The smallest changes

My post about my son’s sweets-free birthday party yielded a lot of questions. I’ll field them in this and future posts. If you haven’t yet, or if you need a refresher, please see my disclaimer post before proceeding.

Before I was a parent, I was sure that “he only eats mac and cheese and chicken nuggets” was avoidable.

Now that I am a parent, I can say that the pickiness may or may not be avoidable (I didn’t avoid it, but I’m not sure that means it’s impossible), but the target food is not a given.

This is what we did.

First, as a little shout-out, baby-led weaning is amazing and I highly recommend it for so so many reasons. Maybe I’ll write a post about it one day.

Anyway, once the boy started eating solid food, he ate lots and lots of produce: apple, avocado, banana, sweet potato, watermelon. For a while, he would request onions (pronounced “om-yoms”) (for the record, they were fried onions, not raw). He’d eat beans. (He loved plain chickpeas for a long time.) Hummus. Occasionally cheese. Plain, full-fat yogurt. We offered very few processed carbs—no cookies, crackers, bread. Occasional noodles. Rarely cereal. He was almost 18 months before he had anything sweetened.

As he became able to eat more things, more veggies and fruits were part of the rotation, and we added nuts.

When he wanted a snack, he’d ask for a clementine or grapes or cherry tomatoes.

When he started preschool, they had two snack times during the day, and snacks were provided. They often had fruit or sometimes string cheese. They also had graham crackers, animal crackers, granola bars, Go-Gurt.

We had no food changes at home.

Within the first three months of school, he stopped asking for fruit at home. Instead, he asked for crackers or cookies (which were not available). When we went shopping, he asked for pink yogurt.

So we started packing snacks. He would take fruit or applesauce. He rarely complained. He ate his snacks. And his eating at home returned to normal.

That one small change—having processed carb snacks a few days a week at school—derailed his eating habits.

Because processed carbs are delicious.

He’s seven now and will still eat fruit voraciously. Grapes, strawberries, blueberries are often his favorites. He takes an apple or some clementines for school snack every day. We make popsicles with a banana base and some other added fruit(s), and he’ll eat them for breakfast, for snacks, for dessert. (He understands why in this context, popsicles are OK to eat for breakfast.)

Veggies he does pretty well with, though not as well as when he was younger. He likes peas, carrots, tomatoes, chard, broccoli sometimes, onions in certain contexts, cabbage sometimes, green beans but only in Ethiopian food (kids are weird). He has a salad most nights with dinner with balsamic dressing.

We’ll see where it goes, but we know that too much processed food yields desire for more processed food, and we keep it to a minimum. It’s not banned. It’s not even labeled as negative. It’s just not food we keep in the house, typically, so it’s not what we eat on a regular basis. We have conversations about why.

Also, he helps prepare food (which makes him more inclined to at least try it). He’s involved in meal planning and food shopping. We have a garden that he helps tend. All of these things contribute to his appreciation of fruits and veggies.

And on we go.

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