Becoming the Switzerland of the food wars
As a rule, I never intervene in other people’s parenting traumas, mainly because I hate it when strangers stick their noses in mine. Few things in life are more grating than unsolicited advice when you’re already in the weeds, and even if the intervener means well, it’s hard not to come off as a snot.
But the poor dad at McDonald’s last weekend looked so tortured, so pained that I broke my rule. And I’m glad it did – it helped show me how idiotic I've been for years, as I've willingly engaged a strong-willed toddler in a picky eater's food war. It's a battle, I've come to realize, that no one wins.
Tortured dad entered the restaurant playground in the late afternoon with a 3-year-old and a Happy Meal.
The theme this month is pirates, and the kid’s eyes immediately locked on the ship that came with his food.
“Eat your hamburger so you can have your toy,” Dad said, drawing a thin-lipped scowl from his son.
“What about your fries?” he ventured. The kid shook his head and grabbed his soda.
Dad switched tactics and gave up the ship. “Here’s your toy. Now eat.”
When that didn’t work, Dad went back inside and bought an ice cream cone. “See this ice cream! He’s happy to see the nice little boy. And if you eat your food, you can have it!”
Of course that didn’t work either. Dad looked ready to cry, and I wanted to weep right along with him at the memories of playing out similar scenarios all too many times with Big Guy.
I’ve begged, I’ve pleaded, I’ve cajoled. Guess what finally worked? Waiting until Big Guy decided he was ready to eat.
Sheesh, why hadn’t someone told me it was that easy?
Actually, they did. I read it in countless magazines, on numerous Web sites, in virtually every parenting book I’ve ever picked up: Kids will eat when they get hungry. I didn’t believe it.
A few months back, though, I had an epiphany.
During kindergarten registration we ran into one of Big Guy’s soccer teammates – the redheaded girl who towered over Big Guy and would not hesitate to body-slam him to the ground if he picked on her.
Now, months later, she looked tiny. When did she get to be so little, I wondered. She used to tower over Big Guy.
And then it hit me: Big Guy had grown. Oh my God! Big Guy’s grown!
For weeks after that, life was a continuous jaunt in the land of tight jeans and too-tiny shirts. Clothes he’d swum in suddenly fit.
Oh my God! Big Guy’s grown!
And I hadn’t done a thing other than let him be.
Oh, I still got in my shots – sneakaroni and cheese laced with broccoli, marinara spiked with spinach, muffins dressed as cupcakes, scones crammed with shredded apple.
And I still followed the one-bite rule: Try it before you decide you hate it.
Other than that, though, Big Guy was free to make his own decisions. Dinner’s ready: Eat it or not. Usually, after token grumbling, he will eat it.
Wave the white flag, I told the dad Saturday. Take it from someone who now has declared herself the Switzerland of the eating wars: You’re just not going to win, so don’t engage.
“What does he like to eat?” I asked.
“Macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, all kinds of fruit, some vegetables, cheese,” the dad answered.
“Sounds like a pretty well-rounded diet. He’ll be OK.”
“But he hasn’t eaten since breakfast.”
I nodded and pointed at Big Guy. “He does the same thing. And he always winds up raiding the refrigerator. You just have to wait them out.”
I’m not certain the tortured dad believed me. But the important thing in our household: I believed me. I don’t think I really had until I’d said it to a stranger.
Hello, Switzerland! I’ve come to stay.
Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.