“I am not your servant,” my 6-year-old daughter declared, hands on hips, eyebrows arched. I’d just asked her to move her pile of Eloise books from the kitchen table into her bedroom. After issuing a threat and securing her compliance, I calmed myself by remembering that she’d learned that phrase from me. It’s one of my favorites, so of course the children use it against me all the time.
It just sounds so much more self-righteous coming from me than from a 3-and-a-half-foot pixie.
It doesn’t matter that there are no actual servants at our house. For some reason, the children expect to be served. I’m not sure where they got this. Maybe from my mother, who has lost her mind and turned into a silver fox of a handmaiden: “Can I get you anything, sweetie? You had enough to eat?” Or maybe it’s a leftover from their infant days, when they depended on me for every little thing. Could it be the house elves in Harry Potter?
Whatever it is, my children’s tendency to turn into Lord and Lady Fauntleroy is so strong that I have harnessed it to my—and ultimately their—advantage.
I act like a servant when, and only when, it comes to snacks.
I’ve been dealing with picky eating for seven years, ever since my son’s metamorphosis from toddler gourmand to curmudgeon who’d rather go to bed hungry than eat a ham sandwich. I started with a rare parenting book whose authors appreciated the complexity of picky eating (Just Take a Bite by Lori Ernsperger and Tania Stegen-Hanson), and I made sure the kids were on a good multivitamin. Both my kids may be svelte, but they maintain their height and weight on growth charts.
Because I won’t force-feed anyone, the kids have ended up on a healthy but somewhat limited diet. They may see a variety of healthy foods on their plates, but they don’t have to eat them. This has left me with no choice but to resort to stealth, especially in the case of fruits, vegetables and protein.
1. Hors D’Oeuvres, Not Snacks
Instead of having the kids serve themselves Goldfish or a granola bar, I provide a generous tray of cut-up fruit, cheeses, whole grain crackers and crudités, all ready to pop into the mouth. This is especially effective if left around when they’re distracted, such as at screen time.
If I put fruit in a bagged lunch, I peel and chop it first. Ditto for the fruit on the hors d’oeuvres platter. This week my kids are eating cherries, and I’ve pitted them with a little gizmo and pulled off the stems. They go down faster than Goldfish crackers.
3. Anticipate Needs
My children’s hungriest times are just after waking in the morning and just after school. I leave healthy snacks around at these times, as I prepare the main snack or meal. But I’m casual about it, for God’s sake.
I pack healthy snacks when we’re on the road, so the kids won’t be tempted to snack at a gas station or dig something horrible out of the crack between their seats. If they’re starving and the only option is applesauce or a baggie of almonds, they just might go for it.
5. Above and Beyond
If my kids really want a specific snack or I’m serving a treat, I also provide one of my healthy, chopped, pitted options.
Hanging around our house at snack time the other day, my mother exclaimed, “My God, Lynn, what’s happened to you?” I was lovingly arranging our hors d’oeuvres platter while allowing rare iPad time.
“Well, what did you do for snacks when I was little?” I asked.
“We didn’t have snacks in the ’70s,” she said.
Exactly. When I was a child, snacks were a warm can of Tab and a smashed Twinkie pilfered from the cabinet. They were a source of shame. Modern parents learned something from those dark days of calorie counting. We know kids will eat what tastes good and is close at hand. So instead of telling them what they can’t have, we give them what’s good for them.