Monday, February 28, 2011

There IS Hope for Terminally Picky Children!

Our middle child Crash has always been unbelievably picky. If it wasn't meat, bread or junk, he just plain wasn't interested. It wasn't because we indulged him, he just made his likes and dislikes very well known and very often, as soon as we'd sit down to dinner, he'd ask to be excused to bed. No whining, no pouting, just very matter-of-factly asked to go to bed rather than eat. We knew he'd eat if he was hungry and weren't going to cater to him. He hasn't starved to death and he's got one of the strongest immune systems I've ever seen in a kid despite sucking his fingers from the time he was a baby and being a classically DIRTY boy- maybe it's BECAUSE of that... anyway... .
Our firstborn, Goober, was a whole different story. He was full-term after an uneventful pregnancy and for all intents and purposes, healthy. Right from the get-go, though, we struggled with a lot of issues. Food allergies, head-to-toe eczema and INSANE fussiness because of the food allergies, thrush... . It was a rough go. After the dust settled and he was ready to begin solid food, though, I was determined to do it right. I was "crunchy" before it was cool ( read: weird). I cloth-diapered, breastfed and made my own baby food. I used to love going to the farmer's market bright and early on Saturday mornings with my husband and shopping for produce. I'd bring home our finds and steam, puree' and freeze his baby food in ice cube trays. If it could be processed down for a baby, I used it. I am absolutely convinced this early exposure to healthy food is what fueled Goober's love of all things vegetable. There is NOTHING he won't eat and enjoy. We once attended a birthday party for our little neighbor girl when he was three. Because of Goober's allergies, he couldn't have the cake and ice cream, but all the other mothers watched in total fascination as he happily chowed down on a bowl of raw broccoli from the veggie tray and then asked for more. We have never had a problem getting Goober to eat "what's good for you". If he finds out something is good for him, he's even more excited to eat it.
I think where we went wrong with Crash was when he came along, my husband begged me to rely on store-bought baby food to save time. Sleep-deprived, I was all for it. I still insisted on buying organic baby food whenever possible, but the variety was much, much less. Crash had a much more traditional introduction to food than Goober. We continued in this way with Princess, who arrived eighteen months after Crash. She does much better about trying new foods, but she's laid-back and eager to please.
As I said before, we've never catered to our kids, if they didn't want to eat what was served, they didn't eat. We changed our policies a bit a few years ago after learning of some friends who have a "No-thank-you" bite rule. The kids have to take at least one ( real) bite of everything on their plate before they can be excused. It was pretty rough at first and we had some show-downs. I think the record for sitting at the table until a bite was taken was at least an hour. He even threw up once. Not because of the taste, it was more from all the pent-up anxiety. After that, though, things began to slowly improve. The child who would only voluntarily eat raw carrot sticks and mashed potatoes previously was now eating roasted brussels sprouts and cauliflower, broccoli, cooked carrots and even a couple of green beans. Now, miracle of miracles, he actually asks for raw red onion on his sandwiches and will even happily eat spinach in soup. I know tastes change as people get older, but I honestly never held out much hope for Crash. I really didn't. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you have a picky eater, don't give up. Most importantly, whatever you do, don't cater to their preferences. They don't know what they will like and not like. The only thing in their way is preconceived ideas of "yucky". If you cater to them, they will never branch out and explore new foods on their own. Require them to at least try new foods. What we found with Crash was that, over time, as he got over that fact that he was eating a vegetable, it made room for him to find out that he did actually like onions and spinach and brussels sprouts and he's actually developed a taste for them. I am so glad we kept at it!
Here's a recipe for Crash's new favorite soup. I make a version very similar to this with chicken for my husband when he gets sick ( I add cayenne pepper for congestion) and without chicken the rest of the time. The shiitake's are meaty enough. I also omit the mirin and add a little lime juice. I made it for myself one day with veggie broth and the ingredients I had on hand because I was craving it and all the kids begged to try some. It didn't surprise me that Goober and Princess liked and ate it. What did was the way Crash's eyes lit up and he exclaimed, "I LOVE this soup- can you make it again tonight?". He then proceeded to eat a big spoonful brimming with spinach and garlic chunks. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I added it to our meal rotation :).

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