Constance Marie's Blog: The Kid Versus the Vegetables
"This worked for me and I do not take ANY credit. This was taught to me and now I am sharing it with you," the Switched at Birth star writes.
Halloween bunnies – Courtesy Constance Marie
Look who’s back! We’re thrilled to say hello again to Constance Marie, our original celebrity blogger!
The actress, mom to daughter Luna Marie, 3½, with fiancé Kent Katich, stars on Switched at Birth, which returns Jan. 7 to ABC Family.
She’s also one of the celebrity voices narrating beloved children’s stories for Little Golden Records, available now at Walmart.
In her latest blog, the actress shares her secret for getting Luna Marie to eat well.
In this corner, the all-time champion, Little Tommy, weighing in at 40 lbs.! And in the other corner, packed full of vitamins and gently sautéed in butter … Señor Green Bean!
I know this is a sore subject for many, many moms. Moms trying to get their kids to eat vegetables or eat healthy or just eat anything! As I mentioned in a previous blog, I was an overwhelmed, exhausted and totally terrified new mom who realized I was in way over my head. So, I dragged myself to a mommy group when my daughter was three months old. I admitted I NEEDED HELP!
One of the many great things about this mommy group was that it was run by a therapist. And while I was sitting there in a sleep-deprived, cracked nipples breastfeeding haze, I heard this therapist say: “If you make your child’s food intake a battle, it will be a battle you will be fighting with them for the rest of their lives.” I thought to myself, “Wait, what was that?!” It apparently was SO important she said it again, for which I was very, very thankful.
I wasn’t really sure what she meant by this, but I do remember watching many moms over the years. They tried to get their children to eat and the children really, really, really enjoyed saying “NO.” Thankfully, this mommy group therapist showed us an exercise and said, “We need to teach our children that their hunger needs to be more important to them than it is to their mothers. Thus ending the power struggle.” Oh! And she also added, “Whatever you do, be CONSISTENT!”
I realize a lot of children don’t like their vegetables. NEWSFLASH: I am a vegetarian. I also wanted to raise my child vegetarian — there was no way I was going to raise a vegetarian who hated vegetables. C’mon! That would just be wrong! I also learned that children eat how WE parents eat. Sad to say, if you want your child to eat healthy, we parents have to eat healthy too. I KNOW!!!! I’m not happy about it either. Gone are the easy, breezy, awesome days of “Do as I say, not as I do!”
So when Luna Marie was about seven months old, I used the exercise the therapist taught us.
Luna Marie starts to eat! – Courtesy Constance Marie
Full disclosure: I was completely terrified and a nervous wreck before I tried this, but I did it anyway.
I prepared some steamed broccoli. I put it in one large bowl in the center of the table. I put Luna Marie in her highchair. I grabbed two plates and set them down in the center of the table. Then I took a deep breath and sat down. I took one plate from the stack, put it in front of myself, left my daughter’s place empty, and started to serve myself some broccoli. I did not offer Luna Marie anything. I just sat there and ate my broccoli contentedly.
Of course, I hammed it up a bit like it was the greatest broccoli I had ever eaten in my entire life. (If anyone saw me, they would have called the acting police!)
Needless to say, Luna Marie did not like being ignored. She started to crane her neck to look into the bowl of broccoli like, I can only guess her thinking, “What is in that bowl that is so yummy and making my mommy so happy?” Her next thought, “Why isn’t she giving me any?!” And then the one I was waiting for, “I want some of that!!” Then there was a lot of baby pointing and whining to which I responded innocently, “Oh! You want some broccoli?”
That was exactly the moment I was waiting for. DING! DING! DING! DING! The first round goes to Mama!
She learned that if she wanted to eat, she was going to have to make sure she got some. I wasn’t going to force it on her. If she didn’t eat, she would just have to wait until the next mealtime.
Of course, if she didn’t eat I moved up the next mealtime a little. But I never told her that! I wasn’t going to give away my secrets. That would have wrecked my entire master plan! She didn’t have to feel hungry for long, but she did learn what her hunger felt like (In turn, I also learned how to breathe and tolerate the anxiety of knowing my daughter didn’t eat as much as I would have liked her to). And I only had to do this two times to get it to work.
I also need to tell you — my daughter eats five times a day. Because she is a vegetarian, she needs to eat more often. I have also read that it is healthier to eat smaller meals throughout the day. On a typical day, Luna Marie eats breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner.
Digging into noodles and lima beans – Courtesy Constance Marie
The other thing I learned was to course the meal out.
First, I served the vegetable. Then, I served protein. In our case — beans, tofu and veggie meat.
Then come the yummy carbs … ya know, all the things kids/moms crave! Lastly, the fruit. Another main point — keep the rest of the meal hidden in the kitchen because if kids see there’s something else, those little suckers want that instead, thus continuing the power struggle!
I am not a nutritionist or a doctor. I am just a mom trying to give my child a balanced meal. Raise your hands if you hear me.
And we parents know that it can be so hard to follow our own rules, especially in today’s modern age of no time, limited budgets, prepackaged foods with lots of chemicals and sugar in everything!
The last thing that I learned was a very simple rule. My kitchen is not a restaurant and I am not a chef. Let me say that again. I am SO not a chef. I THINK CHEFS AND COOKS ARE SOME OF THE MOST UNDERRATED, UNDER-APPRECIATED AND TALENTED PEOPLE IN THE WORLD — and I am NOT one of those people! My daughter knows we eat what I have prepared and that’s it. If she’s really hungry, she will eat what I have made. If she doesn’t want to eat what I have made, she does not have to. But that’s all there is. It’s her choice.
I grew up the daughter of a single mom with very limited resources — we had what we had, and if I was hungry I ate it. There really was nothing else … so I have applied these lessons to Luna Marie. She knows if she doesn’t like what I have prepared, she has the choice not to eat it. But she WILL be hungry. That is her choice. And I use all my strength and patience to be okay when she says, “NO THANK YOU.” (Yes, she is that polite when she rejects my cooking.)
Every once in a while, I also hear, “I don’t like this!” But I’ve learned that you have to introduce a new food to a child at least 10 times before making a proper evaluation of whether they truly do not like that food or if they are just in a mood. If my daughter consistently hated something after 10 times, I would remove it from the menu but try to make up the vitamins with some other kind of food.
Honestly, in the beginning it was a complete learning experience for me too. I realized that I was measuring my worth as a mother by whether my child ate or not. I also learned that as a mom, it is almost impossible not to do that.
Amongst the squash – Courtesy Constance Marie
I know that to some parents this approach to food may sound hard-core, but I also know it worked for me. It has saved me so many struggles and a lot of worry. Both my daughter and I know what to expect at meal time. As a result of this, Luna Marie is an amazing eater! (Just like her mama…) Yes! This worked for me and I do not take ANY credit. This was taught to me and now I am sharing it with you.
My daughter eats green beans, asparagus, brussels sprouts, broccoli, collard greens, spinach, raw beets etc… she will eat all of them. And the best part — she actually likes them! That part I had no control over. Luna Marie learned she doesn’t have to eat her vegetables if she doesn’t want to, but she will not get to the next course if she doesn’t.
Also I have her eat vegetables with lunch and dinner, because come on, none of us really want to eat vegetables for breakfast! Unless it’s spinach … in a yummy omelette sautéed with garlic in a little olive oil and some cheese … Wait! I digress! (I told you I love to eat.)
I know I will not be able to control what my daughter eats for the rest of her life, but I can for now! I also know that someday, after she has lulled me into a false sense of security, a mealtime will come where Luna Marie’s head will spin all the way around and peas will come flying out at me like The Exorcist. Children are these little feisty creatures that are constantly evolving and we as parents are constantly having to adjust to that. DAH-MIT!!!
I learned somewhere that the first five years of your child’s life are so important and set the stage for how they will live in the world … Also, that that’s the time when you as a parent get to set their eating patterns.
Our children can accomplish amazing things if they just have a healthy body fueled by healthy food. Whatever you choose to do — and however you choose to do it — I wish you all the strength and courage in the world because you’re going to need it. Being the rule-maker is hard. I also applaud you for taking the time to read and research how other moms do things! It truly does take a village.
— Constance Marie
More from Constance’s PEOPLE.com blog series:
- Constance Marie’s Blog: All Covered In Smudge
- Constance Marie’s Blog: Meltdown Management