This weekend is my firstborn son's 6th birthday. I'll spare you the sob story about how fast time goes (although it's very true!), but this particular birthday, I've been reflecting on how much we have both changed in those six short years. My oldest holds a special place in my heart not only for all the time that we had together just the two of us (sadly, my other two children never got all that one-on-one mommy time), but also because he was the reason I started this exact business. From the start, I wanted to fill him with foods that would help him grow and thrive, and that drive grew into my desire to help other parents do the same. But like all first children, he's the one with whom I made all my mistakes (he'll have plenty of fodder for his future therapist--ha!), because becoming a mother is a job that you never stop learning and growing. That first baby is the learning curve, am I right? But also, he has been by far my most difficult eater, and watching him grow and change has been the source of my greatest frustrations and greatest accomplishments. Here, I'm sharing what I wish I would have known six years ago.
1. Kids will out stubborn you under the table every darn day. When my son turned 14 months, he refused to eat any food that was not a banana with peanut butter. I'm talking full blown hunger strike unless said banana appeared on his plate. I bribed, I yelled, I drove myself completely and utterly crazy trying to get him to eat anything else. He was like a donkey who simply refused to move, and I was the lunatic heaving and hoeing and pulling with all my might. I learned that negotiating with a toddler is a game that I will never.ever win. Once I stopped wasting my energy on trying to get him to do something that he wasn't going to do, he loosened up his heels because it's less fun for a toddler to win against someone who doesn't seem to care.
2. There is a time and place for sneaking in healthy foods. During the banana and peanut butter era, I wanted to get something--anything!--else into him, so I started making smoothies every morning filled with spinach, frozen squash, and other veggies that he would normally never touch. I also experimented with recipes like hidden veggie meatballs, cauliflower mac and cheese, zucchini muffins, and other kid friendly foods that offered a serving of vegetables in them. While I don't advocate for sneaking vegetables in all the time or lying to your child about what they're eating, these types of recipes really come in handy in getting through difficult stages.
3. No stage lasts forever. Besides the "I only eat bananas with peanut butter" phase--which, yes, I'm still dwelling on, and yes, I promise not to talk about from here on, he's gone through the following: the anything green=poison phase (even a sliver of basil on pizza); the months of eating with the TV on while I shovel food into his too-busy-to-notice mouth; the cereal-for-every-meal diet; and currently, he's adopted an "I'm allergic to all foods I dislike" mantra. When I was in the thick of all these phases, it seemed like I would never emerge. But once you do, that phase is over (and would you believe that he's "allergic" to bananas now?!). Being flexible in my mindset has been the best way for me to get through them, as in "it's okay if he eats with the TV on right now, and no he won't go to college needing to be spoon fed." Nothing lasts forever.
4. Talk about food in a way your child will understand. I remember so clearly the very first time my son took a bite of a baby carrot. He was more than 2 years old and had been on a vegetable strike since he learned to walk. I decided one day to place a few baby carrots on his plate and I said to him, "Look, that carrot is the same color as Dusty Crophopper." He was borderline obsessed with this orange plane from his favorite Disney movie. I went on. "I wonder if Dusty eats carrots and that's why he flies so fast." I left it at that and walked away, and lo and behold the kid actually took a bite. The heavens opened, the angels sang, and I nearly fainted on the floor.
5. Don't let one setback set you back 6 months. While we're on that story, I'll admit that I stopped giving my kid baby carrots for a while because I figured he would refuse them like he had so many times before. Before Dusty Cropalyspe, he may not have seen a baby carrot for six months, mainly out of my sheer laziness to put them on his plate. By falling into the my-kid-doesn't-like-it mentality, I actually did him a disservice because he stopped getting more chances to learn and maybe even like.
6. Consistency really matters. Would you believe me if I told you that this kid will now eat essentially anything that I put on the table for dinner? I'm still shocked when he happily spoons bites of curried red lentils or forks bite after bite of coconut crusted cod. There are meals that he decides he doesn't like too, but it's not without giving it a fair chance. He is by no means a perfect eater, but that's because there is no such thing as a perfect eater. He has days that he eats his vegetables as happily as he does his pasta and other days when he eats two chocolate granola bars after dinner and then asks for dessert. That painfully slow, foot-dragging feeling of staying on course when it feels like nothing is changing is worth it. Our job is simply to keep trying.