You know how sometimes you find a kindred spirit when you least expect it? Found one this morning: Xanthe Clay, who writes for the UK’s Daily Telegraph. I stumbled across this article she wrote, Encouraging Children to Eat Vegetables, via Twitter, about kids and vegetables, and — as someone who has done a fair amount of thinking about neophobia, aka picky eating — I really love it.
Declaring herself “mother from hell, at least when it comes to mealtime,” Xanthe (I’m sorry; I must use her first name here, because her first name is Xanthe), an accomplished food writer, admits that at least one of her own children is a picky eater, so much so that she once had him checked for signs of scurvy.
But Xanthe (again! the name!) goes beyond mere sighing. Because picky-eating, in her opinion, is rude.
If there are guests, it’s tiresome for the host, who may feel obliged to rush around finding an alternative. It’s also unforgivably critical of their cooking skills. Turning up their noses to lovingly cooked food at home is rude. That matters too. So I’ve got tough. The children are not allowed to say they don’t like anything, vegetables especially, until they have eaten a mouthful on 24 separate occasions.
Twenty-four separate occasions, y’all! Xanthe is tough! But I kind of like it.
One, because any time my own children declare me meanest Mommy in the world, I need not resort to fruitless discussions of mothers who burn their children with cigarettes (“you don’t even SMOKE, Mommy.”) I can simply hand them this article, and reply, “well, at least I’m not alone.”
I like her approach: encourage manners, serve vegetables first, and make mealtimes routine and predictable. I take issue with just one aspect of what she says: I’m not down with the one-mouthful-is-a-must philosophy. I’m not down with it, because research seems clear that forcing children to eat a food seems to backfire. But more importantly, I have discovered the hard way that when children swallow a mouthful of food they don’t want to swallow, it sometimes ends up regurgitated all over the table. (for the record, a parent makes that mistake precisely once).
Xanthe, you inspire me to press on. And we do: we serve vegetables, we remove vegetables from the table. We serve, we remove. We serve, we remove. Then sometimes we serve, and we don’t have to remove. The serve-and-not-remove is more common with my older daughter. My younger one? Well, you never quite know with that one. But vegetables: yes. And manners: yes. Vegetables and manners, yes, yes, yes.