Monday, November 18, 2013

I'm Raising Terrible Eaters

I told myself I would never be that mom. The one who lets her kids survive on chicken nuggets and French fries. As a person who loves just about every fresh fruit and vegetable imaginable, it would only be natural for my offspring to share my love of all that is healthy.

We got off to a good start with our oldest daughter. Her eyes would light up at the sight of a frozen fruit smoothie. She eagerly lapped up her father’s homemade yogurt and my freshly pureed vegetable concoctions. I was energized by the idea of bringing her up in a world devoid of McDonald’s and Domino’s. She would be blessed with gorgeous, glowing skin and a healthy digestive system.

But something happened shortly after her 2nd birthday. She began violently protesting anything remotely healthy, somehow knowing that ice cream tastes way better than broccoli no matter how much cheese sauce you slather on top. Her preschool teacher would tell me that she was a pleasure to have in class, but that she was the only student who would refuse to eat the nutritious snack each day. Apparently, she doesn't consider Fig Newtons and orange slices a treat.

Reluctantly, I gave in, making chicken nuggets, peanut butter sandwiches or anything I thought she wouldn’t totally deny just to get some food in her. She loved getting her way, but the stress of preparing two dinners was making me irritable.

Fed up with feeling like a short-order cook, I decided to take a tougher approach. I adopted the old school “Eat What I Serve or Nothing at All” approach. It worked on me back in the day. My aunt, who often sat for me while my mother worked, was able to convince me that the “Clean Plate Club” was an exclusive group that I definitely wanted to be down with. Though I had a lot less work to do at dinnertime, Hana often went to bed with nothing but water. A mere 25-pounds soaking wet, I feared that she’d waste away to nothing if she didn’t eat anything.

I tried making healthier versions of her favorite things – broccoli pizza, squash muffins, whole-wheat pancakes, but she could not be fooled. She refused to ingest anything that even gave off the faintest scent of a vegetable, even if it was disguised as a yummy treat. Our daily food fights made me more determined than ever to make sure that her newborn brother would not end up with the same persnickety palette.

He started out with the same eagerness to try new things – at times, even more than his sister. His love of apple slices and eggplant was the perfect balance to his sister’s nonstop demands for macaroni and cheese.

But with five months until his 2nd birthday, I see the same shift happening. My little guy is now extremely vociferous with his likes and dislikes, and will flat out refuse anything that he doesn’t have a taste for - which sometimes happens to be carrots.

Admittedly, I have been a little lazy, letting the child with the bigger vocabulary decide that they will eat peanut butter for lunch for four straight days. I feel terrible watching their diets deteriorate just to avoid a fight. Not to mention, I feel totally inferior to all of their friends’ parents who brag about their kids’ love for quinoa and lentil soup.

So do I try to coax peas down their throats, or let them eat what they want until someone invents an awesome veggie ice cream?