How To Cook For A 4 Year Old, According To A 4 Year Old
I'm a good cook. My instincts are on point, my flavors creative, and I manage to get all aspects of a dinner out at the same time (basically the hardest part). I don't mean to brag, but it took a lot of practice and intentionally overcoming a lot of insecurity to get to a point where I can definitely say I'm a solid cook. But you know who doesn't know that? My 4-year-old daughter. Because when it comes to figuring out what to cook a 4-year-old, my kid has some thoughts, all which revolve around very specific food groups and preparations that I, apparently, am ill equipped to handle.
It wasn't always like this. She used to be an amazing eater. Seriously, anything you put in front of this child she would go to town on. Spicy food? Vegetables? Fish? Everything. She loved it. My husband and I joked that she was going to grow up to be a pretentious little foodie who left annoying and overblown Yelp reviews. But as time went on, the number of dishes she actually enjoyed and/or would eat were whittled down considerably.
Fortunately she still eats a lot of good-for-you foods and, according to her doctor, is growing just fine. Still, the meals I can count on her actually eating are few and far between. So instead of a "great eater," I have a very meticulous 4-year-old who has very detailed ideas of how food should be prepared, which happen to include the following:
Don't You Dare Ever Prepare A Vegetable
Baby girl is apparently committed to a completely veggie-free diet at the moment. I can sleuth vegetables into smoothies and stuff, but despite regularly presenting delicious tomatoes, carrots, spinach, peppers (you name it) along with her meals, she never eats them. I don't know if it's a principled stance or what, but she is determined. When her doctor "assigned" her the "homework" of trying new vegetables, my daughter looked at her very sternly and said, "Oh, I don't think so."
Unless It's Shells & Cheese, Just Don't Cook At All
That's not to say shells and cheese is the only food she eats, but as of now it's basically the only food I cook that she eats. Everything else doesn't require a stove. On the one hand it does make life a little bit easier. On the other hand OMG JUST EAT WHAT I'M MAKING THE REST OF THE FAMILY, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! IF YOU TRIED IT YOU WOULD LIKE IT!
Pick Out All The "Stuff"
This is any aspect of the food that the child believes should not be a part of it. For example, a speck of oil that has risen to the top of her hummus. A sesame seed in her granola bar. A tiny corner of toast that is slightly browner than the rest of the damn toast. Orange membranes. All these must be removed without a trace or they cannot be eaten.
All The Yogurt
I feel like most kids have that one food they absolutely obsess over. For my son it's peanut butter and jelly — dude has seriously had a PB&J almost every lunch for the past six years. For my daughter it's Greek yogurt. And, hey, if you're going to have your kid obsessed with a food you could do worse than something that's full of protein and good bacteria, but holy crap do we go through a metric ton of yogurt every week. This was especially awful when she was younger and got food everywhere as she ate, so my entire life was basically covered with a gentle yogurt crust that got in every nook and cranny and became impossible to remove.
Never Stop Eating
It's constant and mind boggling. The child always wants a snack. A solid third of my life is spent fetching this child food. It would be unbelievable, if not for the fact that I, too, am usually sort of hungry, so I get it.
Never Settle On What A Serving Means
Any given meal will either go half-eaten or I will be required to provide two more servings than originally planned. So it's either a waste, or regular interruptions after she wolfs down yet another bowl of cereal. There's no knowing which way it will go, so you just kind of dole it out and hope for the best.
Argue A Ton
Even with my (I think) extremely lax food rules, my daughter finds a way to argue about them.
No, you had yogurt for lunch. You cannot also eat it for dinner. You need more variety so you can grow big and strong.
No, you cannot choose a King-sized Snickers bar as your school snack.
No, you just brushed your teeth and are about to climb into bed. You cannot have fruit snacks right now.
And these are established rules... she just doesn't care.
Apple Skins Are Poison
She only eats apple slices and she will nosh it all the way down to the skin, but always leaves hollowed-out crescents on her plate because... well, I don't know, to be honest. She claims they're yucky, but the fastidiousness with which she avoids them leads me to believe she thinks there's something more sinister afoot.
"Desserts" & "Treats" Are Two Different Things
This is how my darling precious one will try to argue for two treats in one day.
"Can I have a lollipop?"
"No, sweetie. You had a cookie earlier."
"That was a treeeeeeeat. I haven't had desseeeeeeeeert."
Oh. OK then. Still no, but I appreciate your lawyerly (if incorrect) use of semantics to try to get your way.
Your Body Enters Starvation Mode Approximately 30 Minutes Before Dinner
Remember in Lord of the Rings when Gollum starts wailing in agony for want of "the precious"? That's what my daughter does just before we're about to eat dinner. I don't know what particular internal mechanisms are triggering this piteous condition, but it's strong.
If You're Too Full To Finish Dinner, Ask For A Snack 5 Minutes Later
If you want to see me fly into a wild-eyed rage, feel free to visit me after dinner when this sh*t goes down. Because WTF?!
Sushi Is A Food Group
Because there may be, like, a handful of foods my daughter will regularly eat, but damned if she's not going to pick a particularly expensive one to randomly like. Seriously, this kid will not deign to put a chicken nugget near her lips (what kid doesn't like chicken nuggets?!) but raw salmon? Hook her up! And you want to encourage more adventurous (and healthy!) eating, so of course you get it, but ugh.
Food Preferences Will Change Without A Moment's Notice
Usually after you've just bought a whole ton of whatever it is she said she loved or wanted.
This Too Shall Pass
Yes, it's annoying, but if my older child is evidence then slowly, over time, her eating habits will get less annoying. And I don't know too many adults who live almost exclusively on yogurt, so I live in hope.