My 4-year-old hasn’t bought into the low-carb craze. Sarah favors a diet rich in rice, bread, pasta, buns and sometimes bananas, for the extra constipation.
It’s not that my daughter prefers simple carbohydrates — it’s more that she believes in the natural superiority of foods that are white, the paler and blander the better. That’s why a handful of proteins make the cut: milk, mozzarella, plain tofu, egg whites, and, when she’s really worked up an appetite, a sliver of poached chicken breast, too.
Though Sarah is a bold, daring chef in her toy kitchen (witness such imaginative pairings as oranges drizzled with ketchup or sausages with eggplant), she deems most nonplastic foods too “spicy,” an adjective she applies to everything from hamburgers and mushrooms to blueberries and carrots. Where she gets her ideas of how these items taste, or, for that matter, what “spicy” means, is a mystery, since she’s never allowed any of them to come within 2 inches of her mouth.
Every now and then, in my blind hope for progress, Sarah will fool me into thinking her delicate palate is maturing. This last happened a few weeks ago, when she asked for a tuna melt. Before I could mutter a prayer of thanks to the gods of canned fish, she clarified that she’d like that without the tuna. Most adults call that sandwich grilled cheese, of course, but I was so thrilled that Sarah had branched out into cheddar, and so fearful of rocking the boat, that I have resolved to call this dish a Tuna Melt Without Tuna until further notice.
Now, to be fair, I have to say that for Sarah some special items do have the power to redeem otherwise untouchable foods. Sugar, in particular, is sacred in this regard. Unacceptably red strawberries, for example, become “yummy” with the addition of spoonful upon spoonful of the white stuff. But therein lies the problem: The volume of sugar must always exceed that of the lesser food. So I haven’t used this strategy often, except on our last vacation, when my husband and I decided that a meal can occasionally consist entirely of items from the dessert menu.
Well-meaning advisors — usually authors of books with titles like “How to Feed Your Child If You Really Love Her” — insist that if my daughter isn’t eating a variety of foods, it’s only because I, the mother, am either modeling bad eating habits myself or simply giving up too quickly. A typical child needs 10 to 15 exposures to a new food before she’ll try it, these experts say, citing a study conducted sometime during the Hoover administration. “But don’t worry,” they assure me: Just keep offering your child a variety of foods, and in the course of a given week, she’ll get all the nutrition she needs. That’s what most of the children in this study did. My daughter, on the other hand, has not consumed a single legume in the three years since she started solids. Another often-recommended feeding ploy involves playful renaming and presentation. But Sarah can recognize a green vegetable when she sees it, and dressing it up as a Broccoli Tree or an Arugula Meadow does nothing to dispel her nagging suspicion that I’m trying to poison her.
Then there’s the tough-love school of thought, which would have me strategically starve Sarah. Given the choice between her pickiness and her life, the reasoning goes, the child will develop an intense craving for raw cabbage, steamed swordfish or whatever halfway edible item the parent has set before her. I confess I’ve tried this approach. Naturally, it hasn’t worked. My daughter throws a nearly unstoppable tantrum when she misses a meal, even while she continues to insist she’s full. She opts not for the new food but for a hunger headache — her hunger, my head.
But things aren’t all bleak. Fifteen months ago I was blessed with the birth of a son. I say “blessed” not because I wanted a boy but because this boy eats everything. With no special effort on my part, he polishes off the contents of his tray and then sniffs around for what’s on our plates. While Sarah nibbles at the crust of her pizza, careful to scrape off trace amounts of tomato sauce, Nathan is busy gulping down the sauce, the pesto and the zucchini, and reaching for the shaker of red-pepper flakes. Judging by the way he licks his lips while eyeing my husband’s full glass, I’ll bet he would wash down that meal with a Sam Adams if we let him.
So little Nathan is, at last, putting the bad-mother innuendos to rest, at least those having to do with feeding. And I, convinced of my limited control in such matters, have stopped struggling and started going with the flow. Why should I worry, when Sarah’s healthy and strong, and seems to be growing normally? Oh, I’m sure I’ll think of a reason to worry again soon. For now, though, I’m busy fixing a tuna melt.
To help feed her kids, Marina Krakovsky writes articles, essays and reviews. She can be reached at email@example.com.
COPYRIGHT 2005 © Marina Krakovsky. All Rights Reserved.
This article written by Marina Krakovsky appeared in the March 6, 2005 issue of San Francisco Chronicle Magazine.