This story is somewhat of a flash from the past about dinner-time battles with my daughter Ella, originally written about 7 years ago, that I’m reliving now with my son, Jimmy, whose finicky tastes are bringing back the Sheriff for another round. And after all these years holding a grudge against Dr. Suess, I finally realize that all that he ever wanted to do was give me the poetic prowess and strength to keep fighting the good fight with my picky eaters.
It’s like straight out of a Dr. Seuss book… “I could not, would not Sam-I-Am, I do not like…” ham, meatballs, roasted chicken, or pretty much anything that once came from or had a heartbeat. Mealtime has been a struggle since my Ella was a baby spitting microscopic pieces of meat chunks out of the semi-pureed baby food jars. Although she has always loved her eggs and has eaten them green for St. Patty’s Day, she was a self-proclaimed vegetarian at the wise age of two (2). Ella, being an early talker and always having a lot to say, just told us one day that she was a vegetarian and we didn’t even know where she got the term as we certainly never brought it to her attention. We would certainly never utter that shameful word in our half-Italian household! What child with red, white, and green blood coursing through her veins refuses meatballs, pepperoni and all the yum-alicious porkiness that is typical of a decent Sunday family dinner? It must have been that damn book with something like 22 pages of green eggs and ham bad-mouthing and a couple paragraphs at the end where the Grinch-like character (or Who, whatever the creature is) finally gives in to eating it. The damage was already done to her sense of taste before page 23 and I’ve been cursing Dr. Seuss ever since.
Aside from finicky tastes, Ella has always been very self-aware. She calls it like she sees it, even going as far as telling a preschool teacher from a different classroom that she was lazy and didn’t like her. In many ways Ella’s like her dad who often proclaims, “I know what I like and I like what I like” and for Ella, this applies to both people and food alike. So feeling beaten up as most parents do at the dinner hour, I gave up the battle when she was a toddler and started making individual meals catering to her tastes (parenting mistake numero uno). Knowing what I know now about a healthy diet, I don’t even care that she eats meat anymore as long as she has a varied meal with the right combination of nutritional sources. But she’s 9 years old now, half-way to college, and enough’s enough! I’ve got to expand her culinary horizons before it’s too late so let the battles begin again. As my husband likes to say about me, there’s a new sheriff in town and I’m ready to square off in a food-fight of epic proportion.
Ella thankfully likes her veggies so, wanting to take baby steps, I thought I’d try out some homemade vegetable noodle soup on her one night (not gonna force the meat). While she’s used to steamed and frozen vegetables, she’s not used to said veggies swimming in liquid so I was prepared for some serious whining. As I suspected, she took a couple spoonfuls, pretended to gag and refused to eat anymore. To add insult to injury, she said she’d rather have Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup—which has chicken in it!! Chicken! This said from my small but mighty vegetarian!!!! Well, the sheriff was starting to go down in this soup throw-down as it was obvious the lil’ vermin had both pistols cocked and ready to go. So with all the bad-ass-ness I could muster, I warned her that while it was her decision to eat or not, her pleas for a bowl of cereal would go unmet if she refused to have at least a few spoonfuls of soup. And refuse, beg and plead she did– and on and on went the tantrum until finally, I asked her to go to her room to finish her freak-out session behind closed doors.
After a while, I softened up a bit (in other words, I felt defeated and was ready to give in and offer cereal just to get something in her belly) and went to check on her. I found her sulking in bed but she had changed her clothes and was wearing an all-black outfit. When I asked her why she changed she said, “Because black symbolizes my loss of freedom to eat what I like”. I had to laugh at Ella’s lightning fast Goth transformation and strong-willed defiance against my denial of her dietary rights. Thankfully, my laughter broke the tension, we shared a hug and I coaxed her back to the dinner table. I decided to give one more try at getting her to eat more soup before I would surrender to Cheerios and surprisingly, she finished the bowl and said it actually wasn’t that bad! Victory at last, sweet last.
I’m so proud of Ella because since that night, we’ve had other small successes at dinner and she is trying new foods with less and less resistance. We still battle over the menu at times but I can proudly boast, “Take that Dr. Seuss. This sheriff is not going down without a good fight! Add that to page 23 you eggs and ham basher. This kitchen’s closed”.
So here I am again, years later still fighting food battles but this time with little Jimmy, age 7. (Note: Ella will be 16 on September 19th and has come a long way! She’ still a carbo queen and could subsist on buttered pasta and a gallon of peach green tea lemonade from Dutch Bros but my girl tries just about everything I make, even if it’s a few spoonfuls, which is all any mom could ever ask for. And today, holy hallelueiah, she packed HUMMUS in her lunch of all things! Can I please get a high five for that?! Oh, how far has she come!). But now Jimmy’s doing the whining and calling me an ‘organic mom’ like it’s the worst put-down in the history of put-downs and he doesn’t know what organic even means! He just thinks it means I spend too much time at Trader Joe’s and Sprouts). And he resists eating what I make for dinner and instead begs for a bowl of cereal. But Ella trained me well all those years ago, so I’m fixin’ to tussle and won’t give in to the M.A.D-ness (Modern American Diet summary here). So bring it little boy- I’ve been down this road before, and I’m bigger and stronger than you. And looking back over the years, I have to say I don’t know why I was so angry with Dr. Suess. Wasn’t his book a message of hope after all? After all his bitching and moaning, the Who/Grinch-guy eventually ate and liked the eggs and ham in the end so it’s really a story of redemption and perseverance and a big, fat I-Told-You-So us parents can victoriously shout to our kids when we win even the smallest of culinary battles. I guess I was just an over-emotional, over-worked mom just plain tired of making that repetitive thing called ‘dinner’ that comes with my responsibility to nourish my many, tiny people night after night with no appreciation. I suppose I had to take it out on someone. Now, I feel bad I was so hard on Dr. Suess because he actually got me and felt my pain all this time. Sorry man.
Compared to Ella’s younger years and much to my family’s chagrin, our pantry looks a whole heck of a lot different. I don’t buy much meat anymore and instead focus on other protein sources, vegetables and whole grains. There’s no processed, high sodium, pink-orange-cubed chicken-ish, gelatinous noodle Campbell’s soup going into the grocery cart anymore. Instead, there’s quinoa, trail mix, all natural apple sauce, and the occasional goldfish and oreos (just because I don’t want to hear them complain that all the snacks I buy suck and I’m too healthy). There’s (usually) plenty of fruit in the fridge- because we usually run out mid-week because they eat all the flippin’ time and I can’t keep fruit in the house, especially in the summer WHEN ALL THEY DO IS EAT ALL DAY LONG. But it’s fruit so I will stop yelling in all caps, because it’s good for them and there’s really no need to yell about fruit. I’m just thankful they are back in school so I will have a blueberry or two for myself now, really. Rant over.
But bottom line, the more things change, the more things stay the same. Ella’s still a fiercely, funny, independent spirit; she’s extremely bright and can justify most positions with quick wit and convincing rationale (which makes it challenging to be her parent now but will work in our favor when she’s the lawyer in our family one day); she’s still a vegetarian but MUCH LESS finicky; still calls it like she sees it although she is much better at the fine art of self-control and tactful communication (in other words, biting her tongue because we’ve well passed the point where we can get away with calling teachers lazy! Lord help her, I mean me.). And the dinner time struggle will always be real for all parents in the universe forever and ever. But even though it’s my lot in life, and I’ve been down this road before, I won’t throw in the towel with little Jimmy. So, please, wish me luck in this round. Do you think that sweet potato tacos with kale, black beans and lime cilantro sauce might be a bit too much for me to ask him to eat tonight? Dr. Suess, do you still have my back on this? I need you big time tonight.
A few food facts that make you go hmmm and some shout outs to a few TJ’s family favorites:
~Compare this Campbells Chicken Noodle Soup nutrition label to using 1 cup of TJ’s Organic Low Sodium Chicken broth to making homemade chicken noodle soup for your family! Look at the sodium and ingredient list differences! And all you need to do is throw in the real chicken you have left over from last night’s dinner, some frozen veg, noodles, and your own seasonings! If you’re a show-off, go ahead and simmer the chicken bones leftover from your Sunday supper for hours upon hours for the real-deal soup base but if you’re like me, boxed broth is the way to go!
~Kids love crunchy snacks that stain their fingers orange and taste finger lickin’ good. Compare this TJ’s Baked Crunchies nutrition label to that of the more commercialized, highly processed, feline branded product. Way too many non-food ingredients ending in “ate” that we don’t want to ate, I mean “eat”. These are a family staple for us.
~TJs Popcorn Kernels makes the best popcorn ever on the stove top or if you’re so fancy, in your electric Hello Kitty popcorn popping machine. The key to the best batch of popcorn: use coconut oil in place of other oils for popping because coconut oil, being mainly a saturated fat, is able to withstand higher temperatures than other oils, making it one of the best oils for cooking. After popping, add salt and drizzle with butter (and I promise your popcorn will not taste like a pina colada from the coconut oil). Kids love this stuff!