Thursday, June 11, 2009
The Fussy Eater
It's fascinating to see that around the world, parents have very different ideas of what children can and can't eat. My friend who worked in our church in India prepared a meal for an Indian pastor's family, but as the parents politely ate, the children tried to hide their dislike for the chicken and potatoes that were on their plate. When she finally pulled out the fiery hot sauce in a little bottle, their mother liberally drenched the food in it and the children munched away happily.
In another part of the world I watched in horror as mothers would pile spoonfuls of sugar into their children's already super-sweet chocolate milk, and in other places fill baby bottles with Coke! They would also look at me in horror as my children would bite into a freshly chopped piece of celery. "What?? They can eat that???"
There was an age when my boys began stuffing anything their little fists could grab a hold of, into their mouths. TV remotes, cell phones, shoes, belt buckles...I had to be on constant guard duty to monitor what was going into their mouths. Babies explore the world around them at a few months old through the taste and tactile experience of their mouths as their vision and hearing are not yet well developed. That was a perfect time to start placing thick chopped carrot sticks into their hands and other healthy vegetables for them to gnaw on with their toothless gums and develop a taste for. If they swallowed some of the vegetable juice, all the better for them.
As they grew into toddlers, there was no fight to get them to enjoy a snack of raw carrots, sweet peppers or celery, because they had already enjoyed them as babies. As they got older the challenge came to get them to eat cooked broccoli, peas and other such typically "nasty" food for children. My husband was very instrumental in this phase of the game, and since I had boys his strategy worked perfectly.
"Don't eat that!" he'd shout, "Those are trees!" he said pointing to the broccoli. "Only giants eat those - like me!" That was all it took, and they'd be defiantly chewing off the tops of trees to prove that they were as tough as giants. They made faces at the bitter taste at first, but because of Dad's reaction they'd keep eating to show off their "bravery". Peas were bullets, string beans were guns, etc. etc. Some meal conversations were completely taken up with him exclaiming, "I can't believe you just ate that! Stop!!!" with little mouths busy with vegetables exploding in their teeth...Sometimes you have to sacrifice a little sanity to teach a lesson that will last a good long time.
With girls, another tactic might work better if they have no interest in proving a resemblance to giants. Choose a good role model that they would want to emulate - a woman in sports who has to eat well, a character in a book, a famous woman in history or in the Bible when Coke and candy hadn't yet made their way into anyone's diet. Also, bribery done right can actually work wonders. They have to eat their vegetables well for one or two weeks straight without complaining and then they will earn the right to have their favorite toy, clothes - fill in the blank. By the end of those two weeks, chances are they'll actually begin to like those foods, or at least dislike them a little less. The human tongue can be trained to like or dislike tastes much more readily that we think.
The trick is to have healthy food in front of them as often as possible, and limit the unhealthy to very small amounts or reserve them for special occasions. Moms who stock their kitchens with lots of sugary sodas, processed foods, white breads and candy have no right to complain that their children don't eat well. If they see a healthy food often enough, and see you and your husband enjoying it, it's highly likely that they will eventually try it and like it as well. If you've already decided that they don't like it and don't even try to offer it, how do you expect them to develop a taste for it? Common sense; yet strangely not so common any more.