I never intended for this blog to become a tell-all virtual confessional, but I do have something on my mind. Yesterday I almost killed my child. It wasn't due to rage or neglect or bad driving. I had the best intentions in mind, but my actions almost led to homicide. Here's how the scene played out:
My children and I were enjoying a nice morning together. We had played, read books, practiced writing letters from the alphabet, watched a cartoon or two. You know, a typical summer morning. It wasn't long before I began to notice that it was getting close to lunchtime. The usual symptoms of low blood sugar were starting to appear: grumpy behavior, fighting over toys, crying over seemingly insignificant events. My children were starting to show signs of hunger, too. I eventually rallied myself and walked into the kitchen.
In a simpler day, i.e., college, I would have feasted on Oreos and cheese powder-infused corn chips to satiate my grumbling tummy, but I knew that if my wife walked in and saw anything less than a balanced diet on their plates, this meal would be my Last Supper. So, I did the responsible thing and prepared an actual meal for all of us. And this meal included a vegetable, specifically green beans. We have had sporadic success with green beans in the past, but I didn't have time to analyze my options in the throes of starvation. I also didn't want to open a new package of green peas, something I know both children will eat, when I could microwave leftover green beans in 30 seconds.
One of my children didn't flinch and his green beans disappeared before I even got a chance to use dessert-based threats. God bless that child. The other child, on the other hand, ate everything on his place except the green beans, as if I wouldn't notice. After some strategizing, I finally got him to eat a spoonful of the dreaded pods. The scene developed much like that science fiction movie where a small alien erupts from a guy's stomach, except instead of a baby alien it was masticated green bean pulp and instead of a stomach it was my child's mouth. Fortunately, this is where the analogy ends, and I'm fairly certain there is not a glob of green cellulose hiding in my house waiting to kill me.
Anyway, back to lunch. Everything started off fine and I was spooning up the next portion of green beans. Perhaps, I thought, we have finally moved past the food-rejection phase with no effort on my part. My first clue that things were not going as well as I thought was when my child started doing that open-mouthed vowel-speak with his head thrown back so the contents of his mouth wouldn't spill out all over his shirt. I'm not entirely sure what he said, but it must have been something along the lines of "I'm about to spit this out into my hand." Because that's what he tried to do. I anticipated this by squirting ketchup directly into his mouth, but it wasn't enough to counter the effects of green beans on a 4-year old's palate. He started screaming and continued trying to create sentences with only vowels, and he soon progressed to convulsing. When his eyes rolled back into his head, I knew lunch was over. The green bean cud ended up on the plate, covering the uneaten green beans like a green, slimy gravy. Even our dog, who lives for the mere chance of food falling off the table, wouldn't go near it.
This scene may seem familiar to most of you with kids. Maybe it's not always green beans, but I am willing to bet there is some item in our food supply that causes your child to lose all signs of dignity and self-respect. Speaking of dignity, I can't say I'm much better when it comes to the tricks I use to get my kids to eat. When I was a "my unborn children will be perfect" parent, I swore I would never use any of these strategies to coax my children to eat. I seem to like most vegetables and will try anything at least once, so my child will too, right? Yeah, keep telling yourself that Mr. and Mrs. Pre-parent. Pride comes before a fall.
You may recognize some of these strategies, as either being the user or the recipient at one point in your life.
What is it about ketchup that can deceive a child into eating just about anything? Is it the sweetness? The salt? The tangy bite of vinegar? Maybe its the combination of all those qualities. Who knows. What I do know is if they sold it in gallon jugs, I would buy it ... in bulk.
Cheese also has beautiful qualities when it comes to masking the food we make our children eat. It has that tangy, creamy goodness we have learned to associate with pizza and nachos, and it completely hides whatever is underneath in a way that even the most gourmet ketchup could only dream of. Cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes - you think you're serving healthy vegetables; your child thinks you're serving brains, weeds and guts. Now completely blanket them with a hearty layer of yellow-orange cheese, and your kids are none the wiser. Well, at least until they figure out what is underneath the cheese. Try it for awhile until they catch on, and you can thank me later.
If you choose to go down this road, there will be consequences. Don't say I didn't warn you about this one. A surefire way to get your children to eat something is to coat it with sugar. You know, like putting brown sugar and marshmallows on sweet potatoes, or pulling out the Nesquick every time he or she wants a glass of milk. Cereal companies have made an entire industry out of this concept. Lucky Charms, Pop Tarts, Pillsbury orange rolls, and others like them have mastered the fine art of manufacturing dessert and tricking you into thinking it's breakfast all because they are fortified with vitamins and minerals. As if vitamins and minerals have some secret ability to prevent your teeth from rotting. It's OK, I crave carbs just as much as the next guy, but just know that every scoop of sugary goodness is probably feeding your child's sweet tooth more than anything else, no matter how fortified it is.
Jerry Seinfeld made a career out of disguising everyday events as comedy, so it should come as no surprise his wife did the same with food children hate. Maybe you have tried some of these strategies, such as pureeing cauliflower and mixing it in with macaroni and cheese. Or maybe you used to mix meat and vegetables with applesauce when your children were still being spoon fed. It's not a bad idea, and come to think of it, the nachos and brownies my wife gave me last night did have a unique texture.
Oh, this one will make some people squirm. If you feel guilty about promising your child candy, cookies or ice cream if she eats her vegetables, you can try a variation of this time-tested approach to meal completion. Tell your child you will give her an Easter egg if she finishes dinner, then proceed to fill it with something less horrible than candy. Your child is expecting candy, and you know it, but if the egg is filled with fruit snacks it's not the end of the world. You can also use money, toys, fun activities or whatever object will provide enough external motivation for the child to ascend that mountain of peas on his plate. Just beware you will undoubtedly reinforce your child's belief that he or she should be rewarded for doing things that are a blessing and privilege. Such as eating a balanced, healthy meal. You know, that thing approximately 70% of the children in the world never get? Am I bugging you? Don't mean to bug you. OK, Edge, play the blues ...
If all else fails, try some punishment. That's right, just go ahead and tell your child he or she will get punished for not eating whatever gross thing you slapped on his or her plate. Time out, grounding, spanking - you pick your poison. Just don't be too shocked when your child opts for the punishment. Nothing calls your bluff like having to follow through with a threat that probably should not have been made in the first place.
Mealtime has so much potential to bring a family together. You get to talk about your day and learn a lot about how your child is processing the world as he or she experiences some of its less pleasant realities. If I were to give any advice, it would be to try not to make mealtime one of those less pleasant realities. It really can be fun, but just like everything else in the world that adds value, you must work at it. TV, iPods, texting, sports leagues, and even church can threaten that most sacred time of the day. Sometimes you have to stand your ground, even if it threatens your popularity. If you don't have a set mealtime in your family, this might be a great time to start having one. And when your child starts writhing on the floor because she is "allergic" to onions, you will finally understand. Some things must be witnessed firsthand to be truly appreciated.