To this day, my seventy-year-old mother can’t eat bananas. Why you ask? Because HER mother used bananas as a mule anytime my mother needed to take medicine. Thus, she developed a distaste for bananas that shows no signs of abating.
This story is important because it demonstrates how food and kids can get weird. My mom has likely suffered the side effects of low potassium her entire life, which manifests in the form of…well…probably nothing. Point being, grandma screwed up a fruit category. We have the power to screw up a whole lot more.
As I reflect on my past nine years of parenting (which is the entirety), three instances come to mind when I have made dumb decisions with food around my children as we fought over food. I’ll share them in order of least disgusting to most disgusting.
THE TALKING VEGETABLES
My four-year-old, Samantha, loves chips. She also loves crackers, chocolate milk, Nutella, ice cream and cookies. Samantha is about as interested in fruits and vegetables as Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention (politics aside, he was falling asleep).
At my wits end during one particularly pathetic attempt at a feeding, I was struck with the brilliant idea to turn her veggies into beings who taunted her that she would never eat them. I suppose I anthropomorphized her greens?
Laughing, Sam grabbed the mouthy monster and bit off its crown. To which it screamed, “OUCH! You wouldn’t eat my body though!”
Her broccoli copped major attitude. “Hey Sam,” it said, “you can’t eat me, I’m too green sucker!” Laughing, Sam grabbed the mouthy monster and bit off its crown. To which it screamed, “OUCH! You wouldn’t eat my body though!” Nearly knocking me out of my chair, she grabbed the broccoli stalk, chewed it up like Jaws at a chum party, as Mr. Broccoli screamed “Nooooooo” all the way down into her stomach.
Success? Not so fast. Every solution creates a new problem. In this case, her eating fruits and vegetables now almost always entails me breaking into character. She’s demanding, so I need to come up with new characters all the time. It’s freaking exhausting, and incredibly awkward in public.
My son, Will (now 7), has actually turned into a decent eater. It took work, but I suppose the fact that salmon was his favorite food from an early age was a good indicator that there was hope. The fact that he would ask for it cold, in his school lunch, was an even better sign. Slightly gross, but a harbinger of better eating ahead.
One night at dinner, before his palette had fully developed, we (my wife and I) got in a fight with him about eating his zucchini. He said no. We said yes. Somehow the offer was made, not sure by whom, to put whipped cream on his zucchini to mask the flavor.
It didn’t work, he still didn’t like the taste and we wasted whipped cream in the process. More importantly, our attempt to turn a vegetable into a sweet (had it worked) would have only made him demand whipped cream on every item going forward. Sloppy, short-minded parenting.
BEANS BEANS ARE GOOD FOR YOUR BARF
I can’t lay any blame on my wife for this episode, except for the fact that she took a night off as I journeyed forth with all three of our children to dinner solo. I chose a destination that pleased all parties, not only because it was Tex Mex but also due to its prime location next to a Baskin Robbins. Good eaters get dessert, right?
As you might imagine, Samantha in a restaurant that serves endless baskets of tortilla chips is a recipe for not eating the main course. As the responsible parent, I made each child order milk and a vegetable with their cheese quesadilla. Sam fought me on making any vegetable choice, so I ordered her the refried beans.
Three baskets of chips later our meals arrived. Sam was doing a great job on her quesadilla, but I noticed that there was no movement on the beans. “Sam,” I said. “If you don’t eat your beans, you don’t get ice cream.” She looked at me with her big, sad eyes and pleaded, “But daddy, I don’t like beans.” It went back and forth like this for a minute or two, until she broke down and agreed to eat them.
There was a slight gag reflex as she put the first shovelful in her mouth, but she got them down. “Daddy, can I be done with the beans now?” “No Sam, you need to have a few spoonfuls.” She dutifully picked up her spoon and tried again. Unfortunately, this serving didn’t make it much past her epiglottis. Sam barfed up her chips, quesadilla, milk and whatever made it in from the beans right back onto her plate. Luckily, the plate had a high edge and none of it leaked over. Unluckily (for him and the dishwasher), our waiter immediately swooped in and picked up the plate, thinking she was done before I could warn him of the contents.
If not out of guilt, then out of her willingness to attempt to eat through a gag reflex, I bought Sam an ice cream cone.
IN DUE TIME
All three of my examples demonstrate honest attempts as a parent to influence healthier eating. Thankfully, the only permanent damage done was likely around Sam’s relationship with refried beans, which are probably not the best choice anyway.
What has worked, as discussed on our podcast episode Kids Versus Food, is patience and backbone. If we are patient and have backbone, we reduce the chance of causing permanent food phobias and truly unhealthy eating habits. Kids won’t starve themselves. There is no need to force feed them, they will eventually eat what we put in front of them. Caving in with empty calories only prolongs the pain. I don’t know about you, but the sooner we can stop the daily food fight, the better.