A few weeks ago I witnessed a miracle. My 16-year-old son, Tom, ate two pieces of squash and a string bean. True they were covered in Japanese tempura, but I honestly wouldn’t care if they had been covered in chocolate and served by a super model. He ate a vegetable!
Up until this point that child had not eaten anything even remotely derived by the “rainbow” in so long that I could have been reported to the “Mom Police” and sentenced to hard time.
I always have wondered how I ended up with such a picky eater.
I did everything the parenting books suggested. I exclusively nursed Tom until he was six months old. When I introduced solid food, I served it in its most natural form. I didn’t keep white bread, soda, or juice with added sugar in my house. I offered a wide variety of foods, including pumpkin ravioli, spinach brownies, and zucchini muffins. I made it my mission to raise a healthy, vegetable-eating person.
Plus, I love vegetables.
Imagine my shock when before he even turned one, my perfect baby quickly showed his independence the minute I offered him his first taste of broccoli. His sweet little face looked at me as if I had just tried to poison him. Then he pushed away his plate with a dismissive wave of his little hand.
It was war!
A war I was determined to win. I was older and wiser, wasn’t I?
Nothing I did made my wonderful little boy eat a vegetable. Or a fruit. Or much of anything that he didn’t want to put into his cute little mouth.
I tried all of the “tricks” to get him to eat a wider selection of food. I covered my share of veggies in cheese and brown sugar. I pureed green and orange things and stuck them in sauces, breads, cookies, and everything else that might taste good.
I used favorite characters, read books, and sang songs that played up the virtue of eating healthy. As he got older I showed him articles and research on the wisdom of eating a diet rich in fruits, whole grains, and vegetables. No sale.
I even used the, eat-this-or-eat-nothing approach. He ate nothing.
I have come to believe that some children, no matter what you try, just have certain food aversions.
How did I come to this belief? I had two other children.
By the time Lizzy and Peter came along, I was so wiped out by the food wars that I joined the ketchup-is-a-vegetable cult. The only way they saw a green thing was on my plate.
And they begged for it.
Those two get so excited over broccoli that Tom tried it once, just because he thought maybe he was missing something.
Beets, kale, lima beans. You name it, and my two youngest children eat it. They have actually passed up ice cream to eat more green beans.
Are they freaks of nature? Did God feel sorry for me and made sure he found me two vegetable-eating children?
Or, are there just some things that are out of my control?
Our first pediatrician told me that my job as a mother was to offer and provide three nutritious meals a day, and my children’s job was to eat them, or not.
That’s some of the best advice I have ever been given, and it doesn’t only apply to food.
It’s my job as my children’s ambassador to the world to introduce and offer all that I think is safe and appropriate, and it’s their job to decide what works for them and what doesn’t.
As much as I love this advice, I still find it a bitter pill to swallow. And not always easy to follow. Especially as they get older. What if they choose wrong? What if they get hurt?
Tom is a few months shy of his 17th birthday. My sphere of influence is shrinking daily as his world gets wider and wider. The choices he makes today can carry lifelong consequences.
By respecting my son’s food preferences, while still introducing him to a wide variety of food, I have done more than just keep peace at the dinner table. I’m giving Tom and my other two kids the building blocks they need to make their own decisions.
The broccoli battle was Tom’s first attempt at independence. My loving withdrawal and a really good multivitamin was, and continues to be, my gift to him.
This is a version of a piece that ran on the Dishwasher, September 29, 2013, under the title, Lose One, Win One. It has been heavily revised from the original.
Janine Huldie says
Great advice Kathy and so needed to read this as my picky eater, who definitely won’t go near broccoli or any other veggies is Lily (my younger). So trust me I get it in spades and am going to have to try to remember your words of wisdom here with our next food battle here. Thanks! xoxo
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Rena McDaniel says
My daughter was and is the exact same way! She will not eat a vegetable to save her life. I had to mostly let her live on grapes if I wanted her to eat anything healthy at all. I worry about the options she will give the twins so I go out of my way to offer as many vegetables as I can shove down their little throats and will keeping cases of multivitamins for them.
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Lisa Weinstein says
Hi Kathy – it’s so hard to let go and let them make their own decisions, whether it’s to eat broccoli or go off to college. Kudos to you for figuring out a way to make peace with it! Hugs!!
Oh yes…I have fought the same battles.
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I remember stressing over getting my kids to eat their veggies. I ended up doing what you did with Tom. Offer but don’t insist. Funny enough, now that they are in their 20’s, they have discovered that they love all vegetables!
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Sandy Deden says
Vegetable beleaguered moms think alike! I enjoyed your blog today–my blog today is on the same subject. I have the same issue with my 16-year-old. He has yet to try a vegetable, but I know he will eventually eat something else. I agree that a kid’s taste buds are the luck of the draw, not a result of a lack of trying on our part. Thanks for the validation 🙂
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First off, I just have to say, I LOVE the name of your blog, haha! As to the veggies, my toddler LOVES them right now (knock on wood) so hopefully that stays! I love veggies, and not like them might just be grounds for being disowned in my house.. haha! 😉 – http://www.domesticgeekgirl.com
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Kathy Radigan says
Thanks! I’m so glad your little one loves veggies!!!
The 21st Century SAHM says
Love this! I fought my eldest so hard and regretted it. It caused such food issues, I think. I was much more relaxed with #2 and #3, and they are better eaters! It is so hard to relinquish control, though!
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Liam loves kale for some reason. I have always loved fruit and veggies. It’s much easier to get him to eat fruit than veggies but buy him a can of corn and he acts like he won the lotto. Weirdo.
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Anne Louise Bannon says
It’s always possible that your Tom is a super-taster. In other words, he may have more tastebuds on his tongue than most folks, which is why he can’t stand the taste of most veggies. My daughter is the same way, although I didn’t get much support on the eat what’s on your plate or don’t eat end. To this day, she generally won’t eat anything that’s naturally green. Argh.