Most parents have a strategy for getting their young children to eat foods that they don’t want any part of. If we never pushed our kids to try new foods, they’d grow up on Gerber applesauce and pureed carrots, after all. Some parents make their kids eat one bite of the new food for every year of their age. Some parents make their kids try just one bite. Some parents make their kids clear their plates, and some parents avoid the issue entirely by making an alternate meal for their finicky kids.
I am fairly certain that, growing up, I just had to have a taste of the foreign foods on my plate. That in itself was a huge struggle, because I was always a picky eater. (I still am to an extent, but the variety of foods that I eat as an adult is HUGE compared to when I was a child.) I grew up with strong aversions to the smell of the following things cooking: liver, eggplant, and stuffed peppers.
I still do not eat the following things: liver, eggplant, and stuffed peppers.
When our older son was a younger guy, we were really doing our best to get him to try new things. This kid practically lived on things like Mac and Cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches. Wait, let me correct that. I am not saying that we made him those things at every meal; Jim and I were both on the same page (as usual) when it came to this issue. Starting when the kid was around three-ish, we did not cater to what he wanted his diet to consist of. Other parents were shocked: how could you not feed him something special…something he’ll eat??? HE HAS TO EAT!!!
Well, it was easy. Our rule was, if you didn’t eat what we prepared, you didn’t eat. We knew that he certainly wasn’t going to starve to death. If he was hungry, he’d eventually eat.
The problem? We had a stubborn and not-often hungry child.
Once, when he was three, I made burgers for dinner. Now, keep in mind that this is a kid who avoided meat AT ALL COSTS unless it was a McDonald’s hamburger. In fact, he famously (in our family, anyway) told his grandpa–my dad–that his teeth were allergic to meat. And believe me, my parents loved that their picky daughter gave birth to a picky son.
So, the night on which I made burgers was destined for major fail, I can’t lie. At the time we lived in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in a house whose dining room was open to the living room. This boy just did not want to eat the meat, period. Jim and I finished our dinner as the boy just sat there, staring at the meat. He wanted to get down from the table, but he had not even tried the burger. Finally exhausted from trying to get him to eat, Jim and I told him that if he ate one bite–just ONE bite–of the burger, he could be finished. Jim and I left the table and walked over to the couch and sat down to watch tv (keeping an eye on the boy as well).
After an eternity, he said, “Okay, I eat it.” He put one bite in his mouth, and let it sit there.
And sit there.
And sit there.
And sit there.
FOR MORE THAN AN HOUR.
Oh sure, he gave a chew or two every now and then, but for the most part, he sat there with it in his cheek.
After more than an hour, the sight of him calmly sitting there at the table with a mouth-temperature piece of congealed hamburger between his teeth finally got to us.
“Fine,” we told him. “Spit it out; you’re done.”
Two years later, we were sitting at the dinner table here in Illinois and trying to get him to finally try a piece of broccoli. He had finished everything else on his plate except that blasted broccoli. No logic or attempts to rationalize with him about why he should eat some of it had worked to this point, so we decided to play hardball.
“You HAVE to try it.”
“But I don’t wanna.”
“You have to. EAT IT. Just one piece!”
“I don’t wanna.”
“Come on, just TRY IT. Just one! And we won’t ask again!”
He gingerly picked up his fork, stabbed the piece of broccoli, and put it in his mouth.
And then, he gagged.
And then, he burped.
And then, everything he had eaten up to that point ended up back on his plate.
We never forced him to try another food. (Begged? Yes. But never again forced.)
We got our first “consolation prize” about two years ago when his teenaged appetite started causing him to eat us out of house and home. He Doesn’t. Stop. Eating. (and he’s skinny as all get-out.) The way I see it, he’s eating all of the food he never ate as a youngster. And then some. He’s still a little picky on a couple of things (he doesn’t eat broccoli, for example), but for the most part he has a huge variety in his diet and he’s not afraid to try new things, like sushi.
Our other consolation prize will come, no doubt, in the distant future when he has a child of his own someday, a kid who chews hamburger meat for more than an hour and barfs up his dinner after trying one teeny tiny bite of broccoli.
I’m not in a hurry for that to happen, but boy-oh-boy, I hope I’m in the room to see it!