by Risa Green
It turns out that I’ve been approaching this food thing all wrong. Which is not such a great surprise, given that I’ve gotten nowhere with it for the last seven years. Yet still surprising to me, nonetheless, if only because I already knew exactly what to do, and do it all the time, for myself. I just hadn’t thought to apply it to my kids.
Anyway, let me start at the beginning. The nutritionist – actually, the Registered Dietitian  (my cousin informed me that there is a difference; an R.D. has a degree, a nutritionist does not) – came to my house and started by askng me what my daughter eats in each category of the food pyramid. I rattled off dozens of carbohydrates, three vegetables, two kinds of cheeses plus scrambled eggs, ten different fruits, protein in the form of chicken tenders, hotdogs and hamburgers, and a partridge in a pear tree. Except that she doesn’t really like pears (or partridges, I’m guessing, though I’ve never actually tried to serve her one). I then ran down a typical food day: breakfast (Life cereal with skim milk), lunch (pasta with butter, fruit and string cheese), afternoon snack (Pirate’s Booty), after school snack (more Pirate’s Booty, plus another piece of string cheese), dinner (oh, God, dinner. More pasta with butter, fruit, maybe a glass of milk), and dessert (whatever crap is in my freezer).
We talked about healthier options, like using olive oil on the pasta instead of butter, serving some strawberries or a glass of juice with breakfast, and substituting yogurt for the cheese sometimes. But the big aha! moment for me really had to do with the way that I think about dinner. For me, dinner has taken on a holy kind of quality, where we’re all supposed to sit around the table at exactly six o’clock and eat a well-balanced, dinner-ish kind of meal, like chicken, fish or steak  with a vegetable, and maybe a small side of rice or pasta. And, most importantly, we’re all supposed to eat the same thing. This, I learned, is a pipe dream. Maybe not for everyone, but with the way my daughter eats, it is for me. And the sooner I get over it, the sooner I will be able to relax and chill out and actually enjoy having dinner with my family.
What this means is that, instead of thinking about the day as consisting of three meals and bunch of snacks, I should instead think of the day as a series of small meals. Of course, like I said before, I already knew this. I’ve read enough issues of Self Magazine and watched enough episodes of Oprah to know that eating five or six small meals a day is a much healthier way to eat, but for some reason, I just never thought about it as being relevant for children. But it makes such perfect sense. Instead of feeding my kids empty, air-puffed calories in the form of Pirate’s booty every time they’re hungry, I should be giving them a small meal that consists of lean protein, fruit and/or veggies and whole grains. It could be a fruit smoothie with yogurt and a few wheat thins, or half of a peanut butter and banana sandwich with a glass of milk, or a pizza bagel with a side of carrots. But the point is to make each meal count.
At first, I scoffed. I mean, if they eat all of that at 4:30, then they won’t eat anything for dinner at 6. But the R.D. shot back with a, ‘so what?’ Just make them sit at the table, which is all I really want anyway, give them a little bit of pasta or rice or whatever we’re having that they’ll eat (Barilla Plus pasta, btw. It’s made with chickpeas and some other stuff and it’s loaded with protein, but yet somehow, it looks and tastes like regular pasta), and explain to my husband that they’ve already had a nutritious meal earlier, when they were hungry. And then when they’re hungry at eight o’clock? I challenged. Well, she said, give them another small meal. Touché.
But that wasn’t all. There was also the matter of how to get my daughter to try new foods. Should I be forcing her to try whatever we’re eating? The R.D. said that I shouldn’t force her to eat anything, and my husband’s habit of bribing her to try things (take two bites of steak and I’ll give you a dollar) isn’t exactly benefiting anyone in the long run. She did have a suggestion, though. She said to put a piece of paper next to her plate every night, and to draw three faces on it. One should have a smiley face, one should have a so-so face, and one should have a frown face. Then, if she decides to try what we’re eating, she can circle the one that applies without us needing to have a discussion about it. Which I thought was pretty brilliant. And which appeals to my daughter, for some reason, because since I started doing it the last few nights, she’s tried everything I made. (She hasn’t liked any of it, but she’s tried it at least).
So things are better. Definitely better. Now that I don’t have the pressure of having to cook an evening meal that everyone will eat, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of me, and knowing that I have a plan for how to feed my kids…well, that was well worth the hundred bucks that I paid this woman to listen to my problems. At the end of our session, she told me that eventually, most kids do end up having the same exact eating habits as their parents. I think this was supposed to make me feel encouraged. It probably would have, too, if my husband and I weren’t two of the pickiest eaters on the planet. But like they say, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Or it would, if any of us liked apples.