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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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Sleep Is
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Chicago Review Press

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Let's Panic

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it. → 

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Speaking of bananas...

My son eats three foods. And this is making me insane.

Okay, maybe a little more than three. Here’s the list. Anyone who’s not a parent is signing off right abouuut… now, so without shame I can show the rest of you…

Everything My Son Will Ingest:

Milk and soy milk






American cheese

Macaroni and cheese

Ricotta cheese with pasta (but only certain shapes, and those rules change all the time)

Ravioli (sometimes, and you will never know when



Hummus (when he’s feeling generous)

All forms of pudding

Ice cream (duh), cookies (dar)

And that’s it! And don’t think I’m forgetting something. “Surely pizza!” you might say, but no, not pizza. “What about bagels? Every kid loves bagels!” Not my kid. Shut up.

I know this is a control thing. I know if I make a big deal, or any kind of deal, over this, it’s only going to get worse. I know many kids go through this. I know he’ll grow out of it, someday, maybe. But right now it makes me nuts at just about every meal. Okay, not breakfast. Breakfast is okay. And for lunch, I’ve just given up—I hand him his two containers of yogurt and I lie down on the ground until he calls for me. So really it’s just dinner.

Last year at Thanksgiving I broke down in tears because he wouldn’t consider a single food. Not a cranberry, not a single chunk of yam. Turkey? HAHAHAHAHA. At some point during his second year he fixated on macaroni and cheese as the Ideal Dinner, and this festive evening was no different. So my sister said, “Just give him macaroni and cheese every night. He’ll get sick of it.”


So here we are, over one year later. Every night, either Annie or Amy provides him with his dinner. (I have tried making it myself, but homemade macaroni and cheese was deemed the worst crime any mother could commit.) For a while he would enjoy peas or green beans with it, but no more will he even tolerate the sight of the green horrors. Such an atrocity cannot even remain on his plate.

And fruit! Oh, how he used to love fruit! Clementines and mango and bananas and apples and everything else! Kid liked fruit!

Even a few weeks ago, he would request apples and bananas. Request them! No more. These days, fruit is of the devil. Fruit will not be tolerated. Don’t even think about it, with the fruit. Except blueberries, which are currently $45 a pint. I’m not buying them. Or applesauce, and is that even really a fruit? When a fruit has been sauced, may we still call it fruit?

His pediatrician recommended that we cease commenting on his eating, but that we also make sure that we’re eating well in his presence. Somehow being around a variety of foods, even if he’s not ingesting them, will have an effect. But I do! I do that! She also stressed the importance of the family dinner, and we can’t seem to manage that because my husband for some reason can’t come home at a reasonable hour even when he leaves home early and that’s an entirely different topic that’s making me want to cry every day, but as for me, I eat so well! (At least as far as he knows).

He’ll watch me eating, he’ll cook with me, he’ll smell the food we’re cooking or I’m eating and he’ll exclaim over the wonderfulness of the smells, and like a fool I begin to hope. I let myself believe that maybe he’s interested, that maybe he wants to (I can barely write it) taste something.

And then my mouth starts to open and my brain is screaming SHUT UP SHUT UP DON’T EVEN SAY IT, but I do! Because I’m not smart! I say, “You want a taste?” and then it’s all over. I might as well have suggested that I whip out the kitchen shears and snip off his tongue. He clamps his mouth shut and presses both fists over his mouth and emits the worst sound ever made, a sound I can’t even describe except it makes me want to scoop out my eardrums with a grapefruit spoon rather than hear it for one moment longer.

Everything I read, everything I hear, is telling me to LEAVE HIM ALONE, but I have such a hard time LEAVING HIM ALONE. I don’t even worry that much about the nutritional challenges of his limited diet; we indulge often in smoothies that I pack with all manner of supplementary materials, and/or muffins that are crammed with vegetables and exotic grains. I know he’s getting what he needs. What kills me is that we can’t just eat the same damn dinner. That I can’t share with him food that I know he would like if he would even have a tiny bite. That going to a restaurant is a near impossibility. He won’t even eat the foods that are bad for him, that’s he’s supposed to like! Like French fries! Or grilled cheese! Or those nuggets composed of mashed chicken parts! Or ketchup THE KID WON’T EAT KETCHUP WHAT IS WRONG WITH HIM.

Tonight I failed, once again, to leave him alone. I dusted apple slices in cinnamon and sugar and ate them in front of him. He ignored me. I waved the sugary slices in front of his face and made yummy noises, but he continued to pointedly ignore me. Finally I said, “Apples with cinnamon! Mmm! Want a piece! Sure you do!” and he did the clamping-fists-indescribable sound. THEN he demanded “just plain cinnamon.” I refused him this. He immediately dissolved in tears. “Just plain cinnamon! Just plain cinnamon!” he repeated, approximately 57 times. Then I lost it. I explained, at a somewhat (aherm) elevated volume, that I was not going to simply hand him the cinnamon shaker, that if he was going to have a snack, which was by no means required, it was going to have some sort of nutritional aspect to it. Then he cried like I told him his teddy bear was going to Hell. Then he screamed repeatedly, anguished yawps of cinnamon deprivation. And I yelled, because I was trying to provide him with a model of how not to behave. He didn’t seem to get the message, because he yelled back.

Then! Because my mind was still not working right! I launched into a long and convoluted explanation of why he needs to eat nutritious foods, how such foods will make him big and strong. This didn’t work because he informed me that he doesn’t want to ever get big and/or strong. Then the rest of my brain died and I came up with the brilliant idea of a chart! We would make a chart, and every time Henry ate a new food we would put a star on the chart, and when the chart was full Henry would get a toy!

He liked this idea—focusing, as he was, on the word “toy.” We went to the refrigerator. “I’ll have a yogurt,” he said, “then we’ll get a toy.” I explained to him what “new” meant. There were more tears. I tried to take back the chart idea, but he couldn’t let it go. “We’ll have some milk,” he said, “And then, toy.” Once again I explained, no, ha ha, he already drinks milk. How about some black bean soup?

More tears. More attempting to take back the not-very-smart chart idea I had. I tried to get across to him that the chart would not result in instant gratification, that he would need to try 1,2,3,4,5! new foods. Then I said we should forget it and play and LOOK OVER THERE! IS THAT A SUPERHERO IN OUR CURTAINS?

He continued staring into the refrigerator. Finally he said, “I want to try black bean soup. I think it’s going to be,” he squinted, “a little good.”

I attempted to remain calm. I heated a few teaspoons of soup in the smallest bowl we own, and placed it before him. He took a tinier sip than I thought a human being could take, smiled, and said, “Okay, where’s my toy?”

P.S. Apparently this is International De-Lurking Week, and although I am not fond of the term "De-Lurking"--implying, as it does, that you are obligated to comment and if you don't you are creepy--I still like the idea of the Week and it's nice to hear from all of you. So! Say hello, why don't you?

Reader Comments (460)

Love your blog! And just wanted to say that, according to my mother, I ate only bologna and hot dogs for the better part of a year. And survived, although I'm still a bit veggie-phobic.

January 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLee Anne
Okay, I'm "coming out of the woodwork" (sounds so much less sinister than "delurking") to say THANKS for your candor and your way with words. And please, keep up the good work.

My four year old daughter will eat viturally anything. Loves broccoli. Inhales cabbage. Thinks black-eyed peas are candy. Prefers lettuce to cookies. I am not making this up, and I have NO IDEA how this happened.

Her younger sister, now 28 months, is another story. Food preferences changing every five minutes. We give our girls choices (do you want banana or cantelope for your fruit?) but she has learned to choose one, and the instant the plate hits the table, she intones: "I don't like that ...(pauses for dramatic effect)... any more."

My current strategy is to finish what I'm eating and then sit at the table reading (not allowed during meals) ignoring her profoundly while she sits, still strapped in, in her booster chair. Almost always, when there is no longer any point to be made, she will eat something that is on herplate. If she doesn't ... oh well.

Like your Henry, she eats breakfast well. Basically, I think, if a kid gets one good meal a day, they'll be okay.

I don't know if any of this will be helpful. But here it is, along with my thanks for your excellent blog.

January 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLuckyDad
Another lurker for you. Assuming you want any more by now. It goes on. Granddaughter is almost 10, cooks etc. Still won't eat anything much (unless it's cake/cookies/sweets.) Henry's list, believe it or not, is longer. Cheers.
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commentergrannyp
Delurking to say I love your writing and think you are brilliant, but I think your pediatrician has this one right. Henry's list of foods isn't actually that terrible. It's a cliche, but read Dr. Spock. He says, basically, to serve various combinations of the foods the kid does like, and then gradually throw in portions of foods that the kid used to eat, ***without commenting*** on them. Quote, "The best chance of having them come back to a reasonable balance is to let them feel that you do not care."

They started bashing Spock because he spoke out against the Vietnam war, but seriously, this guy still has everything right.
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJess
I don't know why I am even commenting seeing as you have 400 comments already and you probably won't even read this one, but here goes...

Here is what I did to make my kids eat a variety of things: I told them that it was MY food and that they couldn't have any of it. They would BEG me to try it. Sometimes they liked it and sometimes they didn't. But they tried it.
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterShelli
I'm 21 and still in college and light years away from being a mommy but I love your blog :)
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterdelurker
love your stories, and 400+ is the way to go
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAmaranta
love your blog! you crack me up all the time!no longer lurking.
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterniki
A perfect post! You couldn't have described my son any better, But I'm beginning to think it is any and all 3.5 year olds! Of course, Tide has a much smaller food list to choose from, like these horrible pressed frozen potato smiley faces and his chicken. (luckily the chicken does not need to be the processed frozen things, he actully lets me make him some real chicken) That's it.

Keep writing these fantastic posts! I love to laugh!
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda
De-lurking because, you know, I didn't want you to feel badly about having only 408 comments. #409, baby! Yeah!

I adore your blog.
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer
Wow, I feel you on the whole picky eating issue.

It IS a phase, thank God. Actually, it's lots of phases, spread over the preschool years. Mine is currently in the "french fries only" phase.

The upside is, now at least I'm eating better. This business of modeling of how reasonable people eat actually makes me eat like a reasonable person. Didn't think that was possible.

January 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermox
Since it's de-lurking week, and I certainly don't want to be considered creepy . . .

I only found your site about three weeks ago but I've enjoyed reading your work. My daughter (a little over two) is starting the food power-play thing, and sometimes I think she just lives on air. I'm trying not to think about it too much, but it's almost like, if she doesn't eat, I feel I've failed as a parent for the day. The pressure!

Well, stay strong, I'm glad you're feeling better, and good luck with the daily menu.

Oh, by the way--I think the chart idea was brilliant and inspired. I may borrow it one day, so thanks in advance!
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDiane
henry's food list is not so bad. one of my daycare toddlers used to only eat apple cinnamon nutri-grain bars (NOT blueberry, strawberry, raspberry -- only apple cinnamon) and corn. lots and lots of corn. imagine the poop from that one.
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commentertracy
Holy crap, I couldn't read all the comments but I actually have an idea that you might be able to use, so I hope you are reading them all. Her son, age 4, is also a Star Wars fanatic and wouldn't eat new foods. So she would take a simple meal, say teriyaki chicken and broccoli, and call it "General Grevious Chicken" and "Yoda Trees". It would be served to everyone and that was it. He was eating at least a bite of everything she made (Princess Leia Pancakes, etc. etc.). Finally he said something like "Mom, General Grevious Chicken tastes a little like Emperor Chicken"...but by then he was more open to trying things. I used this with my son too; he wouldn't try French Toast until I called it Chinese Toast (he loves Yao Ming the basketball player). You could even make a menu with pictures of the characters, or is that going way over the top?
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterVictoria
Hi! Waving from lurkdom...

One of my best friend's kids eats gnocci, mac-n-cheese and hotdogs.

Once again, that's gnocci, mac-n-cheese and hotdogs.

I hear ya.

He's 5. And gosh, you gotta love that kid, despite his limited nutritional intake.

Here's to lots of luck for you in the moments to com.

January 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commentershelli
Hello! Love the blog! Fight the good fight. And when you're done, give the kid a couple shakes of cinnamon. I'm sure then he'll not want anymore "just cinnamon" LOL!
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSteph
Delurking to tell you 1) that I love your writing, and 2) that my 25-year-old boyfriend? The one that graduated from an Ivy League university? Just found out that there were other kinds of yogurt besides strawberry, because that's all his mom gave him as a kid. And his list is still much shorter than Henry's.Good luck!
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterHannah
De-lurking here. Read your blog frequently, but don't comment, usually don't even read comments, usually don't even read comments. I was lucky when my daughter was young, as she would eat nearly anything, but as she got older (around 10) she decided she was a vegetarian and that tough (me being a hard-core carnivore) but we made it. She still doesn't eat meat, but fortunately still eats her veggies and even occasional fish.

Good Luck, and remember: The only thing constant is change!
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKatee
Sheesh! I can't believe my redundancy.
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKatee
***being dragged, kicking and screaming from lurkerville****

Hello, Alice. Love your blog.

***scurrying back to hiding***
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commentergrinningkitty
ooohhh wow i'm another lurker! what my mother used to do to get me to eat new foods was whenever i expressed interest in something she would employ the good old reverse psychology and say very firmly "no. you wouldn't like it" by the end i'd be begging for it. and the most beautiful part is my small childs pride would MAKE me like the food because i had BEGGED for it. genius yes? mentally scarring: probably!
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterkeira
Looks like there are a lot of us lurkers! :)My son has been through phases like this. We finally went for the "fine, then!" approach: We put out a reasonable dinner (chicken and rice = reasonable....goat cheese salad = not reasonable) and if he eats it, great - if not, then he can choose not to. But no more food is served until breakfast. We ask him "Are you sure you have enough to make it to breakfast?". Yup. "Fine,then".sometimes he's very very hungry for breakfast. My friend has done this for years, and her 8-year-old who begs her for food all afternoon will refuse dinner if it contains any ingredients he doesn't like (a very long list). "Fine, then". He suffers through till breakfast a LOT.

If it's any consolation, I ate peanut butter toast for breakfast, peanut butter sandwich for lunch and rolls and carrots for dinner EVERY DAY until I was about 22. Now I eat all sorts of delicious things (Thai food! Tofu! Balsamic Vinegar!) and curse myself for all my unadventurous years. But, oh well.

Thanks for the posting.~Leah
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLeah
Howdy - love your blog! If it's de-lurking week, then I guess I should add something to this incredibly long list of comments. Your food list looks so familiar. My two year old son will eat all on the list except go. He'll go so far as to suck on broccoli, but not actually consume it. And he loves eating blue cheese dressing (but nothing covered in it, just the dressing.) Ah, well. Thank goodness for Annie's!
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterPaula
De-lurking because being called a lurker is creepy. Why can't we be called enlightened silent readers?Anyway, I have a picky eater, and he has survived to the ripe ole age of 9. The list of foods he'll eat are similar to your sons, and when we went to the endocrinologist for his growth hormone deficiency, she asked me if he was a picky eater, to which I answered. Yes! God yes! I then listed the stuff he eats and she said that he is not picky. She knows picky kids, and they will only eat french fries, or something like that. To say the least, I was releived, and even more relieved to know that his lack of growing was not due to my crappy mother who never feeds her poor child proper foods, skills.
January 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNila
In honour of delurking week, and because you asked so nicely I will delurk! Hello from Australia!

My almost two year old has a similarly brief list of acceptable foods, and yoghurt is rock-bottom of the list. We are talking protracted and expressive dry-retching followed by tears and demand for reparation in the form of marshmallows. Marinated olives and plastic wrapped cheese singles are the only acceptable snacks this week.

I have only recently discovered the joy of Finslippy and I'm enjoying my frequent visits very much.
January 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterClaire

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