Picky Eaters Anonymous

April 30, 2013

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On those too-rare evenings when I meet up with friends, there is usually some initial chit-chat about how difficult it is to get out of the house if you have young children. Last night, I mentioned that my kids’ dinners had been a total Parental Failure: at one point I was boiling two pots of water side-by-side, one for mac-n-cheese and one for plain pasta. And since I’d gotten a late start with my pathetic boiling of water(s), one kid was eating a peeled and cut-up apple and the other was eating applesauce.

Yep, that was dinner. All white stuff. And, in each case, two different versions of the same thing. I could pretend that it’s because I was running late, but the truth is that pasta, chicken nuggets, random Trader Joe’s items, fruit, All Things Dairy, and the occasional meatball, is what my kids eat. Oh, and smoothies. (That’s where I hide some spinach and protein powder, so we cannot forget the smoothies — a lot is riding on those damn things.)

It turns out that both of the others moms I was with (who shall remain anonymous) also have picky eaters. We started telling some stories —  I think my favorite was of a child who will only eat cut-up pieces of hot dog off of a chair while he walks around the kitchen.

Why is it so liberating to discover that yours is not the only home in which the pirates have taken over the ship? I think it’s because we assume that everyone else is doing a better job of parenting than we are.

Once when my daughter, CJ, was chatting with a little friend over the fence, the friend’s mom said it was time to come in for dinner.

“What’re you having for dinner?” CJ asked her friend.

“Mom, what’re we having?” the friend turned and asked her mother, who, like me, was puttering around nearby and could hear their conversation easily.

“We’re having salmon and Israeli cous-cous,” the mom said. CJ looked scared, like she thought that this crazy “coo-coo” stuff was going to come out of their house and get her.

“What’re you having?” the friend asked.

“Spaghettios!” CJ replied, without even bothering to ask me. She looked happy again.

“They’re Joe’s O’s!” I found myself practically yelling over the fence, Joe’s O’s being the Trader Joe’s organic version of the old classic (the mysterious apostrophe after the O is their issue, not mine). I even considered saying something not entirely true, like, “We have ‘choose your own dinner’ night once a month and it’s tonight!” but I knew that CJ wasn’t old enough to get the whole “sometimes moms totally lie to look better in front of other moms” thing. So we left them to their salmon and went in to open a can.

It’s hard for me to explain how I got to this point. Wait, no it isn’t. It went something like this: I had an idea of how I wanted things to be, and then they were not that way. Like many other parents, I had planned to have children who loved grilled lamb with mint chutney and Brussels sprouts at age two, and begged to get sushi on the way home from preschool. Similarly, I also dreamt that my children would only want to play with hand-carved wooden toys from the MoMA shop, and to watch old black-and-white Shirley Temple movies.

Whoops.

The irony here is that I love food. I barely finish one meal before I start thinking about what to eat next. Before kids, I was that person who would drive an hour because I was pretty sure that someone had mentioned a great taco joint in some random town. Over the years I have become a decent cook of simple but sometimes delicious meals, using lots of fresh ingredients from local farms. Last Christmas, as my extended family and I were enjoying a delectable tenderloin roast, sweet potato puree, and spinach salad with dried cherries and spicy walnuts, CJ ate a grilled cheese and some apple slices. At Easter brunch there were three kinds of quiche, roasted root vegetables, and two salads. CJ had a bagel with butter and some pineapple.

I could lay out for you the whole perfect storm of tricky family schedules, their control issues, and my lack of resolve, bla bla bla. Our pediatrician even said to CJ: “Here’s the deal. Your mom is going to make ONE DINNER from now on, and you are going to try that dinner. If you don’t find one single thing in that dinner that you can eat? Then you’ll wait for the next meal.” CJ gave me a panicked look, and the very second we got in the car, she started in with, “Do I really have to–” And I interrupted: “Nope. You don’t.” Because at 5pm, when my kids need to eat, there is no “adult meal” waiting for them to reject!

The truth is, after torturing myself over this issue for years, I’ve made a decision to let it go. I am 100 percent confident that they will not be picky eaters their whole lives. It’s not that my daughter truly doesn’t know or like all the other foods — the kid could pick a rutabaga out of a vegetable line-up — but she simply refuses to try them. Can you say “control?”

When I was little, my parents took the “You’re not leaving the table ‘til that plate is clean!” approach. An hour later I’d be crying and gagging as I tried to swallow one cold carrot. You know what I love today? Carrots. And beets, squash, and about 90 percent of the other things that are edible. My kids will get there, too; I just don’t have it in me to take the old school route.

So if you are reading this and feeling kinda jazzy because your kids eat funky-looking mushrooms and stinky cheeses, that is actually fine with me! Seriously — I’m happy for you. The way I see it, there’s always someone who is doing a better job than you, and always someone who’s doing worse. I’m just thankful for that kid who eats hot dogs off a chair.

PS Despite my attempted bravado in coming clean on this issue I now feel compelled to say that the chicken nuggets, apples, and applesauce are all organic. Organic, I say! And don’t forget the smoothies! Sob.

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