Monday, February 25, 2008

Who's the Picky One?

Ever since I whipped up my first mouth-watering batch of baby cereal four years ago, Emma and I have been engaged in a cold war over food. Actually, no, it goes back further than that, to when she was about four months old and she would purse her lips together tightly and turn her head away if I so much as unbuttoned my shirt. She preferred the expensive stuff out of a can to what I was manufacturing for free. I remember feeling like I was feeding a drug habit, having to buy those cans of formula constantly. My milk went away after about a month of trying to get her to prefer me to a bottle. I felt like I had failed Breastfeeding 101 and that was just the beginning of me worrying about Emma's eating. I went on to be a total disaster at spoon feeding as well. Trying to get a bite of anything into Emma's tightly closed mouth was like trying to open the bathroom door when Charlie has locked himself inside (don't ask). Now that Emma is able to, ahem, "verbalize" her preferences, it is an ongoing "discussion" about why she can't have another chocolate chip granola bar. Why goldfish are not an appropriate lunch. Why we can't have cereal for dinner. Meanwhile, I've got Charlie who asks for extra broccoli and will eat just about anything that is put within grabbing distance of him.

Emma is growing and thriving and all of that, so it's not like she's malnourished. When you look at what pediatricians say children actually need to consume nutrient-wise, she's doing okay. But I still worry about what she eats. I worry that if I deny her snacks like granola bars and goldfish that I'm going to give too much importance to these seemingly innocent foods, and she will be 35 years old some day, sneaking teddy grahams in the middle of the night. Then I chastise myself for giving in to the demands for snacks because, not surprisingly, she doesn't eat anything for dinner if she's had one of her favorite snacks earlier. If I do cave into her demands for snacks then there's still a debate about why she can't have more graham crackers, more Dora yogurt, etc. It's seriously a constant discussion about snacks at my house and it starts first thing in the morning when she appears bleary-eyed next to our bed at 7 a.m.

I think what it comes down to with Emma is control. That's definitely a lot of my problem as well. We both want to control what Emma eats and it's no surprise that she's winning that battle. After all, you can lead a preschooler to asparagus, but you can't make her eat.

So, what's the answer? Do I eighty-six all snack foods? That's probably what I need to do. I've been trying to make Emma-approved family dinners several nights out of the week so that not every dinner ends with her crying and me feeling like a failure. But, I can only eat pasta so many nights a week. Does anyone have any kid-faves that you think Emma might like to eat? I would love to get some ideas. Here are the things she will take a few bites of (if the planets are aligned and she hasn't already gorged on goldfish that day):
  • Tortellini with tomato sauce

  • Cheese pizza

  • Scrambled eggs

  • Apples

  • Applesauce

  • Carrots

  • Peas

  • Yogurt

  • Grilled cheese

  • Cereal (Raisin Bran is her fave.)

  • Oatmeal

  • Quesadilla with guacamole

  • Bananas

  • Pineapple

  • Cantaloupe

I might be forgetting a few things...but those are the old stand-bys.

Is this a decent list? Am I actually the picky one here?


Mama Monster said...

I was just thinking about snack foods. My daughter is a great eater, but my son is a picky eater-- much to my surprise(I thought I had it all figured out.) I have noticed that he much prefers snacks to meals. He will often take a few bites of food at a meal and then demand a snack 20 minutes after the end of the meal. Drives me nuts. But overall, I try to remind myself that it usually evens out and I think he's getting plenty of nutrition.

Anonymous said...

I have noticed a slight increase in the number of vegetables Clara eats now that Thomas the Tank Engine "delivers" them each day at lunch time. We have a routine in which Thomas blares through the kitchen during breakfast on his way to the farms and gardens and then he comes back at lunch time, delivering his goodies for us to have at dinner. Clara asks for Thomas EVERY STINKING DAY and who am I to question this new motivation for eating all things green and orange? At dinner, I remind her that Thomas delivered that broccoli espcially for her, etc. Not sure if Emma would go for this, but perhaps caveated to her character preferences, she might find it fun. Good luck!


Nancy said...

Can I just tell you that we have the EXACT same child. Corinne snacks to her hearts content all day and then really only eats a real meal twice, maybe three times a week. Spaghetti is the ole standby at our house. My thing (and I tend to blame myself here) is that I do not want to make food a control issue with her. I want her to have a healthy relationship with the food she eats, when she eats, why, whatever. I myself do not have a healthy relationship with food - and was always forced to clean my plate as a child. Where does the push to get them to eat healthy food end and the allowing them to eat what they want begin? This parent thing is hard...

Pam said...


Talia too is a snacker, so I try to get as many fruits/veggies in at snack time as I can, figuring it doesn't matter whether these foods show up at snacks vs. meals. One favorite (expensive! but so darn healthy!) is the various products available from Just Tomatoes (at and Whole Foods). Crunching on dried peas at the playground is somehow way cooler than finding them in her tortellini. One book I really liked around the time T was first starting solid foods was Child of Mine, by Ellyn Satter--the entire message was, "It's parents' responsibility to provide a variety of healthy foods; it's kids' responsibility to decide whether and how much to eat." (There--I've just saved you $11.53 and 500 pages.) : ) As a kid, I had many power struggles w/my mom about food, and the book relaxed me quite a bit--and as the author predicted, after I relaxed about it Talia became a better eater b/c it was less exciting to struggle over.

And for whatever it's worth, Emma's list looks pretty good to me--T will sometimes eat a hard-boiled egg (if she gets to "tap it" herself) but won't go near the scrambled kind. : )

Happy chomping,

Anonymous said...

I was watching Oprah one day and she had Jessica Seinfeld on, Jerry's wife. She has come up with a cookbook for kids that might give you some ideas for Emma. Here's an excerpt from the website:
"Jessica Seinfeld, like many busy parents, struggled to get her three kids to eat healthily. After much trial-and-error — and many mealtime battles — she discovered a foolproof system: delicious and easy-to-make stealth recipes that sneak in puréed veggies so kids will never suspect the foods they love are actually good for them!

Her new book, Deceptively Delicious, is packed with Jessica's own mouthwatering recipes, tips on making healthy snacks and improving store-bought foods, and her advice on creating harmony around the kitchen table. Now, parents will never again have to say "Eat your vegetables!"

Here's the site:

I wanted to get the book for Holly, she's having trouble with Leah eating properly too, but she didnt' want to mess with it but I think you would enjoy trying it out. They might have a sample of a recipe you could try.

Good luck! Leah will only eat for her Dad and myself.