This is how I thought food worked: you try to feed your kids reasonably nutritious food. If they really, really really won't eat the good stuff, you may have to face a situation where you (gasp!) have to feed them (gasp!) nothing but sausages and mashed potato, and, on the bad days, nothing but (double gasp!) pizza or mac 'n' cheese.
Turns out I knew nothing. Nothing! I would be so happy if my children would eat pizza - they won't even lick it. I'd be dancing on the ceiling if they would eat mac 'n' cheese - they will eat pasta, and they will eat cheese, but they will not eat pasta and cheese together. Seriously, we are talking here about kids who won't eat chicken nuggets. Their eating (or lack of) is off-the-charts crazy. Except that crazy sort of implies fun, and this is not fun. They don't really eat anything. I'm pretty sure they just photosynthesise.
Here is the list of everything that my children will not eat: Ummmm... actually, there's no point typing that out. Basically, it's everything. Everything that does not appear on this next list. So, here is the very short and specific list of food my children will eat: jam sandwiches cut into the shape of dinosaurs, pasta with butter, fish fingers, pancakes, blueberries (Pink only), frozen peas (ditto) cheese (both, but only 20% of the time) and apples (ditto).
Oh, and they will also eat cake. Or, as they say it, CAAAAAAAAAAKE. It's the only food they truly love - they are like this about cake. Sometimes, in the middle of a totally un-cake-related activity, Blue will turn his little face towards me and say, in a plaintive voice, "caaaaaaaake?" as if I might have just whipped up a three-layer sponge for him while his back was turned. I never have, just for the record.
Thing is - I love food. Love it! It's pretty much my favourite thing. What's not to like about food? I love cooking almost as much as I love eating, and I was really looking forward to sharing that love with children. Ha, ha, ha. One of my friends recently said "I can't believe that you have such fussy eaters! You are really into cooking, and your kids are, like, the worst eaters I have ever seen!" Ummm, thanks, I think.
I actually did like whipping up the occasional three layered sponge, before I began to find the kitchen the most demoralising room in the house. Honestly, honestly - there is nothing much more depressing than making meal after meal after meal, day after day after day, knowing that in thirty minutes time I'll be scraping it into the bin after they have said nooooooooooooooo and cried. Again.
If you've been there, you know the feeling. Unfortunately, many people who haven't been there seem to want to dish out advice about how to miraculously get my kids to eat. As if I haven't been trying, or aren't really interested enough to put some effort into making this situation better. Of course, it feels to me like I do nothing but try to make this situation better. And this means that, whatever they are all primed to tell me, I already know it. I already know it! I'm sorry for sounding prickly about this - it's because, well, I am. It's just so hard to not be able to give my kids food effectively, you know? It's not like I don't care. So. Here is a (prickly) list of things I already know and do not need to be told about my children's eating:
Children object to texture more than taste
They will eat as much as they need and they won't starve themselves
Children need to taste a new food several times before they will accept it
I need to not make a big deal out of it, because they are picking up on my stress
And, my favourite: it's mostly mind games, and I shouldn't let it get to me
This is true, of course. I know it must be largely psychological mind games, because they will eat pretty much anything if the person feeding them is someone they don't know very well. Here's the thing, though: not letting something get to you is incredibly easy to say and incredibly hard to do.
I know that the only way to survive the mind games is to just not make food a battleground. It's not a moral issue, it doesn't have to be a fight. The way we try to do this is following the Ellyn Satter approach of: my job is to decide what we eat and when we eat. The children get to decide if they eat and how much they eat. If they don't like what I serve out, they can eat plain bread but I will not short-order-cook. Neither will I wheedle or plead or emotionally blackmail or bribe or make food into an emotionally charged issue. So, we have an anti-mind-games plan. We even stick to the plan. We do not fight battles about food. Really, it shouldn't be getting to me at all.
What Ellyn Satter never says is that it's also my job not to lose my FREAKING MIND about faking being okay about all of this, and that's by far the hardest part. It's not a decision you make once; it's a constant drain. On a daily basis, 'not letting it get to me' actually looks a bit like this, and it usually starts at lunchtime:
12.15 choosing not to get mad that they push away their sandwiches (even though they are jam, in the shape of dinosaurs, of course) and ask for cake
12.25 choosing not to get mad that they ask for an apple and then don't eat it
12.26 choosing not to get mad that they won't drink any water because it's not in the right bottle, even though the only Blue-approved bottle has been discontinued and I can never buy more, ever again
12.28 choosing not to get mad that they didn't end up eating or drinking anything at all for lunch
12.32 choosing not to get mad that the table is still a disgusting mess despite the lack of eating
Many days, I feel like choosing not to get mad about food is my full-time job. It sounds trivial, but it's not trivial. It uses up all my daily resources of willpower. , which is particularly hard when there is other stuff going on like sickness (hello, right now) or boundary-pushing (hello, most of this year).
They nap. They wake up. It continues. So:
17.01 choosing not to get mad that they are screaming for dinner, when they wouldn't be so stupidly hungry if they had actually eaten their lunch
17.22 choosing not to get mad that Blue cries and says No peas! No peas! because he sees me getting the peas out of the freezer, even though I am only adding them to Pink's bowl, like I do every single day
17.43 choosing not to get mad that they don't actually eat anything once it's in front of them
17.44 choosing not to get mad when they ask for cake - again
17.45 choosing not to get mad when they suddenly start frantically shovelling their food in as soon as I take it away
17.45 and 30 seconds: choosing not to get mad when they abruptly stop and decide not to eat anything after all
17.46 choosing not to get mad that Blue wants water, then when I give him water, says 'NO WATER!' and then ten seconds later wants water again, then says 'NO WATER!' when I give it to him, then wants water again, then shoves the water away when I put it down
And that is why, at 17. 47, I picked up what remained in the cup of water and poured it over his head. He looked at me, shocked and speechless, then said "Blue naughty!" and I said "Yes! You WERE!" and then I took him upstairs and changed his clothes and apologised for getting mad.
And I shouldn't have gotten that mad. Was it mature? No. Was it appropriate? No. Do I recommend it as a parenting strategy? Definitely not. Would my social worker approve? Again, no, no, no.
But, on the other hand: did it do him any lasting harm? No.
And was it a long-awaited, Shakespearean-tragedy-level cathartic experience? Might as well be honest.