So. Confession. I am a “picky eater.” Or at least I was. I am highly sensitive. Like the rat in Ratatouille, I actually have taste buds. Unlike the other rats in the movie, I don’t just eat garbage. And, like in the movie, it has its advantages. Remy could snuff out poison. Of course, he’d rather be a chef, but his father put him on poison control. But one way or the other, let’s not fear sensitivity, ok? It has its advantages. And some children are just going to be picky eaters.
In truth, as a culture we need to handle this. Throughout human history and still in the world, children just eat whatever their parents eat. And whatever their parents eat is fairly healthy. They grow up on it, no questions asked. In the west, we’ve lost this. We have no true appreciation for good food or social eating. We put everything on one family, usually on one mother, and when it goes poorly, we blame her. My life’s mission is to make it into old age so that I can cook nutritious meals for my grandchildren. This should be a cultural, traditional, intergenerational thing. Not a put-it-on-one-mother thing.
So, anyway. My first is a picky eater. In his youth, he wasn’t. He would eat salmon, scrambled eggs, vegetable soup, and bean salsa. At some point, it turned off, and he wanted only milk and peanut butter sandwiches.
I was a picky eater as a girl, and I can tell you a bit from the child’s perspective. I remember we went strawberry picking when I was about 5. Great for fun a 5-year-old girl. But then we came home, and I was handed one. An intense sour flavor for a highly sensitive 5-year-old girl doesn’t go well. To this day, I can’t eat a strawberry straight. Grapes-yes. Strawberries-no. I take my strawberries with a bit of cream. When I gave the inevitable sour face, it was announced, “she doesn’t like them.” I did not and would never like strawberries. I was also labeled, said in a frustrating tone over and over, a “picky eater.” It was etched in my soul. I would never try new things.
Ok. It’s NOT true. I just needed someone to work with me to find ways I could eat these foods. In my 20s, I became a very adventurous eater. I would read through cookbooks galore, trying new things. Yes, there are some things I won’t. I won’t eat shell fish. It tastes like eating human fingers to me. I indeed won’t eat raw strawberries. But there are a lot of things I do like, and they easily round out to a healthy diet.
I was also CRAZY excited to eat healthy for myself. I remember I asked a relative once, “Is pizza healthy?” I was committed, then and there, that if it wasn’t, I would swear it off forever. The relative told me, “IN moderation!” It was a terrible answer to give me. It should have been seen as an incredible clue. What I was actually asking was, “What can I eat that is healthy for me? Because I am at an age that I will throw myself into doing that.” I don’t doubt that I was around age 8. There is a milestone I documented about “Disciplined Habits.” Around 8.5, children self-impose on themselves discipline. They decide computer use in excess is bad, so they don’t use their computer until a certain time of day. And they also become highly interested in their diet. They might decide they are a vegetarian for a week. They engineer their daily diet, wanting to perfect it. It is a great time to work with a picky eater.
So, if you read my blogs, you know that I am a bit over “positive” parenting. Positive parenting is still trying to get young children on adult’s schedule and molded into what is considered an ideal person, it’s just done “positively.” I find it denies the wild side of children, to the detriment of their development. For instance, one school I read about had a sign up when the children went outside, “Snow is not for throwing.” Ok. Yes it is.
Anyway, I am not going to primarily focus on “educating” children to compel them into healthy eating. They don’t “need” to “understand” this; not unless it’s a burning passion already in their heart. In general, instead I focus more on more appeals to their wild side, heroic stories, and ancient wisdom.
My son and I sat one night talking about how he wanted more food lately. I told him he used to eat scrambled eggs, and it would be great if he tried them again. He told me he likes them; I just don’t make them! Oh! Then I described how eggs helped in human evolution. Ancient primates did not hunt down prey. But in order to develop larger brains capable of hunting down prey, they needed that very prey to get protein. How do they resolve this? The answer is eggs. He was enamored by this. This little package of a food. Such a nutritional punch.
The other thing I did was buy a book on nutrition. Yes–I am not opposed to education, just how it’s done. It was The 101 Healthiest Foods for Kids. My kids loved this book. The healthiest foods? For THEM? Do you think I started at the beginning and read them in alphabetical order? No. I opened the book to foods my children already eat. The first one was eggs. We learned all about how eggs have choline and help with brain health. Then we did strawberries. They or something like them need eaten daily. Would you believe my son then said, “Ok. Strawberries. I need to start eating them every day.” And you know what I asked him? “How would you like them? Plain? With whipped cream? As a popsicle?” As I write this, today we’ll be making popsicles with frozen strawberries and milk.
It’s in them. It is seriously in them to want to eat healthy and want to be adventurous.
Sincerely. The slightest bit of trust goes a long way.