It’s been a while since I’ve talked about Charlotte. Our girl is doing great, loving junior kindergarten and learning more every day. She loves to watch Dad and I do stuff around the house, whether it’s Dad putting chairs away after a service or me making bread. She loves lip balm as much as building blocks, and is prone to breaking out in silly songs at a moment’s notice.
She’s a very agreeable girl, save when she’s tired. Or when we’re having supper, which unfortunately tends to coincide with when she is tired. As a result, the dining table is perhaps our only battlefield with our dear daughter, and it is one I dread on a daily basis. The war could easily be diverted if I gave in to her standard dinner desires of cucumbers, pasta or ham, but on the food front, I have suddenly become a fighter, not a lover.
Why the sudden change of heart? Dear Charlotte turned four a few months ago and I realized that I can now remember being her age. I certainly don’t remember my Mom cooking a separate meal for me; it was eat what everyone eats, or go without. Andrew recalls a similar situation, and our parents confirm these recollections. Dining wasn’t as diverse then as it is now, but we had different dilemmas to face in those days: liver, boiled Brussels sprouts and, my lifelong nemesis, canned cream of mushroom soup.
As someone who likes to cook, and who appreciates the full range of food, I am sick of regularly succumbing to the taste buds of a tiny tyrant. What am I saying: I have succumbed for the past two years. Charlotte ate anything and everything as a baby, but as she progressed into toddlerhood, her preferences started to emerge. Filling her tiny stomach became paramount to expanding her palette.
The National Post recently published an excellent feature aptly titled “Tyranny of the chicken finger” that examines how parents today got to this very point. I highly suggest any parent of a picky (or even not-so-picky) child have a read. It’s often easier to just say yes to children’s demands, even if this means a regular schedule of nutritionally deficient chicken fingers and macaroni-and-cheese, much to parental chagrin.
It’s not as if I’m trying to force-feed her sushi or some other acquired taste: I can be an adventurous cook, but not to the exclusion of ration. I have toned down some of my standard offerings in an effort to entice her. Chili isn’t as spicy and is well garnished with cheese; fish, which she does like, is served unseasoned and potatoes are peeled.
Nevertheless, the first few nights of our new routine did not go well. We our rule is that Charlotte has to eat at least 10 bites of whatever Mom and Dad are having before substitutions – or surrender – can occur. Mutual frustration turned into angry stalemates, something the National Post article frowns up. I have long adhered to some of the article’s other suggestions, including involving her in food preparation and letting her choose the meal, within reason.
The situation has since improved, but not greatly. Every once in a while, we will have one of her favourites and dinner will be a dream. But more often than not, supper becomes a struggle and Mom feels like an ogre for not capitulating.
If we keep literally catering to our kids, I fear they’ll never learn to appreciate the full spectrum of food. How does one transition from a diet filled with the usual kid-friendly fair to a more diverse diet that is satisfying, appetizing and nutritionally sound? Some of my peers were picky in their youth (goodness, I attended elementary school with a girl who didn’t like pizza!), but we seemed to snap out of it. In today’s kid-centric culture, I am not as optimistic.
Have any advice for me? Should I just deal with her disinterest, as long as she is eating something? Or should I (nay, can I?) become more of a drill sergeant at mealtimes? I am thankful for small victories, but I am already war-weary and the battle’s seemingly only begun.
This may not be the most elegant meal, but Charlotte loved it, taking leftovers for school. Served over brown rice and steamed broccoli, it was healthy and filling.
Slow-cooker Cranberry Appetizer Meatballs
1-900g package frozen fully cooked meatballs
1-398mL can whole berry cranberry sauce
1 cup garlic barbecue sauce
½ cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 small onion, chopped
Place meatballs in slow cooker. Combine remaining ingredients; pour over meatballs. Stir to evenly coat. Cook on high for 2 to 3 hours or on low for 4 to 6 hours.