My kids excel in a number of areas, but they are at the top of the heap when it comes to picky eating.
I mentioned in this column last week that the four of us only eat five of the same foods (not including desserts): pizza, waffles, french fries, carrots and grapes. This dearth of variety significantly limits our dining choices.
Believe it or not, I’m actually simplifying the issue. For example, I realized that we all four eat bagels (not on the list above). However, my boy only likes Bruegger’s plain bagels while my girl only eats the soft whole wheat kind we buy at the grocery store. I like the everything or parmesan-asiago varieties. Luckily, Enviro-spouse will eat anything. I could stick an old sock in the middle of a bagel, call it tofu, and he’d scarf it down and ask for more. Thank God for small favors and bagels by the dozen.
Pizza’s an issue as well. The kids like cheese-only’za with minimum tomato sauce. They adore the Napoleon Dynamite sticks at Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company (crust coated with cheese and garlic salt). E-spouse and I prefer the fancy’za—a gorgonzola/walnut/portabella/pesto one. As far as my kids are concerned, gorgonzola cheese might as well be solidified lizard venom.
So, even at the few restaurants that we all agree on, ordering can be a hassle. And since we always have to order at least two different types of pizza, it can be pricey.
Going out to restaurants, however, pales in comparison to eating at home. To the kids’ everlasting consternation, I don’t want to eat pizza every single night.
At home, I’m not just mom; I’m the short-order cook. As I mentioned, E-spouse will eat anything I’m eating, but unless it’s pizza, my kids won’t. Except for carrots and grapes, which thus serve as the primary veggie and fruit options at every single meal.
So a typical Monday night looks like this: I bake some chicken breasts, cook some rice and sauté some greens. I put a tiny piece of chicken and five grains of rice on the kids’ plates. They wail and gnash their teeth at the mere sight of the offending foods. I make a pizza bagel for the boy, while the kids eat grapes as an appetizer. I also whip up some whole-wheat pasta for the girl, which she eats covered with generous shakes of nutritional yeast and parmesan cheese. Then I throw carrots at the kids.
I try not to bribe my kids with food. I don’t like the idea, particularly given our cultural predilection for eating disorders. But my kidlings do know that dessert is not an option until the carrots are in their digestive tracts. And until they’ve at least placed their sensitive tongues against a tiny bit of what the adults are eating. Unless I’m done in again by the whining.
Pediatricians claim that parents must offer a food to kid 15 to 20 times before the child develops a true like or dislike for the food. Babies and those ever-particular toddlers are evolutionarily wired to be cautious about food. Until they learn to identify nonspoiled foods, pickiness equals survival. This surprises me because most babies will put just about everything and anything else in their mouths. Toddlers’ pickiness also stems from their desire to assert their independence and prove that they have some control over their small bodies. Supposedly, most kids grow out of the extreme picky stage by the age of 7.
So there’s still hope for our boy. Our girl, who is 9, is starting to be open to a few other foods, but not many. She’s an extremely independent and opinionated kid, so her fastidiousness isn’t that surprising (I know you’re wondering where she got those traits). I compensate by giving both kids vitamins and sprinkling the afore-mentioned nutritional yeast on most everything.
I was bemoaning this state of affairs to a friend recently who said his 18-year-old daughter’s still an extremely persnickety eater. But she survived childhood and will attend college next fall, despite only eating macaroni and cheese from a box for much of her life.
According to my Mom, I was an extremely picky eater, so there might be a genetic predisposition towards fussiness. My grandmother used to say: “I can’t even get her to eat a butter bean.” She should have offered me a grape instead.