When Carter was a toddler, he'd eat anything. I have pictures of him eating everything from broccoli to brussel sprouts to sushi rolls to asparagus to... well, he'd eat anything we put in front of him.
And then sometime between 2 and 2.5, a switch flipped in his head, and suddenly he wouldn't touch vegetables, especially not green ones. I was baffled, but everything I'd read about child nutrition said to just wait him out, to keep making those foods available, and not make a big deal of whether he ate them or not. Eating is a control issue for small children, just like pottying, and you really can't make them do anything in those two areas. And they know it.
So we waited, and Carter simply refused to eat anything other than the narrow list of things with which he is familiar. Occasionally we get frustrated and resort to bribery: "You can have dessert, but only if you try everything on your plate." And that definitely does not work. Worse, it sends completely the wrong message about healthy foods: that they're not yummy or fun to eat, but are something to be endured so that you can have a treat later. Not a recipe for healthy eating, and that's the point after all. We want him to enjoy healthy food and develop good eating habits that will last him a lifetime.
So in the meantime the nutrition recommendations for kids his age suggest he eat 4 or 5 servings of vegetables a day. Ha! The only veggie he'll eat is canned carrots. Not fresh steamed ones -- the canned ones, all loaded with salt. He will eat his weight in fruit, and that's at least something, but vegetables? No way.
So Mommy gets worried.
Today I poked around on the internet a bit and asked the advice of some other moms whose parenting ideas I really respect and trust, and while most of them said, "OMG me too, I have no clue what to do!", one of them directed me to the blog It's Not About Nutrition, which is written by food sociologist who specializes in helping families learn to eat better. I poked around a bit and it was exactly what I needed to read.
Yes, we're doing the right thing by not making a big deal out of what he eats and doesn't eat. Yes, it's developmentally appropriate for him to be super-picky right now, and he will outgrow it as long as we don't let him develop bad eating habits. And yes, pushing him to try things he doesn't want to try will only do more damage than good. In fact, it may well insure he will NEVER like those foods.
So what to do? Well, there were lots of suggestions on the blog, and one caught my eye: Let your child be a food critic. The premise is that you ask your child to taste a variety of foods, and then ask if he likes it or not. Then you move on. You don't tell him to eat it. You don't place any judgement on his opinion. You just accept it and move on.
She recommended using a smiley-face rating scale, and so I made a little journal for Carter to start rating foods in:
I started with four foods that we were having for dinner tonight and told him we were going to play a game. He had to touch each food to his tongue and decide if it was yummy, okay, or yucky. We circled the appropriate option on each page, and he LOVED it! In fact, he willingly tasted broccoli for the first time in more than a year. I almost cried!
Here are the results:
The only things he actually ate were the veggie burger and the raspberries, but that's okay. After he made his choice, Doug and I did the same with our own food, and Carter thought that was hilarious. When Doug and I disagreed on whether something was "yummy", he seemed to find it especially funny. He even scanned the table looking for other things to test.
And so thought it didn't result in him eating anything new, I think it represented a major shift in the way we approach dinner. I think we'll be able to use this when we go out to eat to get him to try foods on our plates, and maybe, one day, he'll actually decide to eat something new.
For now, I'll take this. :-)