The New Normal involves a snack of yogurt and either pear chips or Fat-Free Fig Newmans (as in Paul, people, not Newtons as in Isaac.) If you don’t find this encouragingly mind-boggling, then I don’t know if your memory serves you right. Allow me to refresh: J used to NOT eat anything that had fruit in it…unless it was Froot and the word Loops followed closely in its heels. Now, just like that, J actually ponders whether he wants to put home-made pear chips or Fig Newmans in his snack box.
Also on the rotation: veggie chips. Specifically, chips made from root vegetables and seasoned quite scrumptiously with herbs and sea salt. They are not only colorful, but also very tasty and, surprise!, J actually likes them. There is ONE can of Pringles in this house, and it’s almost gone, and J will accept either as a snack. J also has discovered the joys of hummus on whole grain crackers. Furthermore, he really hasn’t had cheddar cheese in weeks, and doesn’t even seem to miss it.
So…what HAS happened? Has J learned to eat better, or have WE learned to feed him fearlessly? Maybe it’s a little bit of both. Maybe he has learned that not everything that looks healthy is yucky, and maybe we have learned that not everything that IS healthy will be off-putting to our son, he of the formerly-exceedingly-narrow-taste-in-food.
The strangest thing that has happened is that our attitude to this whole new way of eating (for J and for everyone else in the household) is quite relaxed. For once, as we approach something that is for J’s good and not necessarily his cup of tea, we are not agonizing over the process and the details. The moment I caught myself about to do just that, I actually paused, took a deep breath and said “it’s just food…he’s been eating food all his life…this is just new food…if you are calm, he’ll be cool with the whole thing.” Instead of trying to sneak healthy things into his meals (which is what I had planned on doing,) I’ve boldly grabbed handfuls of spinach, cupfuls of wheat germ, bags of “good” chips, packages of quinoa, cups of yogurt and actual fruit that J can see and touch and experience. On Tuesday morning, J was instrumental in making pear chips; not only did he get the fruit for me from the basket, but he also helped slice, sprinkle with lemon juice and set up the trays on the dehydrator. In the evening, when it was time to store the chips, he happily picked one here and there, munching away while we worked.
That we are not going over-the-top with our praise is important. We want J to learn to make the right food choices, not to eat right to get praise. As with reinforcing learning to choose how to react to anxiety (when this is possible, because we know it isn’t ALWAYS a matter of choice,) we want J to know we support him through the process and that we’ll go back to Square One with him as many times as he needs to re-learn how to choose what’s best for his health.
Yes, you read right: going back to Square One is totally OK with us. J’s entire life has been a constant back and forth from different advanced points on the game board back to Square One, and this process is no different. The thing is that this is REALLY how one learns; it’s not just the “oh, taro root chips are awesome and I will never, ever, ever want any other type of chip.” It’s the “I ate these pepperoni pizza-flavored chips and I LIKE them, but they don’t taste REAL…the root vegetable chips in the other bag, the ones with herbs and sea salt…I like those and…they taste really good…I don’t feel yucky when I’m done eating them…I think next time I’ll have some of those instead” that actually signifies learning. If we don’t get J the chips he asks for and push only the ones that are good for him, he won’t learn to choose…he’ll learn that we are pushing healthy things that make the “other” chips even more appealing.
This would probably work faster if we didn’t let J in on what’s going on, but the thing is that we want him to assume some of the responsibility involved in the process of re-learning food. In fact, our entire household is re-learning food, and it’s quite a joy to see that J gets enthused when I make couscous for him rather than pasta, and that he is willing to taste things we offer him with little to no hesitation involved. I remember the time I offered J a wedge from a tangerine and, after screaming as if I’d just offered a limb torn off a small child for him to taste, stuck his tongue out and barely licked it before making a face that said “that is the grossest thing I’ve ever experienced.” Now, if I offer him something that he would have previously eyed with a certain degree of suspicion, he is game to try it, even if he ends up rejecting it…
Tonight the menu calls for fish and chips…we will be having baked flounder and sweet potato fries along with a vegetable side dish…something lusciously green, I believe. It’s all part of this new initiative, and we’re all happily falling in line with J who, as he has often done in the past, seems quite pleased with the opportunity to prove to us all that we are cotton-headed ninnymugginses who don’t trust him as much as he rightfully deserves.
It works for us…surprises of this sort are good; the kind condescending looks that we get from him are not only funny but also heartwarming. Our kid, the one who is a walking cypher, likes the air of mystery he conveys, and the fact that he can “show” us, blow our expectations out of the water…
Yes, it’s quite nice this being the “silly parent” whose son rolls his eyes impatiently and sigh as if to say “oh, ye of little faith. Don’t you know by now that I totally rock????”