Perhaps one of the most stressful aspects of being a parent, at least at this point, involves what the kids eat, don't eat and what I feed them.
I always had these ideas that I would be the parent to make sure my kids had a healthy diet. I wouldn't feed them junk food, would only have fast food on a rare and special occasion and even attempted to make my own baby food at the beginning.
All sounds good in theory, until they are actually alive and present and you realize what a daunting process the simple task of feeding your family really is. Also nice to think that your kids won't know what a Happy Meal is until you find yourself having to squeeze a doctor's appointment, grocery shopping, a trip to the dry cleaners, pick up a prescription at Walgreen's and eat lunch all before nap time. It is then you realize life would be so much easier if you just went to McDonald's and didn't have to worry about making lunch when you got home especially when you have to unload all the groceries and put them away. Then you see the sheer joy on your child's face as they dip their fries in that special McDonald's ketchup and their eyes light up like Christmas morn when they get their toy. And you know full well "they" (meaning the Marketing Department at McDonald's) has you hook, line and sinker.
From the day they were born, I was concerned with how many ounces they took in, were they going to spit it up, whether they had reflux, gas or constipation. I had to make sure I ate enough to produce enough milk and then I had to make sure that I ate healthfully, yet avoid foods that could affect their tummies. I had to continue to take prenatal vitamins and DHA to ensure proper brain development. Then, I had to give them vitamin D supplements, since apparently I wasn't providing enough through breast milk. I think I covered the additional trials and tribulations of this phase in my prior post "BOOBIES!"
We transitioned well into the whole cereal, fruits, veggies and oatmeal phase. Like I said, I tried to be "au natural" and make my own baby food a food mill. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get the right consistency. I decided either I would keep nursing or make my own food, but not both. I did opt for Organic baby food, but even that was lost on poor Colin. It was easier to pay double for baby food when I was still working, but I couldn't really justify it once I was without an income.
It goes without saying; Maddie is my "picky eater." Introducing solids to both kids came with a lot of gagging, spitting up and puking. Colin got over this pretty quickly once he realized how much he loved food and wouldn't dare throw it up. Maddie, on the other hand, completely skipped over the "Stage 3" foods that had little bits or chunks of veggies, pasta or meat. She lived on slices of American cheese and Puffs for awhile and I was lucky she continued to eat baby food until well after her first birthday. I would also have to put the food on her tray in "shifts" starting with the healthiest foods first and then working my way up to the foods with less nutritional value.
She can essentially look at a food item and decide in advance whether or not she will try it. The kid will not eat peanut butter and jelly or any "sandwich" of any kind except grilled cheese. No hot dogs, lunch meat, pudding, yogurt, Jell-o, bananas, cooked carrots, she refuses to put milk in her cereal, no Spaghetti-o's or Chef Boy R D product of any kind (a blessing in disguise, if you as me). Pasta sauce is only acceptable on pizza. Makes packing a picnic lunch, well, anything but a picnic.
Her daily diet rarely ever veers off course. Breakfast is waffles or pancakes and eggs with cheese on them. I take some extra time making breakfast, because it is one of the meals she actually eats. Lunch is usually "long noodles" (aka, spaghetti with butter, Parmesan cheese and little garlic salt), Mickey Mouse Chicken Nuggets or soup along with a fruit or vegetable. Dinner, of all things, is Tortilla Encrusted Tilapia from Costco 65% of the time. Thankfully she will also eat pork chops, steak and grilled chicken as long as it is well seasoned and I do a great deal of convincing, bribing and negotiating. She will eat raw carrots, corn, but only on the cob, cooked green beans and another oddity, edamame. Fruit is much easier, like strawberries, apples, grapes, pineapple, etc. She does, however consider salt a major food group. She insists on watching me put it on her eggs, on her edamame and likes that disgusting butter salt for popcorn. If I tell her I already put it on, she doesn't believe me. She needs to see the crystals on her food. This kid is going to have high blood pressure at the age of 4.
Looking at this list of things she does eat, I realize she has come a long way, but just when I think I've made something she likes, the next time she turns her nose up at it. Or, there are "old standbys" like grilled cheese and her Tilapia, which she eats to the point where she gets sick of them and the novelty wears off. Kind of like working in an ice cream shop and getting to the point where the thought of eating ice cream makes you ill.
I got my hand slapped by my pediatrician when I went for her 2-year check up. He told me the two biggest No-No's in feeding a toddler are 1) Do not make them something different than what the rest of the family is eating and 2) Do not try to feed them something else if they refuse what you made for dinner.
Guilty and Guilty.
I did stop trying to force a Kashi Cereal Bar on her before bedtime if she didn't eat dinner like I used to. I always feared she would wake up in the middle of the night screaming because she was starving. Turns out she would wake up screaming for a variety of other reasons, but never starvation. I still make the kids a variation of what we are eating. I know full well my daughter will not eat Shepherd's Pie, a Turkey Burger, Lasagna, Enchiladas, Stuffed Chicken, a Pulled Pork Sandwich or any variety of other things I make on a regular basis. Even when I have tried to force her eat them she either refuses or gags on them and spits it out. I honestly cannot deny her a meal when I know there are things that she will eat if I just make them. So, give me a parenting demerit, but I will be a short order cook if it means my kid eats.
Colin is definitely easier and he usually gets whatever we are eating and then some! It is amazing how much less stressful it is to feed him. Mealtime is much more Zen, until he takes the leftover food and starts flinging it. Luckily, there usually isn't much to spare. The rest of the time I spend negotiating with Maddie with "3 more bites of meat and 3 more beans."
I bought all the books like Jessica Seinfeld's "Deceptively Delicious" and "365 Foods Kids Love" that have recipes where you puree veggies and fruit and hide them in food. Even those foods are not things Maddie would eat even if she couldn't detect the healthiness. I don't know who these ladies are trying to kid, but foods like Green Eggs, Oatmeal, Avocado Spread, Meatballs of any kind and Beef Stew, would not fly with my texture-sensitive child. Besides, my days of "pureed food" are over and while it seems so simple just to put healthy fruits and veggies in a blender or food processor, I find it to be more work than I can handle. Don't get me wrong, I love to cook, but not with the kind of food they give patients at a nursing home.
And to add insult to injury, I have a husband who is probably just as picky, if not more-so than my kids. He doesn't like to veer from the norm and about the only vegetables I can get him to eat are green beans, edamame and corn. Sound familiar? He doesn't like onions, so most recipes are out of the question. He still doesn't understand why they are essential in making pasta sauce. I try hard to mix things up and try new things. I also try to make healthy food, and limit the amount of processed food I serve. I even went so far as to buy "Eat Clean Diet" cookbooks. Most of the food was fairly straightforward and is food I would eat, but serving to my family was a whole other thing.
I try as hard as I can to make meals as healthy as possible and buy healthy snacks, or at least things that aren't "so bad." I say that because I know most snacks that are touted as "healthy" are really just crap repackaged. I don't ever buy regular chips. I opt for Baked Chips, Veggie Straws, Pretzels and Light Popcorn. Even our Goldfish are Whole Grain, for what it's worth. I use Fiber One Pancake Mix so they get extra fiber and get the Nutrigrain Eggo Waffles. They barely drink juice and if they do it is reduced sugar. They are good at drinking milk and the rest of the time they drink water. They are only allowed to have pink lemonade on very rare occasions. I always use 100% whole wheat bread, tortillas and pasta. I use 2% Cheese and Promise Light instead of Butter. I don't worry about Organic, because like the baby food, it ends up costing just too damn much, especially when you have a son who eats you out of house and home and you find half-full sippy cups of milk laying between couch cushions that have been out several hours. I refuse to dump milk down the drain that costs $6.50 a gallon.
The other day we were at the gym and we got a snack in the Cafe. Maddie was busy eating her pretzels and Colin was eating an apple and was sharing my protein shake with me. I looked over and saw Maddie pouring the salt from the bottom of the bag into her mouth. Hand hit my forehead. Now I am worried that one kid will be healthy while the other will either starve or become a future contestant on Biggest Loser because she lives on Chicken Strips, French Fries and pizza. I know, that is horrible to think, but as someone who is very health conscious and does everything in her power to eat healthy, (except when it comes to my sweet tooth) I feel guilty every time we go out to eat and I order them chicken strips and fries and watch them pull the chicken directly out of a boiling vat of oil, plop them on an equally greasy pile of fries and bring them to the table for my kids to consume. Then, have them dunk everything in ketchup and ranch. I really think these two condiments should be added to the food pyramid. Unfortunately, for my kids, it should be that long thick band on the bottom rather than a little point at the top. But ketchup is made out of tomatoes so it is a vegetable, right. Or is it a fruit? Either way, I am pretty sure corn syrup is neither a fruit nor vegetable.
Most of this is my own issue. For most of you that know me, I am your typical "Sally-On-The-Side" when it comes to ordering at restaurants. Tom always says the kiss of death when we go to restaurants is when I utter the word "substitute." This is one area where my "Type A" personality comes out; my desire to control everything I put into my body. In a perfect world and if I had a million dollars, our family would eat the best organic produce. Our meat and dairy products would be hormone free and all of these things would come from local farms. I would be able to pronounce every ingredient on my food labels. We would never eat fast food and if we did eat at a restaurant, I could order them "Grilled Chicken Fingers" and a side of apples, carrots or broccoli off the kids menu and they wouldn't complain. But I am also realistic and know full well that I am doing better than most. I have created a "Prayer of Serenity" specifically for feeding my family:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change about my family's eating habits;
courage to change the recipes to healthy ones when I can;
and hope they won't know the difference.
Living one meal at a time;
Enjoying one bite at a time;
Accepting chocolate chips as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as my Mom did, this sinful world of processed food and preservatives
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that Flintstone vitamins will make all things right
if I surrender to Happy Meals;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy when my kids eat green vegetables
Protein and Whole Grains.
There really is only so much you can do when it comes to feeding your children, as much those smiling ladies on the covers of those books tell you. My rule is McDonald's no more than once a week and when we do go, one gets apples with their Happy Meal and one gets fries, and divide each between the two. I still say, “Everything in moderation.” I still think kids deserve to eat McDonald's once in awhile, Dum-Dum suckers are sometimes the only way to get through certain situations and chocolate chip cookies, quite frankly, are good for the soul. I guess I will just have to do what I have learned to do with most things in life since having kids...lower my standards and expectations just a bit.