Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Food Issues

I subscribe to too many magazines for my own good. Most months I scan the pages seeking out a new recipe or a potential travel destination and that is about it. Rarely do I read a full article but a recent piece in Cooking Light magazine caught my eye and had me reading the article in its entirety (twice). The author, Ann Taylor Pitman, is the magazine's Executive Food Editor and the mother of now 8 year old twin boys who were born prematurely at 29 weeks. While the picture of her fragile twins is what first caught my eye and gave me flashbacks to my own tiny baby, it was her discussion of food and nourishment that had me reading each page. Here was a lover of food, someone who incorporated this love into both her personal and professional lives, who was struggling to feed her children and give them the nourishment they needed. Her words rang so many bells with me and reading Pitman's words I was once again reminded of the close link between nutrition and one's health and the struggles that often ensue when the two meet.

I consider myself lucky when it comes to food and eating. Because I love just about all food and am always willing to try new things, eating a balanced diet seems to come naturally to me. I rarely diet, never eliminate any one food or food group from my diet but rather eat all of the things I like in moderation. I prefer unprocessed foods to their pre-packaged counterparts and as I grow older, my sweet tooth has been subsiding. I practiced this type of eating both before and during (as well as after) my pregnancy. In my mind it was a give in that I would breast feed rather than relying on formula, baby food would be homemade and my son would have the same love and curiosity about food that I do. A mother can dream, right?

But life rarely turns out as planned. The idea of breastfeeding flew out the window with Sidney's early birth and while my plentiful supply made bottle fed breast milk a viable option, his doctors wanted it to be fortified with formula. I should have known then that I would be spending the next several years trying to pack as many calories as possible into my son. Reflux made feedings both unpleasant and take twice as long as they should have been and he was slow to take to solid foods. But once Sidney discovered the pleasures of solid food he simply couldn't get enough. I worked overtime making purees of organic fruits, vegetables and meats and he loved them all. Friends introduced him to venison sausages when he wasn't quite a year and a half and he loved them. While the same friends bemoaned their three year old daughter's desire to only eat a handful of plain pasta at each meal I relished the fact that my son finally had an appetite. He was still small but he could eat so my mind raced ahead to the wonderful family meals we would be able to enjoy together.

Unfortunately, as with all things children, Sidney's love of new foods came to a halt as quickly as it had taken off. Fast forward a year and he was the one requesting plain pasta at every meal. Hotdogs, one of the few foods that I all but refuse to eat, were acceptable on occasion if they were first drowned in ketchup. Chicken, beef and lamb were no-gos as was any creature that comes from the water. I spent countless hours trying to entice my son with new foods only to be met with such resistance that I felt perpetually defeated. I worried about his nutrition and the fact that he was still the smallest kid around. But honestly, I was the most horrified by the fact that my son essentially hated the one thing that I loved so much. Food. I mean, how is that even possible? Refusing to give up I became adept at hiding the nutrition in those foods he would eat. Pizza was usually acceptable so homemade pies, loaded with vegetable enriched sauce and red peppers (yes, for some reason he loves raw red peppers) became a weekly menu item. A trip to Italy introduced Sidney to Bolognese sauce so I would make vats of that, again loaded with lean meat and tons of vegetables. And the experiments continued with mixed but often unsatisfactory results.

I know kids go through phases and can often be picky but as a parent I struggle with finding the balance between making sure he is eating a balanced diet and not wanting to force things on him that the truly doesn't like. Although it is getting better, all too often the dinner table becomes an unpleasant experience and the last thing I want to do is to instill a dislike of food and mealtime on him. In my mind food is something that should be enjoyed and celebrated. But even as a food loving person I can't quite figure out how to make this work. Cooking only foods on his "acceptable" list is simply unacceptable to me as is making two separate dinners each night.

So how do I find a balance? Sidney provides input into our weekly dinner menus so there are at least two dinners each week that he has selected. Yes, it often involves pizza or pasta but I add a few vegetables into the mix and we end up with a well balanced meal that goes down without tears. I take full advantage of his wandering into the kitchen, sniffing and stating that something smells good. I'm quick to show him what is cooking and talk about the various ingredients that I know he likes. I know Sidney doesn't like his foods mixed together but when I deconstruct the stew before putting it on his plate he will (usually) eat it all. We also have the "five bite rule" where he must eat at least five bites of each item on his plate. I also recognize that there are some things he simply doesn't like. Leafy green salads are currently on that list so when those are the vegetable du jour Sidney gets a plate of cut up raw carrots and red peppers. I'm picking my battles. I still worry about his being so small and wish he would eat a greater variety of food. I'm encouraged that he is trying new things; peer pressure from school has had him requesting both avocados and mushrooms recently. He didn't like them but he did tell me that at least he tried them. And that is progress. Maybe I'll make a foodie out of him yet. I can hope.......

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