Food for Thought

Families Health - September 20th, 2002
tokyoweekender_Diane Wiltshire

by Diane Wiltshire

I am convinced that the pickiest eater in the world resides at our house. It was evi­dent from the beginning that his taste in food was more lim­ited than most. At 8 months of age, when other babies were into those little jars of baby food, not this guy. He steadfast­ly refused any offering, from rice cereal to mashed fruit, pre­ferring to exist on breast milk alone.

As time went by, I started to worry that a healthy diet should consist of more than mother’s milk and a few Cheerios here and there. By the age of 18 months, my rosy-cheeked baby continued to enjoy excellent health with hardly a cold, but I was a wreck over the food issue. Our pediatrician had examined him from A to Z and found nothing wrong, but friends and relatives were aghast that my little one didn’t eat much of anything; he just drank gallons and gallons of breast milk.

Finally I faced the fact that no matter what all the books said, and no matter how much pressure I felt from well-mean­ing peers, my baby knew what was best for him. From that point on, I resolved to listen to what he was trying to tell me. During family meals, I sat him in his highchair at the table but didn’t offer food unless he asked for it. There was no more begging, “Just take one more bite for mommy, please.” If all he wanted was a teaspoon of carrots and nothing else, that was fine.

I was amazed at how quick­ly the power struggle over food ceased once the pressure was off of both of us. It was a good lesson for me early on, as this particular child is quite willful and benefits from having some control over decisions that affect him. As the years went by, I found new ways of getting around his picky eating habits without making a battle of it.

He seemed more likely to try food that he had helped pre­pare, so I allowed him to slice mushrooms (his favorite “veg­etable”) or crack and beat the eggs. I never had much luck serving him green vegetables until one summer when he helped pick and shell peas from his great-grandfather’s garden. The child who routinely yelled, “No green!” whenever he spied anything of that hue on his plate, decided that peas were actually yummy.

Still, the repertoire of foods that he would eat was appallingly limited. I resorted to sneaking nutrition into snacks and meals whenever possible. Warm muffins with finely grated zucchini or banana with wheat germ are wolfed down as long as I suc­cessfully camouflage the ingre­dients.

A favorite cool treat is puree fresh fruit mixed with yogurt and frozen in Popsicle molds. I still try to serve at least one well-balanced meal a day, but I discovered that children’s appetites vary so much, depending on their energy lev­els and moods, that it helps to be flexible about eating between meals.

Even with our teenagers, I try to keep healthy snacks within easy reach, let them eat when they are hungry, and hope that the bits of nutri­tion add up.

After all the stress involved in feeding my first child, I was determined not to make the same mistakes with my next baby. I figured that I would wait until he showed me he was ready for solid food, no matter what the age. Well, wouldn’t you know it, this guy will eat anything that won’t eat him first! From the moment he grabbed a banana out of my hand and stuffed it in his mouth at the age of 5 months, he has had a voracious appetite and gets a kick out of trying anything new.

I have given up trying to figure it all out, but try not to feel guilty or frustrated if you have a picky eater. Sometimes they’re just born that way. The picky guy in our house is a teenager now and he’s actually a pretty good cook, just as long as you like dishes with no veggies.