Five decades ago, when preemie care was still a new science, I was born at 30 weeks and weighed 3 pounds, 4 ounces. My grandmother said she’d bought bigger chickens. Since I was an itty-bitty thing and a picky eater, everyone worried I’d starve to death. In kindergarten, my grandmother carried me to and home from the bus stop, so I wouldn’t burn more calories than absolutely necessary.
Still, I managed to grow into a healthy adult and was raising children of my own, when karma gave me a picky eater, too. Every day, I sent my son to preschool with a lunch of blueberries, cereal and milk. I knew it wasn’t the best, but cereal is fortified, right?
When I discussed my stressful situation with his preschool teacher, she admonished me with, “Well, Ryan is never going to try broccoli, if you let him eat sugary cereals.” Maybe she was right, but I was scared if I didn’t send him with foods he’d eat, he wouldn’t eat anything at all.
So, what’s a neurotic, Jewish mother to do?
I tried all the tricks. I cut turkey sandwiches into hearts, involved him in the preparation process, and created colorful and fun foods like “ants on a log.” I even resorted to bribery, which had limited success.
Ryan did lick a piece of steak once to get an extra toy during Hanukkah. In grade school, he still only ate the usual kid choices: fries, chicken nuggets, pizza, hot dogs, cereal and pasta.
Then, something miraculous happened… He became a teenager! A teenager who wanted to eat all the time. A teen who was willing to try new foods. A teenager who, even when he didn’t like what he was eating, would shrug and say, “It’s just fuel.”
Mamas, if you’re worried your child is going to starve to death, I’m here to tell you he won’t. Keep introducing healthy foods and snack choices, offer an occasional bribe, and remind yourself this too shall pass. After all, our kids won’t be walking down the aisle to a wedding feast of buttered noodles. But if they do, be happy we can buy fortified pasta.
Susan Kemppainen earned a BA in Psychology from Tulane University in New Orleans and an MSW from Washington University in St. Louis. She currently works at the Mirowitz Center at Covenant Place as the Volunteer/Activity Program Coordinator. Before joining the Mirowitz Center, she was a crisis hotline counselor for Life Crisis Services for 15 years, earning certifications in crisis counseling and compulsive gambling treatment.