I fear admitting this, but for the sake of all the other moms out there who have a child who would rather starve to death than eat a vegetable, I will. My almost 15-year-old son, Tom, has not eaten a vegetable in so long that I could be reported to the “Mom Police” and be sentenced to hard time.
How could this happen to me? I’m a hands-on mom. I take my kids to their check-ups and make sure they get vaccinated. I use the word “no” pretty liberally, and I have no problem being the bad guy.
Plus, I love vegetables.
Imagine my shock when before he even turned one, my perfect baby Tom 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.
War was declared.
A war I was determined to win. I was older and wiser, wasn’t I?
Before I had children, I vowed to practice and preach good nutrition. I exclusively breastfed Tom until he was six months old, and then fed solid foods in their most natural form. I foolishly believed the books that said, “If you serve it, they will eat it.”
I didn’t keep white bread, soda, or juice with added sugar in my house.
New foods were diligently introduced, and I was always looking to expand my baby’s palate. I served pumpkin ravioli, spinach brownies, and zucchini muffins. It was my mission in life to raise a well-rounded, well-read, and vegetable-eating person.
Nothing I did made my wonderful little boy eat a vegetable.
I covered a host of green, orange, purple, and every other color of the rainbow with cheese, butter, or brown sugar to no avail.
I read books and sang songs that played up the virtue of eating healthy using every beloved childhood character I could find. As he got older I showed him articles and research on the wisdom of eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. No sale.
Sometimes I got lucky, and Tom would eat a sauce with puree of carrots or sweet potato in it. I can’t tell you the pure happiness I would feel, only to be dropped into a depression the next day when he would say, “No thank you mommy” to the same tasty morsel.
Some of you may read this and think that I just didn’t try hard enough. That’s fine. I can live with your disdain. I know in my soul I did everything possible.
I have come to believe that some children, no matter what you try, just have certain food aversions.
Do you know how I know this? I have 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.
Lizzy and Peter 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 darlings will 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 make sure he found me two vegetable-eating children?
Or, are there 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 started high school this fall. There are so many new and exciting things that the world is starting to offer him. He’ll be making choices that at times can have serious, even life or death consequences. I can literally lose sleep if I allow myself to think too hard about it.
Mistakes will be made. I know that. Some of my most valuable lessons have come from the many missteps I’ve taken over the years.
By respecting my son’s food preferences, while still introducing him to a wide variety of food, I do more than just keep peace at the dinner table. I’m giving Tom and my other two children 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.
Authors Note: This piece was first published on the Dishwasher under the name, Losing the Battle to Win the War, on July 31, 2011. It has been revised and expanded.