By Gwen Rockwood, columnist
A parent’s job is complex but, when you boil it down to the bare necessities, it revolves around providing three things: love, shelter and food. The love and shelter elements are pretty straightforward. Got those two covered. But the part about food – oh, why does it have to be so hard?
I have what we moms call a “picky eater.” That doesn’t mean, however, that the kid won’t eat. He eats plenty of food when it’s served in the form of pizza, chicken nuggets, bologna and cheese sandwiches, yogurt, cereal bars and grilled cheese sandwiches. That’s the extent of Adam’s 6-year-old menu. Now and then he’ll eat a serving of green beans, when the stars line up just right and I’m able to cook them the exact same way I did last time with absolutely no variation. But that’s the only vegetable he’ll tolerate.
Our only saving grace is that the kid loves most kinds of fruit. If not for that, I’m certain the nutrition police would have already hauled me off to “bad mama” jail.
Of course I’ve tried a whole host of “get him to try new things” tricks. I’ve tried logic. (If you eat those peas, they will make you healthy and strong.) I’ve tried rewards. (If you eat those peas, you’ll get some ice cream for dessert.) I’ve tried threatening. (If you don’t eat those peas, you’re not going outside to play after dinner.) I’ve tried bargaining and pay-offs. (I’ll give you a penny for every pea you eat.) And I’ve tried pitiful, desperate begging. (Please, please eat two bites of peas because it would make me so very happy if you do.)
Yet my kid will not eat the peas or any other new thing – not for logic or rewards or play time or money or even his pitiful mother’s happiness. So what am I supposed to do now?
Oh, I can hear what you’re thinking. It’s so loud it’s nearly deafening: “If you’d let that kid get hungry enough, he’d eat peas or anything else you put in front of him.” Right? I know, I know. It makes perfect sense. To that argument I say this: Show me a mama who can let her kid get to that degree of hungry (and cranky), and I’ll show you a mama who is much, much tougher than me and 99 percent of other moms. At the end of the day, before we settle into our nests, we moms have a very strong need to know that we’ve poked food into the mouths of our baby birds. If the baby bird’s beak won’t open for anything other than a grilled cheese sandwich, then so be it.
Since my son is normal for height and weight, I’m certain his menu restrictions aren’t making him waste away. I worry more about the effect his pickiness will have on him socially. Before sending him to a friend’s house to play recently, I had a long talk with Adam about not being rude about other people’s food. “If you don’t like what someone offers you, don’t say it’s yucky or that you don’t like it. Just say ‘no thank you’ and that’s all. Understand?” He nodded his head. “I understand, Mom.”
When his friend’s mom dropped him off at home later that day, she told me this amusing little story. “When the boys came into the kitchen for an after-school snack, Adam said, and I quote, ‘If I don’t like your food, I’m not going to say it’s yucky. I’ll just say ‘No thank you’ and that’s all. Okay?’” She agreed that it would be okay, and Adam ended up eating grapes. I’m pretty sure she knew he’d been coached. So much for subtle manners.
I have this vision of my son as a twenty-something wearing a tuxedo and looking dashing at his wedding reception. In this vision, he is seated beside a banquet table full of chicken nuggets, bologna and cheese sandwiches, pepperoni pizza and yogurt cups, and all the wedding guests are staring at me in silent judgment wondering “Where did his mother go wrong?”
I’ve probably gone wrong at a number of different parenting crossroads, but I, like so many other parents of picky eaters, am doing the best I can. I’ll keep trying to win this food fight, and I’m praying he’ll gradually begin to outgrow his choosiness. In the meantime, we’ll be one of those all American families preparing our Thanksgiving feast with a side of pepperoni pizza and fruit roll-ups. Bon appetite.
Gwen Rockwood is a regionally syndicated newspaper columnist whose work has appeared in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series. E-mail her at mamas@nwaMotherlode.com.