I’m sure I’ve mentioned (read: complained) before that one of the things I find most challenging with managing the Bear’s diabetes is what a picky eater she is. Sometimes I feel like everything around food is a battle and it’s already hard to have a healthy relationship with food when you are acting as your own (or your child’s) pancreas. I have tried various tactics (read a bunch of books & blogs, talked to other parents, CDEs, etc.) to introduce more balanced eating but usually after a week or maybe two, I get burned out and fall back to old habits. This is an area where I really have felt like a failure as a parent.
Finally, our CDE suggested that we have an appointment with their dietician and I finagled all of our schedules so we could talk with her all together. What a relief! She was understanding, knowledgeable, and realistic. She talked about language that frames the conversation around eating: picky eater vs. selective and about some of what can be behind kids becoming selective eaters like anxiety around trying new things or what foods will be like. Since we already know the Bear is hesitant to try new things in general – especially when others are watching – this made a lot of sense. She also talked about where the control and responsibility around food should reside. It is the parents’ job to provide sustenance; it’s the kid’s job to eat. Asking the kid what they want to eat puts the parents’ job into the wrong hands. If we want to give her choices, the choice should be between foods that are already ok with us. The dietician also suggested the book How to Get Your Kid to Eat… But Not Too Much (by Ellyn Satter) and I got a copy but haven’t started it yet.
I know that this isn’t rocket science, but it was helpful to us. We left with a plan to involve the Bear more in food planning and preparation (another tactic I have tried in the past but without the follow-through), to put a bit of whatever we are having for dinner onto her plate along with other foods that we know/think she will eat or that she has chosen from the options presented, and to set “small” goals of trying new foods without grand expectations. We’re keeping in mind that kids may need to be exposed to a food 15 or 20 times before it becomes familiar enough to become a food they will eat. This is especially important since I know that I have had a tendency to take one “I don’t like that” as a fact moving forward even though I “knew” that wasn’t realistic.
So, we have planned 3 weeks of meals so far, and there is still quite a bit of trial and error.
A huge help has been a cookbook I discovered at the library: Dinner Solved! by Katie Workman. Simple preparations along with easy ways to turn one recipe into more than one for different diets (vegetarian for me, including meat for the BHE or spicier for us and less so for the Bear) and great tips for which parts of each recipe are great for kids to do themselves.
It is still an ongoing adjustment to how much time all of this takes and one of the weeks was a perfect storm of night-time work obligations that messed with the meal plan pretty thoroughly. There have been a couple of meals that were too heavily weighted to “new” foods without other choices for the Bear and that definitely doesn’t work 🙂 But, she has tried (at least one taste) carrots, chicken (non nugget!), shrimp (not fried), cauliflower, rice, granola, mexican lasagna (!), and cabbage. Has she fallen in love with any of the new foods? No. But there have been some nice surprises. She seems to be accepting that she is going to have to try a taste of what is on her plate without an hour of fighting about it. And, she actually sort-of liked the carrots (willing to try them again by her own admission), and said the mexican lasagna was “kind of good” (as long as she didn’t eat any olives or zucchini which were inside). I’m sure in most families these would be very minor events, and probably ones that occurred when the kid was 4 and not 8 years old, but they feel like a big deal to me.
Tonight was actually my favorite night yet. The plan was for egg salad (which we have gotten her to eat occasionally in the past) for make-your-own open-faced sandwiches on that little cocktail bread (which I loved as a kid) with add-ons like thin cucumbers, radishes, sweet pickles, mustard, curry. For sides: Asian slaw and homemade sweet potato oven fries. She tried the cocktail bread! She ate egg salad and a piece of regular white bread (since of course she didn’t like the cocktail bread…). She tried a little curry on the eggs and had a miniscule bite of the slaw (which was “disgusting”). She had tomato soup and 3 helpings of sweet potatoes. None of it seemed like a fight and she ate an actual meal-sized amount of “real” food (not junk, not sweets). I wish she had tried the cucumber or the radish but that was probably wishful thinking.
I’m sure we have many, many more struggles ahead. I’m sure she is going to get tired of “new” or unfamiliar or already-tried foods appearing. I’m already adjusting my expectations for how many new meals I can prepare in a week filled with school, work, homework, meetings, and other distractions. The BHE and I still need to have time to exercise and the after work time was somewhat being used for that. But, we are learning, and I feel better about our family food approach at the moment than I ever have. We still have pizza night on Fridays and I know I need to celebrate the small wins and not sweat the slow progress.