Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Those of you that have kids know the dance routine. You make a little progress. Then you feel like you are right back where you started. But you have to hold on to the little progresses. It may not feel like it all of the time, but you have to remember that sometimes raising kids is like maintaining a garden. You have to keep planting seeds and hoping they’ll grow. Or at least this is what I keep trying to believe as a parent.

Food has always been an issue with our 10-year-old. Like a lot of kids, she can be very picky. She’s also been raised vegetarian, so that adds a little extra wrinkle, although the vegetarian diet is the easiest thing to adjust to of all her quirks. Luckily, as with all of my girls, she has no problems with vegetables. I hear there are kids that won’t eat vegetables at all or won’t eat the vast majority of them. I find this odd. My kids have always eaten vegetables. And the 10 year old is no different there, although sometimes she can be a little odd about how she eats them. For example, she doesn’t like the floret parts of broccoli. She’ll eat it, but she would much prefer the stems. It’s a texture thing. You’ll read that sentence again and again if you follow me.

When my husband and I first moved in together, the kid’s menu consisted of a handful of foods. She ate macaroni and cheese, cheese pizza, grilled cheese…are you getting a theme here? The most adventurous thing I think she ate was the gnocchi Gorgonzola from Trader Joe’s. Needless to say, there was no way I could live on that diet. The first month was severely difficult at meal times. We had crying fits at the table. But we got through it. We established a system where we would have a “try something new” dinner night, usually every other Saturday when we had her so that it wasn’t a school night and there was a generally lower stress level.

We also took some steps to get her buy-in on the new things. I had her go through cookbooks and pick out things she might be interested in trying. We would sit down on Sunday and plan the menu for the week. She didn’t participate a lot in the menu planning, but if I gave her two or three options, she would pick one. Eventually, she announced she was really feeling into trying new things, and we took her on a grocery shopping trip to pick out some new things she wanted to try. Not all of these were a huge success, but I was very excited by how far she had come. These days, more meals than not have a try something new component. I still always make sure there is something she’ll for sure eat just in case, and occasionally we go back to the tried and trues, but she’s generally a lot more open about food.

But there are some things that just have not budged, and since the pandemic started and we’ve been in quarantine, I’ve noticed some of those things are seeming more entrenched than they were, and some of the reluctance is resurfacing. For example, she’s developed an absolute aversion to salads. If you use the word salad to describe a dish, you are dead in the water. She’s going to make a very ugly face the entire meal and barely pretend to take a bite. And please, don’t ever use the word dressing. Nothing has a dressing. Something might have a little olive oil or a little lemon, but it cannot have a dressing! Call that quinoa dish a pilaf or it’s never going to fly.

And I’ve already mentioned the leftover thing. There are two exceptions on leftovers. She will eat leftover macaroni and cheese, and she will eat leftover french toast casserole. Anything else is a battle if she knows it was left over. This is a challenge since I make a ton of food and generally leftovers is what we have for lunches. I keep serving them regardless, and I just make sure we have some fruit and veggies so that she gets something to eat during the day. I did find an exception this week when I used leftover filling from the black bean, corn and jack fruit quesadillas to make a new quesadilla for lunch. She made the face but then she actually ate the entire thing. And she ate it before touching the cucumbers or fruit which is not generally the case.

Back to that texture thing. She won’t even try mashed potatoes or apple sauce. She hates that I leave part of the peel on cucumber slices. She’ll still eat them, but far less of them than if you completely remove the peel. She’s the same with apples. I generally refuse to peel them because there are good nutrients in the peel. She’ll eat them, but she definitely makes it known she’d prefer them peeled. Eventually, I’m just going to hand her a whole apple and a peeler. And probably one of the quirkiest things is her aversion to non-uniform edges. I’ll have to explain this one. She likes grilled cheese. However, if there is any cheese that has oozed out a side, she must pick it off prior to eating the sandwich. The same things happens with the quesadillas. If there is anything sticking out, she will meticulously pick it all off before eating the piece.

And her reluctance to want to try new things seems to have flared a lot more these days. Nine out of ten times, she shows up to the table and makes the ugly face before sitting down. She puts the initial bite of food in her mouth like she’s worried it might bite her back. But it’s not the all out tantrum level it was before. And about half the time, I get a very surprised “This is actually good” which you know makes me feel awesome about the fact that she is just expecting all my meals to suck! I kid. She’s still learning social norms, so she doesn’t realize how patronizing or insulting some things can sound.

Currently, I am circling back to some of the buy-in efforts we used early on to avoid slipping further back from where we’ve come over the last four years. I started this week with giving her a set of ingredients to choose from as the main options for each dinner and I built recipes around those. I’m also considering having her go back to the cookbooks. I know it would really help if I involved in her the preparation of the meals, but my kitchen is my place of peace, my fortress from the world, my little Eden. Every once in a while her and I will cook together, but I just am not in a place where I can give up my place of restoration right now. Maybe I’ll get there again. But for now, I’ll try just giving her some level of input or control, as Glasser would define it, over our dinner plans and see how that goes.

For now, I’m going to revel in a small victory. I made pizzas using pita bread with a homemade pesto sauce, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella on the grill. The kid asked if I remembered exactly what I put in the pesto because I HAVE to make it again. That is the highest form of complement from her.

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