My oldest child turned 12 this week. His birthday is always a time of reflection for me. My memories of rocking him, singing to him, and snuggling him are still vivid.
Lately I have been reflecting on how he has grown. If you know my son, then you know that at 12 years old he is about 6’ 2” tall and that he is wearing men’s size 15 sneakers – not exactly the size that fits in Mama’s lap any more. He started out big, weighing 9 lbs 11 oz. and was 22” long. Naturally, he attracts attention wherever he goes because he is just so tall. He’s skinny too, but not sickly skinny. His legs are as thick and sturdy as they come. He is muscular all over. This kid is healthy.
In the last several months people have begun to connect the way our family eats with the excellent health of my son. Just a couple of weeks ago someone dear to me told me that her husband, who has always been adamantly against raw milk, told her to go ahead and start buying it for their family. Why? Because he had seen my son guzzling it down, and seen that not only was he not sick but he was extremely healthy!
Now I know that genetics play a big role in this. These tall genes come directly from my mother-in-law’s side of the family. There are a few other grandchildren on that side who are growing similarly. Even so, my son is the picture of health. He’s tall, muscular, sturdy, and he’s rarely sick. Please know, I am soooo not bragging here. This is just observation and reflection, brought about by several comments that have come my way over the summer.
So get to the point: My son today is a great eater. He’s got a significant appetite but he also enjoys a great variety of foods and is willing to try new things. But he wasn’t always this way. My boy started out as a terribly picky eater. When I think back on it, I am just amazed at the transformation in him over the years and believe me I have spent some time trying to analyze what it was that brought about this transformation. And I think I am on to something.
No, not the grocery store! Whole foods. You know — the opposite of processed foods. While science has documented that whole foods are healthier than processed, what I’m referring to is all about taste and texture. You see, my oldest became a picky eater because he always had soft, mono-textured foods. I not only strictly gave him jarred baby food, but I was very late to introduce table foods. My next two had opportunity to taste foods in their freshest forms, and in various textures because, having learned from my mistakes, I made all their baby food from scratch (Ruth Yaron’s book, Super Baby Food, is an excellent resource). They never ate just one texture of food, and they rarely ate canned/jarred food because I was making it for them from fresh. So being presented with something of a new taste or a new texture was very normal for them, not scary. My oldest, on the other hand, was on the fast track to a fast food diet, but thankfully I got smart when he was young enough that it wasn’t such a battle to wean him from the mono-textured processed foods. Gradually, he got used to eating fresh, whole foods also. And the same goes for me. Yes, I was a very picky eater myself, well into adulthood. Once my palate got used to new flavors and a variety of textures, suddenly I found that I was not only willing to try, but also really enjoying, foods I previously didn’t like.
Today is my sister’s 22nd wedding anniversary. Last night their family went out for a fancy celebratory dinner. There was no kid’s menu at this restaurant but my sister did not have to worry about what her kids would eat because they have never been a “chicken nugget happy meal” kind of family. Her children have always been exposed to a wide variety of foods. So at last night’s celebration dinner her children had trouble choosing between “cedar plank salmon, rack of lamb, or buffalo tenderloin”! In a day and age where it is the norm for parents to stop off first at a fast food place to pick up a kid’s meal before going to the restaurant where Mom and Dad want to eat, it is refreshing to hear about my niece and nephew.
You see, processed foods, including baby foods, are all the same all the time with no variety in season, taste, texture, or appearance. When you pick up a box of cereal you know it will always taste, look, and smell the same. When you buy a Big Mac, you know that whether you buy it in Maine or Florida it will taste the same. When you eat these foods, you get used to it. And in my opinion this style of eating develops complacency. But when you pick up an apple it will taste differently depending on the variety, season, and region. When you drink fresh milk it will taste different from cow to cow and season to season. A whole foods style of eating develops an involved, adventurous eater. This is because God is the ultimate designer and decorator. He created such a bounty of foods in every season, every region, in all colors, tastes, and textures. He never intended for food to be uniform and identical. God loves variety and he totally intended for us to experience it every time we eat. God did not create “boring”, he created “exciting”!
Now lest you think my kids, or my sister’s kids, will eat anything put in front of them, think again. They each have their foods they don’t care for. But because they are already such good eaters we can trust that when they say they don’t like something it is probably true. On the other hand, when dealing with a picky eater, you can never trust them when they say they don’t like something because you know they have probably never tried it.
Transforming the picky eater will take patience and perseverance. It has been documented that getting a reluctant child to try a new food will take more than 100 attempts. As you add in new foods, you’ll also have to be very careful (and stubborn) to gradually eliminate the processed foods that your kids (and husbands!) will cling to. You have to understand that picky eaters like their food to be one way, and it creates anxiety for them to even consider something different. Don’t expect it to be easy, but know that yes there is hope! Transforming your taste buds opens up a whole new world. I’ve seen it happen with my own son, and experienced it myself.
For a fun, yet honest, look at one family’s attempt to transform their children’s eating 35 years ago, visit my childhood friend Kim’s blog, Observations of an Earthroamer, “The Pact”. . I think you will enjoy her post as well as appreciate her insight.
Happy Birthday, Son!