Many of you know me from TV (Ten Dollar Dinners), but I am a mom of four girls before I am a TV personality. And as a mom, I have my share of struggles and days when I wish parenting were easier.
And I have picky eaters. While I am far from perfect, I am a pretty purposeful parent who limits junk food, cooks with my kids and introduces a food a patient 18.3 times before I expect my kids to be interested. When the girls were tiny, I made most of their baby food, introduced veggies before sweet fruits and fed them super porridges of legumes, flax and brewer’s yeast. I never let the kids load up on juice or sodas. I’m a professional cook on TV! But I’ve ended up with a few picky kids anyway.
I’ve had some small victories over the years, to be sure, and I love talking with parents of other picky eaters about a little gem of an idea that has worked for them or some successes of my own. But as my twins approached the age of 6, I decided I wanted more than just a bunch of tips. I wanted a program — a step-by-step approach to help my family. So I searched and researched. And I’ll be honest, much of what was out there on picky eating just made me feel guilty. The subtext was: You did something wrong as a mom. (In all fairness, that subtext could well have been coming from my own judgmental voice in my head — the one that has me wondering about once a month if I’m under-qualified for the incredibly important job that is parenting.)
I will point out the obvious: If you buy only chicken nuggets for your kids to eat every night, well, then there is little mystery as to where the picky eating comes from. And that’s the reputation that parents of picky eaters have, to some extent. But I suspected, and my research confirmed, pickiness can be quite complex. Many issues are at play: physiological difference in taste (kids’ taste buds perceive taste actually differently), lack of nutritional context (would I eat broccoli religiously if I didn’t understand its benefits?), human nature (if we all just naturally wanted to eat healthy foods, why would I ever need to diet?), power assertions (kids learn early on that even when they have little control in life, they do have control over their swallow mechanism, so can we blame them for wanting to exercise it?), negative associations or experiences with certain foods (I still get the willies thinking about the time a relative forced me to finish an old glass of milk before I could leave the table), and habits (what is the “easiest option” in our household, and is it promoting healthy eating?).
In any case, if any of this sounds like you (I hope someone out there relates. My nightmare: to find out that I actually truly am the only one feeling this way!), please join me. Reach out to me, and let’s share our stories and experiences. And to the mom or dad who is buying the chicken nuggets every night, well, you are welcome here too. This is a pure non-judgment zone. I believe that on the road to improvement, there is feedback, not judgment. Actions lead to results, and that is neither good nor bad. And every road to success begins with one step; we all start from somewhere different, and where we are going counts so much more than from where we have come.
What do I hope to accomplish? My number one goal when it comes to food and my kids is I want them to have a healthy relationship with it. In my mind that means my kids celebrate food for its ability to nourish their bodies and for the role it plays in bringing people together, sharing lives over a meal. It means my kids growing up unafraid to try new foods, knowing that their opinions count (they are allowed to not like something!) and it means a peaceful, joyful dinner table. It means I can take my kids to a friend’s house for dinner and not have to worry they won’t like anything enough to get a decent meal. Lastly, it means that when my girls move out of my home one day, they enter the world fully equipped to continue a lifelong love and respect for the relationship between food and their bodies. Seeing them choke down three bites of broccoli tonight to get dessert is less important to me than any of the above.
My approach stems from my philosophy about food, my objectives and the results of my research. You may be surprised to learn that the first few weeks of the program are actually focused more on environment and attitude than about the actual food itself. But I felt strongly that picky eating was about more than “just the food,” so I created activities that address the root causes, not just the “symptoms” of picky eating.
So come into my home. These are my kids, my house and our real problems. We had a video camera hovering over our dinner table all summer long (I noticed the Melissa-in-PJs footage has thankfully made its way to the cutting room floor). Talk to me on Twitter, and leave your comments on FN Dish and Facebook. We’re in this together.