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Battling pickiness one bite at a time

Submitted by on Sunday, 1 June 2008 No Comment

Originally published Aug. 27, 2007, thehive.modbee.com   

Big Guy couldn’t have looked more horrified if I’d put a heaping pile of dog doo on his dinner plate.

“What’s THAT?” he demanded, pointing accusingly at the inch-long morsel.

“That’s a green bean,” I said. “And that beside it is roast beef. It’s a new rule. You have to try a tiny bite of everything we have for dinner.”

For some reason, it hasn’t occurred to Big Guy to argue with “rules.” He argues with everything else under the sun, but not “rules.’ So he dutifully ate the green bean – one microscopic nibble at a time. It took about 10 minutes, as he tried to stall in hopes I’d cave , but he did it.

I suppose I should be a little gentler on the poor child now that I know there’s an official name for pickiness. The Brits are calling it “neophobia” – the fear of new foods.

Based on a study of 10,000 twins – some identical, some fraternal – researchers in London have concluded that picky eaters are born, not made. Food preferences appear to be   as inheritable a physical characteristic as height,   one of the study’s authors told The Associated Press.

The good news in the AP article, though:   Parents should not feel like they’re doing something wrong if they keep trying but their child is not overjoyed to be eating Brussels sprouts,   said Marlene Schwartz, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.

You rarely hear that kind of advice. People will tell you to keep putting it on the table in hopes the neophobe will one day feel inspired to try it. But never force a kid to eat anything, or he’ll hate it forever, they warn.

That’s why I gave up previous efforts to enforce a one-bite edict. The night it resulted in dramatic gagging over refried beans, I figured it was more trouble than the seemingly hopeless cause was worth.

Big Guy seems to have inherited slight pickiness from each parent and turned it into a pathological aversion for everything but cheese, milk, yogurt and junk.

Little Guy was grabbing enchilada off my plate when he was barely six months old; Big Guy would rather starve than try something new.

The only difference in their upbringing: Big Guy’s care-giver for his first year would dump the meat and veggies most days, feeding him only fruit. She rounded it out with an excess of milk – six bottles a day when he should have been down around three. And she refused to give him solids.

As a result, by the time I could get a day care slot, I had a 1-year-old who would eat a few baby foods and had no clue as to how to feed himself. I know that first year is huge when it comes to developing eating habits, and I kick myself weekly for not making the change earlier.

And then, too, there’s the allergy factor with Big Guy. He genuinely does  have reason to fear food, because some of it can send him to the hospital. I’ve taught him to recite the list of things he’s allergic to and grill anyone who offers food. I’ve had to scare him, for his own good.

The most recent allergy diagnosis – garlic, almost a year ago – removed from his repertoire a number of foods he formerly loved. Even though I make garlic-free taco sauce, there’s no convincing him it’s not going to hurt him.

Still, on a certain level, he’s smart enough to know he’s being ridiculous. Last week, we had corn on the cob, mashed potatoes and chicken for dinner. At least he’ll eat chicken. He refused the rest.

“I’ll eat corn and smashed potatoes some day, Mommy,” he told me. “I think I’ll start eating them when I’m 5.”

Time’s up, Big Guy.

Tonight, a pinky’s worth of asparagus and a thumbnail of roasted potato joined his chicken and rice. He ate it. Even admitted it was “kinda good.”

That’s two small vegetables for Big Guy, one giant leap for motherkind. 

Copyright 2007 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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