You can’t pick up a parenting magazine without encountering an article about feeding kids, and lately even the New York Times has gotten in on the act, with occasional coverage of the topic. At first I was excited at the prospect, but now, a few months in, I can’t help but notice a little (okay, sometimes more than a little) tone of neuroses running through the whole thing.
I feel a little disingenuous making the observation, because I, too, used to write about it, more than a little neurotically, for Gourmet. But I wonder if it’s one thing to worry about it in the hormonally-driven, sleep-deprived first year of your first child’s life; it’s another entirely to go years wringing hands over your kid’s preference for noodles (like every other kid on the planet) and love of desserts (ditto). After all, this is a marathon, folks, not a sprint, and if you worry about how your kids eat throughout their childhood, you’re going to spend a lot of time worrying.*
I’m not sure what kind of coverage I would like to see; the best insight I see typically comes in the comments that run in response to these articles, from reader after reader (some parents, some nutritionists, some doctors) who chimes in, saying essentially the same thing our nation’s experts say, the same thing my own pediatrician says, to take the strategy that seems the most sensible to me: Feed your kids the same foods you’re eating (provided you are feeding yourself nutritious and tasty foods—I’m not talking about constant junk food OR joyless “healthy” meals devoid of any fat or fun). If they choose to eat it, great. If not, don’t make a big deal out of it—there’s always another meal around the corner, and they’ll get enough to eat in the course of a day or two.
But wait, I can already hear some of you saying. My kid barely touches… my kid will go days without… etc. etc. But stop for a second, and think about how you ate when you were a kid. Maybe you were a great eater, and this is frustrating to you. But I’m sure plenty of you had things that you wouldn’t touch as a child, but that you love as an adult. This gets back to my whole point: Marathon. Don’t expect your kid to kick all his weird food idiosyncrasies by the time he’s 4, or 7, or even 12. Let it go, and know that he or she will come around eventually (or not, but if your kid still doesn’t eat cooked carrots into adulthood, is that really the end of the world?).
It’s time to focus on enjoying your family’s company when you get the chance to share a meal together, and stop eyeing your kids’ plates and strategizing about how to get food in them—just imagine how that look alone is defeating your purpose (“…oh no… Mom’s got that “how many string beans did you eat” look on her face again…”). Make mealtime fun, and you might be surprised at the stuff your kid will try. (Or not! Maybe he won’t touch any of it. Remember, that’s not the point. The point is to let it go, and stop it with the chicken nuggets already. I don’t want to hear another thing about chicken nuggets.)
*Which is not to say I don’t spend a lot of time worrying. I worry plenty. It should be listed under “skills” on my résumé.