When a health “nut” gives birth to the world’s pickiest eater

white rice in bowl

My 3-year-old's all-time favorite food

Last night, I took my kids out to the local Italian restaurant for dinner. My 3-year-old daughter pulled the bread basket in front of her and proceeded to eat slice after slice of white bread, licking the butter straight out of the little plastic packets. I looked around embarrassed, but I said nothing. Yes, I was horrified. Yes, I thought “do something”, but I offered her cucumbers from my salad “No!”; I offered her olives from my salad “No!”; I offered her some of my soup “No!” She proceeded to eat the bread before her dinner, macaroni and cheese arrived (which she ate a few bites of) and her french fries arrived (of which she ate half ). Lovely. Very nutritious and healthy meal, I was thinking in my mind as I paid the check. (My 6-year-old son ate some of my salad, a bit of soup, and ate the broccoli and mushroom pizzza…with some fries on the side.)

Why my daughter’s eating habits bother me so much: I’m one of those people that shun a cup of joe in favor of green tea (high in antioxidants), eat plenty of salmon (freshwater instead of potentially “toxic” farm raised) and skip tuna at all costs (too much mercury!), get plenty of greens (chockful of calcium and iron), and am sure to eat beans (high in fiber!). I skip fries at all costs (too greasy; all that trans fat!), limit cheese, particularly the gooey stuff found on kids’ mac and cheese, well, you get the picture. Yes, you could call me a crunchy foodie, a health “nut, a mom who has gone off the deep end (with eye rolling behind my back): say what you want, it’s probably all somewhat true.

So you can feel my horror then when my daughter’s definitive food preferences started: white rice, not “yucky” brown; white bread, not wheat; chicken nuggets; french fries; and pizza—sans anything that resembles a vegetable. It’s a battle I have not yet won (or even started to try to win) to try to get her to eat fruit or veggies; put any on her plate and she’ll run off screaming and crying “yucky, yucky, yucky!” And heaven forbid that anything that has a mixture of things touch anything else. She’ll cry that she wants a new plate. (“Is she getting enough nutrients?” I keep asking myself, terrified that her growth will stall [it hasn’t yet]) One morning, I added flax meal to the blueberry pancakes in an effort to get some nutrients into her body. She looked at the pancakes suspiciously, declaring she doesn’t like brown pancakes (okay, there were a bit brown, I admit, but I told her that’s because they were cooked…yes, I know it was a lie, but what else could I say?!). And then she refused to eat them, even when I drenched them in “seebup” as she calls syrup (and loves).

Then there was the time when she took a sip of her juice and asked me “You put water in my juice?” (which, of course, I did…as I was concerned she was drinking too much juice and getting too much sugar). I told her “ummm…no, I don’t think so” to which she replied “Yes, you did!” (I looked away skeepishly…)

But the bottom line is, I’m terrified of forcing her to eat anything she doesn’t want as I’ve read so many books and articles about mothers and daughters and food—and worried that she’ll end up with an eating disorder and in therapy (“Yeah, my mom used to force me to eat my vegetables” she’ll be telling a therapist, who will respond horrified “Well, you can’t blame her. She didn’t know any better.”)

So I let her eat what she wants … in hopes that she’ll just outgrow it and one day, ask for a plate of the salmon with sauteed kale. But I also realized the proverbial apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: just as she’s determined to eat what she wants, so too am I very “definitive” in my food preferences. (Yes, I am very aware of this!) And in terms of growth, she seems to be doing fine: from all the books and studies I’ve read, kids outgrow food jags (when they eat white rice and butter night after night, as she does) and eventually update their preferences, so I’m saying nothing.

If you have kids, send me any tricks that work for you (just keep in mind, sneaking healthy ingredients into foods like Jessica Seinfeld does will probably not work for my daughter; she can sniff out anything healthy or different looking!). But I’m willing to try some new ideas!

Valerie LatonaAbout Valerie Latona
As the former editor in chief of Shape (the active lifestyle magazine) for 5 years, I personally spoke with a lot of women (thousands over the years, from around the nation) and what I found is this: it's not easy to stay healthy, to get (and stay) fit, and to stem the weight gain tide (and even the tide of disease) that inevitably happens to us as we get older.