I can pinpoint the exact moment when I lost control of my
children’s healthy eating habits. It was
way back in 2003, and my daughter was around seven months old. She’d been eating solid foods for a couple of
months at that point. Mostly, I gave her
mashed up fruits and vegetables and tiny little pieces of roasted turkey,
grilled chicken, ground beef and sautéed tofu.
Mostly, she spit out everything except for the fruit – my very first
sign of her rampant sweet tooth.
I was taking a very popular baby class with a parenting
“expert” who seemed to be a guru on everything.
Every week, she’d lecture us on a different topic and then we’d have a
discussion about how it related to our own babies.
One week, the topic was eating, and in the
discussion time, I expressed my frustration with my daughter’s unwillingness to
eat anything but fruit and cereal. The
guru said that the problem was that I was giving her foods that she wouldn’t
like. She told us that if we wanted them
to eat, we should give our kids “kid food” – grilled cheese and chicken tenders
and hamburgers and hot dogs (cut up, of course). She said that there was a reason most kids
ate those foods, and that they’d eat other things as they got older.
I remember feeling both surprised and distinctly relieved
when she said that. Surprised to hear an
expert say that it was okay to give kids unhealthy foods, but relieved because I
felt like I’d just been given permission to stop trying to feed my daughter
food she clearly didn’t like.
against my better judgment, I went out and bought chicken tenders and cut them
up into little pieces. My daughter
gobbled them up like they were candy. Look
at that, I thought. The guru was
In the months that followed, my
daughter ate a steady diet of grilled cheese and turkey sandwiches, chicken
tenders, hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries and plain pasta. And while the baby class ended when she was
eighteen months old, the diet continued on.
I kept waiting for her to get “older” and want to eat other things, as
promised. But that day never came. I introduced new, healthy foods all the time
– roasted broccoli, sautéed spinach, chicken stir fry, veggie risotto – but it
was too late. The damage had been
done. My daughter refused to try anything
new, and when I’d force her, we’d get into huge fights that often ended with
her gagging at the dinner table.
I worried about my daughter. I worried that she didn’t eat any vegetables,
I worried that I had instilled terrible eating habits in her, I worried that
she would gain an unhealthy amount of weight, I worried that she would be
miserable as a teenager.
The years went
on and on, and her refusal to eat anything but “kid food” stayed steady. I can’t tell you how much I regret listening to that baby “expert.” I felt
– still feel – that if she hadn’t told me to go out and give my kid chicken
tenders, I would have continued to feed her the way I was, and eventually, she
would have eaten it. I feel that if I
hadn’t taken her advice, I’d have a kid now who eats all kinds of things. And, of course, I have to wonder, in a
country where childhood obesity is an epidemic, why do we define “kid food” as
food that is fried and absent any nutritional value? How is it that that ever even happened?
My daughter is almost twelve now, and the food struggle
continues. Only now, it’s worse, because she’s old enough to understand that
the foods she loves are terrible for her.
She’s learned at school what is healthy and what isn’t. She’s seen firsthand how eating crappy food can
affect her body and her skin. She reads
about what celebrities eat to stay skinny in Teen Vogue. She watches The Biggest Loser.
She’s trying to eat healthier, and yet, she
still doesn’t like grilled chicken, she still prefers plain pasta with butter,
and she still won’t touch a piece of salmon with a ten foot pole. And I still blame myself,
for ever taking advice that I knew, in my heart, was completely wrong.