My oldest child used to be a picky eater. No allergies or proud political choices here; just a kid who had set ideas on what food should look like.
Bread? Yes. Toast? Nope. Plain rice? Check! Peas touched it? Fugeddaboutit. He was a pint-sized dictator and he struck at my (and many parents') weakest link.
When you feel like your one job is to keep the kid alive, the picky eater can feel like new mom kryptonite.
Travelling with him only complicated things.
At restaurants around the globe, I've grilled the waiter on the exact colour of their macaroni and cheese ("it's not orange enough") and asked for intimate details on their strawberry jam selection ("there are bits in it").
I've grabbed plates before they landed on our table to methodically draw tiny moats between all food items (how dare they try to touch) and scraped hot dogs free of any tell-tale sign of ketchup. All of this only to have the little king take a bite or two and decide it wasn't right. It was exhausting.
This war of wills needed a battle plan. My husband and I formed an alliance, mapped out a plan of attack and delivered our coup systematically over the course of about a year. The result? A kid who loves lobster, asks to go for dim sum and wonders if we can get some extra sauces for his steak. He's expensive but he eats.
A few of the weapons in our arsenal:
1. Subterfuge: Instead of meals doled out separately at the stove, we introduced buffet-style tables at home where we could hide a few new things in and amongst the old ones. We tried games where you ate a colour (macaroni and cheese is fine but it will mean you eat carrots, too) and even played the alphabet vegetable game where each night we'd try a veg starting with a different letter (warning: things got tricky after the first few).
2. Put on your battle armour: We realized that sometimes the refusals to try new things had nothing to do with the food on the plate and everything to do with our hysterics and the heaping amounts of attention we'd offer every time a piece of broccoli was thwarted. Instead, we faked indifference at his twisted faces, mock gagging and bold pronouncements ("This is awful!") and held true to the rules. The kid was out for a reaction and we had none to give.
3. Irresistible temptation: He loved vacation but scoffed at new foods, so we tied the two together. "Would love to take you to (insert ridiculously fun kids place here) but pretty sure they put sauce on their chicken. If only I knew you'd take a bite …" we'd say batting our eyelashes innocently. He took the bait every time.
4. Make friends with the enemy: We also made sure to work introductions to new foods into our home routine and instituted the three bites rule. The time to explain ackee and salt fish isn't when you get to Jamaica. Download the menu to restaurants in your destination ahead of time so they have a chance to see what the options are and can go in armed. At home, the local Korean grill is a fun and vibrant way to introduce some new flavours in portions they can manage. And a fun, local cooking class is a pressure-free way to give them control over their meal's ingredients.
5. Decide if this is the battle you'll die for: Sure, you want them to have a developed palate but sometimes your kid really won't like something. Forced consumption won't change that. I can still remember spending a long, lonely morning at my parents' kitchen table with the gagging smell of a porridge bowl in front of me. There are going to be things your kid doesn't like; that's life. There's no point in ruining everyone's vacation over it. If it's beginning to drive you nuts, throw in the towel. Better you wave the white flag on the jam sandwich debate and save your energy for the next battle once you're home again.