debbie - goldfish

Ten Ingredients

By Debbie Koenig

Wednesday, March 8, marked the end of a one-month experiment, a surprisingly successful one.

My son (aka The Pickiest Eater in the World) has been taking a medication that suppresses his appetite. Because his body wasn’t alerting him to the need to eat, he was skipping lunch at school. In the three months since he started, he’s lost the 12 pounds he gained over the summer, going from borderline obese to almost skinny. When he first started skipping lunch, the prescribing doctor suggested we send him to school with foods he’d find irresistible: sugary yogurt with candy mix-ins, Nutella-on-croissant sandwiches, chocolaty protein bars. The word “uncomfortable” barely hints at how I felt about this, but the kid needed to eat.

When he started to ignore even his junkiest lunches, the doctor connected us with a nutritionist who works with kids taking these meds. She had my son color-code a list of healthy, whole foods: green for “Go! I like these foods” (16 items); purple for “I’ll eat these, but they’re not my first choice” (31 items); and pink for “Stop! I don’t like these foods” (111 items. Yes, that says one hundred eleven). She remained unruffled, which impressed me. Ultimately she suggested a 30-day experiment: Consider any packaged food with more than 10 ingredients to be a “treat,” and only have one treat a day. She spent quite a while with him, looking up most of his favorite foods and learning that yup, they’ve got more than 10 ingredients. He understood a little better why we’re concerned. I was surprised, but he agreed to give this plan a shot.

One of his favorite foods, Goldfish crackers, contains 13 ingredients. Normally the kid would plow through a package in less than 24 hours — thanks to the medication, that package would sometimes be the bulk of his daily intake. So I was amazed that he opted to give up Goldfish entirely for the month, rather than consider them a treat. At first I didn’t realize he’d made that choice, but about two weeks in I noticed that the open package in the pantry hadn’t been touched since he started. I held my tongue until Tuesday, March 7, when he announced that the next day he’d be eating a big bowl of his beloved crackers.

My husband and I celebrated his success, and told him how proud we are of his conscientiousness. Then we stressed that yes, we’d agreed to a month-long trial, but the idea was to see if life was still worth living without all that junk — and if it was, to continue to eat processed foods selectively. If Goldfish crackers were what he missed the most, then we’d add them back in, but within reason. We compromised on a generous serving, packed in his lunchbox.

Getting my son to pause, to think about what he’s eating, counts as a major Non-Scale Victory. Now we just have to convince him to keep doing it.

Follow Debbie on Connect @debbieskoenig

Read more Picky Kid, Busy Mom