Wednesday, August 3, 2011

So, How Do You Like Them Apples Now?

Never a dull life with a four year old. Kiddo and his newest eating habits are keeping me on my toes. Only thing is, I don't want to do this dance.

It starts like this: I'm packing a snack and looking for a healthy something to go with the pistachios, rice crackers and cheese I've already thrown into the snack bag. "Hey Kiddo, do you want some apple or carrot?" He cheerfully replies "Apple!" with such a smile on his face, you'd think I'd offered him ice cream instead. So, off we go to the park for a playdate. He has some apple slices, a bit of the other offerings, and later, an almond butter and jelly sandwich I'd made for his lunch. The "ABJ" is his fail safe standby, usually eaten without complaint. Later in the stroller, as he's starting off a long days journey through the winter of his discontent (yep, even in summer), he whines at me that he's hungry. I offer what I have for him--apples. So what a surprise to hear "I don't like apples! I want ice cream!"

Okay, not really a surprise. Kiddo's testing our limits--and my patience--in a number of areas these days. While I know that deep down, this isn't about the food, this testing does seem to be focused around food at times. As evidenced above, even when I'm giving him a reasonable choice, he is unhappy with his selection and makes attempts to subvert the status quo. And while I'm a mom who is happy to give her kid ice cream sometimes, our exchange was certainly not endearing me to the idea that my kid should have ice cream at that moment. I realize 'should' had nothing to do with it, and contrary to some other moments, I was not inclined to go down the Empathy Road of relating to his desire to have ice cream. Sometimes, we parents just don't have it in us. Maybe I should have, too, but once again, the 'should' had nothing to do with the situation.

At dinner tonight was a repeat performance in declaring "I don't like...". Tonight he declared that the green beans, freshly picked from the garden and perfectly steamed "don't taste good". I was ready to just eat them off his plate, right then-- Fine, go ahead and dislike these heavenly string beans which you helped top and tail. I will eat them all, gladly. Mwah ha ha! And don't complain if I have to bust out some canned ones in the winter. You had your chance, mister! Joe suggested waiting until he was finished, just in case he got hungry and relented. Fat chance of that. In the end, Kiddo readily ate the tofu and rice and that was fine.

Right now, I'm glad we are sticking to some of the structure I created a long time ago. The idea, inspired by Ellen Satter, who writes about feeding children, is simply this: put three options on a plate and make sure that two of them are something that he usually will eat easily. And then, the kitchen is closed. No special meals, no concessions that take me out of my way. This is the standard, and most of the time, it works fine. There are meals that I know he doesn't enjoy, like grilled veggie skewers, and then I'll make some corn or offer some frozen peas, which he likes, but I'm not making a whole second meal. As a nanny, I learned the hard way that it is not in my DNA to be a short order cook on a regular basis. Sick kids-- I have some flex with that, and you are going to get lots of brothy stuff and applesauce. But on a daily basis, it's "the Three and the Two" and that's that.

And you know what? If he chooses to go to bed hungry, that's okay with me too. He's not going to starve himself to prove a point. I'm not trying to serve him octopus or monkey eyes; I am aware of his preferences and know that those two choices are really not pressing any of his food boundaries, so to speak. However, when  four year old is pressing boundaries in general, it sure can seem that I am indeed trying to feed him monkey eyes.

I have to be honest, most of the foods that kids like seriously gross me out. Their appalling sense of taste is brought to my attention time and again. The other night on Master Chef, kids had to vote for which they liked better: a 'nugget sandwich', deep fried and totally gross, or a grilled turkey burger. Even as a pescatarian, my vote would have gone straight to the turkey burger. Of course, the 'nugget' sandwich won by a landslide. While to me the words 'Nugget sandwich' sound like the punchline of a "What's Grosser than Gross?" slapdown, the kids loved it. Which just goes to show you that children have no taste and should not be allowed to make any culinary decisions until they understand and can execute a perfect julienne slice.

So, he doesn't like them apples. That's fine. I'm buying some strawberries tomorrow for a little diversity, and because I need a break on the digging in of heels around the apples. Lately, bananas have fallen out of favor. I think life's been a little too good these days for Kiddo, foodwise. We made that magnificent batch of blueberry zucchini bread; Joe indulged him with some chocolate bread the other day; he went to a birthday party a couple of days ago and had an ice cream cupcake-- lately, life's been filled with little, too-good treats. So, we're going to have to scale back for a while and let the pinnacle of sweets be some smoothie popsicles or other fruit-based goodies. Reestablish the baseline of what we normally eat.

It's not going to make everything better, but it's a start. And heck, I'll eat the apples. I still like them, anyways.

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