Ok parents of toddlers, you will understand how big a deal this is: my 3-year-old finally tried new vegetables tonight!!!! Wahooo!!!! It is like a huge weight has been lifted; my whole body breathed a sigh of relief. I hadn’t realized how much stress was resulting from this huge issue.
Since completing the Whole30 program with my husband, I have been hyper-aware of what, how, and why I eat what I eat (and equally what I do NOT eat). I mentioned in one of those posts (http://www.projectmatleave.com/?p=2626) that it was making me more determined to improve my children’s food choices. It pained me to realize that my daughter basically loved empty carbs, sugar (fruit included here), dairy, and just a miniscule amount of veggies thrown in once in a blue moon (for some reason she just loves green beans. I don’t question it.). She also will devour prime rib, steak, and the occasional slice of pork tenderloin or pork rib.
Some of you may be sitting there, mouths hanging open, thinking that this is actually not all that bad in comparison to a lot of other kids her age. So what if she only eats one kind of veggie? So what if she doesn’t eat chicken? One Mom I know told me her three-year-old son ate only four things: pasta, cheese, bananas, and cookies, no matter what she tried. Another Mom I know can only get her kids to eat vegetables if they are drowning in some kind of dip. Grass is always greener, right?
My issue is not with the things she does eat, it is more about what she doesn’t eat. It’s the feeling of frustration and despair I feel when I tell her what we are having for dinner, and her immediate response is, “Eww. I don’t like _____”. You’re killing me, smalls!! No matter how many times I would remind her that she can’t say she doesn’t like something if she has never tried it, the response would remain the same.
We tried several approaches, including:
- bribing: you can watch a TV show after dinner!/you can have some dessert after dinner!/you can play with your toys after dinner!/we will buy you a new toy!
- threatening: if you don’t eat ____ you can’t watch a TV show tonight or tomorrow! you can’t have any dessert! you can’t play with your toys! no reading books tonight! go to bed right now!
- negotiating: ok, if you have just this many. ok, if you only have 3. ok if you have just one bite. ok if you taste it and spit it out, that’s still ok because you tried it!
Surprise, surprise, none of the above worked. I was resigning myself to the fact that my daughter would be the picky eater whenever we went out in public or to family functions. The kid who turned her nose up at everything, and the parents who would have to spend an hour at the table just to get her to finish a small plate of green beans. It was not a very comforting thought.
So tonight, while my husband was away on business, I tried one more approach. I perfectly roasted some cubes of sweet potato and butternut squash, steamed some beans, and reheated some lasagna. I cut a few cubes of potato and squash in half and put them on a plate that had different sections. I put some green beans in another section, and I put a little portion of lasagna on the other. I gave myself the exact same items and my 10-month-old also had a nice little pile of the same items. I informed my daughter that this was dinner and held my breath as she climbed up into her chair to inspect the merchandise.
She immediately tells me that she doesn’t want the sweet potato or squash, and I calmly sit down and start eating my dinner. She starts eating her lasagna and a few beans, and then informs me again that she doesn’t want the sweet potato or squash. I inform her that all her friends eat it, her little baby brother eats it, and Mommy and Daddy eat it. I tell her that she is a big girl now because she is three years old and that she is going to try the sweet potato and squash. I bite back the gut-response to use a bribe/threat/negotiation. She tells me “no” and goes back to eating her lasagna. This goes on for a while, and finally she tries her famous, “Mommmmm, my tummy’s full. I’m all done.” (While I am all for a child being aware of when they are full, my daughter has started using this as an excuse when she doesn’t want to eat something). I inform her in a super calm, matter-of-fact tone that, “that’s ok, I put just small pieces of sweet potato and squash on your plate. You can get down as soon as you eat some of that.” When she tries a variety of “no’s”, I calmly tell her that she can stay there until she eats some (this brought back some childhood memories of sitting at the table by myself, but I digress). I tell her that she can either eat all of it, or just a piece, but she IS going to have some. We are not going to do anything until she eats it. I am inwardly cheering myself on and congratulating myself on standing firm. After about 10 minutes of her using just about every angle of reasoning and protesting, she finally asks if I can help her eat. I take a quarter of a potato and add some lasagna and she takes a bite, not noticing that there was sweet potato. She looks at me and says, “Mom, you didn’t give me any sweet potato!” And I tell her that she has some in her mouth with her lasagna, and isn’t it so good?? Once she realized that it actually tastes good, she proceeded to eat every. single. piece. and without lasagna!
Here’s where I think things took a decidedly positive turn: I cheered as loud as I could, I danced around the kitchen and gave my daughter a huge hug, high five, and anything else I could do to show her how happy I was. I told her how proud I was that she was being a big girl, and that trying new foods was fun!
The real icing on the cake (pardon the unhealthy pun) was when my daughter turns to me after dinner and asks if she can have more sweet potato, squash, green beans, and lasagna for breakfast tomorrow!! I was almost tempted to say yes, but I told her that we might try some other new foods, and she asked me what those were, and we started thinking of all the vegetables and other foods that she hadn’t eaten yet. I reminded her that she didn’t like sweet potato, but after she tried it, she liked them! She agreed, and not once did she say “ew”.
While there is still a long road ahead of us, I feel like we turned a corner today, and I am feeling exhilarated and hopeful.
How have you handled your child’s food choices? Are there areas you would like to see improvement? I would love to hear any tips or stories! For those readers who are really struggling in this area, please know that you are not alone!! While it is an area that needs constant “tweaking” and attention, your child’s nutrition is a work in progress! Let your own nutrition be a healthy example!
One piece of broccoli at a time,