By Melissa Face
I read the best meme the other day. “Motherhood means I’m willing to die for you, but don’t ask me to make you dinner,” it said.
I felt that deep in my core.
Want me to rub your back for an hour because you were up coughing last night?
Need to sit in my lap and watch the same animal video over and over until my phone battery dies?
You got it.
Want me to wear matching JoJo Siwa bows with you when we go out for ice cream?
I’m your girl.
I’m up for most of the challenges of motherhood, but mealtime is the one event that makes me want to throw up that white flag and surrender to the unreasonable culinary requests of my children.
Having a child with a nut allergy already presented a big challenge. Evan can’t have anything that contains tree nuts or is manufactured in a facility where they are processed. Then, this same child decided to become a vegetarian about a year ago, so he began obtaining his protein from eggs, beans, and peanut butter.
Our weekly dinners of grilled chicken and fish morphed into black bean burgers and vegetarian nuggets. My husband and I have adjusted well to this switch, though; veggie burgers are pretty tasty.
While the three of us are often on the same page of the dinner menu, there’s one more family member to consider: six-year-old Delaney. She has no true allergies or dietary restrictions, yet she swears off a new food every week.
“Oh no. I don’t eat green beans anymore,” she said the other day.
Green beans. Delaney has eaten green beans since I spooned them out of Gerber jars. But now, five years later, they simply don’t suit her.
Then there’s the issue with pasta.
“Remember the old days when I used to eat red sauce on my pasta?” Delaney smiled up at her dad as he prepared a special butter sauce just for her.
“That was last week, Delaney. Last week you ate red sauce on your pasta,” he responded.
How quickly things change around here, especially with Delaney. She is always putting a kink in the meal plan.
Throughout the holiday season, her interest in unicorns mushroomed into a full-fledged obsession. She would only wear unicorn clothing, and she would only eat what she described as “unicorn food.”
“What do you want for breakfast?” I asked her one day during winter break.
“What does that even mean, Delaney?”
“It’s easy! Something sparkly or rainbow!”
Rainbow? What can I make with rainbows that my child will eat? Sprinkles? They are pure sugar. How about rainbow sprinkles mixed into Greek yogurt? That’s a semi-nutritious breakfast option.
Delaney ate her unicorn yogurt in record time, and it really wasn’t the worst meal she’s ever had. But we needed to figure out another way to meet the unicorn requirement and get our daughter to eat something healthy.
My husband had a brilliant plan. He arranged all of Delaney’s favorite fruits and vegetables in a rainbow display on her plate. She had rows of beets, corn, carrots, grapes, and avocado. It was gorgeous.
But she wouldn’t eat it. She turned her nose up at it and refused to take a bite.
“The things are touching,” she complained. “All of the foods are touching!”
I realize that we should be stricter with her at times, perhaps make her sit at the table until she has eaten something substantial, or limit her options at meal times. But we have tried these tactics. I have sat at the table with Delaney for over an hour before. My husband has, too. I have watched her gag on food we insisted she try, and I’ve lost sleep because she was willing to go to bed without dinner one night when we didn’t cater to her picky ways. My child went to bed hungry, and I felt awful.
Dinner time, what should be a pleasant opportunity for catching up and discussing our days, is more of a battle of wills in my house. It’s an exercise of mental strength and stamina, a guessing game of “what is my child going to eat tonight?”, a vicious cycle of heating up food and allowing it to cool off again. And again. And again.
Early in parenthood, I swore I would never let my children dictate our dinner menu. We wouldn’t allow that. I imagined smiling, grateful children who happily tried the food that we placed in front of them. But I’m starting to think that children who are agreeable at meal times are mythical creatures. They are the real unicorns.