You know what I hate to do? Feed kids. And you know what I have to do three times a day, times two? Feed kids.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the whole thing didn’t feel so relentless. If they didn’t need to eat *every* day, or if they could make their own meals and sit down to eat them on their own, I might hate it less. But usually, it still feels like the wreckage from breakfast and lunch is still being cleared from the table in order to make room for dinner.
I have one picky eater and one omnivore. The picky eater came first and maybe he was just born that way. Or we may have made him so with our overcaution. We may have fed him baby food too long. We probably shouldn’t have mixed regular yogurt with plain yogurt to make it less sugary. I shouldn’t have tried to trick him with applesauce and green beans in the same dish. So it’s nature vs. I’m a flunky.
Either way, TRex just is a picky eater. And he really likes to argue and negotiate. And he’s determined and overdramatic. This is a really awesome personality combination for a kid at the dinner table. If you ask me a perfectly innocent question and I respond with “Four bites because you’re four” you’ll know why.
It’s not as if he doesn’t eat anything. There are loads of things he eats. He just doesn’t eat them together. He likes bread, cheese, and mustard, but won’t eat a sandwich. And it’s not that food-can’t-touch thing either. He just doesn’t like things on things. And he doesn’t eat the usual kid food, either. Felafel, yes. Mac and cheese, no. Tofu, yes. Hot dogs, no.
So what am I feeding this kid? Well, I’ve come to realize that feeding a picky eater kind of boils down to this question: Do we want him to eat what we eat, or do we just want him to eat a balanced diet?
These two things are very different, not because we don’t eat healthy, nutritious food. We actually have a diet so healthy that it makes me feel embarrassed. And it’s home-cooked, every night (Who will be the next Master Chef? F*&#ing Mommy.) But it’s a very hard sell for a kid who won’t eat things on things. And Mommy’s not a short order cook. At least, that’s what she keeps telling herself.
Also, there’s plenty of crappy advice on how to deal with a picky eater:
“Have the child help prepare the food.” So far, this hasn’t resulted in any more of the food being eaten, but all of our lives been endangered by the various health code violations resulting from this approach.
“Just let him go to bed hungry.” You are welcome to come to the fun apartment to try this, as long as you are available all of the following day to babysit a snappish, howling, pre-schooler who is too hungry to control his temper. I will be at a bar.
“Cook a lot of extra stuff your kid won’t eat, and blend it in to something.” Hmmm. I really don’t think I need to be doing more work in the kitchen. . . .
“Stop waiting on him hand and foot.” I’m not actually, although it feels like it.
So I started small-ish. I decided that all of our meals had to have one common ingredient, or element. It was a tough slog, and sometimes that common element was bread. But at least our meals started to look alike and I could fill in the other spots on the divided plate with frozen veggies or some other relatively easy sell. Slowly, it’s evolving toward a somewhat better situation. Some nights we all do eat the same thing, if I’m doing something particularly kid-friendly. Other nights, I set aside some of the raw ingredients, like veggies, on his plate and cook the rest of them for the remaining normal three of us. Some nights I put goldfish crackers in the soup. Other nights, I lose my temper and it’s ugly.
Like I said, stupid meals, coming three times a day every day: It wears one down.
Since breakfast is that cruel meal that comes at me every morning before I’ve had time to protect myself with coffee, I set aside all pride and dignity, and make the same. thing. every. day. Peanut butter and jam sandwich cut in the shape of a dinosaur, I hope we never tire of you.
This gets better, right? Will our dinner conversation eventually resemble actual communication more than hostage negotiation? Will I ever get to make these recipes I’m dutifully tearing out of magazines? Will my son get a girlfriend who he will hope to impress with his sophisticated palate? When he goes to college, I’ll be sitting around eating bon bons, so I won’t care, right?
I suppose the answer is the same as every answer to parenting dilemmas: Good luck with that.