A while ago I got a comment on one of my meal plan posts from a reader who could not understand why my children were not eating the same meals as my husband and myself. She felt they were nutritious dishes, full of flavour, a wide variety etc. And therein lies the rub.
I was trying not to take her comment in a bad way, but as always when it comes to feeding my children, and reading about others’ views on feeding children, I feel judged. If we did not have to feed them so damn often I could let it all go, but it is brought into my consciousness every day – multiple times a day.
It starts when I plead with Lulu to eat breakfast since she has never had a morning appetite as I explained when talking about my PND and how I gave up breastfeeding her because I thought it was a supply issue – nope she just is not hungry in the morning.
Then I fret over lunchboxes for school. Neither girl likes sandwiches, yogurt, quiches, or a dozen other options I see mentioned endlessly. Peanut butter is banned at our school which is unfortunate as Alice could live on the stuff (and has tried!). I have been known to cry over a lunchbox when I open it up at 3:30 and find only 1 food item missing – how can an 8 year old survive from 8am – 3pm on one food? When you have major food issues nothing will make you eat – not cute cut out sandwiches, not a fancy bento box and not even getting cranky or feeling sick.
The afternoon is spent trying to get a healthy snack in to make up for the lack of lunch some days. Made tricky when your child has so many food fears and texture issues that she has a limited diet.
By dinnertime you are exhausted, emotionally spent, feeling like a failure and all you want to do is feed your children and get the day done. Instead of trying to convince them that lentils are delicious or children all over the world enjoy hamburgers so why don’t they, you choose to make the same 5 things over and over.
You get excited when a new food is added now to your 8 year old’s diet even if that food is bacon or sausages. The sheer fact that she has tasted something and not hated it is a miracle unto itself. The constant refrain of “too sweet”, “too salty”, “too sour” or “too something or other I cannot even understand anymore” has worn you down.
After five years of battling with this issue with Alice I am grateful at least that she no longer cries or freaks out about food as we reached breaking point last year and she is now a willing participant in trying to overcome her “issues”. I still remember when she was 5 and crying around 3pm. I asked why she was upset and she said “you’re making chicken tonight”. I explained that 1) it was 2 1/2 hours until dinner so I did not know why she was so upset right now and 2) did I ever make her eat anything she did not want? She was so visibly shaken and upset at the thought of possibly having plain chicken on her plate that she was stressed hours in advance.
This is the battle with a child who has real and genuine fears surrounding eating.
This child who is so extremely sensitive to the tastes and textures of food that she can eye up a plate of fish fingers and rightly know that it is a different brand even though they look exactly the same to me. Lesson learned – she ate 2 fish fingers instead of 4+ and I knew consistency was a key thing for her.
Another time we were trialling a health store peanut butter which she hated. We had an outing planned with my husband’s company and I realised we had none of her favourite pb on hand so used the replacement one in her sandwich. I sat nearby as I watched Alice open her lunch pack (back then she was not eating sausages so had opted out of the family BBQ). Ten seconds later I heard the call of “Mom” and the cries over the peanut butter. The entire day she ate only a single bread roll rather than accept a peanut butter other than the one brand she likes. She tried repeatedly to eat it, but could not do it.
So when I see articles and blog posts about “feeding fussy eaters”, and they talk about “all you have to do”, I cringe. The comments usually include praise for the author and criticism for mothers who allow kids to dictate what they eat. How they never cook separate meals and kids just get on with it or starve. How their kids love organic green beans and tofu because they have never let them eat junk food.
All I can think in that moment is how easy it is to judge those of us who do cook the separate meals having never had a child who would rather starve every day than accept a bite of a meatball or even an off brand fish stick.
I also laugh when someone talks about their child being a “fussy eater” simply because the child does not like 2 or 3 particular vegetables or refuses to eat a certain cassserole. I still stand by the fact that not every person likes every food and if your child currently eats a wide variety, but does not like green beans or tofu it is not “fussy” eating – that is called having preferences and it is a normal part of life. My husband does not like peanut butter – would I ever sit down to lunch and serve the family peanut butter sandwiches and force him to eat it? no – and i don’t think you would either. I believe in respecting the fact that kids do have feelings about food – the trick is to find the balance between respect and letting them take themselves down the slippery slope we have endured. If that is the kind of battle you are facing I want to encourage you to give yourself a break and not stress over individual foods being rejected. I hear so many parents spending a lot of energy on this as they are so afraid of “giving in” or letting their child eat or drink something that someone else says they “should” or “should not” be feeding their kids.
I wanted to offer some support and advice to parents with children who are beyond “fussy” eating, but still need to think through all I have learned in the last 5 years so will write a second post when I have it all clear. I definitely made mistakes and funny enough the turning point for us came when I went against everything I believed and had to force the issue finally.
I would love to hear from you if you are dealing with (or have survived) extreme food issues in your house. If you want to comment here or email me I would love your insights, tips, lessons learned.
Find your simple,
strawberries by flickr user “clarity”