Do you want to hear about one of my biggest parenting mistakes? I raised picky eaters. It didn’t start out that way. When my children were young, they ate basically everything (except the time my then two year old was served Swedish meatballs for the first time, and threw them on the floor, convinced they were cat poop).
Then my husband started working late. So what did I do? I let the kids eat ahead of us. I made my children mac and cheese, hot dogs, or fish sticks but felt my husband and I needed salmon, soup or salads to go with that occasional glass of wine.
At first it was nice to spend an hour or more cooking after the kids were in bed. Spending my day surrounded by plastic hamburgers, a yellow plastic kitchen and an Easy Bake Oven, I felt all grown up experimenting with mature sounding ingredients. To me, cooking was kind of like adult arts and crafts. It was nice to sit down to dinner and an adult conversation towards the end of the day. There we were, the two of us. He, still wearing his dress shirt and nice pants and I was in my mom jeans and crafty looking, color coordinated top. It was like we were on a date sort of (minus the nervous laughter and the anticipation of what would happen next).
It didn’t take long before my husband and kids grew accustomed to the diner method of eating. Our family dinners were now ruined since all of us together at the table became a symbol for yucky food to at least one person in the group. My husband looked disappointed each time he had to chase his peas around the plate while dodging the mashed potatoes. If I served salmon, my middle child did the fake eating thing, my baby arched his back, threw his arms up in the air and cried. And my oldest child looked like I served her cat poop– again.
So, I continued cooking two dinners. I knew all along that I wasn’t doing my children any favors by catering to their under developed taste buds but I was too tired to deal with the consequences. My joy of cooking decreased as the dirty dishes increased and my resentment grew. I wanted things to get back on track.
After one dirty frying pan too many, I finally came to my senses and stopped the meal madness. For hundreds, even thousands of years, parents managed to feed their children without making things so complicated, I told myself. Catering to my kids was just lazy. I began to cook meals that all of us could at least tolerate. That meant fish sticks and peas one night, salmon another night, and a lot of chicken in between. The nights the kids didn’t like their dinner, they were welcome to make themselves a sandwich or have cereal once dinner was over.
When the horrid looks, the fake eating and the loud protests were going on, I did my best to focus on the dinner conversations and not the food. Most of the time I did okay. Sometimes I lost it, left the table and wondered how I let such an important part of parenting slip through my fingers.
I read somewhere that it takes an average of thirteen times for a child to accept and actually enjoy a new food. I also remember reading a recent study that showed children did better at eating new foods if parents remained neutral during dinner time and kept food related lectures off the table. Had I a chance to start over I would have kept these facts in mind.
Our kids are now adults. To my amazement, my daughters have become quite aware of what they put in their bodies, sticking to organic vegetables and fruits whenever possible and eating mostly vegetarian meals. The 19 year old is still up to his knees in fast food. I have hope and faith that he will graduate from kids’ meals in time for his wedding reception.
My husband and I are back where we started. Free to choose our dinners, we sit at the table that just yesterday it seemed, held enough dishes to cover the entire surface. The worn pine table has part of our family’s history engraved in the soft wood. Traces of spelling words and marks left by a son who grew impatient listening to sister topics are now visible on the empty surface.
I can hardly remember what we had for dinner last night. I think it was sole. Today we miss the fish sticks and tartar sauce–not because those dinners nourished our bodies. The company nourished our souls.
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