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You have no idea how thrilled I was when my little daughter Violet, now 5, ate whatever I fed her as an infant.
"She likes it! She likes it!" I crowed about my organic, salt-free, lightly steamed spinach. Surely we were the best parents who ever lived. I soon bought the home made baby food Bible, Super Baby Food, and I was off on a glorious spate of self-righteous baby food-making. Sweet potatoes, collards, green beans, carrots; I steamed them all, whirred them in the blender, and transformed them into colorful frozen cubes, ready at a moment's notice for my sacrosanct good eater. Later, bolstered by my success, I bought one of those little purse-sized food mills, and whatever I ate, she ate, ground up into tiny bits.
Oh, my, did she eat! Swiss chard risotto! Chicken vindaloo! Carnitas burrito! You give it to her, she'd eat it. Thankfully, I see that even then I attributed my luck to, well, just that. Luck. I probably was more smug than I revealed, however. I had a foodie child! Fie on you all who give nuggets and puffs! My kid is better because I am better, neener neener neener.
And then, things changed. She turned 18 months, which I've since learned is a watershed age for picky kids. They go from accepting to discerning, almost literally overnight.
And the battle was on. It would take too long and be way too boring to tell you the many ways I have tried to convince Violet to eat vegetables, but it ranges up to and including:
- Visiting farmer's markets and letting Violet choose any vegetable she wanted (she sure enjoyed looking at those winter squashes!)
- Buying special kid-sized tools for the kitchen and having her help prepare vegetables
- Letting Violet flip through photo-heavy vegetarian recipe books to pick which vegetable dish she wanted to try (answer: none)
- Painting still-lifes of vegetables (I kid you not. I thought if she could appreciate their beauty, she might get into eating them. No.)
- Planting and harvesting vegetables from her grandmother's garden
- Making dips from vegetables, or using vegetable sticks as dips for things she likes (she licks the dip off and throws away the carrots)
And about 17,000 other ridiculous things, including hiding vegetables in smoothies and sauces (note to self: green beans are NOT good in smoothies. Also, now Violet distrusts tomato sauce. Fabulous!), allowing her only one serving of carbs/proteins at meals and seconds only of fruit and vegetables, sewing felt versions of cabbages and carrots (again, not kidding), and leaving vegetables on the dinner table in serving bowls with serving spoons, set right in front of her, in case she might want to serve herself some (she never did).
Thankfully, at some point during the Great Era of Dinnertime Battles, a friend recommended the smart, sane book by Ellyn Satter, How to Get Your Child to Eat ... But Not Too Much, a book that made a heck of a lot of sense to me, and still does. My job, Satter articulated, was to make healthy food available. Her job was to eat it, or not.
In practice, this works out like this: I make a dinner. If it's something I know she'll like (pasta), she has to eat it. If it's something I know she won't (veggie stir fry), she can eat the component of the meal that she likes (white rice, natch), and ignore everything else on her plate, and eat as much of the liked food as she wants. If there's nothing she likes, she can make herself a peanut butter sandwich, or eat fruits or vegetables.
There's always a vegetable on her plate, but she doesn't have to eat it. She doesn't even have to try it (the "no thank you" bite thing always ended up in an escalating battle of wills that gave me indigestion), she just has to refrain from making negative comments about it.
She will eat carrots if they are cooked to death inside a soup. "Soft carrots," she calls them. She will eat cabbage and a few other vegetables if they are chopped very finely inside some type of dumpling. She eats no other vegetables, very little meat, and begs me constantly for sweets and junk food, which I try to dole out on a schedule somewhere between "let her have everything and weigh 800 pounds" and "never give her any junk and she turns into a weirdo." And thankfully, she does like some healthy things, like beans, avocado, fruit, and yogurt, which I give her as often as possible (and thank my lucky stars that she's not even further along the picky continuum). I model healthy eating. I talk about how great my vegetable dishes are. And I hope.
After all, I am myself a reformed picky eater. Tales of my pickiness are legendary in my family, and, to this day, I won't eat cheese or mayonnaise. But I will eat every other thing in the world, up to and including deep-fried grasshoppers, tripe, and food doused in a sauce that's basically rotted fish. I can barely even explain how I got from there to here, it happened so gradually. I just have to hope that the same thing will happen to Violet, without me forcing her, or pressuring her, or making every single mealtime a misery.
Image source: Flickr member superbez under Creative Commons
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