My 8 year old can’t be fooled. He’s too old now and jaded to fall for bribery and other tricks I’ve attempted over the years to get a vegetable down his throat. Most recently at Aidan’s well check-up, when his wonderful pediatrician tried again to have a serious talk with him about eating more produce, she suggested the idea of earning a trip to a Broadway show (something I’ve promised Aidan down the line) in trade of trying 50 new good-for-you foods. His response to her: “Nope, that’s not going to happen.” Yep, my strong-willed child is one step ahead of all of us.
As a mother, I’m constantly being taught that things can’t be forced. And, especially with regard to resolute children, things have to happen on their terms. I was reminded of both of these lessons the other day, when Aidan and I stumbled upon a great way to play around with food quite by accident.
While Aidan was getting a fork for his lunch, he pulled out a pair of bright pink flamingo kiddie chopsticks. “Hey, what are these?” he asked. I had completely forgotten about them! I’m not a very forgetful person at all, but it has been a busy few weeks and they totally slipped my mind. I had purchased them at World Market a month earlier in perhaps one last mom-of-big-kid optimistic attempt to encourage Aidan to explore healthy food in a fun way.
“Oh, yeah…I forgot about them,” I said, trying to think of something enthusiastic to say about the chopsticks without letting Aidan see my true motivation. Instead I continued plainly, “I thought you’d like to use them.”
Rather than calling me out on my newest trick to encourage good eating, Aidan appreciated the gift simply. “Thanks!” he said genuinely. He was having leftover pepperoni pizza, and instead of talking about how great the chopsticks would be for raspberries or peas, I just sat back and enjoyed watching Aidan successfully and sloppily get the cheesy pizza pieces into his mouth. He asked if he could try picking up marshmallows and chocolate chips with the chopsticks for dessert, and unlike my typical reflex to ask him to eat some fruit before a sweet, I let him. And together, we just had fun playing with the chopsticks.
Quite organically, Aidan and I started thinking of “chopstick dares” and soon, the “Chopstick Challenge” was born. Aidan decided on a few texture-based dares and I was able to throw a few of my ideas in too. The challenge was to see how many items on the list you could successfully pick up and eat using the chopsticks, such as "something slippery" and "something teeny." Unlike past attempts, there was no final reward or prize for eating healthier items – it was suddenly just all about the process.
Any strong-willed child loves a good challenge, and Aidan was too distracted by his determination to realize that he was actually eating some healthy things that fit the Chopstick Challenge categories (he actually ate pieces of salad – that’s huge!) But more importantly, I learned to relax a little and put my faith in spontaneity and child-led exploration.
If you try the Chopstick Challenge yourself, be sure to allow your kids to participate in creating the categories too. Their creativity and innovation in seeing what they can eat using just the sticks will lead the way to not only entertainment but growth for everyone. But most importantly, just have fun!