I recently got asked to submit some story ideas to a magazine that focuses on healthy and organic parenting. I’ll pause so that those of you who have seen the petrified chicken nuggets rolling around my car, often in styrofoam cups, can regain your composure.
My two older kids are some of the pickiest eaters I’ve ever encountered. I can literally name everything the two of them are willing to eat. Here goes: Bo will eat chicken nuggets, french fries, pepperoni pizza (but not any other kind), cheese, salami, bacon, pancakes, hot dogs, cheese quesadillas, ice cream (but only vanilla) and apples. That’s it. Rudy, I’m pretty sure, eats her own weight daily in cheese and yogurt, but she will also eat cheese pizza (but not pizza with toppings), chicken nuggets, french fries, cheese quesadillas, pancakes, bacon, bananas, ice cream, grapes and jello. That’s it. They both will actually shriek if you give them something green. Bo pretends that he’ll eat corn on the cob, but he actually won’t. Rudy doesn’t even pretend.
So how does a mother who guiltily feeds her children only foods that are yellow or beige write for the organic world? With a lot of stickers, that’s how.
You see, I’ve already gone to the bad place — many times — in the fight to make them eat healthier. My husband and I eat healthy and, as babies, Bo and Rudy would eat anything. I used to feed them steamed and pureed kale and they happily slurped it up. But not anymore. Dinner has become a nightly battle, a test of strength. And, let’s be honest, the kids are kicking my ass.
In fact, a few weeks ago I served them each a Kid Cuisine — a Kid freakin’ Cuisine — a frozen dinner designed specifically for picky-eating kids. They devoured the chicken nuggets and the gummy bears but neither nibbled at even one corn niblet. I urged, I begged, and finally I threatened. I told Rudy that if she didn’t eat one little niblet, I was going to spank her. She looked at the corn, looked at me, then got up from the table, walked in front of me — AND BENT OVER. She chose the spanking over eating one tiny kernel of corn. That’s what I’m dealing with here, people. (And, yes, I did spank her then. I had to.)
A few weeks ago I had an epiphany: What if I rewarded them AND appealed to their constant competing and bickering? I created a sticker chart with both of their names and “Food” as the first category. Then I had extra room so I made a wishlist of other behaviors I’d like to encourage, adding “Cleaning Up”, “Chores”, “Playing Nice” and “Respect”. They get a sticker every time they do what I tell them to do. The one with the most stickers at the end of each week gets a prize. It’s working okay. They love beating each other and run to count up their stickers, but it’s only been moderately effective at getting them to eat more healthy food.
So then I decided to just trick them into healthy eating. Years ago I’d heard about Jessica Seinfeld’s (Jerry’s wife) cookbook that features recipes for sneaking vegetable purees into brownies and what-not. I scoffed at the notion when the book was released, thinking, “Kids should just eat vegetables. I if I hide the spinach in brownies then they won’t learn to just eat spinach.” Fast-forward several years and I have kids who won’t eat corn. They won’t even eat mashed potatoes. They run screaming from spinach. Bring on the deception!
I’m about three weeks into the puree experiment and it’s working pretty well. I’m already cooking and pureeing baby food for Lucy, so now I just make bigger batches to use in the big kids’ food — but I haven’t been too bold yet. So far I’ve made pancakes with sweet potato puree, mac and cheese with butternut squash and cauliflower and a few other similar easy sells, and they’ve at least tasted what I made — a major win for me. But with kids who won’t eat meatloaf, chili or many of the other kid-friendly foods features, I’m kind of at a loss.
So tell me, how do you get your kids to eat?