My children are extraordinarily limited in what they will eat, and this has been a regular source of frustration for me. I’ve tried pretty much every suggestion I could find and the truth is you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him try broccoli. The issue seems to come in waves for me, sometimes I hum along being okay with it all, and sometimes I get really frustrated and feel like I need to “do something”.
Recently I was going through this “do something” phase and I joined an online discussion group. It’s for unschoolers so I figured it would be a good place to ask for advice and not have to listen to suggestions that I starve them to submission, for example (the old “if they’re hungry they’ll eat” strategy; my mother literally starved for a while during WWII and had to eat grubs – I don’t think that gave her much appreciation for the benefits of insect larvae as part of a good diet).
It should come as no surprise that I myself was a pretty selective eater as a child too. Of course, with my mother’s war experience her solution was to force me to eat everything on my plate. I was not allowed to leave the table until I did, and I well remember how hard that was. In summer everybody would be outside playing and I’d be stuck at the table trying to sneak mouthfuls of vegetables to the dog, and in winter it would be dark out and I’d be alone in the kitchen while everybody else was in the living room. I don’t blame her for how she did things, but I also knew that I didn’t want to put any future children of mine through that.
It also shouldn’t surprise me that this issue pushes my buttons – they say that the things that drive you the most crazy about your kids are likely issues that were not handled well when you were a child. I’m sure the fact that I get so frustrated by their lack of variety is because I had such a hard time with it as a child, too. I know in my heart of hearts that this is not a psychological issue, it’s not manipulation, it is a genuine revulsion at the sight, smell, and texture of certain foods. To this day I don’t season my food much (I earned the nickname “Little Miss Bland”). So you’d think I’d cut my kids some slack. And I do, of course, but every now and then I just feel so frustrated – what kind of freaky child doesn’t eat rice, potatoes, or soup of any kind??
So I sat down and wrote out a fairly long post about my issues, and the funny thing is that even after just writing it, without getting any responses, I started to feel better. Then people started asking some really good questions, and I realized that perhaps the issue was not so bad after all.
Yes, it’s true, my kids eat an extremely limited diet. It’s definitely not the “food pyramid” kind that we parents are told is necessary for good health. Yet somehow my kids are super healthy, rarely ever get sick, and easily shrug off viruses that send me to bed for days. Perhaps it was all that breastmilk, but the fact remains it’s hard to argue that their diet is affecting their health. If they are so healthy, why am I letting the Food Pyramid Propaganda make me feel like I’m failing as a mother?
The fact that they likely inherited their taste bud development schedule from me also gives me hope, because at around age 10 – 12 I began to slowly incorporate more foods into my list of “likes” and I’m now an adult who enjoys a wide variety of tastes, whole healthy foods, and lots of veggies. Chances are pretty good my kids will grow out of this.
The final issue is that over the last year or so my daughter has gotten rather chunky. It deeply worries me. While I was writing out my post I got out the measuring tape and recorded her height. When I looked up her data on an online growth chart for girls I discovered that while her weight is in the 95th percentile, her height is in the 90th percentile (much higher than I thought). Her BMI is 18.7 which is at the low end of normal. So while she may look pretty chunky, perhaps she is not as overweight as she looks?
I came to that forum looking for solutions, but in the end I realized that what I really needed was just support. Someone to listen, to hear me whine! My kids are who they are, and I need to respect that. There is no magic suggestion that is going to change things overnight. I’m fairly sure they will grow out of this. In the meantime, I’m working on accepting that this is an area where they may require a bit more effort from me, just as all children have aspects of their life where they need a little extra help or attention. I’m glad I found the group, but more glad that the solution lay simply in looking at the problem from a different angle.