The Hunger Games: How my three year old survives on yogurt and air

Several months ago, my son comes home and asks me, “What’s for dinner?”

“Well,” I replied, “We’re eating roasted chicken, grilled rapini and mashed potatoes.”

“Sounds yummy!” he declared, wandering into the living room.

Translation: “I will be eating none of that, but as long as you have goldfish crackers, we’ll get along just fine.”

photo: Quinn Dombrowski
photo: Quinn Dombrowski

My son is such a picky eater that at one point I considered buying groceries and then just throwing them out. Among the things I’ve tried in the past:

  • Food songs
  • Food games
  • A giant toy kitchen with a bin full of plastic food and cooking utensils
  • Praying
  • Crying
  • Googling “nutrition through osmosis”

My son appreciates food in the abstract. He knows which foods are healthy and make you strong. Once, he licked a pea and said “Look how strong I am!” as he flexed his tiny biceps. He understands the notion of food, just not the consumption of it.

Hand in hand with his limited palate is the particularity with certain foods and how they must be prepared. Highlights include:

  • Raisin toast, so long as there are absolutely NO raisins in it
  • Peanut butter on toast, cut into SQUARES, NOT strips
  • Toast that is not brown
  • WHOLE bananas (I once had to pretend to surgically fuse two halves of a banana back together) that may or may not be pre-peeled, depending on the day of the week and whether or not Venus is in retrograde.
photo: Visa Kopu
photo: Visa Kopu

I am NOT a food expert. I’m not a registered dietician or a child psychologist. I’m just a mom. I’m just “The Help.” I did a lot of observing, paired with even more trial and error. While I will forever be on the outs with Pinterest (curse you and your Bento-Box lunches (see The Bento Bitch) and cookie-cutter sandwiches with strawberry floral arrangements and pint-sized Kombucha tea drinks!!) I have come up with a strategy of sorts. It won’t work for everyone, but it has worked for us so far:

  1. Grazing: While we still encourage him to sit at the table for longer than a bug’s breath, we also acknowledge that right now, he’s not a sit-down-and-eat-an-entire-meal kinda guy. Going to a restaurant is a bicentennial event. I compromised by giving him a selection of the healthiest foods I know he will eat, in small bite-sized pieces on a compartmentalized dish. We call it “smorgasbord” dinner. Most of the time, he’s totally game (apple slices, banana, cheese cubes, crackers with hummus or peanut butter – whatever he’ll eat that doesn’t come from a package with a cartoon on it.)
  1. Drinking his food: Confession. I buy the drinkable yogurts (cue collective gasp from the Judgey McJudgesteins). Since it’s one of the preferred food delivery systems, I mix it up by occasionally offering blended fruit smoothies. I can stick whatever I want in there, and more often than not, he loves them.
  1. Helping: The theory is, if he helps prepare the food, he’ll be more likely to eat his own creations. We’re not quite there yet, but I figure if I can keep him involved in the doing, he’ll make the connection to eating what he makes.
  1. Relaxing: Me, not him. I come from a long line of “Thou shalt not waste food” – Depression-era survivors on one family side and WW2 survivors on the other. Throwing food in the garbage gives me the sweats. I had to redirect my focus on what he was eating and give him smaller portions, replenishing when he finished what was on his plate.

After a lot (a LOT) of reading, I realized that toddlers are naturally picky eaters. Just because they watch you buy their favourite foods and then announce they will no longer eat any of them, doesn’t mean they’ll hate them forever. I cling to the hope that one day, he’ll return to a much wider variety of food, one bite at a time.

alexis-head-shotAlexis Nicols is a marketing specialist, actor and freelance writer. She lives in urban Toronto with her husband and two sons, but is definitely suburban at heart. She regularly dodges the slings and arrows of parenting boys, considers herself a connoisseur of stretchy pants and hopes that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train.

For more musings from a mom who wonders when everything below the neck went National Geographic, visit her blog:

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