Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Picky Eating Comes Full Circle

 As I always do, I started composing this post by reading my last one. I think I had a sense of hopefulness that some of Kate’s behavioral challenges would be improved by now much in the same way we all hoped things would be better with the Cornoavirus by now. Yet just as 2020 ended and we had the same problems with a new date; we’re still at where we were. As we near the one year anniversary, I’ve been contemplating how much the pandemic has impacted our lives. I do have to preference that our experience has been one of immense privilege. No one became sick. No one close to us has died. Husband and I both have our jobs. We went though the mere inconveniences of cancelled trips and disappointed holidays spent alone. Yet, I still can’t help wonder at times how things would have been different had we never heard the words “COVID-19”


The pandemic has made me compromise on many of my parenting promises to my earlier self. I swore I would never let Kate eat dinner while watching TV. That one went out the window fairly early. When Kate’s pre-school closed and she was home all day with me trying to home school her, I felt so badly for her, that I let her eat dinner in the living room as a treat. It also allowed Husband and I to have a quiet meal and became one of the few opportunities that we had to talk with each other. Maybe this was just a way that the pandemic had changed family dynamics. We were spending so much time together that we didn’t need to eat together. Wrong. As many would proclaim, family dinner is about more than just food. We discovered the consequences our our choices when we went away to a sleepy beach town for a long weekend and went to a restaurant for outdoor dining. Kate’s table manners, which weren’t great, had become much worse. Her picky eating  was so problematic that we were choosing restaurants based on whether or not the children’s menu would have something Kate would eat. 


My initial response to Kate’s finicky eating was to blame myself for enabling it. I saw the solution was to stop enabling. When Kate started Kindergarten, I told her we would be eating dinner together and she would have to eat the same foods as us. Spoiler Alert. It was a major fail. Every dinner brought a major meltdown and it wore me out pretty quickly. I decided I would start with one meal per week and build from there. I tried making more adult versions of meatballs and chicken tenders. I scoured the internet for suggestions and found a lot of conflicting opinions “Give Choices!” “Don’t Give Choices.” “Use Dessert as a Reward” “Don’t use Dessert as an Incentive.” “Let kids help cook!”. Nope bad idea. The sight of raw beef or chicken prompted Kate to declare she wouldn’t be touching it hours before the meal was served. I gave up trying. 


Our pediatrician deemed that with Kate, it’s not about the food, it’s the battle. We’re in the middle of a psychological warfare and I have to come up with a better strategy. As I’ve been reading through Try New Foods and Adventures in Veggieland, I’ve been wrestling with my own feelings and experiences with picky eating. Firstly, it’s a first world problem and one of privilege. I recall my grandfather, who grew up during the Depression, telling me that he and his brother never complained about the food that was served to them because they didn’t if they would have anything to eat the next day. I don’t have to look back in history; food insecurity is happening now. Not too far away from us, there are kids whose “choices” are eating the food in front of them or going hungry. Not just hungry until the next meal, but actually starving. I want Kate to not only willing eat her meals, but to know how fortunate she is that we can provide for her. 


My other mental conflict in dealing with Kate’s picky eating is that I was also a picky eater as a child. I recall that my mother once told me that she hoped I would have a picky eater when I was a mother so I would know how frustrating it is. Actually, she wished that I would have twins so I could experience twice the meal time misery. Well played Mom. Apparently, when I was two I would only eat hot dogs and French fries, which has turned into a form of aversion therapy as I haven’t eaten hot dogs in over 35 years. Too bad it didn’t have the same effect with fries. Interestingly, when I look back I take note that my parents mostly served Standard American Diet foods, it wasn’t until I was older and specifically in my post graduate years that I started to explore Indian, Mexican and Paleo cuisines. However, just earlier today I ate leftover Turkey chili for lunch and I found that Husband cut the onions too chunky for my liking and I pushed all the onions to the side of the plate. Am I still a picky eater? I’ve often noted in this blog that Husband is a picky eater, who won’t admit he is a picky eater, which is even more annoying. Actually he defines himself as a particular eater. He just doesn’t like green beans, asparagus, kale, snow peas, sugar snap peas, butternut squash, parsnips, celery and he’s not too keen on zucchini. He doesn’t like to eat the same meal two nights in a row (no re-heated leftovers for dinner) and won’t eat starch twice in one day. Other than that, he’s open to anything. 


Much of what I read, seems to disagree with most of the tactics our parents used to get us to eat. Don’t use dessert as a reward as it suggests that dessert is more valuable than the dinner. When having lunch, I make myself eat my celery and humus before eating my yoghurt and fruit, because I know the fruit and yoghurt are tastier and if I eat them first, I probably won’t eat the celery. Don’t hide vegetables in other foods as it is dishonest and breaks trust. I won’t eat spinach on it’s own, but I’ll throw handfuls in a smoothie. I love the spinach for it’s nutrients and the fact that I can taste it makes it a win-win! Don’t shame or bully your kids as it they have a bad or traumatic experience, it can lead to further refusal and can have long lasting effects. Case in point, as I recall my mother’s line, but I can’t say that it really scarred me for life. Actually I have sympathy for her.  I had to do a few rounds of Whole 30 to break from rewarding myself with food.  Going thought the Burger King drive through is one of my guilty pleasures. I’m in my 40s and I’m still trying to figure out my relationships with food; how can I set realistic expectations for my 5 year old?


So what are you supposed to do? I’ve read two sources that are suggesting that you let kids touch and explore foods without requiring them to eat the foods. Adventures in Veggieland has lots of ideas for this. Carve shapes into beats for a stamping projects. Yeah, I remember doing that in nursery school, and sorry Dwight, I don’t like beats. I dunno. It seems like you’re encouraging kids to play with food. It’s wasteful and now I have to find time to build houses with pieces of butternut squash. At the same time, the idea is so crazy, it just might work and I’ve got nothing else. We’re off to play with some zoodles.