Feeding Children is Emotional

(This is an emotional topic for me. There are no photos. It is wordy. It is not witty or ironic. If you read it all the way through, you must love me.) (UPDATE: I lied. There are photos. I totally forgot I took them.)

The single greatest stress in my life is feeding my children. Nothing else has caused me so many tears and sleepless nights, so much anger and hopelessness. I am generally a relaxed, easy-going, patient person, but feeding my son J-Man has led to some of the lowest moments I have experienced as a mother. (There have been slammed cabinets, veiled threats, and even some yelling over the years.)

Hint: This post may eventually have something to do with asparagus.

It started with his birth. I had planned to breastfeed, and my son refused. I felt robbed. I felt I wasn’t able to give the best to my baby. I was angry at him.  I cried more tears than I knew my body could produce. Five years later, writing about it still causes tears to roll down my cheeks.

We introduced solid foods when J-Man turned 6 months old. Jarred fruits and veggies in one hand and the video camera in the other, I set to work to capture this new milestone. Well guess what? He refused to eat. He refused solid foods until he was ten months old, and at a year, he was still only eating yogurt and Cheerios. (<- that might be a slight exaggeration, but the point is he turned his nose up at everything and was horribly picky.)

I consulted with nutritionists, all of whom gave me the same advice. Offer him a balanced meal. Encourage him to eat. Avoid threats. Avoid battles. I learned not to make a connection between his eating and my happiness (“it makes me so happy when you eat” or “it makes me so angry when you don’t eat”), which can create psychological “food issues” in children. (I should point out that being a far from perfect mother, I have battled, threatened, and guilt-tripped more times than I can count.)

Consistency and patience over the years paid off. He finally started eating things like chicken nuggets and fish sticks, which made me so relieved. I knew that wasn’t the best food for him, but he was eating. Believe it or not, the one area where we had surprisingly little trouble was vegetables. Every meal, I give him a veggie, and he will reliably eat peas, broccoli, corn (okay fine, that’s not a vegetable), raw carrots, and raw cucumbers. Sometimes he’ll eat squash. He absolutely will not eat spinach. (If you are a mother and can give me a tip on getting my boy to eat spinach, I would really appreciate it!)

Lately, I’ve put more energy into my son’s dinners again, encouraging him to eat — at least try — different types of foods. Monday night, I offered asparagus, a vegetable that I knew J-Man wouldn’t be inclined to eat. He said he had tried it before and didn’t like it. He often prefers his vegetables cold, so I gave him a stalk to just hold in his hand and chomp on. He took one bite and, well, his face said it all. He hated it. As he chewed on the asparagus, he let it spill out of his mouth onto the floor. I was angry. All I wanted was for him to chew it up and swallow it. One bite. Was that too much to ask? He knew I was angry. Would you believe, I even busted out the “there are kids in this world who have nothing to eat” mumbo jumbo on him? Reminder — he is four. Wow. I pulled myself together and started to wash dishes while my son ate.

This is what I mean when I say some of my lowest moments as a parent are at mealtime. There is no other time that I feel so powerless as trying to encourage my child to eat without breaking any of “the rules”. So, offhand, I suggest to him that perhaps dipping the asparagus in his cinnamon applesauce will make it taste better.

There I am, standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes, wanting to scream and cry and slam cabinets, and I hear my son behind me say “that was so good, can I have more asparagus?” Um. What?

I turn around, and the asparagus is definitely not there. I look under the table. No asparagus. I lifted him up to see if he was sitting on it. Nope. All evidence points to the fact that my son actually ate the asparagus.  It turns out that he actually enjoyed it dipped in the applesauce. Mommy is a genius! Okay that is a stretch. But it worked. He liked it. He ate two stalks. On Tuesday night, he ate more asparagus, again dipped in cinnamon applesauce. Tonight, he requested more and almost had a fit when he found out there was no asparagus left.

He asked me to take the picture again because he wanted his hand in it. 🙂

What have I learned from this experience? Well, I continue to try to control my emotions during food battles. I know that it doesn’t help anything for me to get upset. I know that dinnertime is supposed to be pleasant and relaxed, and that battles should be avoided. But I also learned that sometimes you just have to get a little bit creative in order to make something more palatable.

Tonight I served J-Man pinto bean burgers, whole wheat pita, cinnamon applesauce, and steamed broccoli. Pinto bean burgers was a stretch for him. He wasn’t happy about it at first, but he likes beans so he picked those out and ate them. He liked the bread and applesauce and ate all of his broccoli.

I know I’m not suppose to tie eating to emotions, but I have to say, that made me really happy.

So, to quote Missy, “mmmkay….uh, do you like sparkles? Sorry to get so deep!”

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14 Responses to Feeding Children is Emotional

  1. I’m sorry about all the frustration, but I’m so glad that your son at the meal tonight. I’m not a parent yet, but I was a horribly picky eater as a child, and I can’t even imagine what my mom went through. Bottom line: you’re a great mother!!!!

  2. That’s great!! When I was a kid I barely ate anything either, especially vegetables. My mom would force me to eat bananas….I still can’t believe I still like them! haha

  3. My kids are both picky eaters and it has been an ongoing struggle to get them to eat more than chicken nuggets and fish sticks. It’s tough not to be emotional over food. I have given the same speech…But at the end of the day as long as they eat their veggies, try something new, and we keep at it. I know someday they will be great eaters! A mom can dream can’t she…

  4. You did good mama. He sounds like a gem to me. The hand in the picture? Precious. The fact that you care enough to even blog about this means he is one lucky little fella.

  5. Missy says:

    That sounds VERY trying. Don’t beat yourself up about getting upset. It sounds to me like you handle yourself well and follow “the rules”

    And, MOMMY IS A GENIUS!

    There will be more breakthroughs, I have a feeling.

  6. OK I ALMOST CRIED! esp over the part where he wanted a photo with his hand in it. I’m seriously teary… and i dont even have kids yet! Though I do wish I was one of those nutritonists b/c I would not have said what they did. So if you ever need a random ANYTHING — email me =) This post really touched me! Thank you so so much for sharing this Christine! I spent the entire year before this move counseling mommas from pregnancy up til their kids were 5 and reading this made me realize that I need to KEEP doing that even though I had to give up my job.

    thanks girl =) One day… he will eat EVERYTHING. promise =)

  7. LauraJayne says:

    I think my mom would so totally sympathize with you – it was so hard to keep me eating (and eating healthily)!

  8. You are a genius! I still battle my older son over food. He is anti-veggie (yes I felt a twinge of jealousy that yours will eat them!) unless it’s dipped in ranch. He does love fruit. So frustrating. My younger one will eat veggies but he’s not into fruit. Sigh!

    Reading about your breastfeeding battle tugged at my heart. I would feel robbed too.

  9. Priyanka says:

    My brother and I were good kids, we never tortured our mum by being picky eaters. My brother has a small but frequent appetite and he displayed this metabolism when the concept of 6 meals/day was not so popular. My mum took some time to realize his pattern but after she did, we all could live peacefully, so I know what you mean by tying eating and emotions.

  10. lindsay says:

    oh he sounds like my nephew. He won’t eat anything with color. We give him chocolate amazing grass in milk and thats how he gets veggies. But maybe we had it all wrong. Maybe we should try the applesauce trick, love it!!! A new combo veggies and applesauce. Thats a vegetable and and fruit combo, nice!

  11. Hannah says:

    I think you’re doing absolutely fantastically with this. it must be so frustrating, but just staying calm and perservering seems to be a good option 🙂 Hurrah for applesauce! My brother is 27, and still doesn’t like asparagus 😉

  12. I pretty much never ate veggies as a kid. My parents tried, but I was stubborn!

  13. Allison says:

    Don’t apologize! It’s a great way to get to see people beyond their happy, humorous blog selves. I think it’s great that you’ve come so far with your sons eating and your ability to deal with your emotions toward eating. Who knew that a little cinnamon apple sauce would change everything? But I guess the good thing is that you know there’s potential for almost anything, if prepared/served the right way, and I’m sure that makes you feel great!

  14. Pingback: Can We Have It Again Tomorrow? | Merf In Progress

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