Despite small progress over the years, my 9-year-old son still approaches food as if it will wake and stab him in the eyes. So what's a mom to do?
Oh, moms with children who eat everything, how I envy you. How sweet it must be to cook without your child staring at a meatball as if it were a live hand grenade. How relaxing to go to someone’s house for dinner and not worry about how your child will react to what they serve. What a pleasure to sit down in a restaurant and not scan the menu for french fries and chicken fingers. I couldn't even take my oldest son to Percy Street BBQ without him wincing with anxiety, crying over the menu, looking pleadingly skyward and banging his head on the table. All he would eat were the slices of white bread that came with the meal.
This has been going on since Maxon was 18 months old. He's nine now.
When he was younger and I kept reading that picky eating is a phase, I wasn’t as bugged by it.
Now? Yeah. I’m a little bugged.
So, what is a mom to do? Let’s do a little Internet search, shall we? Oh, what a surprise: Make a chart and give rewards.
Can I tell you how sick I am of charts and rewards? Next time someone suggests I make a chart, she better cower because I am chucking the closest object at her head. I am done with charts. I have made them on my computer, by hand and on white boards. I have used stickers and M&M's and marbles and superhero magnets and points and check marks and gum and squishy creatures and tiny dinosaurs.
Let’s be absolutely clear: I am not making any more charts so my kids can earn points for being decent human beings. You act right. You don’t get a prize for it. End of story.
O.K., so. That’s off the table.
I cook for my family most nights out of the week. I am a classic home cook – roasted chicken, fish, pasta, vegetables. I enjoy cooking and I am not that bad at it. Maxon eats about a quarter of the meals I make. And some of the things he refuses are kiddie meal staples, like macaroni and cheese. Macaroni and cheese, my friends. (“Hey, I sometimes like macaroni and cheese,” says Maxon, reading over my shoulder. “I just don’t like macaroni and cheese when it is served in one of those kettles that witches use.” Thank you sweetheart, for making my point for me.)
I’m not saying Maxon hasn’t made progress, because he has. When he was very small, I stopped fighting him and just made him what he wanted, because mealtime was becoming this stressful event and I didn’t want him to associate dinner with negative feelings. But probably around the time he was six or so, I changed it up. I started making one meal. No substitutions. It’s been rough, but over the years he has added trout, pork chops, broccoli, grilled cheese, chicken drumsticks, egg whites, pickles and macaroni and cheese (that isn’t in a witch kettle) to his list of foods that don’t cause panic attacks.
But Maxon still approaches food as if it will wake and stab him in the eyes. There is always a fight, always a negotiation over how many bites are left, always pleading looks at the ceiling and defeated woe-is-me soliloquies. Yes, I want him to eat more variety of foods, but more importantly, I just want the drama to end.
I told him recently, after he went on about his taste buds being broken, that all I want is for him to thank me for cooking. Try all the different foods on his plate. Eat what he enjoys rather than refuse something just because he has for so long. And if he doesn’t like something, to simply say, “Mom, it looks good, but it isn’t my thing.” You’ll be surprised, I told him, how far that will go. I might even give him some white bread slices instead.