I did something big yesterday. Really big. I told Dylan that it broke my heart that his fear of food kept him from being happy. I cried real tears. I told him he could no longer eat macaroni & cheese at every meal (and pout at school, birthday parties and restaurants when faced with what he refers to as “new” food). I told him I would prepare meals and he could choose to eat them or not, but if he choose not to eat the protein on the plate, there would be no more food (i.e. snacks) served until the next meal, or in the case of dinner, until the next morning.
(In case you’re wondering, I included Riley in this new meal plan because even though he is a much better eater than his older brother, I see how Dylan’s food issues are rubbing off on him.)
This new “eat your dinner or the kitchen’s closed” approach is quite a departure for me. I’ve written about Dylan’s food issues before, and it’s no secret that I dread this method. How can such a punitive approach have a positive outcome? But I’ve tried everything, and there is no game, negotiation, bribe, reward or plea that will get this kid to budge on food. At this point, his food choices (or lack of) and his age (he’ll be five in a few months) have put me in a panic. The older he gets, the less I’ll be able to save him (i.e. enable him) with a bag full of “just in case” snacks.
When your kid is nearing four and still isn’t potty trained, everyone says, “Don’t worry, he won’t be wearing a diaper at his wedding.” People have said this to me about food, too. “Don’t worry, he won’t be a grown man who only eats…fill in the blank.” Well, I’m starting to wonder.
Did I cause this food mess, or is it just Dylan’s personality and temperament that has brought him to this place? I was once a picky eater, but never like this. I have so many food memories – my mom’s spaghetti and meatballs, my dad’s Sunday morning pancakes, sandy peanut butter and “fluff” sandwiches and Oreo cookies at the beach, Carnegie Deli cheesecake at my wedding, the decadent meals Mike cooked for me in graduate school and the not-very-decadent (or tasty, for that matter) meals I attempted to cook for him.
It was actually through my relationship with Mike that I learned to love food and cook it, too. Sushi. Meat cooked seared and rare. Homemade vanilla ice cream! If I were stranded on a deserted island, I would dream of tuna melts, roasted Brussels sprouts and dancing eel rolls. I’ll never forget Saturday mornings at the Grand Army Plaza farmers market in Brooklyn drinking warm apple cider, eating vegan/dairy-free/gluten-free zucchini muffins, tasting local cheese and buying fresh leafy greens to cook for dinner. I dream of “food-cations” in exotic locales. I organize my life around when and what I will eat. How could I possibly be the parent of this precious child who is terrified of food?