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Feeding My Tween

By Debbie Koenig

My son turned 11 this week. We’ve reached the point where I have absolutely no control over what he eats. I can stock the fridge with fresh fruit, yogurt, and cheese sticks. I can fill the pantry with whole-grain crackers and homemade, low-SmartPoints®-value treats. I can offer nutrient-packed, delicious options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But he’s like the horse who insists he ain’t thirsty — I can’t make him eat.

We’re going on nine years of picky eating here. The experts say that most kids start to emerge from their food-phobic shells around age 8, but not my boy. If he hasn’t eaten it before, odds are he won’t even taste it. I stopped asking long ago, since pushing him strengthens his resolve. At this point, I’m pretty sure he won’t eat pasta with sauce until he falls head-over-heels for somebody with an adventurous palate.

He’s managed to avoid starvation thanks to his willingness to eat a limited list of basics, and the ability to cajole junk food from friends and, occasionally, me. But now we’ve got a new wrinkle: independence. Next week he starts middle school, walking there and back on his own for the first time. We’ve given him a hand-me-down smartphone and keys to the apartment, and an allowance. The world is open to him in a way it never was before.

He’ll have limits, of course. If he’s not home by a certain time I’ll sound the alarm, and outside his school commute he won’t be coming and going as he pleases. But I’m forcing myself to accept that he has to start making decisions for himself. If my husband and I expect him to grow into a capable young man, he has to learn that his choices have consequences — even his food choices. So I imagine that for the next few months, his allowance will be spent in regular visits to the bodega near school. At some point he’ll decide he’d rather buy a new video game or cool jeans, and start saving instead.

One change I do plan to make: I’ll be keeping even less of his favorite “snacky” foods on-hand. I figure he’ll have his fill of munchies on his own time, so making them available here would only encourage him to overdo it. Plus, I know that sometime soon the tween-to-teen growth spurt will kick in, and with it a man-size appetite. I hope that stocking the kitchen with smarter options will lead him to eat more of them. Fingers crossed.

Or maybe he’ll experience his first bout of infatuation, and start tasting new foods to impress his crush. The things we do for love….

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