The Battle of the Broccoli

When Jackson was a baby, he ate all sorts of good food. I would make my own baby food by steaming and pureeing vegetables and feed it to him. He seemed to love it. As he turned into a toddler, I would give him things like mashed potatoes with vegetables and meat mixed in and he would eat it up. He loved red peppers, peas, corn, carrots, blueberries, apples, mangoes, and so much more. But then, something changed. He discovered that he could exercise veto power over food and quickly started rejecting all the foods he used to eat.

As Jackson grew older, he continued to reject foods. He’s always had a knack for picking out the unhealthy foods and eating those without hesitation, but when it comes to any sort of veggie, it’s a nightmare to get him to eat. If he had his way, he would eat chicken nuggets every night, and the only fruits and veggies he would eat would be apples and carrots (and it would still be a chore to get him to eat his carrots). Maybe the occasional banana would slip in there, too. Nothing green, though!

Gracie used to be a pretty good eater. She would try new foods if we liked them, and mostly she grew to like them too. She loves lettuce, celery, carrots, strawberries, oranges, apples, and her favorite food is steak. However, through the years she has seen her brother’s veto power and has begun exercising her own. And, unlike Jackson, she cannot be persuaded to eat something she decides she doesn’t want. She is strong-willed and determined, two great qualities that will serve her well in life, but two qualities that make it hard to parent her sometimes, too.

When I was a kid, I was picky too. I hated the stinky mushy peas and gross frozen carrots that would find their way onto my plate. I hated milk, too, and certain dishes my mom made regularly, like her signature Hot Dish or chicken cacciatore or pretty much any kind of soup she made. The kids get it from me, I’m sure. I grew out of it and still hope that they will, too, but I can’t wait that long. Nutrition is so important, especially for Gracie, and I want them to learn good habits now that will benefit them for their entire lives.

I’ve read many, many articles about dealing with picky eaters. I’ve read all about how you shouldn’t force your kids to eat because then they’ll associate food with power struggles. I’ve read about not rewarding kids with dessert because you don’t want to teach them that certain foods are not as delicious as others (like they don’t already know!). I’ve read that you should compare healthy foods to superheroes—like, the folks who are big and strong eat really well so you should too. This advice may work for some kids, but it’s never worked for mine.

Making dinner is a struggle. I can make something healthy that neither kid will eat, or make something unhealthy that I know they’ll eat, which offends my sensibilities. I can make different dinners for the children and the adults, which I often do, or I can make the same thing and know that the kids will reject it. Then there’s the tired factor—by the end of the work day, the last thing I want to do is try to figure out something that everyone will eat. It’s exhausting.

 

One night a couple weeks ago, I had had enough. The kids were eating their dinner of chicken nuggets with goldfish, yogurt, carrots, and applesauce, and I cooked a delicious veggie-filled dinner for myself. The kids were trying to get me to eat their goldfish, and I didn’t want to—I was grossed out by the foods I was serving my kids.

That night, the Battle of the Broccoli began. I decided that my kids were going to eat healthier, no matter what. I told them both that it was over, they no longer had veto power over dinner or any other meal. If I was cooking, they were eating it—no matter what. I would no longer cook separate meals for them. If I was going to cook something healthy for myself, I would cook it for everyone. Jackson had a worried expression—he understood—but Gracie didn’t get it. She thought she could out-stubborn me, apparently. She doesn’t know me at all.

I made beans and rice for dinner the following night. Jackson ate it, reluctantly. He knew that I was serious. Gracie did not. She ended up going to bed without dinner that night. I made something else the next night, I don’t remember what but it included green beans as the vegetable side-dish (green beans were black-listed by both kids, for some unfathomable reason). Both kids ate at least some of their green beans, reluctantly. Progress.

We’ve had some steps forward and some steps back. There have been some dishes the kids have flatly refused, so they get their leftovers for dinner the following night (and the night after that, in Gracie’s case, until she finally eats it). There are some nights that I simply don’t have time to prepare a family dinner, so the kids get a break from the Battle of the Broccoli. There has been a little progress—last night, I made breakfast for dinner, including scrambled eggs (eggs have traditionally been rejected by both kids). Although neither kid willingly tried the eggs, after some bribery both kids finished their dinners with very few dramatic gags. Progress.

The Battle of the Broccoli is far from over. I am sure we have not seen the last of the dramatic gagging. However, we are making some progress. The kids are learning to eat what the family eats—we are pretending to be a normal family. Even though I’m exhausted after working all day, I’m cooking for the family more. Instead of rarely eating meals together as a family, we’re eating family dinners about half the time. Progress.

All the parenting books advise against what I’m doing, but I don’t care. For now, it’s working for us. We are achieving some semblance of normalcy, and eventually maybe my kids will be able to eat like normal people. One can only hope. All I know is, I will win the Battle of the Broccoli.

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