Today is sort of a fun day for no particularly good reason. I mean, I’m still at work; we still had the usual craziness of juggling all the morning stuff and getting everybody out the door on time; I’ve been busy enough to have forgotten to eat breakfast until 10:30 a.m.; and it’s absolutely freezing outside (though in some ways, that’s a positive thing, because it meant I had some unexpected wardrobe options, including a great excuse to wear my favorite purple corduroy blazer). But for whatever reason, everybody around me seems to be in a good mood, and I’m in a good mood, too. Revelry and lightheartedness rule the day.
All of this happiness got me thinking about good food news. See, I’m apparently not the only one who’s having an “up” kind of day; one of my favorite food bloggers, Bettina of The Lunch Tray, has declared today a “day of frivolity” on her blog. Rather than discussing her usual passionate (and well-articulated) school food reform views, she’s opening up the blog to more flighty things, like the 3-D pancake art she’s featuring today. She asked readers if any of us had any other fun or lighthearted news to share in the realm of kids and food; and all I could think about was how my kid is suddenly eating like, well, a human being, rather than a nutrition-averse robot programmed to avoid fruits and vegetables at all costs.
To me, there’s nothing more lighthearted and downright happy-making than watching a little kid develop a real sense of food and eating and begin to expand his horizons. L. has been doing that lately, by leaps and bounds, and it’s a welcome change. Many people have assumed over the years that L. must eat everything without complaint, but the truth is, as I’ve shared here at various times, he’s just like every other kid in the world; the difference, maybe, is that J. and I are not like every other parents in the world. We’re part of that elusive but swiftly expanding secret society of parents who have suddenly remembered that, when we were kids, we had to eat what was served to us, with no whining, complaining, or negotiation; parents who have realized that it’s truly okay to have kids, even very little kids, leave the dinner table hungry because they’re bent on turning food into a power struggle (and we’re hopefully not playing); parents who believe that kids and adults both have palates, and a kid’s palate is not a thing to be pandered to with adulterated crap, but rather nurtured and developed as they mature. I’m sounding kind of lofty and self-congratulatory here — I don’t mean to. We screw up, too, and when our screw-ups involve the dinner table, I fess up; when they don’t, you all don’t generally hear about it, because this is a food, family, kids blog of sorts, so I don’t consider it an appropriate place to discuss potty training failures or discipline disasters. (Of course, many of my readers know us…so all of you are snickering behind your hands right now, I’m sure, recalling times when you’ve seen us at what is not so much our parenting best.)
Anyhow, my kids’ relatively expansive food choices (by comparison to their peers) are more the product of lots of cooking and experimenting on my part, combined with lots of consistency and repeated introductions of every food, flavor, and preparation. Of course, there are always caveats and roadblocks and just plain no-go foods for various reasons — for one thing, kids are allowed, just like adults, to have foods they just plain don’t like (which is different, by the way, from foods they SAY they don’t like or foods they won’t honestly try); for another, there are wrenches like sensory issues that sometimes come into the mix, and there’s no magical way to overcome something like that. Consistency and repeated introductions of apples, grapes, etc. will never make L. eat them; only time, therapy, and possibly some creativity from Mommy can help, and even then, he may just never be a fruit guy. I can deal with that. Because….
In the past month alone, L. has eaten the following vegetables:
Red leaf lettuce
Red bell peppers
Tomatoes (raw, cooked, and in marinara sauce)
As well as the following fruits, most of them in things to help with his textural issues:
That’s all since October 1. I swear that if I’d done this list three months ago, it would have been half the size. And I really do chalk it all up to both consistency and a little ingenuity in presentation. This is not at all about bragging or about saying that “my kid eats XYZ, so there!” (If I did that, ever, I’m positive that some other parent would be able to list a bunch of stuff — kumquats, quinoa, etc. — that is not even remotely in L.’s or P.’s repertoire. We parents must be careful about the competition thing.) But I write this post, and offer this list, as sort of a ray of hope, maybe, to all those parents out there who really feel that healthy food is a losing battle. It’s even helpful to me, for Pete’s sake — I was just able to list 26 produce items that he’s eaten in the past 22 days, and if nothing else, just laying it all out like that will make me shut up the next time I want to complain about his eating habits.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying he LOVED every one of those things, or that he’d ask for them all again — but he ATE them. Without complaint. It’s been amazing to watch him realize that this stuff will not actually kill him; even better have been the times when he’s realized that he does truly like, and look forward to eating, much of it. Mushrooms are becoming something he eats FIRST now, not the last thing on his plate, and he actually got cranky with me when I told him this morning that there was no more butternut squash soup for his lunchbox. And our old nemesis, broccoli? (Yes, I know — everybody else’s kids eat broccoli as their first acceptable green veggie — L. has always preferred spinach and kale. You don’t have to tell me how weird that is.) It turns out that L. really, really loves broccoli. He just doesn’t like the florets. All this time, I’ve been making broccoli florets because that’s what I think the easier sell should be, and the second I decided to slice the stems thinly and roast them up with the other parts (which was a desperation move — I realized that I hadn’t bought quite enough broccoli to feed us all if I wasted the stems or saved them for stock), voila. L. actually asked me for more. And more. And enough that I bought extra broccoli at the market this week, roasted up the stem pieces last night, and put them in his lunchbox (P. got the florets). And the kicker was, L. was HAPPY about having broccoli for lunch.
Yet again, I say: you never can tell. What we think our kids will like, they don’t; what we would never have considered feeding them, they love. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but I hope some of you will share this post with the people you know who DON’T believe that kids can be taught to like healthy food. In the same way that I assumed, wrongly, that the florets were the only part of the broccoli a kid might enjoy, there are too many people in this world who assume that chicken nuggets or mac and cheese are the only entrees that can be served to a child under the age of 12. Some of those people are parents; some of them are teachers or administrators; some of them are restaurant owners; all of them have power over what goes on at least one child’s plate. And as much as I want to see sweeping changes in the way we deal with food and the culture of eating in this country, I’m starting to believe that sweeping change is the wrong immediate goal. In the immediate sense, maybe we should be looking to change one plate at a time. Sometimes, the change begins when you just decide to turn the broccoli upside-down.