Originally published in NY Metro Parents on May 28, 2013
Every once in a while, I’m reminded that I need to focus on my children’s feeding and eating patterns as intently as I focus on those of my clients. Don’t get me wrong, I prepare a variety of homemade pancakes for my children every morning and also take time to send them off with well-balanced lunches. However, the real meal challenge is dinner; as a family, we simply lose steam by that time of the day. To make things more difficult, my two boys are as picky as I was while growing up. My husband says I’m still picky!
In any case, I’m out of the house two nights a week seeing clients. On the three week nights I am with the boys, we get home late after activities and are all exhausted. I make dinner, but sometimes it’s just their standard favorites.
My little guy eats dried mango, a few dried cranberries, a round or slice of cheese, a mound of hummus, and a huge handful of multigrain crackers or spelt pretzels for dinner. This is his favorite meal! This is what he eats for dinner the majority of the time. Yes, it’s easy for me, but most definitely not what my husband and I eat, nor even what my older son eats. My 6-year-old eats real food like pasta and even salmon now, though only about an ounce. However, even he prefers to stick to kid food like Annie’s mac and cheese.
Recently, I’ve had an influx of clients—particularly adolescents—who eat only about five foods. As a registered dietitian, one of my specialties is helping adolescents and adults work through their food fears and learn to neutralize food in general. I actually see a handful of boys with food phobias. These kids either eat nothing at dinner out in restaurants or just avoid going…seems like the future profile of my little guy! Because I’m a registered dietician, I just knew my kids would have food issues. It’s just the way life seems to work!
This influx has also caused a necessary reawakening in me. I told myself: “Stop the emotional parenting. Get your head out of the office and into your own kitchen!” So I’ve been working with my little Billy—and even Bobby, his older brother—as I would with a client. I’m trying to expose him to more foods, textures, and temperatures, and expanding on foods similar to what he already likes such as different kinds of dried fruits.
And Billy is making progress. His latest successful food adventures have been “real fish” sticks, dried pineapple, and fresh blueberries. He’s even taken to eating bagels, cornbread, and a new array of crackers. He’s had some smoothies (blended fruit, no added sugar) and a “white” hot bog bun. I was curious, perhaps almost desperate, to see if he would eat a hot dog and he wouldn’t! What I’m truly hoping for is his acceptance of pasta or chicken…or some non-carbohydrate, non-melt-in-your-mouth victory. The fish sticks, dried pineapple, and blueberries will be monumental achievements when Billy eats them regularly. I’ll truly feel at ease when we have at least three dinner options. The journey to increase his food repertoire continues constantly.
With my ever-growing efforts, Billy recently discovered a taste for oranges; however, he refused to eat them with his grandfather yesterday. Perhaps just too much pressure?
And then there was last night at my sister’s house. Grammie and my sister served up a delicious homemade meal of roast turkey, fresh salmon, homemade mashed potatoes, spinach with garlic (my favorite), cranberry sauce, broccoli, and carrots. As soon as my boys saw the dishes, they started their usual, negative song and dance. Wearing my professional cap and not caving because I know they, especially my older son, would eat some of the food, I held steadfast. I said “No” to PB & J and “No” to mac ‘n’ cheese.
The boys had to sit with the adults at the dinning room table. I served Billy turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce, and Bobby salmon, turkey, mashed potatoes, and spinach. Billy’s triumph was sitting at the table, behaving yet eating no food. He frequently repeated that he didn’t like this food, but he didn’t make a scene. He refused to taste anything and even refused to lick, which usually works for him. So I asked him to touch the food and he was willing. He did touch it and was able to leave the table when all of the other children finished eating.
Bobby, on the other hand, tasted the mashed potatoes and said he didn’t like them. Who doesn’t like mashed potatoes? Bobby refused to eat the salmon and turkey, which I know he likes. He said he didn’t like the spinach, which was a possibility as it had garlic and olive oil; he eats spinach plain mixed with pasta. When his cousins got up to play and he hadn’t eaten his dinner, he chose to eat his salmon and turkey…and then was off.
Now mind you, my boys are just as picky with sweets! This same evening while Billy gobbled down half of a cupcake (I’d actually forgotten he hadn’t eaten dinner!), and Bobby tasted the frosting, didn’t like it, and gave his cupcake back. Just as with any other snack or meal option, he preferred to eat nothing rather than something he didn’t like.
That night as we drove back to NYC, Bobby begged for ice cream. Remember, he didn’t eat dessert at his cousin’s house. I said he didn’t need another “sometimes” food; he’d had ice cream after lunch at grandma’s house. Also, if he’d eaten more dinner, he’d likely still be full. Perhaps if he’d tried the spinach and mashed potatoes mixed or just tried each food twice, he would have found them more acceptable. I urged him and his brother to recognize the need to try foods more than once to truly determine if they like the new taste.
To stay neutral and informational, I explained that with age comes “big boy” expectations, including behaviors around and about food. Specific catering to their food requests—especially when we were at other people’s homes or on vacation—would no longer happen.
As Billy nodded off, Bobby did say something of genuine interest. He said that I seem angry when he doesn’t like a food. Perhaps he was on to something and my immediate response said it all. I explained how frustrating and disappointing it is when so much ranting takes place over simply trying foods.
And so, the journey continues. It’s no easy task even if this is my field of expertise. Like the saying goes, it’s the shoemaker’s kids that go barefoot!