(Yeah, another post about food. Sorry.)
I always cringe when I hear mothers say things like, "Well, my oldest won't eat anything but chicken nuggets and macaroni, and my youngest won't eat anything green, so I end up making one meal for my husband and I, and a second meal for the kids every night." Sometimes they even make each kid a separate meal!
And they wonder why they're tired!
Sisters, you've got to knock it off. Have you looked around the playground lately? We're not doing children any favors by feeding them a constant stream of their (HFCS* laden, fat filled, salt and sugar saturated, MSG packed) favorites. If your kid will only eat kid food, you have one person to blame, and it's the person in the mirror.
I've heard all the excuses. "Toddlers naturally go through a period of pickiness, we evolved that way! It's protective!" and "It takes a dozen exposures before any child likes any new food!" and "I don't want him to starve!" and "I don't want every meal to be a battle."
Well, I'm here to tell you that you've got yourself in a power struggle and you need to stop. Now.
To the excuses, I say #1 - most of the picky eaters I see are well beyond their toddler years, #2 - it has never taken any child a dozen exposures to like chicken nuggets, or macaroni and cheese, or chocolate, #3 - no healthy child has ever or will ever voluntarily starve himself to death, and #4 - it's only a battle if you choose to make it a battle.
Yes, it's normal to make special meals for your kids when they're infants. Obviously your 9 month old isn't going to eat steak and baked potatoes. But when your child graduates to finger food, you need to gradually wean them onto eating what the family eats (with reasonable modifications for spiciness, texture, etc.). By the time my kids were two, they were eating whatever I cooked for the entire family every night.
Here are the food rules in my house:
Breakfast: Everyone eats what they want if it's cereal (we only buy Multigrain Cheerios in this house - none of that cartoon crap where the box is healthier than the cereal inside!) or bagels or things that are all equally easy, but if I'm making eggs or pancakes or something I make enough for the whole family and everyone is expected to eat what is cooked. Everyone in my house likes their eggs scrambled, so that's what I do. But if one person wants toast and the other wants a bagel with their eggs, it's no skin off of my nose, so they can select what they prefer.
Lunch: It's just as easy to make two different kinds of lunch meat sandwich as it is to make one, so since Claire doesn't like ham and MG doesn't like pastrami, I'll get out both. But if I'm making something hot (mac and cheese, or soup, or something else that requires cooking) everyone gets the same. I try to make sure that I have at least one item that each kid will eat, and I include a fruit and a vegetable as often as possible - it's not hard to throw the applesauce and the pickles on the table, or to cut up an apple.
Snacks: They choose their own, within reason. I try to make it fruit.
Dinner: This is the real battleground for most families. I plan my meals to be a protein, a starch, a fruit and a vegetable as often as possible (I'll admit that I often miss the fruit, mainly because fruit is expensive and applesauce gets boring). When all four are present, it's easy to think, "Ok, MG likes blueberries so I'll serve those, and Claire doesn't but she likes broccoli, so I'll make that..." Everyone likes bread, but not everyone likes baked potatoes, so if I know they'll eat the protein I'll make baked potatoes, and if I'm not sure they'll like it (the chicken has a new sauce or whatever) I'll make bread. It is very rare, cooking this way, that there's nothing on the table that a single child will eat.
I often leave extras, like sauces and condiments, off of things. So I'll make chicken breasts, but mine will be barbecue and BJ's will be buffalo and the girls will dip theirs in ketchup (and I try not to gag). I don't mind making burgers or hot dogs for the kids when we have steak, or fish sticks when we have the $7-for-two-servings stuffed salmon from the deli. But it has to be similar and no more difficult than the adult alternative (I can grill hot dogs and steaks together, and the fish sticks and the salmon bake at the same temperature). They are still given a bite of ours to try (once they're old enough not to choke on the steak).
Everyone has to finish their vegetable and their fruit before getting seconds on any item.
Condiments are free, but we try to limit their consumption of ranch dressing, and we buy the HFCS-free ketchup (hooray Heinz!).
If someone has tried everything on their plate, and they truly don't like any of it, they can have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich AFTER I have finished eating. Not chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese or a happy meal, a boring old PB&J. In 4 years of feeding toddlers and preschoolers (so far) I have made exactly three PB&J sandwiches.
Two of them were tonight because I made pasta carbonara. It was one of those boxed meals where you add the chicken. They'd eaten the same box as fettucini alfredo before, but adding the peas and the bacon did them in. I didn't follow my own rules, so the pasta dish was the only thing I served. Well, they both tried it but neither kid liked it, so when I was done eating I made them PB&J and applesauce. Lesson learned. But hey, it inspired this post, so it wasn't a total loss.
I didn't make a big huff over it, by the way. Actually, my exact words were, "Great! More for me!" See what I mean about not making it a battle? Eventually even the stubbornest child is going to get sick of PB&J, and he's going to learn to eat what's put in front of him. And he'll probably even learn to like some of it.
* HFCS - I've been looking into this stuff, and the deeper I dig, the scarier it gets. We have got to keep this poison out of our kids to the greatest extent possible. All this hard work and research is paying off, by the way - I went shopping for maternity clothes today and the mediums fit. I bought the large, so I'd have room to grow with the pregnancy, but I can't even tell you how good it felt to be OUT OF THE PLUS SECTION! Shopping for maternity clothes was such a drag when I was pregnant with the girls and I was wearing a 1x or 2x - there was nothing cute! But now, well, all I have to say is, BJ had better take away my credit cards!