up a mean grilled cheese on sourdough bread, which makes it possible for us to enjoy their food as a family.
Only apparently they don't do up grilled cheese sandwiches any more. So, my husband ordered F a sort of egg mcmuffin thingie along with our spicy veggie chili (have you met my older son?), zucchini noodle Pad Thai and a peanut satay rice bowl. And you should have seen the look on F's face when the food arrived. He stared at his plate and his excitement for the day evaporated. In fact, he got quiet and sullen. I guess his actions could be interpreted as a power play, and maybe I'm just a total foolish sucker who enables my kid instead of drawing the line and forcing food that he doesn't like down his throat. But let me tell you how truly awful I felt as we oohed and ahhed over food we were excited to eat while F was paralyzed with dismay and distress. It took the joy right out of my meal. And it made me more committed than ever to wanting to find a way to help my kid instead of pressuring, punishing or shaming him.
So as F picked at a few corn chips from his brother's chili dish, seemingly resigned to thinking that was the best he was going to get in a place that didn't have any food he likes, I went up and ordered him an $8 bowl of granola with blueberries and bananas. Did I want him eating breakfast food while we were eating lunch? Not particularly, for I am a lady of consistency and continuity. Ask anyone. Did I make a huge parenting of mistake? Probably--and sadly it won't be my last. Was I happy about spending $8 on a bowl of cereal? Nope. But I've wasted money on worse things.
And when the granola arrived--a familiar food that F enjoys, and one that's healthy enough as things go--his anxiety faded. More importantly, he seemed to relax into feeling again like a normal member of our family...rather than a problem that was ruining our day out. And I realized that he deserves that.
Don't get me wrong. I'm still going to keep trying to expand his palate and broadening his repertoire of comfortable/accepted foods. And I'll probably still complain to my list of mom friends on Facebook about how stressful I find the whole situation (sorry ladies, and thanks for your continued support).
But I'm also going to try to remember to ease up on my own expectations, and that my younger son is a person with his own preferences that deserve to be respected--even though they're sometimes more than a bit inconvenient and beyond maddening.
And then I'll ask for a bite of his granola.