Wednesday, October 13

“Mommy, this is disgusting!”

Janelle looks so innocent, doesn't she.

Nice, huh. This is the commentary I get from my seven-year-old as she stares at the dinner table laden with baked chicken, broccoli, a tossed salad and fresh strawberries.
My efforts are unappreciated, at least from her.

Another of her favorite dinnertime phrases is, “There’s nothing here I like.” 

To which I often reply, “That sounds like your problem.”

My dear, dear daughter Janelle is the bane of my nutritional efforts. The thorn in my side. The Kryptonite to my Supermom.

She won’t eat anything green, dislikes most meats, and thinks fruit is just okay. She’s been in a bread-sugar-mac-n-cheese-popcorn-yogurt-phase for the last five years and it’s killing me.

I blame it on the fact that I was eight months pregnant with her over Christmas. Already swollen and uncomfortable, I took full advantage of the fact that she would be my last child. Christmas cookies, pies, pumpkin cheesecake, nothing on the dessert table was safe when I was around. Who’s going to tell the fat, pregnant lady to ease up on the goodies, I thought. So I pounded down all of it. It was gluttonous, unbridled, and fantastic. (Until I had to lose the weight I’d gained, but that’s a story for another time.)

Now I’m reaping the consequences of my indulgences with her sugar-preferring palate.

Since I’m a bit of a Nutrition Nazi, her preferences have caused countless battles at the dinner table. At their best, these battles result in calm, but persistent negotiations regarding the exact number of peas she needs to eat, or how many bites of chicken she must devour before she may be excused. At their worst, these battles result in me angrily sending her to her room without dinner.

Exhausted from our nightly ritual, I sought help. I consulted the book The Blessing of a Skinned Knee which has a chapter devoted to food.

The author, Dr. Wendy Mogel said this about food battles, “Children naturally look for opportunities to exercise their will, and refusing to eat vegetables or eating only white foods is an attractive target…Feeding children is a situation that calls for a balance of power. If you don’t use yours, your child will use his.”

Janelle and I were in a power struggle over food and she was winning. The prize, I reasoned, was my attention. At dinnertime I was devoted to her. The more she resisted the more I talked, coaxed, and negotiated. Instead of catching up on the activities of all my children, it was, The Janelle Show.

To correct this imbalance of power, Dr. Mogel suggested backing off completely. What? I thought. But, but, then she’d only eat the pasta or the rice. So what? Dr. Mogel reasoned. So what if your child doesn't eat protein, vegetables, salad and fruit in one sitting? If your child is healthy, if their doctor isn’t worried about their growth, then let it go.

Let it go. Right. That’s easier said than done. 

But I did it.

I refused to engage in any more negotiations. I simply prepared the meal, set the food on the table and let Janelle pick whatever she’d like. The only rules were, she had to pick foods from the table and, if she chose not to eat anything that was fine, but no additional food would be served until breakfast.

Dr. Mogel’s theory is that eventually, she’ll come around. She’ll see us enjoying a wide variety of healthy foods and her curiosity will get the better of her.

So far, it’s worked beautifully.

The greatest gift has been the peacefulness at dinner. Mealtime is now a pleasurable experience. A time for sharing, reconnecting, laughing.

And Janelle even eats broccoli now. But only the florets, and only on Tuesdays when there’s a quarter moon.

But it’s a start.

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