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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

Mealtime Hang-Ups

What is the difference between broccoli and boogers?

(yes, you read that correctly)

Answer: Children will eat boogers.

Mealtime, particularly dinner, at our house has evolved quite a bit over the last four years or so. We have run the gamut from spoon-feeding to cutting up perfectly cube-sized bites to sharing the same food in the same size/shape as a family. Well, not sharing ALL the food exactly. There are preferences.

Oscar, 10 years old, is a dream and the sole reason I hold out hope for our younger two when it comes to eating. Lucy, 4 years old, can show some resistance, but it is pretty clear she is simply being obstinate and not actually opposed to the food offerings in front of her.

Then there is Simon, who at 5 1/2 years old has the face of an angel and the nose of a bloodhound. Seriously, he can smell scents that are completely out of the range of human detection and they can severely impact his ability to ingest something.

An example: One morning I made lunch sandwiches (peanut butter and honey – SO gross to me but thanks to Josh, the children love them). I used a butter knife to spread the peanut butter. I hand-washed the knife with a sponge and dried it off. Then, when the children came down for breakfast, I made their toast using the same knife to spread butter and jelly. Simon took one bite of the toast (the same toast the other children were eating with no problem) and said, “Is there peanut butter on this?”

Breakfast and lunch generally aren’t the challenge with Simon, though; his greatest scrutiny is reserved for supper. We don’t usually have very elaborate meals for supper at our house. Most often we have some type of meat, one or two veggies, and at least two fruit offerings on the table.

The two fruit offerings are a nod to Simon, who refuses to eat ANY fruit that is not a red apple. While we were concerned at first that he wasn’t getting enough fruit or enough diversity of nutrition in that area, our doctor reassured us it was pretty good that he would even eat apples and it would be fine.

However, in the last two months, Simon has begun refusing to eat any apples that are “brown.” “Brown” is the designation he gives to an apple that was cut more than 5 minutes ago. I am NOT exaggerating that timeline. Within 5 minutes equals “white” and edible; after 5 minutes equals “brown” and not to be touched.

Fruit is definitely Simon’s most challenging area of food consumption. Otherwise, he is pretty good with meat – now that we have coaxed him into accepting chicken as a viable option. Previously he would only eat steak and salmon (elevated tastes, I know). He is pretty good with veggies, especially green veggies, eating everything from broccoli to green beans to asparagus, although he literally uses a milk “chaser” after each bite of asparagus (bite, shoot; bite, shoot; and so on). I tremble to think what we are actually training him for in his future life.

The main insight we cling to when it comes to our children and food is that each child is different from the others and even different from themselves over time. Take Oscar—he was incredibly resistant to eating MOST food, let alone ENOUGH food at Simon’s age. But we stuck to our convictions and continued to hold clear lines, and he just grew out of it. That is the hope we have for Simon: he’ll grow out of it.

We were talking about this recently and I said to Josh that in many ways I recognize a part of myself in Simon’s finicky preferences. He shares many of the same “hang-ups” that I have grown through into adulthood and now I get to help him navigate those waters.

Admittedly, it can be pretty challenging navigating the “getting food in our children” waters at dinnertime. After we work hard to put a good healthy meal on the table, it is incredibly discouraging to have one of them take their seat and immediately complain or tell us exactly what they refuse to eat.

It has been a real source of growth in patience for me in particular. As a little girl I may have reacted exactly the same way that they are. But I am not a little girl anymore. I am their mother, and responsible for nourishing them, physically and emotionally. So, I am happy to draw on all my experience and subsequent growth to empathize with them and talk them gently through their “hang-ups.” One day they may be different.