I've heard it all when it comes to nicknames meant as references to the way in which my child devours food. "There's Ethan, the bottomless pit!" "Oh, Ethan, you're a human garbage disposal!" It's true. I've been this boy's mom for over two years now and he still manages to stun me at every meal when he's shoving broccoli into his mouth with both fists and I'm skirting my husband's eyes so he doesn't sarcastically try to quiz me on why there are no vegetables on my plate. I'm a picky eater. I've always been a picky eater. My sister isn't a picky eater. She's always all "just try the sushi" at me as I sit with my head on the table sobbing at the mere thought of fish coming on contact with my face. We were both raised by the same parents. We had the same mother who always made sure to stock the 'fridge with organic milk and bore us at the dinner table with a rundown on the latest nutritional study she saw on Oprah. It hasn't been until lately that my mother has given in and let my sister stock the pantry with food she never would have let me even stare at down the grocery store aisles and, even so, my sister is the better eater of the two of us.
What I'm getting at is, I don't think there is anything that I did to grant Ethan with these magical eating abilities. I think, as with many things in parenting, it was just luck of the draw. The dice was rolled and it was determined I'd have a kid who loves to eat but doesn't seem to require sleep and so my 'fridge is always empty and there are always bags under my eyes. It is what it is. People are always asking me how they can get their little ones to eat more like Ethan and I'm always quick to shrug. That's my only answer, a simple shrug because, well, I have no idea how to get anyone to eat like Ethan or I wouldn't still be picking the chunks of tomatoes out of the pasta sauce before I eat it.
Still, when it comes to Ethan's eating habits, there are some rules that we find important to follow:
We don't offer junk. Ethan doesn't boycott a plum in protest for being turned down some sugary cookies or candies because he doesn't know any better. We only keep healthy food and snacks in our house. When he requests a snack, he is more than welcome to browse the 'fridge or pantry and choose whatever it is that strikes his fancy. This is either some kind of fruit, veggies with hummus or nuts. These are the foods that Ethan affiliates with snack time and so I'm more than happy to let him make his own selection as he sees fit. If we are at a birthday party and cake is being served or at a grandma's house ten minutes after she pulled a tray of freshly baked cookies out of the oven, he's more than welcome to enjoy a sugary, delicious treat. I'm cool with moderation. I don't think a slice of birthday cake or a chocolate chip cookie is going to ensure your untimely demise. When we get back home, he's still going to be faced the capability to only make healthy choices and therefore knows that these special treats are just that: treats, and they're not meant for everyday snacks.
We don't offer juice. I'm part of enough mom forums online to know that I've just opened a can of worms known as The Great Juice Debate. I've found there is some confusion that simply because a juice is "organic" it is suddenly healthy. "Organic" and "healthy" are not synonymous. Organic juice still contains a lot of sugar and, frankly, it's just not something that I'm comfortable giving to Ethan. I remember at one of Ethan's earlier pediatrician well visits, maybe it was his one year, I was all but crying about how everyone else's kid was drinking all of this milk and poor Ethan only wanted to drink water. The pediatrician laughed and told me that water was the best thing for him. That's always stuck by me. Some mornings, Ethan asks for a small cup of milk, but usually he just asks for water. The concept of milk drinking in the afternoon or evening hours isn't one that would ever cross his mind and instead he knows we drink water during the day. I'm also not entirely sure he knows what juice is in a sense other than squeezing an orange into a bag and sticking in a straw. I'm sure that one day he will be at a friend's house or school and be faced with this great, new thing called juice and he will want it but that's okay, it can be saved for these special occasions and instances. This is a juice-free house.
I involve him in the food selection and the cooking process. I've started to love going to the grocery store alone. It is almost like a vacation after a busy week of playing sole caretaker to my precocious little two year old while my husband is at work. On Sunday afternoons, I can leave Ethan with his daddy and sneak out of the house to browse the aisles and check my grocery list twice to make sure I haven't forgotten anything. Still, when it comes to buying food, I like to try to involve Ethan in the process every once in a while. If we're strolling through the produce section and he sees something that catches his eye, it is always exciting for him to go home and help me prepare it. There are some evenings when Ethan would rather wreak havoc on the house (and cats and furniture) than help me cook dinner, but sometimes he really enjoys it. No matter how much longer the process takes with my tiny helper, I always make sure to extend the invitation for him to help me cook. This isn't limited to dinner, but also breakfast and lunch. He especially loves to help me prepare smoothies in the morning and loves choosing produce from the drawers that he wants to "mix up round and round" to make his smoothie. Sometimes I chop and prep ingredients ahead of time and ask him to help me combine and mix, which always makes him feel like part of the process. He loves eating food that he helped make.
We say no to kids meals. When Ethan was younger, I always used to share my weekly toddler lunches. Especially when you're always on the go like we were (are), having lunches planned and packed is a must. However, the idea of having two different dinner options never crossed my mind. Once he was finished with purees, Ethan ate whatever we ate for dinner, albeit in tinier quantities. I don't really believe in "kid food" and we never ate our regular dinner while Ethan set next to us eating chicken tenders or macaroni and cheese instead. This wasn't some kind of rule I decided to enforce one day, but rather the way it always just was. Dinnertime means dinner for all of us, as a family, eating whatever I cooked for dinner that evening.
Say yes to spices. I'm known to shake on the cumin with a heavy hand. Freshly minced garlic, pepper -- the spicier, the better. Ethan has developed quite a taste for spicy food and has no trouble polishing off his food at Chipotle. When we were still doing purees or first finger foods, I always made sure to use spices and seasonings to give things more of a flavor.
I still shrug and stick by my original sentiment that when it comes to his eating habits, really, it's just the luck of the draw. And if you're a parent with a toddler who refuses to eat but sleeps through the night and wakes up with the sun and not before it? You're still winning at life in my book.