It is possible. It is possible. It is possible. All you parents out there who struggle each day to believe that your kids will actually choose to eat healthy foods, and will maybe…someday…possibly even try new things without a fight, repeat this mantra with me.
I confess that despite my relative show of bravado, I’ve spent many a mealtime thinking that there was approximately as much chance of L. eating his vegetables as there was that Colin Firth would suddenly appear at the kitchen sink, wearing a ruffled apron and proclaiming his deep desire to do the dishes. And as we all know by now, fruit was even LESS likely. I mean, seriously, given L.’s deep sensory aversion to fruits of all kinds, I would have had to enlist the lotto odds-makers to calculate my chances on that one. The fact is, kids are naturally neophobic, and fruits and vegetables tend to be the hard sells, and that’s just the way it is. Cue parental hand-to-forehead, woe-is-me gestures all across America.
But that’s not the end of the story! Far from it. I’ve said this all along, and I’ll continue to say it, now with evidence — actual PROOF — that it works: If you continue to put the effort into helping your kids make good choices, they will eventually pick up what you are putting down (to be colloquial about it).
A little while back, as I was musing on accountability here on the blog, a loyal reader asked if I’d talk sometime about whether or not the RRG family ever goes out to dinner or gets take-out. The short answer is rarely. We don’t do take-out often at all; I’d say less than once a month, actually, because there’s not much in the way of convenient take-out that we’d really want to feed the kids. As to the out-to-dinner question, that’s even less frequent. First of all, dinner out is expensive, especially if you’re planning to eat anywhere that has food that can even loosely adhere to some sort of standard for quality or nutrition. Secondly, the dinner hour for most kids under the age of 6 or so — and especially our two boys — tends to be a real toss-up when it comes to agreeableness, behavior, etc. They’re hungry, they’re tired, and they need room to run, which is not a good combination of factors for restaurant success. We have taken them out to restaurants plenty of times — we believe that you can’t teach good manners in any situation unless you put them IN that situation on a regular basis — but we always stick to breakfast or lunch, when they’re more likely to be predictable and, well, civilized.
However, last Friday, we gave it a shot. J. had received a gift card from a client at work for a meal at a relatively decent chain restaurant — we don’t usually go to chains, but this one has some things that are akin to “real” food, so we thought we’d go for it. We were facing a Fend Night, but were uninspired by the stuff in the fridge, so we decided to risk picking the boys up from school and heading straight to the restaurant for an out-to-dinner experiment. Surprisingly, it turned out to be a great evening. The kids were well-behaved (and excited about eating dinner out — go figure!). The food was good. It was cheap, since we had the gift card to cover most of it. And THIS happened…this thing…this wonderful, amazing, unbelievable thing….
When contemplating the menu, I picked up the kids’ section just to give a quick perusal. We don’t usually order off kids’ menus for the boys, but I was pleasantly surprised to see actual real food entrees in kid-sized portions on this one. So I turned to L. and offered him a choice of the grilled chicken or steak. He (not surprisingly) chose steak. I then read him the list of side order options: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, french fries, or mixed vegetables. (I could have omitted the fries, but truthfully, if we’re eating out I’m prepared to let him have the opportunity to make his own choice about that — and to let it go if he does pick fries.)
My child. My beautiful, sweet, wonderful child. He turned his face up to me, deep in thought, and said, “I just think I should have veggies, Mom.”
I almost fell over in shock. J. and I, probably stupidly, kept asking “Are you sure, L.?” But he was resolute. Steak and veggies. End of story. Even when the plate arrived — with a petite and perfectly cooked 4-oz. portion of steak and a heaping pile of nicely steamed broccoli, snow peas, summer squash, and carrots — I wasn’t convinced that he was going to eat it.
But after polishing off the meat in about the same amount of time it took me to cut up P.’s chicken and get it in front of him, L. pondered the vegetables, then said to me, “I think I want to try these.” He pointed to the snow peas, which he’s never in his life agreed to taste before.
“Go for it,” I said, then purposely turned away and pretended to be concentrating very hard on my salmon.
Long story short: He ate, and LIKED, the snow peas. Then tried, liked, and finished the summer squash. He didn’t have room for the broccoli and carrots, but I didn’t care — he’d had a very acceptable portion of vegetables, and I hadn’t had to say a single word to him.
From that moment onward, the floodgates have been open. Every day since our dinner out, L. has tried at least one new food with no prodding. Asparagus? No problem. Grape tomatoes? Sure thing. And then, last night, it happened.
He ate fruit.
We made a cobbler — it was COLD outside, and the boys wanted to do a cooking project with me for dinner. It’s hard to let them help me make risotto, so I grabbed a bunch of the frozen fruit we always keep on hand and we whipped up a little something special together. L. has never tried a single bite of any fruit cobbler, crumble, pie, or anything else containing fruit. I was sure he’d continue the trend last night. But as we sat eating our dinners, I caught him looking at me with a contemplative expression.
I looked back, not saying anything. And he picked up his fork, eyes dead level on mine, and scooped up a bite of juicy peaches and berries. With no fanfare, no discussion, L. ate his whole serving of cobbler just as if he’d been doing so his whole life.
There’s more in his lunchbox today. Oh, am I amazed. And proud. And shocked. It is possible. It is possible. It is possible.
Now I just need to keep telling myself that for another 2 years or so, until P. gets around to turning the corner, too.