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I'm Bribing My Picky Eater

I'm Bribing My Picky Eater, and I'm OK With It


My 5-year-old son has always been an extremely picky eater, carbs, cheese, and meat being his favorite three food groups. Since I'm a big believer in the Netflix-and-chill brand of parenting (aka I don't think screen time makes me a bad parent, and I try not to freak about stressful but usually temporary kid behaviors), I've tried to take a wait-and-see approach with his eating.

Of course, I regularly present him with fresh produce, which I remind him is the best way to stay strong and healthy, but I never want to push so hard that the dinner table becomes a battlefield. I know who will lose that fight (um, me). Unfortunately, years later, I'm still waiting for him to learn to love broccoli or peas or berries or grapes like his big sister did with little effort. Not much progress has been made.

At his last checkup, his pediatrician tried to talk to him about varying his diet with more veggies. "Let's try some carrots when we get home," I added. "They're your sister's favorite." "If you try to feed me a carrot, I will burn that carrot and throw it back at you," he ever-so sweetly replied. "I see what you're dealing with," the doctor whispered to me.

You see, his dad and I have tried all the tricks. I ate a supervaried and healthy diet during pregnancy and while breastfeeding him for the first year of his life, hoping all those flavors would make a good eater out of him. We tried to introduce a wide range of fruits and vegetables as soon as he was ready for solid foods. I've added sneaky greens to hundreds of smoothies and have begged him to try "just a bite" of anything green or plant-based at many a meal. His hatred of healthy foods persists; in fact, it may be getting worse. He recently told us he'll never go to another restaurant that doesn't serve cheeseburgers.

Severe action needed to be taken, so I've resorted to the oldest, and sadly, most effective, trick in a parent's playbook: bribery. You eat an apple, you get a grilled cheese. You refuse? Well then, buddy, kitchen's closed. You eat a low-sugar yogurt after dinner, then you can have a cookie. You don't? No dessert for you. And guess what? It works. We've had some tantrum and tears, but he's also had more healthy foods in his belly. Sometimes, he even claims to have liked them.

With stage one a success, next I'm planning on taking my bribery plan to the next level — the green vegetable level, that is. I know it's not going to be easy. A rewards chart will have to be made. Toys will have to be purchased. Chuck E. Cheese's trips will have to be promised, but I'm determined to get him to eat a better diet through any course of action necessary. A boy cannot live on cheeseburgers alone.

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