By Jessie of FlusteredMom.com
Tears dripped from my five-year-old’s cheek, plopping onto her discarded beans. “They look as-gust-ing,” she wailed.
“Try them. You’ll get nothing else until you do,” I replied sternly. This was a power struggle that resurfaced from time to time. My daughter was stubborn, but I had conviction. “You eat what I make. No negotiations,” I insisted.
“If I eat ‘em I’m gonna frow up!” she threatened.
“Then go ahead and throw up,” I retorted.
My voice escalated, as one’s does when debating with a kindergartner. Her crying had progressed to near tantrum level now. “If you’re not going to eat, just go to bed,” I yelled. In between sobs, she shoveled a bite into her mouth and swallowed. She gagged, and then she vomited all over the floor—damned beans.
Historically, the idea was commonplace—adults expect children to eat the food served. Today it’s becoming a rarity. The existence of “picky eaters” isn’t new. Growing up, I ate dinner at a friend’s. When served fish, she wrinkled her nose. As if by magic, her mom quickly replaced the fish with a bowl of cheesy orange noodles. Her mom smiled at me. “She’s such a picky-eater.”
When I was little, we lived with my grandparents. Grandma and Pop-Pop grew up during the Great Depression. I heard about hunger and scarcity often. We were expected to finish everything on our plates. Not a crumb could be wasted. For years, I wondered how I, too, could become a picky eater. Nose-wrinkling was not effective in my house.
When I had my own children, I adopted similar practices. Unlike my grandparents, I don’t obsess about wasting food, but I am concerned about cultivating a love of healthy eating. Children need to be encouraged to try new things, repeatedly. Refusal based solely on taste preferences is not accepted in our house. My kids groan when I serve Brussels sprouts, but they eat them because they are expected to eat them. Children need to be taught to choose nourishment over taste.
All children and even some adults are hesitant with new tastes and textures. It takes several tries for a child to discover if they like or dislike something. And that preference can always change; even a child who loathed cauliflower can suddenly enjoy it later. Now, I know that food aversions are a real thing and I’m reasonable. My son hates tomatoes, and my partner won’t eat mushrooms; easily accommodated.
In the grocery store, I ogle people’s carts and silently judge them. (It’s not a kind habit; I’m working on it.) But one thing cart stalking made me realize is that “kid-friendly foods” are flying off the shelves. Why? Many of those fun-shaped “food products” are more product than actual food. We need to force the new generation to ingest real, actual food.
I can’t help but wonder if placating picky eaters has a deeper psychological impact. Family dynamics lay the foundation for societal perceptions. Interactions with the world are often modeled on early interactions with family members. Family structure and rules lay out the groundwork for the way the kids interact with their future world.
When special accommodations are made day-in and day-out, what message does that send? I say to my kids, “The world won’t always give you your favorite dinosaur shape. Shut up, get over it, and move the fuck on with life.”
For the most part, my kids have become adventurous eaters who impress me with their healthy choices. We strive for a nutritional ideal but are far from perfect. I don’t make healthy meals every day. I compromise, and we indulge in the occasional takeout or processed food-like crap.
But the beans incident with my daughter did not deter me. When I prepare a healthy meal, my dinner-table policy stands. “You eat what I make. No negotiations.” If someone threatens to throw-up before they take a bite, I find them a bucket.
About the Author
Jessie is a marijuana mommy blogger at FlusteredMom.com. She’s a registered nurse and medical marijuana patient/advocate. She’s passionate about holistic health and family wellness. Her work has appeared on Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Woman’s Day, Redbook, and more. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.