The state of things - FamilyEducation

The state of things

March 06,2009
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

The other day I was in the car listening to my local NPR station, and "The State of Things" had a feature on how to get your child to eat. The focus was on how to get your child to eat healthy foods, but I was interested in any tips on how to get your child to eat. Period. When you're worried about how few calories your child consumes over the course of any given day (or week), and about how he can make it through a school day on one carrot cake Cliff bar eaten at 9:30 in the morning, you tend to obsess less about things like a balanced diet and more on the desire you have to see your child just plain old EAT. Which is why on Tuesday, after picking L. up early from school for an appointment on a frigid, still-icy afternoon, and finding out that he'd not eaten any lunch, I swung by McDonald's and bought him some fries. Then I drove on, feeling a warm, satisfied glow wash over me because the car was suddenly so cozy and smelled of fries, and L. was in the back seat contentedly reading a Hardy Boys novel and munching fries like he'd just been given the best food in the world. Because really, deep down, a Mama always has that need to see her kids fed--to know that their stomachs are filled, even if with McDonald's French fries. I was so grateful to those fries at that moment, yet years ago I might have easily entertained some misguided judgments about a parent (oh no, not me!) who made up for her kid's skipping lunch by stuffing him with fries on the way to a therapy appointment. I wanted to call in to "The State of Things" show so badly, and even scrawled the number on my hand in traffic, so I could call when I got home. But there wasn't the time to do it in the end, which is probably fine, since the chances of any of those panelists being able to solve our food issues in one short phone call were pretty slim (we spent $400 to meet with nutritionists/feeding experts for two hours, and they weren't able to solve the problems, either). The Food Issue has taken a place on the back burner at our house lately. Not because L. is suddenly eating lots of different foods, but because we've had more important/critical things to focus on. But I listened with a touch of bitter envy to some of the callers, whose kids didn't seem to me to have real eating issues, just general pickiness about this, that, or the other thing. I also felt a little validated and comforted, too, because all of the things they suggest doing to help build healthy eating habits in your children we are, in fact, doing--and have done for years. Things like: --Eating dinner together as a family, as often as possible. (We eat dinner seven days/week together, barring an evening meeting one of us might be attending once or twice a month.) --Cooking homemade meals as often as possible, instead of eating out. (Eating out or getting carry-out costs $$! Sometimes a pizza is a lifesaver, but we generally try to do carry-out only once a month.) --Including kids in the food preparation. (Family Cook Night!) --Reading labels, and teaching kids about nutritional content and the dangers of excess. --Serving lots of fruits and vegetables, and cutting back or even eliminating processed foods. What we have learned to do on our own over the years are things like capitalizing on L.'s big eating times: when he's on the computer, riding in the car, or watching TV. But instead of letting him veg out with his hand in a bag of junk food (he doesn't like chips, anyway), I always give both kids bowls of cut-up fruit to eat while they're "resting" and watching their shows. Sometimes it's a bowl of blueberries or grapes, other times strawberries, sometimes sliced apples. L. likes his vegetables raw, and he'll actually sit and plow through a bowl of raw green beans when he's watching a show, or sitting in the back of the family van. We may never ever get to see L. sit down and fill himself up with gusto at any meal, but I try to remember that the most important thing is to never give up offering him the good stuff. I try to remember that even though L. might have a bad eating day, it's the total of what he eats over the course of the week that counts more. But I do constantly wonder if the extreme food aversions L. has will ever go away on their own. And I wonder, as I contemplate that big pot on the back burner--the one with the Food Issue in it--if we shouldn't be doing more about it. *********** Happy Weekend!