(This is an emotional topic for me. There are no photos. It is wordy. It is not witty or ironic. If you read it all the way through, you must love me.) (UPDATE: I lied. There are photos. I totally forgot I took them.)
The single greatest stress in my life is feeding my children. Nothing else has caused me so many tears and sleepless nights, so much anger and hopelessness. I am generally a relaxed, easy-going, patient person, but feeding my son J-Man has led to some of the lowest moments I have experienced as a mother. (There have been slammed cabinets, veiled threats, and even some yelling over the years.)
It started with his birth. I had planned to breastfeed, and my son refused. I felt robbed. I felt I wasn’t able to give the best to my baby. I was angry at him. I cried more tears than I knew my body could produce. Five years later, writing about it still causes tears to roll down my cheeks.
We introduced solid foods when J-Man turned 6 months old. Jarred fruits and veggies in one hand and the video camera in the other, I set to work to capture this new milestone. Well guess what? He refused to eat. He refused solid foods until he was ten months old, and at a year, he was still only eating yogurt and Cheerios. (<- that might be a slight exaggeration, but the point is he turned his nose up at everything and was horribly picky.)
I consulted with nutritionists, all of whom gave me the same advice. Offer him a balanced meal. Encourage him to eat. Avoid threats. Avoid battles. I learned not to make a connection between his eating and my happiness (“it makes me so happy when you eat” or “it makes me so angry when you don’t eat”), which can create psychological “food issues” in children. (I should point out that being a far from perfect mother, I have battled, threatened, and guilt-tripped more times than I can count.)
Consistency and patience over the years paid off. He finally started eating things like chicken nuggets and fish sticks, which made me so relieved. I knew that wasn’t the best food for him, but he was eating. Believe it or not, the one area where we had surprisingly little trouble was vegetables. Every meal, I give him a veggie, and he will reliably eat peas, broccoli, corn (okay fine, that’s not a vegetable), raw carrots, and raw cucumbers. Sometimes he’ll eat squash. He absolutely will not eat spinach. (If you are a mother and can give me a tip on getting my boy to eat spinach, I would really appreciate it!)
Lately, I’ve put more energy into my son’s dinners again, encouraging him to eat — at least try — different types of foods. Monday night, I offered asparagus, a vegetable that I knew J-Man wouldn’t be inclined to eat. He said he had tried it before and didn’t like it. He often prefers his vegetables cold, so I gave him a stalk to just hold in his hand and chomp on. He took one bite and, well, his face said it all. He hated it. As he chewed on the asparagus, he let it spill out of his mouth onto the floor. I was angry. All I wanted was for him to chew it up and swallow it. One bite. Was that too much to ask? He knew I was angry. Would you believe, I even busted out the “there are kids in this world who have nothing to eat” mumbo jumbo on him? Reminder — he is four. Wow. I pulled myself together and started to wash dishes while my son ate.
This is what I mean when I say some of my lowest moments as a parent are at mealtime. There is no other time that I feel so powerless as trying to encourage my child to eat without breaking any of “the rules”. So, offhand, I suggest to him that perhaps dipping the asparagus in his cinnamon applesauce will make it taste better.
There I am, standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes, wanting to scream and cry and slam cabinets, and I hear my son behind me say “that was so good, can I have more asparagus?” Um. What?
I turn around, and the asparagus is definitely not there. I look under the table. No asparagus. I lifted him up to see if he was sitting on it. Nope. All evidence points to the fact that my son actually ate the asparagus. It turns out that he actually enjoyed it dipped in the applesauce. Mommy is a genius! Okay that is a stretch. But it worked. He liked it. He ate two stalks. On Tuesday night, he ate more asparagus, again dipped in cinnamon applesauce. Tonight, he requested more and almost had a fit when he found out there was no asparagus left.
What have I learned from this experience? Well, I continue to try to control my emotions during food battles. I know that it doesn’t help anything for me to get upset. I know that dinnertime is supposed to be pleasant and relaxed, and that battles should be avoided. But I also learned that sometimes you just have to get a little bit creative in order to make something more palatable.
Tonight I served J-Man pinto bean burgers, whole wheat pita, cinnamon applesauce, and steamed broccoli. Pinto bean burgers was a stretch for him. He wasn’t happy about it at first, but he likes beans so he picked those out and ate them. He liked the bread and applesauce and ate all of his broccoli.
I know I’m not suppose to tie eating to emotions, but I have to say, that made me really happy.
So, to quote Missy, “mmmkay….uh, do you like sparkles? Sorry to get so deep!”