Maybe your kids’ eating habits are a little like mine. They started out eating just about anything from hummus to sushi and just about every vegetable in the garden, but then slowly, over the span of a few years, they eliminated dozens of foods that they once devoured.
"My kids are 3 and 4 and they’ll eat whatever I put in front of them. As long as it’s in noodle form," says Milwaukee mom Beth Trestler.
We are now to the point where I am not exactly sure what my sons eat. Grapes? Macaroni? Maybe a frozen waffle? Recently, I took them to the grocery store -- I usually shop alone -- and told them to point at items that looked tasty to them. After shaking his head in distaste at Cheerios and string cheese and raisins and pizza rolls -- yes, even PIZZA ROLLS -- my son grudgingly pointed at a box of granola bars mixed with scary-looking neon "rainbow" chips and said, "I guess I’ll eat those."
(By the way, if you have very young children that eat "everything" don’t jinx yourself -- or make other moms want to wash your mouth out -- and brag about it. The pickiness is swift and brutal and you might find yourself with over-night noodle-only eaters someday, too.)
Let me bathe in mom guilt for a moment and admit that a portion of their pickiness is my fault. In my defense, I was vehemently opposed to making them eat foods they didn’t like. My mother grew up being forced to eat peas until she threw up all over her brand new dress. I was verbally rewarded anytime I ate all of my food and then inducted into the "Clean Plate Club."
I didn’t want my kids to experience either of these scenarios, so even though I make them try a bite of this or that just to make sure they don’t like it -- or still don’t like it -- I basically gave into their pickiness. I started making meals for myself and meals for them. I totally caved.
But I know mothers who didn’t completely give in. Mothers who somehow struck a balance. I must have missed this online article in the 1,101 I used to read every month, but Erin Locke seems to have wrote the book on doing it right.
"I make a healthy dinner every night. My kids have two choices: they eat it or they don’t," says Locke.
Locke says her kids still complain about not liking certain foods, but she stays firm, and is often surprised how, about half the time, they give in and reluctantly eat what she prepared. Other times, they might not touch their food, in which case she will let them have a peanut butter sandwich, but nothing else.
"My mother used to say this, and now I say it, too. I’m not a short order cook," she says.
Allowing kids one other option is a middle-road strategy to fighting the pickies. How many nights in a row can they actually eat a peanut butter sandwich? (Don’t answer that.) Eventually, they are going to tire of it, right? I mean, at least by the time they’re 15. One would hope, anyway.
My kids pediatrician once reminded me that no kid -- outside of cases of poverty or neglect -- has starved to death. He said they have "eating days" and "non-eating days" and I should try to look at my kids’ caloric intake on a weekly basis rather than day by day. He also said that drinking milk and finding at least a couple of vegetables they will eat -- even nibble at -- go a long way in a little body. This brings me some comfort.
Taking hyper picky kids to restaurants is another issue. I rarely take them anywhere because it’s a waste of money. Unless it’s Noodles & Co., they basically pick at their food like they do when they’re at home. Either the quesadilla has too much cheese or -- God forbid -- has "green flecks" in it.
Otherwise, the burger has too much ketchup or the french fries have skin on them. (Skin of any kind, for the record, is equally as offensive as green flecks. Maybe even worse.) My kid even complained recently that his chicken was too wiggly.
I give up.
Recently, a few friends suggested via Facebook that we eat in diners with massive menus and all-day breakfasts. This works for Shorewood mom Liz Sharp.
"My guy enjoys truck stops and diner-type places," says Sharp. "There’s great people watching, good food and lots of variety."
We tried this on a recent Sunday afternoon at Ma Fischer’s, 2214 N. Farwell Ave. The menu is packed with food options, from meals they would never eat -- like liver and onions and meatloaf -- to foods like chicken noodle soup and tuna fish that actually have a fighting chance to meet their tiny digestive tracts.
They wind up ordering a strange combination of lunch and breakfast foods: pancakes and french fries and a bowl of soup, but they eat most of it.
I realize that part of their pickiness is not because they don’t like the taste of foods, but because they want to exercise some control over their very-controlled life. I get it. And the big menu at the diner allows them to pick and choose what they want to eat. It’s affordable and although not wildly healthy, not terrible, either.
But there’s one problem with the diner: most don’t have a liquor license. Especially during dinner and after a long day of whining about green flecks and such, mommy needs a drink.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.