She’s 10 years old and she lives on chicken nuggets. Or she did. Until we decided that Rachel was now old enough now to be reasoned with.
Since she was a toddler, Rachel has always been our fussiest eater. A vomiting bug when she was very young meant we fed her ‘easy’ foods – sandwiches, potatoes, toast – when she couldn’t keep food down. Unfortunately, when the bug eventually passed, she rejected just about everything that wasn’t utterly bland, unchallenging food.
So, over the past few months we’ve been gradually introducing her to new foods. It’s been almost universally a hard road. She becomes whiny and weepy and kicks back every time a new food is introduced. I’m talking about pizza here. Simple pizza with all the pepperoni picked off.
And the flipside of this is that mealtimes become frustrating for everyone concerned, and the adult who’s doing the coercing ends up shouting and making threats of “no treats for the rest of your life” or “grounded until your teeth fall out”.
But for a decade now, mealtimes in our house have almost always been a two-tier affair – with one bland, boring dinner being cooked for Rachel and another one for us and the two boys. And that would’ve probably been all right except Rachel started to protest even about her regular food. So we decided something had to be done, and we sat her down and explained that she needed to broaden her culinary horizons. Or something more appropriate that a 10 year old fussy eater would understand.
To be fair, she has improved a lot. But tonight, I had mentally battened down the hatches, because on the dinner menu was…mince steak and onion pie with mushy peas!!!
And the minute she found that out, Rachel predictably started her pattern of complaining. However, tonight was going to be different. I explained to her that she only had to eat a small slice of the pie and a little bit of the peas. I totally appreciated the texture and flavour of the food was going to be totally different to anything she’d tasted before. And so I was determined that there would be no shouting or cajoling, just quietly encouraging her to try the food.
When something strange happened…
She began her usual dance: whinging about the food, recoiling from it as if it was poisoned, pretending to be cold, tired, etc. But – and she admitted this later – because I wasn’t rising to the bait, there was no angry, frustrated dad for her to play off. And she tested the pie with the tip of her tongue, before shoving it in her mouth. A few chews later, she gave it her seal of approval.
Minutes later, Rachel had wolfed down the entire meal, including mixing pie with peas and then a spoonful of peas on their own. We were stunned. She was experimenting. And there was absolutely no holding her back. She moved on to nab little spoonfuls of peas from the boys’ plates too. You could just tell that she was so pleased with herself, for getting over her fear of the food and for discovering that *gasp* she liked it!
We’re hoping that little victories like this build her confidence and gradually reduce her fear of new and different foods. She’s going away with a youth group later in the summer, and they’ll definitely serve her unusual food, so she’s got a target that she needs to work toward.
Of course, we need to acknowledge that this is a slow process. We need to keep experimenting with new foods and not keep slipping back to Rachel’s standard ‘safe’ foods. But hopefully we’re closer to normalising the fussy eater in our family!