Nevermind what grandma says: Feeding your child is not like it used to be. Sure, grandma had to worry about the usual stuff, like vitamins, minerals and protein. But these days, we worry about DHEA, Omega-3 fatty acids, carb counts, sugar content, fair trade, pesticides, preservatives, organics and childhood obesity.
It’s enough to make mom lose whatever marbles they had left after that one time you found your 3-year-old on the kitchen counter shoving handsful of raw sugar into her mouth.
So getting children to eat their vegetables is not just about patience and persistence. It’s about politics and psychology, too.
Don’t worry, mom. We know just how to get those greens in their gullets.
- Think of all of the foods that your child already eats. Mac and cheese? Chicken nuggets? Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Hot dogs? Make a list of everything you have in rotation for their meals.
- Call the pediatrician in a panic. Sit on hold for 15 minutes. Beg the nurse to put the doctor on the phone. Wonder what happened to doctors who didn’t treat their patients like they’re somehow ruining their golfing schedule.
- Once the doctor finally reaches the phone, rationally explain your position by shrieking, “My child has rickets!”
- Apologize for ruining his tee time.
- Hang up. Google what experts say on child nutrition.
- Somewhere in your search, you begin to understand that these experts are not, in fact, studying childhood nutrition. Their actual thesis measures the effects of terrifying health stories in the media on instances of group psychosis in mothers.
- Go back to step 1. Try not to lose control of yourself this time.
- Once you have that list, work backwards from the dishes your child will eat, deconstructing them along the way, looking for ingredients and flavors.
- Begin by substituting healthier options for the foods he or she already eats. Got a hot dog fanatic? Try a veggie dog. Is your little poo-packer a mac-and-cheese-head? Sub soy cheese and high-protein or whole-wheat pasta for their regular binge of starch and fat.
- Now look for a way to slip veggies into meals without them noticing. For example, if your child will eat spaghetti, use a puree of carrots, peppers, onions and tomatoes as the base of your sauce. If your child eats pizza, puree blanched green, red and yellow veggies, and spread it on the crust before the sauce and cheese.
- When subterfuge isn’t possible, think about items that have similar colors and structure to foods your child already enjoys. If, for example, your child likes pumpkin pie, why not pour mashed sweet potatoes into a pie pan? If it’s corn they crave, try Asian baby corn — or even hominy. Sub mashed turnips or cauliflower for whipped potatoes.
- Be patient with your toddler or preschooler. Experts say that you should follow “the rule of 15.” A child must be exposed to a new food up to 15 times before he or she will accept it.
- Realize these experts have no children. They have never met the steely will of a child who does not want to eat the food over which you have so agonizingly slaved.
- Declare war. Batten the hatches and whip out your big guns: the time-outs, the removal of a favorite toy, the ban on television.
- Weeks later, admit defeat. Make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich — with low-fat, low-sugar peanut butter, low-sugar fruit spread and whole grain bread… with the crusts cut off.
- Buy a big jar of Flintstones vitamins — and hide an exploding golf ball in your pediatrician’s golf bag.