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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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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)

Three things: first, if you haven't already, and even if you have, you need to read a book called "How To Get Your Kid To Eat (But Not Too Much)" by Ellyn Satter.

Then, you need to make a huge sign that says, "SHUT UP" and put it up over your kitchen table (or wherever you eat together). It worked for me! Seriously. I used to sound like you in this post, and our pediatrician at the time actually made the situation progressively worse by telling me, "Just feed her more!" (Well, duh!) Eventually my anxiety over my former toddler's sporadic appetite caused an actual failure-to-thrive situation, until the ped finally referred us to a nutritionist who taught me how to shut up and calm down about food.I'm glad to report that the kid immediately fully recovered her growth pattern (within months) and we fired the pediatrician.

If you're truly as freaked-out as you sound in your post, you need to find a qualified nutritionist/counselor who can act as your family-food coach.

Good luck! Btw, we love smoothies here too.

January 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJean
My kid eats what yours does but add chicken nuggets to that list.


January 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKismet
Just wanted to say hi! I also have a son about Henry's age and can relate to this. Good luck to all of us!
January 15, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermary
I laughed so hard at your post -- especially the cinnamon thing -- and then my 2.5 year old daughter insisted on eating flour while "helping" my husband make pizza that night.good luck with the eating thing! but it sounds like Henry is actually doing quite well ... he's getting iron and protein at least!
January 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLori
It's the same here with my three-and-a-half year old boy. I felt actual pain with the mere mention of the hands-over-the-mouth sound. At least mine says "Maybe I'll like it when I'm a grown up." Maybe, indeed.
January 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMrs. Why
You're so very funny:) My goodness - your kid my kid are very arnold and danny. I have a great diet and we have family meal times and he is starting to come around a little. Last week he ate chicken (served up a chicken/vegie stir-fry, of which he usually only eats the rice). Husband and I were kicking each other under the table in glee.
January 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterClaire
Comment #432... haha As if anyone will read it. ;)

The food game, ah. And so many approaches. Good luck with it!

I've tried various things over the years. My favorite is this- I make my child allow the food on her plate. She needn't eat it if she chooses not to, but she must allow me to put it on her plate. I don't make any special meal different from what everyone else is having, but I do make sure that every meal has at least ONE thing on the table that she will eat.

The thought behind this approach is that after so much exposure to a certain food, the child will "accept" it. I never believed it, but my now-9-year-old was eating sushi at age 3. Now, my current challenge is my almost-4-year-old and she's a harder nut to crack. Thanksgiving? She ate ROLLS and that was it. So be it. I did not and will not make Mac-n-Cheese on Thanksgiving. LOL

Love your blog... this isn't my official delurking, but I don't think I comment terribly often. So "hi" (if you ever get to reading post #432 haha).
January 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJustLinda
Holy crap, you're probably not even reading this anymore, but I have (actually HAD) a 3-food and a 5-food guy and here's what worked for us in decreasing order of effectiveness:

1. Bribery. No one watches tv until the broccoli is gone. After 3 nights of outrage, this worked. Veggies begrudgingly eaten every night. Victory.

2. Eating together as a family. My husband had a thousand reasons why he couldn't be home in time but once I went ballastic about this and we started doing it, I looked up and saw my little 3-fooder eating a fucking SALAD. Because dad was. Worst day of my husband's life, I'm sure.

3. Marketing. There's some instant chicken soup with Clifford on it which they wouldn't have touch if I didn't set the box right on the table while they ate. So I tried spinning everything green as Shrek-this and Shrek-that. Didn't work that well but I've heard other people, with less cynical children, have great success with this.

That's it. Good luck.

Ok, back to lurking.
January 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMrs. B
Um, I'm posting, although I don't feel like I'm delurking, because I post anyway, but you won't read it, because YOU HAVE 434 COMMENTS ON HERE, WOMAN! OH. MY. GOD.

You should tell Henry that with the flick of the keyboard, you can get 434 other people to take your side on the whole "new foods" thing. Cos, you know, if the chart doesn't work, perhaps social stigmas around popularity and intimidation will. Right. I'm full of good ideas, listen to me.
January 15, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterlis
Actually, wait. I just remembered. Me, childless wonder, has a story that pertains to yours. It's called manipulation, and i recommend not doing it, but it's amusing.My sister wouldn't eat as a child. At all, besides maybe a potato and pop tarts. But my mom would put the stuff on the plate. So, since i was the "good" eater in the family, i would eat everything on my plate, and then yearn after what was adorning my sister's plate (chicken, vegetable, etc). I would trick her to look the other way and then when she looked back and looked at her plate she would accuse me, but I would stop chewing and claim the "steak/chicken/asparagus/whathaveyou" monster came and took it. Strangely, my parents encouraged this, until eventually, in an effort to either compete with me or catch me in the act, she would look the other way and then STAB HER FORK dangerously close to my fingers into the meat on her plate, and shove it in her mouth out of spite. Then she would cackle and point at me, victorious.

Yeah, I grew up in a weird house.
January 15, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterlis
January 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSandee
Holy Crap. Been reading Finslippy for a while now and never knew we were fighting the same fight. My daughter will eat chicken nuggets, though. But not 1) anything that is eaten out of a bowl with a spoon except honeynut cheerios 2) anything veggie-related, lest she grow leaves out of her head, 3) anything I suggest she try, 4) anything else. Fun! I made her some noodles tonight and for the first time resorted to "You are making Mommy sad!" with fake tears and everything. I managed to evoke some real sympathy, but a big fat screw-you with the noodles. Oh well.

I relate the most to the fruitless HOPE. I refuse to give up even though I KNOW what the result is going to be. Argh.
January 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLisa
Well it's Monday the 16th now (well it is where I live anyway) so it's possible that International De-Lurking is already over (I'm too lazy to read the fine print) but, Alice, you seem like someone who would cut a little slack... no really, in spite of the yelling, you do...anyway, my 3-yr old has become less picky since his 14-month old brother has been eating real food (remember 14-month olds? They eat almost everything you spoon into their baby bird-like mouths. Ahhh.) My 3-yr old likes to think of himself as a winner so I do what any evil mother would do and turn eating into a competitive sport. So what I'm saying is that maybe you need another toddler living with you (what, too complicated? Kids are great fun, you know.) Or, you have a dog, right? Think you could persuade the dog to eat meat and three veg (or whatever constitutes a balanced meal in the finslippy house) and so inspire Henry to do likewise? Actually, maybe this isn't my topic of expertise after all. Do what the others suggest instead.


PS Love your work. You are a very entertaining writer - can't wait for the book (but no pressure - I'm 37 and intend on being able to read for many, many more years. And in fact later would suit me better actually, because I have 2 small boys and a part-time job so I'm pretty busy right now.)
January 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKylie
who me? Creepy?

Mummy of a six month old gannet - and dreading the day he gets this opinionated...

You scare me, you scare me, with the tales of horros to come. But for some reason I just can't stay away....
January 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRLJ
Be careful what ye ask for, lest it be given ye.

Love your work, go team, and thank you!

(Will not talk about my omnivorous kid because I believe that would be deemed singularly unhelpful.)
January 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterShelley
ha! i'd like to see this lady: your kid.

January 16, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermeredith
Scones. I've seen him eat scones.
January 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMary
Scones. I've seen him eat scones.
January 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMary
My friend, a family practice physician, has three little boys.

They eat NOTHING but (1) chicken McNuggets (2) frozen yogurt and (3) juice.

One of them developed anemia as a result of his poor diet.

She is at her wit's end. She cannot get them to eat anything else.

And it's her JOB to help people like you to get their kids to eat better, and she's supposed to KNOW exactly what to do . . . and she's still completely and utterly unable to do anything about it.

For me, a childless person, it's actually kind of disgusting. All those trans-fats, preservatives, sugar, dyes, etc. going into those little growing bodies every day . . . it's just gross. We talk about it almost every time we meet.

I, the childless know-it-all, constantly urge her to stop buying this stuff and tell the kids "we don't have chicken nuggets today. We only have this tofu and broccoli stir-fry. If you don't want to eat it that's ok, you can skip this meal," until they're so hungry and desperate that they eventually eat something nutritious.

I think I could actually do it, because I don't love her kids and I could easily withstand the screaming. I would just make them go to their rooms until they had screamed themselves into sleep. Because I'm tenderhearted, that way. And I know that after three days or so of screaming (or, I don't know, maybe three months, or three years, or three decades) they would love tofu and broccoli and tempeh and brown rice and carrots etc. and would insist on these foods and would be repelled by the evil chicken nuggets.

But they'd probably be severely emotionally damaged.
January 16, 2006 | Unregistered Commentervictoria
Cracking totally up!! This is my life!!! You are living my toddler-NO FOOD- hell of a life!

In honor of De-Lurking week, I will come out of Lurkville to tell you, you are not alone! *singing and swaying*

Except my sons list is a lot shorter - he is only 16 months andDr. Stressesmeout says he needs to gain weight. Poo on her!-- Literally I could put Poo on her!

I am tired of doing cartwheels everytime he puts the spoon NEAR his mouth,inviting the Atlanta Falcons to cheer if he swallows a morsel of food. When will this hell ever end????

Peace out my sister and may the force be with you!!!!Love, Love,Love your site

January 16, 2006 | Unregistered Commentergoddess
Hi Alice. I'll de-lurk briefly to say I've enjoyed your blog since I first stumbled upon it about a year ago. I'm in my late 30s and pretty much all of my friends have had kids in the last year, or so. Since I have no kids of my own, your tales give me a preview of what my pals will all have in store in the coming months. And when my biological clock ticks so loudly that I can barely think, I can always rely on your tales of Henry's toddlerhood to remind me that raising kids is the most demanding job of all.

I live in your 'hood and have seen you out and about once or twice, but, seein' as I'm a complete stranger and all, I've never had the nerve to say hello or introduce myself. Maybe someday I'll be less shy.

Thanks for your wit and your words!
January 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterShev
My youngest brother would only eat Macaroni and cheese from aged 2 to oh maybe 17. If it helps he's a healthy man over 6 feet tall now.
January 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

You have a wonderful sense of humor, and are a most talented writer. Thanks for sharing!
January 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie
My husband's family thinks of me as The Picky Eater--but I'm not, I swear! My two requirements: I don't like my food to touch (easy--I serve myself and Don't Let The Food Touch), and I'm vegetarian (also easy--I don't eat animals, just nuke a Gardenburger for me). I say the real picky eaters are my husband and his sister and cousin. Among the three of them are aversions to: tomatoes (all kinds, including sauce), onions, mushrooms, fish, chocolate (insane!), tofu, soup from a can (and even some kinds of homemade soup), various types of pasta (kind of like Henry--there's nothing consistent about which ones), and more that I can't even think of under pressure just now... Try planning meals around all of that--it's like trying to hit a moving target. Fortunately the only one whose food preferences really matter day-to-day are the husband's (sister and cousin are stuck living in Texas, while we're lucky enough to have escaped the Lone Star State for the beautiful West). I think we all have our odd food habits--and Henry's list of what-I'll-eat is actually pretty healthy-looking. Don't despair--yet. I've taught middle school, and what those pubescent terrors put in their bodies is enough to curl your hair. Fire Cheetos and Coke aren't part of any food pyramid I know of--and that's all they eat for lunch!
January 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterEmily
Okay, fine. I will de-lurk. I love your blog. You make me smile. Although I think' I'm feeling a murky cloud of terror forming in the back of my mind regarding my husband's (okay, and my) decision to reproduce. Is it too late to get my birth control back? (just kiding. Kind of.)
January 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJulie B.

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