As an early childhood educator, I would like to lie about her first sentence. Wouldn’t it be great if she said, “Please give me a carrot, Mama!” Or, how about “I love you, Mama.”
For most of her life she’s hated most vegetables and fruits. In fact, the only fruit she would eat in preschool was bananas, and we got to the point we counted spaghetti sauce as a vegetable. She’s 17 now, and her vegetable and fruit repertoire has increased. On her own, she slowly continues to try more foods.
I have asked myself, many times, if I did something wrong. Should I have made her eat more fruits and vegetables? Should I have limited treats? However, before I blame myself, I know I was not lazy about this. There were many issues that I pondered regarding this eating behavior. The three biggest issues were:
- Is it worth the power struggle?
- Might making a big deal about healthy eating be problematic later (e.g., lead to some eating disorder)?
- Might there be a sensory issue behind her avoidance of fruits and vegetables? After all, these foods not only taste different, they feel different than the other foods she eats.
Is it Worth the Power Struggle?
Once, when my daughter was four years old, I decided I would get her to eat a baby carrot. This seemed reasonable. My husband was out of town, and she and I would have plenty of time. I was only going to ask her to eat one small baby carrot. The reward would be letting her watch her favorite video. Easy, no big deal. NOT!!!
My daughter sat there with her arms folded and told me flat out “no.” Once I got started, I remember the feeling of defeat and wanting to win. I hate to admit this, but I even tried dipping that small freaking baby carrot in chocolate sauce, to no avail. It was a long, miserable night for me. I already knew this, but it reminded me to pick my battles with a 4-year-old carefully.
Thanks goodness, I finally stopped and the two of us did some silly dancing (so we both won)!
Trying to Avoid Eating Disorders
I mentioned above that the one fruit my daughter liked was bananas. In fact, she more than liked them -- she LOVED them. When she was around two years old, we actually once caught her sneaking a banana. She was sitting in her favorite chair with her back to us. (It was obvious she felt that if she couldn’t see us, then we couldn’t see her.) She sat there determined to figure out how to open that banana for her delicious treat.
The point of this anecdote is, if we had made the banana a healthy required snack and other things (such as desserts and french fries) more forbidden foods, what type of food would she be trying to sneak, instead? Would she think the bananas were less appealing? I’ve spent enough time in and out of Weight Watchers, over the years, to hear there are no good or bad foods. Overemphasizing “good’ foods has sabotaged people with weight issues.
Furthermore, the idea of making dessert the end-all (eat this and you’ll get dessert) and restricting goodies only makes junk more important and appealing to the child! I wanted my daughter to grow up like my husband who loves chocolate but feels fine leaving a few pieces of candy in a bag. To me, junk food was always such a big deal that I’d inhale it.
I feel good that my daughter sometimes leaves part of her treat for the next day if she is full. She is used to having any treat she wants and can recognize when she’s full versus getting overexcited about treats. She’s never had to worry about obesity like many of her peers.
The smells, sounds, sights, touches, and tastes in the world affect everyone differently, and can be problematic for some. This is a real phenomenon. I had a friend, for instance, whose daughter had a tough time with labels in the back of her clothing. For other children, it’s other senses that cause issues, such as the smell of certain foods. (Often, children grow out sensory issues.) For my daughter, when eating, different textures bothered her as a youngster. Eating a strawberry really made her gag, even though she liked snack bars with strawberry filling.
Why would anyone force a child to eat something that makes them gag? It just didn’t make sense to me. According to Kathleen Zelman (contributing editor for Food and Nutrition Magazine), one thing to try with real picky eaters is to let them touch foods, first, before trying to eat them. Zelman also states that if the child eats less than 10 different foods, you better get in touch with a nutritionist.
Obviously, nutrition is important. Yet, I don’t like the idea of forcing children to eat something. Children are people worthy of respect. In addition, sensory issues are real -- forcing children to do something distasteful to them (excuse the pun) is something I refuse to do. Nor, do I want to bribe children with treats. Obesity and eating disorders are epidemic in the United States, so we must be careful about making treats too important!
I’d love to hear your opinions on the subject.
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