I can pinpoint the exact moment when I lost control of my children’s healthy eating habits. It was way back in 2003, and my daughter was around seven months old. She’d been eating solid foods for a couple of months at that point. Mostly, I gave her mashed up fruits and vegetables and tiny little pieces of roasted turkey, grilled chicken, ground beef and sautéed tofu. Mostly, she spit out everything except for the fruit – my very first sign of her rampant sweet tooth.
I was taking a very popular baby class with a parenting “expert” who seemed to be a guru on everything. Every week, she’d lecture us on a different topic and then we’d have a discussion about how it related to our own babies.
One week, the topic was eating, and in the discussion time, I expressed my frustration with my daughter’s unwillingness to eat anything but fruit and cereal. The guru said that the problem was that I was giving her foods that she wouldn’t like. She told us that if we wanted them to eat, we should give our kids “kid food” - grilled cheese and chicken tenders and hamburgers and hot dogs (cut up, of course). She said that there was a reason most kids ate those foods, and that they’d eat other things as they got older.
I remember feeling both surprised and distinctly relieved when she said that. Surprised to hear an expert say that it was okay to give kids unhealthy foods, but relieved because I felt like I’d just been given permission to stop trying to feed my daughter food she clearly didn’t like.
That afternoon, against my better judgment, I went out and bought chicken tenders and cut them up into little pieces. My daughter gobbled them up like they were candy. Look at that, I thought. The guru was right.
In the months that followed, my daughter ate a steady diet of grilled cheese and turkey sandwiches, chicken tenders, hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries and plain pasta. And while the baby class ended when she was eighteen months old, the diet continued on.
I kept waiting for her to get “older” and want to eat other things, as promised. But that day never came. I introduced new, healthy foods all the time – roasted broccoli, sautéed spinach, chicken stir fry, veggie risotto – but it was too late. The damage had been done. My daughter refused to try anything new, and when I’d force her, we’d get into huge fights that often ended with her gagging at the dinner table.
I worried about my daughter. I worried that she didn’t eat any vegetables, I worried that I had instilled terrible eating habits in her, I worried that she would gain an unhealthy amount of weight, I worried that she would be miserable as a teenager.
The years went on and on, and her refusal to eat anything but “kid food” stayed steady. I can’t tell you how much I regretted ever listening to that baby “expert.” I felt – still feel – that if she hadn’t told me to go out and give my kid chicken tenders, I would have continued to feed her the way I was, and eventually, she would have eaten it. I feel that if I hadn’t taken her advice, I’d have a kid now who eats all kinds of things. And, of course, I have to wonder, in a country where childhood obesity is an epidemic, why do we define “kid food” as food that is fried and absent any nutritional value? How is it that that ever even happened?
My daughter is almost twelve now, and the food struggle continues. Only now, it’s worse, because she’s old enough to understand that the foods she loves are terrible for her. She’s learned at school what is healthy and what isn’t. She’s seen firsthand how eating crappy food can affect her body and her skin. She reads about what celebrities eat to stay skinny in Teen Vogue. She watches The Biggest Loser.
She’s trying to eat healthier, and yet, she still doesn't like grilled chicken, she still prefers plain pasta with butter, and she still won’t touch a piece of salmon with a ten foot pole. And I still blame myself,ModernMom