When My Kids Wanted to Try Soda, I Said Yes
I have two children with sensory processing differences. Both are picky eaters. Both are sensory picky eaters. One is a severe sensory picky eater. Certain tastes, textures, and smells are deal breakers. Entire food groups are off the table.
Mealtime at home is tricky. Elsewhere – at school, camp, birthday parties, sleepovers, and vacations – it’s grueling. I am that mom, and my kids are those kids, and it breaks my heart.
They’ll grow out of it.
I hear this a lot. Sometimes, it’s from well-meaning people who don’t know what else to say. Other times, it’s from parents who have stood in my uncomfortable shoes. I hold on to their optimism as my kids quickly approach the upper age limit on children’s menu items and gain more independence in their social lives.
I do my best to make sure my kids eat as healthy as possible within their limitations, and I encourage (but don’t force) them to explore new foods whenever possible. I say yes to whatever they want to try because I never want them to say no out of fear, and I’m not just talking about food.
Perfect parents need not read any further.
If my kids asked to try a Happy Meal, I’d drive to McDonald’s in the middle of the night.
If my kids asked to try a pizza, I’d have it delivered for breakfast.
If my kids asked to try a Slurpee, I’d say, “What flavor?”
When we eat out, I ask my kids if they want soda with their plain spaghetti, no sauce, no butter, no oil with parmesan cheese on the side in case it tastes like the inside of a balloon.
I don’t want them to drink soda, but I want them try soda. I want them to know what an ice cold Coca-Cola tastes like, and I want them to know if they’re on Team Pepsi or Team Coke. But they never want it.
When my kids unexpectedly told me they wanted to try Mountain Dew, I was suspect. The thing about having picky eaters is that excitement and disappointment go hand in hand. It’s hard not to be enthusiastic about the potential to add a new food to their diet, but it’s equally difficult to anticipate the disappointment of “I don’t like it” that comes 99.3 percent of the time.
Their curiosity for the carbonated beverage came from an unfortunate infatuation with the YouTube sensation, Pink Sheep. Despite the annoying inspiration, when new food requests surface, I listen. At the grocery store, I bought strawberries, grapes, bananas, and a liter of Mountain Dew because a mom can dream.
All afternoon, my boys said they couldn’t wait to try Mountain Dew… later or in a while or tomorrow.
They were scared. “Why wait? Let’s do it!”
I alleviated their anxiety. “Mountain Dew is sweet and fizzy. It will make your tongues feel funny, but it’s OK.”
I threw in some healthy eating advocacy for good measure. “Soda is fun to drink, but it won’t fuel your body and brain, and it won’t make you healthy and strong. If you like it, you can drink it sometimes but not all the time.”
I put ice in two glasses and warned them of the hissing sound they would hear when I twisted the cap on the bottle. They smiled when they heard it. I poured a small amount in each glass. They marveled at the sparkling bubbles.
They sniffed. They pulled back. They sniffed again. They sipped. They winced a little bit and smiled.
They liked it. They liked it!
A few days later, I gave my kids money for the snack bar at our community pool. They came back with an ice cream sandwich, a soft pretzel, and a giant styrofoam cup filled with Mountain Dew.
I rarely feel like I belong when it comes to feeding my children, and I finally had something in common with the other parents when I proudly and firmly called my kids out. “I didn’t say you could buy soda! You didn’t ask for permission! No more soda!”
This essay originally appeared on The Runaway Mama.