WHEN ONLY BURRATA WILL DO: The Rebel Mama’s Guide to Picky Eaters

This one time, when I was childless and almighty, I thought, ‘If I have kids, they are going to eat everything’. During that time, I was also skinny, thought I had no free time, had a clean house, and martinis on a Tuesday night were a regular thing.  My, how the mighty have fallen.

Insert two kids, an almost non-existent metabolism, cleaning that ONLY happens 10 minutes prior to visitors, a bedtime of sometimes 9 pm, and you have a house where one child will only eat cheese if it’s Burrata, and another child who will eat day-old anything off the floor.  The martinis, however, are still happening.  Just on a different day.  All hope in humanity is not lost.

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To illustrate the daily struggle, allow me to recount daily reactions from my children when it comes to their culinary experiences:

THING 1

THING 2

Breakfast

Breakfast

 

“What do you want to eat?”

“Nothing.”

“You have to eat.”

“Fine.”

Toast with Eggs? – “ugh, no” (she loved that shit yesterday)

Cereal with milk – “are you kidding me!?”

Avocado on toast – “seriously!?!”
Leaves for school with maybe a few bites of whatever the “winning” meal is.

 

“Mmmm”

“Yesss”

“Please mama”
*eats everything  PLUS anything from the bowl Thing 1 has pushed aside.

Snack

Snack

“I didn’t eat my snack at school today – I no longer like goldfish crackers”  

Finds goldfish crackers left over in the playpen, munches away

Fruit? YES PLEASE!

Lunch

Lunch

 

“I don’t like my lunch.”

“I didn’t eat my lunch.”

“I don’t have time for lunch.”

“It’s disgusting!”

“You put cheese on the pasta.”

“You put oil on the pasta.”

“Why didn’t you put anything on the pasta?”

“I DO NOT eat sandwiches.”

“Just don’t bother looking at my lunch bag, you’ll be disappointed, promise.”

 

Anything.  The child will LITERALLY eat anything.

Afternoon Snack

Afternoon Snack

 

“You put an orange and I’ve decided I don’t eat orange fruit.”

“I didn’t like my snack today.” Standard.

 

Goes to fridge, grabs a yogurt, says “mama, please”.

Dinner

Dinner

 

“Lentils!?!?  Lentils!?!?  Are you kidding me?

“Didn’t I tell you I only eat Red Stuffed Peppers (yesterday it was yellow).”

“I will only eat if you give me tacos.”

“What did I tell you about the pasta!?”

“How about we go to Buca and get pizza?”

“How about we go to Terroni?”

 

MMMMMMM *mouth open, salivating”
You know the rest.

The above mayhem at the kitchen table has certainly contributed to the greys on my scalp, and the amount of obscenities I whisper under my breath.  But guess what?  One day, I decided this meal thing was not going to beat me.  I was not going to be held hostage to this miniature dictator, and I was not going to cave to this obvious power struggle.  She was not going to win.  

Now, us mamas need to do what we gotta do to survive, but please proceed with caution.  It may seem counterintuitive to let your child go without supper, and you may – if you have a hard-ass Greek mother like I do – be pressured to not be so mean, after all you were no different.  But take heed:  making twelve different meals to satisfy this child of yours is simply substituting one bad habit for another.

Because guess what? The minute you tell your kids that it’s okay and right for you to be a short order cook, the less likely they will be satisfied with ANYTHING you put in front of them. This perpetuates a vicious cycle of “what else do you have?” and I am too busy to deal with ANY of that nonsense.

But rest assured, I have a simple approach, which I suggest you try:

  1. Make whatever you want for dinner – something you like, something you are craving (you don’t always need to cater to the smallest person at home).
  2. Put food on plate and give to child.
  3. When your child responds with “ewww” or “ugh” (which, if it hasn’t happened yet, wait for the shoe to drop folks; it’s coming), start with:
  • “You are ‘x’ years old, you have to at least have that many bites.”

When that doesn’t work, go with:

  • “You don’t have to eat it, but there is nothing else.”

Then, post-tantrum – which will happen – say this:

  • “There is nothing else. I will not make anything else. It’d be nice if you ate with us, but it’s your choice. This is dinner.”

And although she may not eat it all, and at times she chooses  to walk away, Thing 1 eventually eats and has accepted that our dinner is for our family, and different family members don’t get different meals. Period.

It’s not easy. And it’s not fun to admit that your kid has a tantrum at meal time more often than not and has no qualms about it, despite your phenomenal eating habits and your thoughtful inclusion of all sorts of wonderful ingredients into your kitchen. But as all frustrating phases, this too shall pass. Thing 1 used to eat everything. Currently she eats hardly anything.   The wave is coming again, I know it. I’ve reconciled myself to this logic and am content she is happy and healthy, despite her current state of eating. But just like anything, decide what you need to do, and stick to it, it’s the only strategy that really works.

If you’re still struggling…

  • Involve them in the cooking – have you seen Masterchef Junior!?!
  • Ask them to choose the menu at least one day per week (and be prepared for them to change their mind).
  • Concoct a taste test. Make it fun. Blindfold them and get them to guess. They’ll be surprised by what they like.
  • Ask them to explain what exactly they are tasting, seeing, smelling, if they are old enough, get them to write it down (this is how I understood my kid’s aversion to feta).
  • Take them to a restaurant. You’d be surprised with what they’ll eat when you aren’t cooking.
  • Smoothies for breakfast -I’m not about hiding healthy things in less healthy looking items, but shakes make for a filling breakfast or snack. And they’re quick too – win!
  • Revisit the food every so often; your tastes change, why can’t theirs?
  • Never equate goodness/badness with eating (trust me on this one, an ECE did this to Thing 1, and she was on a hunger strike for a LONG while. That kid can hold out! Noted).
  • DO NOT make everything into a cute shape – you might as well be giving yourself a life sentence of making sandwiches that look like zoo animals.  Do you really want to do that to yourself?

And finally, be clear with your expectations – the goal is not that they eat that meal. The goal is they learn to have a healthy relationship with food.  That they understand food is fuel and nourishment, not what can only be eaten off a Frozen plastic plate, with the matching cup, and cutlery.

Now, pour yourself a glass of Barolo and enjoy your supper, even if you’re the only one eating.

 Featured image via http://www.terroni.com.

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