Jan 19, 2009

Mommy needs a thicker skin in order to feed her children properly

One wonderful things about young kids is that they're so honest.

One terrible, horrible thing about young kids is that they're so honest. They're also picky.

I made our favorite bolognese sauce the other night, with alphabet-shaped pasta from Trader Joe's. I was excited to serve it to the kids because I knew they'd love it.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Both decided without even trying it that they didn't like it. I could reason with/threaten almost-four-year-old Alex to at least take a bite, although of course that didn't change his mind (it so rarely does – but occasionally, it works). Tyler wouldn't even take a bite.

I was crushed. I always am when I prepare a meal that I think is going to be well-received, only to have it rejected.

This is why the kids' meals end up being a rotation of chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, pizza, and grilled cheese, and why Marc and I don't eat much better than that.

Because I can't take the rejection.

After a couple of weeks of nothing but the previously mentioned food groups, I start to feel guilty so I make more of an effort to vary everyone's meals.

But then everything gets rejected, so I get hurt and revert back to the trusty kid fare.

The problem is, it's not healthy. And I'm a foodie, so it's important for me to raise kids who know good food and want to eat it, even if it's something they've never had before.

Every expert says that picky eaters need to be constantly offered new foods, and that rejected foods need to be offered over and over again. But it's hard to handle that rejection. I obviously need a thicker skin. Am I the only one who feels this way?


Camille said...

I felt that way until I read Ellyn Satter's books -- they are terrific! I find that I don't even consider my kids tastes when cook and I feel guilty that I don't take them in to consideration. What kids eat salmon patties and sweet potato quesadillas?? But then I read Satter's book and now my daughter gets what I make and it's her choice to eat or not. If she doesn't eat, then she doesn't get anything to eat after dinner. I do make sure to try and have bread or a veggie she likes so she has something to eat. I have found that when they are hungry enough, they'll eat anything you put in front of them! I seem to be able to handle the rejection easier that way.

Dina said...

I second what Camille wrote about Satter's books. They helped give me a backbone when it came to what we eat. I pretty much cook what I want and if my 4 year old partakes, great.

That being said, I am disappointed when she won't at least try what we've prepared and I'll try to "trick" her into at least tasting it by telling her I need her to give it a taste and let me know how it is, if we need to add different spices next time, etc. Since she oftentimes helps me cook, this usually gets at least a few bites in. I'm sure Satter wouldn't approve of this, but I can't help but think most times if she'd at least try it, she'd like it!

Anonymous said...

Please, you CAN NOT make food an issue with your children, it only makes for unhealthy feelings regarding food. In our house, my husband gets so upset when our kids don't like what he makes. I am the opposite...if they don't like what we are having, I serve cereal. When they are old enough I tell them "help yourself". It's filling and healthy and takes the "control" out of the issue. It also appeases my guilt when they are crying at bedtime they are hungry. Your children are not starving, but think of something you dislike, and then imagine someone trying to make you eat "just three bites". Never use food as a punishment or a reward. That being said, you should still offer heathy choices and I am a firm believer that dessert belongs at special occasions, such as a birthday, etc. Good luck, it's never easy.

Courtney said...

I know EXACTLY how you feel! My son is only one, so I get this a lot. I talked with my pediatrican about it, about how he sometimes won't eat what I prepare, wondering if I should make him his own dinner. She said no, not to make him something special. If he doesn't eat dinner one night, that's OK, he won't starve. He will make up for it the next day.

So, I've stopped worrying so much. About this, anyway.

Sincerely Yours said...

I don't have any great advice. We struggle with this too! It is so frustrating to fix a really nice meal that you think is good for the kids and that they will love only for it to be rejected! Our doctor has told us not to fix something else for them when they reject the main meal. She said, "You are not a short order cook!". But I have not been able to ignore when my 6 year old says "but I'm hungry". I will not give her a dessert but I will offer something like fruit.
I'm enjoying all of your comments on this topic! It's good to know a lot of other people are in the same boat.

Joy said...

While I agree with the poster who said that making a big deal about eating what's put in front of a child can lead to very unhealthy attitudes about food, I also believe it's very important to teach them to try new things. It's an important part of having good manners, and it's the only way they'll learn that they actually do like other foods.

The only thing that I insist on at our meals is that each child, once they reach the age of 2ish, try one bite of the food. That way they can really see for themselves if they like it or not. We also practice the right way to say they don't like the food, since I want to be sure they don't insult someone else's cooking to their face! (But yes, I hate to hear them say they don't like it, and I hate to see the food go un-eaten. But I persist in exposing them to new things because it really is working -- my oldest is very willing to try new things and has discovered he likes some surprising things.)

I do tailor food for the kids once in awhile, when I'm cooking something with ingredients I already know they don't like (such as mushrooms or hot peppers). I will either add the mushrooms to my food later, or I will make a plainer version of the food for them (e.g. half a pizza with just pepperoni, half with the works). But I don't make them something completely different, and I don't let them snack or eat an alternative later. If they choose to go hungry, that's their choice.

Oh, one more thing. If we have dessert in the house, they only get to eat some if they eat everything on their plate.

So keep trying new things with them! You and they will get there eventually.

Caroline said...

I totally understand what you mean about having thick skin. I love food and love to cook. I was on the Board of a national food organization for four years, and I hope my kids love food as well. I have twins who are almost 6 yrs old and very different; there are very few foods that make both kids happy. While I agree that forced membership in the "clean your plate" club can do very real harm, a very important part of childhood is experiencing new things, and I think it's equally harmful to not facilitate this. My kids can be very quick to decide they don't like new foods before tasting - which is not ok with me.

Our policy (starting around age 4)is that everybody has to take at least one "no thank you" bite of every food served. This means that they have to eat one bite without drama, and if they truly do not like the food after tasting it, then they have to politely say, "No, thank you". When that happens, they do not have to eat any more of that food. If it's a food we've had several times and the child has consistently not liked, I'll forgo the "no thank you" bite.

I try to make sure that everyone has at least one thing they like at each meal. I also tell both kids (almost every meal) that I try to choose foods they will like - sometimes I just guess wrong. However, both of my daughters have decided they liked foods after tasting it a few times. If your child is strong-willed, it may take several tastings for them to admit they really do like something.

The girls are starting to go to friends homes for more meals, and I'm trying so hard to teach them to be considerate of their friends' parents - I really hope my kids aren't the ones who make a big deal about not liking the food. (I can deal with kids not liking the food as long as they're polite about it.) We've also started talking about how there are different recipes for one food that may taste very different. Therefore, if they don't like something at our house, their friend's mom may have a better recipe and they may like it, so they should always try.

Good luck!! This is an area that is very frustrating for me.

Mommyhood is Thankless said...

I know a lot of picky people, and I have very few things that I don't like and will refuse to try something that contains the ingredient. I don't like mushrooms, I am not overly fond of raw onions (I will eat them though if there isn't a ton), and shellfish (I am allergic.

Let me tell you something about these picky eaters that may be a bit hard to hear. They all were catered to at a young age. In the sense that their mothers would make something they would say that they don't like it and then mom would make something else special for them just so they would eat.

They see they have that power to reject your food and control what they have for dinner and they get hooked on it.

I know about this first hand from one of my children, before I came around this kid wouldn't eat anything but chicken nuggets, hamburgers, mac and cheese, etc. I made what I made (within reason I am not plopping crazy food in front of this kid) and if she didn't want it well then fine, she won't starve.

I think she went maybe 2 days not eatting dinner, she did have something else later on not of her choosing, I made a sandwich or something I don't remember.

After those two days she saw that I meant business, I wasn't going to create 2 meals just humor her alone. And surprise of surprises, those things that she pretended to hate turned out to be her favorites.

If you let them go on with that behavior, they will never try new things and be like one of my friends who refuses to order anything at any restaurant other than a hamburger. They need to try new things at a young age to open up their minds to new doesn't mean nasty.

Kids have very few things in life that they can control, and what they eat is one of them, unfortunately their current favorites arent the peak of healthiness and won't help them in the long run.

It's your job as a mom to force them into trying new things, so they won't end up eatting the same way 16 years down the line where it will effect their health with weight gain, vitamin deficiencies, etc.

Try getting them involved in cooking, they are very young but they can get ingredients out of the fridge, "wash" produce, pour in premeasured ingredients (with assistance), etc. They will feel more in control that way.

After forcing my extra picky eater to eat what I cook or don't eat at all, she has become quite the adventurous eater. So do yourself a favor now and be the bad guy for a few days, your whole family will be healthier in the long run!

I just wrote a book here :D

Unknown said...

i always feel this way, which is why my husband is in chagre of cooking once a week to give me s break

Anonymous said...

My boys are three and a half and two. When presented with something new, they categorically reject it without even trying it. I tell them to eat it or not, their choice, they are not getting anything later. Nine times out of ten, they eventually eat at least some of it, and they are getting better as time goes on. Do not give in to that, or you'll be eating that lovely kids menu forever.

In their lunches, they always get stuff that they will eat that is healthy. I know they eat that. And, I've been putting out cut veggies with ranch dressing before dinner. They are hungry, and often munch on that.

They won't starve. You do not and should not cater to them. You are teaching them that they will get their way if they protest enough. Whose the boss? : )

sunnymum said...

You're right, it's tough facing rejection. Nice to read the comments from other readers here too.

Unknown said...

My son is 10, he has ADHD, ODD and Aspergers Syndrome. So if I try to feed him something other than PB&J he not only rejects it, he has a screaming fit and says all kinds of terrible things to me about my cooking status. Personally, I think that if PB&J is all he can base it on, what does he know! ;-) But seriously, folks, It's tough when your child says "I'm not going to eat that crap!" I wish I had an answer. Thank God for my daughter. Bless her heart she will try anything I put on the table, and most of the time she really likes it, as does my husband. If it weren't for them, my confidence would seriously be lacking! ;-)