Guest post by Jessica Fiorilo, Feed Me Dearly
Long ago, before my kids entered the picture, I read about an editor at one of the prominent food magazines, whose kids were picky eaters. I snubbed my nose and thought “how could he let that happen?” I assumed that my kids would fall into line with my own style of eating. That they’d grow in a wondrous and accepting food environment where they’d savor a range of healthy, home-cooked meals.
But how I was wrong. I highly underestimated the degree to which my children would snub their own noses at my homemade spaghetti and meatballs and vegetarian lasagna. In the early months they’d eat pretty much anything I’d put in front of them, but by age 18 months, they had developed minds of their own. In an act of salvation, I succumbed once to the dreaded chicken nugget.
And it was like crack. The kids loved it and it was the only thing they requested. Nuggets and fruit. Nuggets and fruit. Nuggets and fruit. I thought I was going to lose my mind.
I started to go through the process of offering 5 different types of food for every meal, a familiar process to many moms. Like a cheap watch salesman on Canal Street, I’d open my worn briefcase and start hawking my wares. “What d’ya want, you want broccoli? You want rice? Noodles? Dear God please say yes to noodles.” Of course the answer was always “no”. At last, so that they didn’t starve, “you want nuggets”? “Yes!”
And so it went, for months on end. They had total control. They were schooling me, not the other way around. My son at one point had become so picky that he barely wanted to eat anything at all. It was agonizing.
My rock bottom moment happened one day when I was yet again trying to coerce him to eat some food. “Just ONE bite” I pleaded. And of course “No.” His favorite toy of the moment was a stuffed cat, and I had the brilliant idea of putting his plate on the floor, saying “look, you can eat just like catty. Meow.”
I sampled a piece of chicken from the plate, picking it up gently with my teeth. He looked at me like I was crazy. Which I was at that point. Nobody ever said rock bottom is pretty.
I couldn’t continue like this, not for one minute more. It was time to resume my role as mom and chief executive in this house. I would no longer be an accomplice, helping them skirt the rules of common decency and respectability.
I bought a book called “Coping with a Picky Eater: A Guide for the Perplexed Parent.” I don’t know how I chose this book out of the 562 results that appeared when I searched “picky eaters” on Amazon. I suppose that it was the word “Perplexed”. Which seemed like a nice way of saying “Completely screwed.”
I read the whole thing the day it arrived. The greatest piece of advice was that my children wouldn’t starve and that by presenting them with a host of options, I was actually making the picky eating worse. Which seems obvious, but when you’re not aware of the first rule, everything else flies out the window.
This book changed us and we’ve made remarkable strides. I serve one meal at dinner, and if they’re not into it, that’s it. If they say they’re hungry later, they’ll get something I can easily hand to them – like a banana. But in no way do I start prepping a different meal. If they skip their dinner, they wake up the next day and eat a bigger breakfast. It really works, and they’ve actually come to enjoy a bigger range of foods.
To keep them on the right track of appreciating new foods, I created the 52-week challenge. Once a week I introduce my kids to something they’ve never eaten before. So new fruits, new vegetables. We learn about the food using all of our five senses. What does it look and feel like? Does it make a sound if you shake it? What does it smell like? And above all, what does it taste like. I’m hoping that by awakening their five senses, it will peak their curiosity about the foods they eat, and make them feel a little more brave. Maybe I’ll learn a few things along the way too.
Feed me dearly is a site about food, family and fearlessness. After overcoming her battle with cancer in 2001, Jessica turned to food and cooking as a means to strengthen her body, mind and spirit. Now living in New York City with her husband, three young kids and a dog, she strives to make food a central part of their lives. She’s dealt with a host of typical family challenges – picky eating, food allergies, school lunches, and the worst offender of all – the bare fridge. With her trademark sense of humor, she addresses the issues head on, showing how the kitchen can be a source of pure, unadulterated, fun, not angst.