“Ah! The best eater in my practice! Do you still eat anchovies?”
Up until a couple of years ago, that is how my boy’s pediatrician greeted him. Not wanting to take away his opportunity to rejoice in this strange kid who ate stinky fish from the can, I would grimace and hastily change the subject to a made-up rash. Because, while for years this kid did once delight in eating oily, disgusting, tiny fish with his fingers, he’d gone radically unradical.
Along with passing on anchovies, he turned away from any food resembling anything from the natural world. The foods that had helped him grow into a healthy 8-year old were suddenly a huge fat nope.
He had fallen for the commercial trickster methods of sugar-laced, movie-based garbage in colorful packaging.
So at the crossroads of starvation vs. giving in we stood.
Argh. How to get him to eat good food again? You could sneak broccoli in brownies (does any kid really fall for this?), pass off smoothies as milkshakes, bribe, yell or threaten. But I don’t believe food should ever be used a punishment or reward. I cringe hearing parents using dessert as a bribe for good behavior or threatening to withhold food if the kids don’t do X, Y or Z.
Sidenote: Because we are the best parents before we have kids, I was the first to judge parents who defaulted to pizza, fast-food or snacking from the Target aisles for dinner. I mean, my goodness, how lazy! HA. Moms, I get it now. I apologize for my pre-baby tongue clicks and disapproving eye rolls. To wit: Thursday is now standing pizza night because it is one night I am guaranteed that I don’t have to deal. But while it could be a super simple solution to make every night pizza night, it is our duty to expose kids to foods that won’t put them on cholesterol meds at 13.
One incredible loophole to picky eaters is to create interactive meals. Go out for Hibachi; after watching the flames and those impressive knife skills your kid will chow down. (Kon Asian Bistro in Westbrook and Hana Asian Cuisine in Windham expanded my kid’s horizons.) And I know I just I mentioned cholesterol meds, but my next interactive tip does involve melted cheese. At Alice and Lulu’s in the Sugarloaf Village, they have a raclette table where you gather around and grill meats and veggies then pour melted cheeses over everything. It is the best hack ever. I have never seen my kiddo more into trying new things (he willingly ate venison sausage) and he was honing his cooking skills.
I bought one of the grills to use at home and it was just as fun and successful. Kids are more enticed to eat food they get to create, and it doesn’t have to involve flame or oozing cheese either. Turn your kitchen counter into a buffet with make your own tacos, burgers or noodle bowls. Bonus, you get to use all those cute little bowls you’ve accumulated.
Kids also adore eating foods they get to grow. My boy will never touch a tomato from the store, but greedily gobbles the little sweet ones from the vine. Even if you don’t have space for a full garden, you can pop petite peppers, fresh herbs, cocktail tomatoes and pickling cukes in pots. The other benefit is, of course, kids get a deeper appreciation for nature and how to nurture living things.
Sadly, we live in a society where food represents much more than just something we eat for energy. As parents, we can gently start shifting the tone around food from something we stuff into our mouth to mask pain, sadness and boredom to something that fuels all of the things we love to do.
Maggie Knowles writes about all things kid. She and her family live in Yarmouth, where she gardens, keeps bees and refuses to get rid of her stilettos.