As parents, you hear all the time about "picky eaters". You actually hear things like, my kid won't eat anything but chicken nuggets and French fries or input your own food you don't want your kid living off of. I always think, really? How does that work exactly? The kid is cooking chicken nuggets or driving out to the fast food place for them and paying? Then I think of my childhood.
Don't get me wrong, my mother made lots of healthy meals and we really didn't eat out much. I ate meat as a kid. I was a super picky eater. I would pick the meat out of chili and not eat any of the vegetables. Not that I was a huge meat fan either. I would only eat hamburgers my mother made and never with anything, but ketchup on it. I was grossed out by chicken on the bone because of the veins. I only liked carrots raw, never cooked. I would never eat a raw tomato. I would never pick up a fruit (like an apple) and eat it, my mother would have to cut it up. I hated spinach and many other vegetables. My parents would give me a pea on my plate for every year I was old to get me to eat them (which I swallowed whole so I wouldn't have to taste them). I don't know how old I was when the great pea incident happened, but I remember it...I put all the peas in my mouth and I just couldn't swallow so I ran to my bedroom and spit them out in the trash and then hid under my bed. Doesn't sound so bad now, but I remember the feeling of doom and trouble, but I just couldn't gag them down.
My mother was a saint. Being a mother myself now I feel tremendous guilt for the amount of pain and suffering I must have caused her on the food front. I hope I told her I was sorry before she died, but if not...I am so sorry mom. My mother was a great cook. People always wanted her recipes and even at her funeral remarks were made about her being in heaven feeding everyone. She would have someone over for dinner once and remember what they commented they liked or what they ate the most of and if they ever came over again it would be served...no matter what. "Mom, we already have baked potatoes." "Yes, I know, but your friend Susie really likes mashed." So there would be mashed potatoes for Susie. And probably separate mashed potatoes for me since I was a freak and only liked the mashed potatoes from a box (less lumps). From a box! Ew! Is that even food? My son oldest son was a little over 2 when my mother died and still the other day he was eating something and said "This reminds me of what your mother used to make...she was such a good cook." I'm pretty sure we've never said this in front of him. I asked him what Grandma used to make and he came up with stuff she made him in the short time they had together. The power of food.
My mother was an enabler. I'm sure she was tired. I am the youngest of three and I came seven and half years after my closest sibling. "Bonus baby", "accident"...all depends on how you look at life. Anyway, I'm sure my brother and sister did not have the same experience I did, but they probably weren't as picky as I was either. Anyway, she eventually stopped fighting my pickiness and just fed me foods I would eat. A blessing or a curse.
My husband and I like to play the "What disgusting food did you eat as a kid? Game" It is usually a food we *enjoyed* as a kid, but would never bring ourselves to eat now. Rob grew up in the south so he almost always wins.
Some favorites from my list:
Saltine crackers with marshmallow stuff (or was it called fluff?) on it (while watching TV).
*There actually is a vegan equivalent to marshmallow stuff now, but I don't eat many crackers (no nutrients) and can't remember the last time I had a Saltine. Of course, we don't own a TV.
Jelly and butter (I guess it was margarine) on white bread. I'm not talking like toast with butter and jelly, but chunks of butter with jelly between two slices of bread. Okay, what was my mother thinking? It was always grape jelly (can't really stand grape now) and I remember introducing this snack to my next door neighbor/best friend. I'm sure her mom was super happy about that.
I had a friend in Junior High who ate potato chips and dipped them in ketchup. I guess it is similar to French fries, but it still is pretty disgusting to me now.
Favorite from Rob's list:
A double decker PB and J and bologna, mustard and cheese. We are talking a piece of bread, jelly, peanut butter, another piece of bread, mustard, bologna, cheese, and another slice of bread. Ugh!
In the end, it all worked out. I eventually, stopped eating mammals first and this opened up my food choices. I know that sounds funny, but the farther I went into vegetarianism and then veganism the more foods I ate. I love vegetables now and don't eat much of anything from a box. I enjoy a wide range of foods and so do my kids and looking back I have my mother to thank. We did have a wide variety of foods growing up, even if I wouldn't touch the kiwi or eggplant or whathaveyou, it still paved the way for me to recognize and love the foods later in life. I hope she recognized that and although I know she never stopped worrying about me and food (as a mom, I'm guessing you just never stop worrying period), I would like to think she was pretty happy how healthy I became. She would ask me for nutritional and food advice after I became and adult.
Rob thinks I enable our own kids a bit. We have this ongoing "food fight". I don't "allow" chips in the house. When Rob and I first got together we both worked a lot and sometimes he would come home and eat chips and salsa for dinner (doesn't matter to me that they were both organic and the chips are the Bearito brand which is baked and made from whole ingredients). So when we had children, I decided no chips. They fill you up, don't have any nutrients (I'm big on the wasted calories thing...although I suppose the salsa has some vitamin A). I don't have a problem with the having real fruit popsicles (they love the mango ones which again have vitamin A), sorbet (usually mango...vitamin A), and occasionally soy or rice cream (no nutrient, but it is cold and have I mentioned we don't have A/C?) and they usually top it with fruit. So, even though Rob is the one who introduced me to rice and soy creams and loved to eat them pre-kids, he doesn't think I should buy them. I don't know if it is a tit-for-tat type thing because I'm such a bitch about the chips, but there you go.
The most ironic thing about this ongoing food fight is that the kids are actually incredibly good and self-control and don't eat any "junk" foods to excess. They can see the soy or rice cream in the freezer and not eat it...Rob and I are not that good. The kids can eat a bite or two of a dessert and leave the rest. Rob and I have a hard time with that. To be perfectly honest, most of the time we don't have junk food around and the kids eat frozen or fresh fruits as dessert. They have never dipped fresh strawberries in sugar (both Rob and I grew up thinking fresh strawberries had to be dipped in sugar to be edible) and they enjoy a very wide range of whole foods. For Dema's second birthday, I made a blueberry coffee cake which was very low in sugar. He loved it. We didn't have a cake for Parker's seventh birthday party. He just wanted a fruit salad for the party and stuffed grape leaves for his birthday dinner.
People are always noticing what the kids eat and asking how we do it. While, I think a lot of it is luck and I'm waiting for the "payback" kid to haunt me since I deserve it for putting my mother through food hell, there are some tips.
1. Don't write a food off. Your child (or spouse) doesn't like something the first or fifth time you serve it? Don't give up, serve it another way. Chances are, eventually they will come around. Be open to the possibility they will never like it and they may have good reasons...food allergy or food sensitivity. That is okay too. There are so many different foods out there and nature didn't make one food the only way to get a nutrient. Variety is the key. We are incredibly lucky to have access to so many foods all year round in this country. Of course, I am a big supporter of eating organic, locally, and in season, but we do enjoy our mangoes and avocados too.
3. Eat the foods yourself. Nothing beats modeling good nutrition. I think this is what finally helped me. My parents both loved vegetables and although no one would accuse my father of being a vegetarian, he would eat anything put down in front of him and to my knowledge never met a vegetable he didn't like. This also means trying new foods yourself. Parker, my seven year old, is fond of saying "It never hurts to try something new." He may not always take to a food, but he is usually up to trying something.
4. Get rid of the foods you feel are unhealthy. Don't have them in the house. Don't want your child living on french fries? Don't buy them. They can't eat what they don't have access to and they will have more room for the yummy whole foods you have in the house.
5. Have healthy quick snacks available. Kids like to pl ay and play and some children forget to eat or get so involved in what they are doing until they are starving. Then they need something right away. We don't have any allergies so I like keeping different nuts, seeds, and dried fruit on hand for a quick pick me up until I have time to cook something. Apples or carrots w/nut butters are also quick and the kids love it.
6. Cook with your children. This is so helpful. They feel like they are part of the process and are more likely to eat something they helped with...from shopping at the store or farmer's market or better yet picking produce from the garden to chopping up vegetables or stirring the food in on the stove, it is easy to get even little ones involved.
7. Talk about nutrition or the reasons for eating what you do. Being vegan in a non-vegan world, we probably talk about food more than the average family, but food is important to all of us. We eat at least three times and day and food is so much a part of our culture. Food is literally everywhere. We obviously talk to our children about how "food animals" are treated and why we don't believe in eating them and why some people do. Mostly, we talk about what foods we do eat and why they are good for us. They are both interested in vitamins and minerals and how the body works. We discuss things we avoid or don't want to eat too much of like sugar and fried foods and why. I think it really helps with young children to understand what is in the food they eat and what the body needs to feel health and grow strong.
8. Listen to your body and help your child listen to their body too. Babies are easy. They listen to their bodies and eat when they are hungry and sleep when they are tired (the key to enlightenment, our yoga instructor in Maryland used to say). It is amazing how much we don't do these two simple things in our culture. Try to get in tune with your body and listen to what makes you feel healthy and happy. Parker ate some chocolate one day and ended up feeling pretty bad. We know a lot of people with allergies and so he decided he was allergic to chocolate. I told him I didn't think he was, but then I let him go because he was just expressing how he felt and he avoided chocolate for a long while afterwards. He still doesn't eat much chocolate, although now he understands the difference between really being allergic and maybe over-doing a food (especially sugar). We try to encourage the kids to listen to their internal cues of when they are hungry or not and what makes them feel bad and what makes them feel good. This is why I'm not a big fan of the way Rob was brought up (we call it the "clean plate club"). But, I'm not so sure my mom's way was any better so it can be a struggle to have a balance for us.
9. I'll leave you with this one. Enjoy eating and enjoy eating together as a family. I know mealtime can be crazy and sometimes frustrating with children, but try to put as much joy into mealtime as possible. Slow down and cook with love and eat with appreciation. It makes life so much more fun.