Ah, dinnertime. That once-a-day ritual that I so looked forward to when I was pregnant, dreaming of the perfect little children I was growing in my tummy. In my mind, lit with the warm glow of the chandelier, I could see Chev, myself, and the girls sitting around the table, eating a healthy, lovingly cooked meal, quietly talking about our day. The girls would, of course, have amazing pallets, eating everything from steak to tilapia happily. (You know, because I was going to start them out early, getting them to try exotic flavors as babies.) We were smiling, even laughing. There was no crying, screaming, or throwing of food. Not at MY dinner table.
Oh, what a fool I was.
The reality of trying to feed two four-year-olds and two adults who all have very different tastes is a heck of a lot more difficult. Despite my best efforts, and their early willingness to eat whatever I put in front of them, the girls have become two very picky eaters. We often liken them to Jack Sprat and his wife. When it comes to food, they are complete opposites, but put together they can usually polish off a meal. Ellie will happily devour any kind of meat, except hamburger, often asking for more. She will not, however, touch vegetables. Laurel will eat a bite or two of meat, then scarf down all of the corn, peas, and potatoes on her plate. Ellie likes all noodles equally, and will eat them no matter what you cover them with, from alfredo to pureed spinach. Laurel will only eat spaghetti-shaped noodles, and only with marinara sauce or butter. Ellie isn’t a sweet-eater, preferring pretzels and crackers over cookies and cakes. We have to hide candy and baked-goods on top of the fridge, where Laurel can’t reach them.
So dinner time, instead of being a peaceful time to bond over reflections of our day, is now a stress-filled half hour full of cajoling and threatening the girls into eating at least three bites of each food on their plates. Laurel, at least, can be reasoned with. She will eat something she doesn’t want to eat, but she will make a face like it is going to kill her, and she has limits. She will eat three bites of something, but that is IT. Don’t even try to convince her that since she said she liked something that she should eat more of it. The idea of eating ALL of something she doesn’t love makes her brain explode. The explosion sounds a lot like whining.
Ellie won’t take a bite of something she doesn’t like the looks of. Not even one bite. It doesn’t matter how long we make her sit at the table or how many cookies we try to bribe her with. It just isn’t happening. I honestly think that if someone told her she had to eat a single pea to save my life, I would be quickly be meeting my maker. You can sing Daniel Tiger’s song about trying new food until you turn blue; my stubborn little girl isn’t going to open her mouth. If you really push the issue, Ellie will completely shut down, turning sideways in her booster seat and crying uncontrollably, thus ending any hope that we had of her eating even the foods on her plate that she does like.
I don’t want you to think we just let them get away with bad dinner behavior from the get-go. We have tried everything we can think of to get the girls to eat: I’ve read all of the blogs, scoured Pinterest for cute ideas, talked to other moms. And you know what? None of that crap works. I get Laurel involved in cooking dinner all the time, and she’ll tell me that she LOVES vegetable soup….until it is sitting in front of her at the dinner table. We’ve tried making them sit at the table until they eat all of their food. (We couldn’t take the crying after 45 minutes.) We tried not letting them have anything else to eat all night. (Ellie woke up crying in the wee hours of the morning, and Laurel woke up at 5am starving every single time.) We tried bribery. (Ellie doesn’t care about cake enough to eat three kernals of corn.) We tried threats. (No TV after dinner if you don’t eat = penalizing myself WAY too much.) We’ve tried talking to them as if they were logical human beings. (*snort* Yeah, that didn’t work.) The list goes on and on.
Really, the only part of my pregnancy daydream that has come true is the healthy, lovingly cooked meals I provide on a nightly basis. Even the chandelier is a let-down, since there is always at least on bulb burned out. (What is up with that, anyway??) Basically we have resigned ourselves to not having a peaceful meal together for at least another five years.
And you know what? I’m ok with that.
I know that one day they WILL eat what I put in front of them. One day Laurel will ask me for seconds of chicken. One day Ellie will ask for a second helping of roasted veggies. One day they will be in college, eating mushy meatloaf, and they will think, “Man, I really miss mom’s cooking.”
I know because I was one of the pickiest kids to ever walk the Earth. I spent an entire year of my life eating nothing but peanut butter sandwiches. No, really. That’s it. Peanut butter on white bread. And now I’ll eat almost anything. My dream vacation would be to eat my way across the globe. I drool while watching cooking shows, and wish I could afford to go to high-end restaurants. If I ever win the lottery, I’m going to weigh a million pounds.
So, if you have a picky kid, remember, it isn’t the end of the world. Just go with what they WILL eat and keep trying. Fight the good fight, my friends.