If you read my post on Why I Cater to My Kids, then you have an idea of the events that lead to me being a short-order cook. But, my husband and I have (finally) reached a level of frustration with our oldest daughter that means we’re (finally) ready to make some changes. Our daughter dislikes food, so until recently, we have been happy to have her eat anything. We were optimistic that she would grow out of this super picky phase. But now, she is 5 years old! And as we approach kindergarten late this summer, we are becoming more and more concerned about her generally low energy levels. This also comes at a time when my youngest daughter, who recently turned 2, is starting to be more willful at meals. But my youngest is a kid who will eat what’s put in front of her if there are no other options presented. I don’t want to cater to my oldest while being hardnosed with my youngest; that truly is not fair. So, we are trying something new. We are trying to radically change my oldest daughter’s diet all at once (small changes just didn’t seem to be working). Let’s be clear: this isn’t really about getting my oldest daughter to eat paleo (or even gluten-free, which is my first goal for my kids); this is about getting her to just eat.
We think that she probably had severe acid reflux as a baby (which pediatricians seemed unconcerned about at the time) and an immature digestive system leading to frequent stomach aches, which combined to form a very negative association with food for her. She hates food, hates eating, would literally rather starve. She especially dislikes meat of any kind (and fish, eggs…) and all vegetables (and most fruit too). We’ve tested her blood and she is not chronically malnourished (as I suspected), but she does have borderline hypoglycemia (probably caused by simply not eating well or enough rather than an endocrinological disorder). She is a conundrum: I tried withholding cheese so that she would eat carrot sticks and apple slices fist. Once she finished half an apple and two carrot sticks, she was too full for the cheese. This morning she turned down bacon because it wasn’t cooked the way she liked it. I had to yell at her to get her to eat the scrambled eggs on her plate. We could try an appetite stimulant with her, but as a person who battled weight most of my life, I feel deeply uneasy about this.
We’ve had a lot of conversations lately with my oldest daughter about nutrition, good foods and bad foods, about eating protein sources, about eating vegetables, about balance, about trying new foods, about how food is important for her body, and about how food affects her energy and her immune system. She’s a very bright kid (two scientists for parents will do that to you) and she’s interested in the science of nutrition, just not the application. But we wanted to prepare her somewhat for the changes that we’re implementing.
So, here is our new plan. For breakfast, I am making her scrambled eggs, uncured bacon (obviously trying to cook it the way she likes it, sheesh) and fresh fruit. Yoghurt, cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, paleo muffins and other paleo baking will form her snacks. For lunch and supper, I am making her a few different vegetables and cheese and/or meat (same as what we’re eating). That’s it. I’ll try to make sure that some of the things on her plate are things she likes, but I’m not going to offer anything else. I will try not to worry about quantity (tough because she eats so little and it irks me), but just try and improve quality (for now). I’m not going to negotiate how many bites of what she has to eat before she gets something yummy (although fruit, gluten-free cereal or paleo baking will be offered for dessert if she finishes her whole plate). We’ll see what happens… So far, there has been great drama (screams, tears, wails, flopping on the floor, pouting in her room, more crying, whining, more tears). I feel bad for my oldest daughter because having this kind of radical change force upon you is brutal. But I can already see an improvement in her energy level and disposition. I hope that as she starts to feel better, that feeling better will also mean that eating healthy food won’t seem like such a chore.