Adults have a lot of quirky personality traits. I do. I can think of traits that others possess. There’s nothing wrong with having these little attributes; they are what make us unique, but they can also help us form bonds with others. For example, the other night at a church dinner, someone commented on the containers in which I had packed the kids’ food; they have separate compartments, so the food doesn’t touch. He explained that he doesn’t like his food to mix together on his plate, to which I excitedly responded “I’m like that, too!!”, and we smiled at our shared quirkiness.
As adults, we embrace these qualities. With children, however, I feel like we are too quick to try and change them. If a kid says that they don’t want their food to touch, we might think they are “too picky”, and we may spend a moment attempting to convince them that it’s ok for the food to mix together on the plate instead of just going with it. My daughter insists on wearing mismatched socks, pretty much every day. When she first started doing this, we asked her why and even suggested that she wear the matched pairs. It soon become clear that wearing different socks made her happy, and it certainly wasn’t hurting anything, so we just let it go, and life went on.
I will admit, I’m definitely a “pick your battles” kind of mom. We deal with our fair share of extra challenges, and I just refuse to add more stress to our life by fighting every single one. As a result, we end up indulging the kids’ habits that other parents may choose to not tolerate. (And that’s ok. No judgement here. I don’t question anyone’s parenting, just as I hope nobody questions the choices I make for my kids.) For Alex, that means being allowed to be a picky eater.
He has a fairly short list of foods that he will consistently eat: chicken nuggets, fish sticks, mac & cheese (but he is very selective about what kind of m&c), pizza (again, only certain kinds), scrambled eggs, Cheerios (plain & dry), bananas, red grapes, broccoli, green beans (fresh or frozen, not canned), peas, chocolate milk, apple juice, and water (this is a new one…before, he would react to a glass of water as one would react to a glass of poison). He is even picky about his snacks and treats: Goldfish crackers (cheddar or rainbow), pretzels, potato chips (plain), Kit Kats, and chocolate cake/cupcakes. This list has grown a bit lately, to include tacos (meat & crunchy shell) and spaghetti (no sauce, just plain noodles). Now, in reality, it’s not a bad list because it does include fruits and vegetables. But, we tend to eat a wider array of food, for dinners anyway (although I’ll bet $10 that my husband would dispute that claim), so mealtime can be tricky.
We’ve been told, many times, to serve Alex (as well as the other two) what we’re eating, and if he doesn’t eat it, too bad for him. “He’ll eat when he gets hungry”, someone said, in advising us on Al’s picky habits. Only, he didn’t. We tried that tactic for a few days, when he was maybe around three years old, and he didn’t eat a thing aside from his Goldfish crackers at snack time. He cried and cried, and I was beyond stressed out because I knew that he was hungry and he just didn’t have the ability to tell me so. At that time, we were surely working on a handful of other issues (potty training, fine motor skills, learning his ABCs, to say the least), and I just felt that he needed to eat, even if that meant preparing a few chicken nuggets for his dinner while we ate something else. Honestly, it’s not that much more work for me (or for Mark, whomever is making dinner). It takes no more than 60 seconds to warm up the chicken, so in the name of having a peaceful family dinner, I will still do it.
Recently, though, I started experimenting with his plate a bit. Last winter, I came across a baked chicken recipe on Pinterest, which is pretty tasty. I decided at the time that Al should try it…and he loved it. “Mmm, this chicken is ‘bewicious’!”, he’d exclaim at the table. I was ecstatic! It occurred to me a few months ago that other foods look like chicken, so I started stretching the truth a bit. Turkey at Thanksgiving? Nope, we had “chicken”! Broiled pork chops for dinner? No way, that was also “chicken”. I never thought he would buy into it, but he totally does. Now I just find myself wishing that other things looked like chicken.
And, if he (or any of the other kids) want me to make sure that his “chicken” doesn’t touch the broccoli on his plate, I will happily oblige. After all, it’s these funny little characteristics that make them the kids we adore…as frustrating as it might be at times. Hey, if they are happy, I am happy, and life is happy. I’ll take it.