Edgy Mama: Picky, persnickety, fussy eaters

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.


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7 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: Picky, persnickety, fussy eaters

  1. lumina

    my girl is 15 and pickier than ever. and her list changes back and forth constantly!

    i was picky as a kid but eventually (as an adult) added artichoke hearts, mushrooms, seafood, most veggies … i still won’t eat the things that my parents made a big issue over (psychological reasons i’m sure) … i hated cooked veggies and still prefer raw or lightly cooked. it’s a texture thing sometimes …

    with my kids, i pureed the veggies into the pizza sauce … i gave them peanut butter to dip the apples slices in … i made soups much less chunky (often pureed too) … you can sneak it in most of the time. my kids loved hummus, too, because it was “dip” and not chickpeas … salsa and hummus are the only “dip” they ever got.

    i was force-fed stuff (with huge family drama) and i’ve got the hangups (and extra weight) to show for it … the ones i see who were left to their own devices came around in adulthood …

    sounds like you have it figured out … !

  2. I wish I had it figured out, Lumina!

    Did I mention that my girl likes to dip cheese slices in ketchup? I wish I could get my two to eat hummus!

  3. restless

    Mine are as picky as yours. At 10 and 8, they now are required to try everything i have made, then they can make what they want to satisfy their hunger. my husband, who is just as picky, has subscribed to this our entire marriage, only he waits until several hours after dinner to pour himself a Jethro size bowl of cereal. I’m with Lumina – don’t force it on them. My husband’s mom took that approach and he is still digging his heels in. me, i was just as picky as my boys and now i eat just about anything, unless it’s a dead animal, of course. Btw, my oldest has just discoved he likes raw spinach as long as it has lots of Ceasar Dressing on it. There is hope yet.

  4. Rio

    I’ve been fortunate. I have given my kids lots of unusual foods from early on, and they have eaten most of them. They do go through stages. My daughter spent six months at age 2 waking us up every morning yelling, “Grits! I want grits!” Now she can’t even stand to look at them. My son used to really down the beans and rice, and for the past six months he will only eat them with half a block of cheese grated on them. This is the same kid who will eat any entire mess of collards by himself.
    Just never know which favorite will be repulsive next time I make it!

  5. A familiar sitter!

    Hmmm, the sugar snap peas. Are they still working for your kids? I remember them snatching them up pretty readily! I think you do beautifully. I like the fact that you put what you eat on their plate.

  6. Kristin

    I’ve got one who’ll eat just about anything and one who says she hates everything but usually eats it anyway. She also changes her mind regularly about what is and what isn’t good food. “I thought you loved greens (chard)!” “No, I hate them.” I never make them eat what they don’t like because my parents did that (though they swear that they didn’t). I still hate okra! If they don’t like what is served for dinner, they are more than welcome to make themselves something else. The older one can make eggs and grilled cheese, in addition to pb and j. The younger one is relegated to pb&j;or tofurkey and mayo, but I dug my heels in about making only one dinner.

  7. Alli Marshall

    My best friend in college only ate white foods (rice, crackers, bland cheese, popcorn) until she was 30. Seriously.

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