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Picky, Picky

Irecently read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, in which a kid named Fudge eats a turtle. Obviously, he's not what you'd call a picky eater. While I'm not sure I'd want my daughters to snack on a reptile, it might be a welcome relief from having to plan meals around a child who doesn't like rice, prefers white meat only and whose sandwich absolutely must have the mustard next to the cheese and the mayonnaise next to the lettuce. Plus she sniffs every morsel of food before she'll eat it, asking, "Is chicken supposed to smell like this?"

Her sister eats peanut butter sandwiches without jelly and jelly sandwiches without peanut butter, but never peanut butter and jelly together?and no crusts, ever! Mostly, though, she likes anything that rhymes with "eat-za" or can be served from a drive-through window.

I take some comfort in knowing that I'm not alone in the battle against picky eating. I know a mom who breaks out in hives whenever she takes her three daughters to a fast food restaurant. She orders three cheeseburgers: one without ketchup, one without mustard and one without ketchup, mustard, onions, pickles, bun or meat. The hives come with the counter clerk's usual response: "Lady, are you nuts?" But this woman has a child who will only eat cheese, and fast food restaurants won't sell her just a slice so she's learned to order cheeseburgers sans everything but the cheese.

Take it from my friend Patty, there's nothing too far fetched when it comes to getting kids to eat. Afraid she'd be labeled a failure as a mother because her kids wouldn't eat broccoli or peas, one night she told them: "Kids, after you went to sleep last night I found a jar of fairy dust?and here it is!" She held up a jar of finely ground parmesan cheese. "This does something wonderful. It makes anything you eat taste delicious."

At dinner that evening she let the kids sprinkle fairy dust all over their lasagna (which was full of zucchini and other green things) saying, "Not only will this taste wonderful, but it will make you stronger and taller! You'll be able to lift heavy toys and put them away, and you'll be able to reach a little higher than before so you can get a drink of water without calling for me or Daddy."

Patty's ploy actually worked?until her daughter caught her refilling the fairy jar with store-bought parmesan. Now she's back to sneaking green stuff into gingerbread. (NOTE: It was the mother of a picky eater who invented carrot cake.)

Mothers throughout the ages have fretted over their children's eating habits. I ran into a group of such moms at the mall food court. They were wandering around in a daze saying to their small children, "What about a bagel? How about some chicken?"

As I watched, I wrote down some of the picky eater wisdom I've acquired over the years.

  1. Sometimes you can get kids to eat healthy, yet "yucky," food by using favorite character names: Barney Bran Flake Cereal, Big Bird Scrambled Eggs, Little Mermaid Split Pea Soup. Sometimes.

  2. The nose of a baby who eats only strained carrots and mashed sweet potatoes will eventually turn orange.

  3. Pleading, begging and threatening may get a forkful of lima beans into a child's mouth, but only a miracle can keep him from spitting them out and shoving them under his plate.

  4. A toddler who won't eat anything from the table will eat the same food after it has been dropped on the floor.

  5. Sometimes when a child insists, "If I eat that, I'll throw up!" she isn't being overdramatic. Pay particular attention when tomato juice is involved.

Although getting your children to eat may seem like a hopeless situation, it really isn't. If kids get hungry enough, they'll eat. (Just keep the dog biscuits out of reach. Trust me on this one.) Not only that, mothers of picky eaters can take comfort in the fact that there is ultimate justice in the world. Many of our pickiest eaters grow up to beget pickies of their own, and then they're the ones faced with a child who refuses to eat what's served.

If you doubt that, just ask your mom.

Nancy Kennedy is the mother of two daughters and author of several books, including Honey, They're Playing Our Song and Help! I'm Being Intimidated by the Proverbs 31 Woman! (both published by Multnomah). She and her family live in Inverness, Florida.

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