Many of us have at least one person in our family who is a picky eater – generally, one of our kids. So how do you avoid feeding them nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the entire duration of Lent when lentils and quinoa are not even an option? I tried an experiment with my kids, nieces, and nephew last year, and it worked pretty well. Let me explain.
I am fully acquainted with the picky eater. My parents would probably say I was the picky eater of the family when I was little, but I’ve grown out of it since then and don’t even remotely compare to the pickiness of some of my own children, nieces, or nephew. I also understand textures can be an issue for some kids – especially children with autism. Two of my own children are so sensitive to textures in their mouths that they have uncontrollable gag reflexes. Lentils are just not going to be swallowed regardless of how they are served, and I’ve learned to accept this. I understand.
Our boys moved in with us from foster care when they were 3, 2, and 1 years old. My middle son is the pickiest out of the three of my boys. When he moved in with us, his entire menu of food items he would eat were: peanut butter on a spoon, chicken nuggets, and ketchup. (Yes, ketchup was a food group unto itself for him.) My husband and I endured the Vegetable Standoff of 2007 with him. We spent 6 weeks (literally) offering him one spoonful of varied vegetables in exchange for a cookie at each night’s dinner. For six weeks, he refused to try even one bite of vegetables and we painfully watched as he threw a tantrum each time we put the cookie back in the package. Then one night…he ate a bite of corn! Victory was ours and his! He has come a long way in the past 6 years. For instance, today for lunch he ate a sandwich that had pureed beans mixed with spices topped with feta, spinach, and cucumbers and asked for seconds. It’s a long road, but you can make it through!
Before Lent began last year, I went to the grocery store and bought a wide variety of fasting foods. I bought different types of beans, vegetables, fruits, breads, rice, lentils, quinoa, etc. I placed all the foods in various containers and covered the counter of my mom’s kitchen.
Then I invited all the kids in for lunch. I told them they could have as much food as they wanted, BUT they had to try at least one bite of 3 things they’ve never had before. If they did, they could have a cookie for dessert. Oh, yes…I have no problem bribing with a good old-fashioned cookie in order to introduce them to healthier foods. I also handed them several toothpicks with a paper lamb attached to it with their initial on it. They were to place it in the new foods they tried…and liked. This way I could remember who liked what afterwards.
It didn’t matter to me if they created their own unique burrito, wrap, or sandwich for lunch. It also didn’t matter if they chose to not let any food touch each other and just put a variety of items on their plate. The goal was to find new foods they would eat during Lent. It turned out to be a huge success!
I also learned that I could get them to eat a wider variety of foods if I let them create their own meal from items I set out on the table. I stopped trying to find combinations I thought they might eat in a sandwich or salad and just let them create their own from what I set out for everyone.
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