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The Secret Shame of Raising Picky Eaters

Over the holidays late last year, I was at a family party with my kids when another mom asked me, “What’s your secret?”

“My secret?” I asked. I am not usually someone asked for their secrets so I was a little confused. But she was referring to my four-year-old daughter Matilda who was happily munching an endive leaf green salad with goat cheese, cherry tomatoes and garlic croutons.

“I don’t believe I’ve ever witnessed a kid that age eating salad by choice. How do you get her to do that?”

“She just likes it” I answered truthfully.

When she was three years old, Matilda asked me if she could have broccoli for dessert. I kid you not. Obviously, I was a bit taken aback. But after looking around for hidden cameras I realized the kid was completely serious. So I indulged her with a fresh pack of raw broccoli that I happened to have on hand for use in a grown up pasta dish I had planned to make later. I believe Jon and I ate Lucky Charms that night. Pretty much from then on Mattie always preferred fruits and veggies over more standard kid fare. Now at four she’s one of the healthiest eaters I know  among the preschooler set. Yesterday I packed turkey chili in her lunch. After school she requested an apple for a snack while Sadie munched goldfish crackers happily nearby. It’s just normal to me now.

“But you must be doing something right. I need to know what it is.” The mom at that party gestured at Matilda who’d moved on to red pepper hummus and pita.

“What can I say? My kid loves a whole grain. I think I’m just lucky. And I guess I don’t push it on her or have a reaction to what she chooses to eat either way. I stay neutral. I don’t worry about it.”

“But I’m so frustrated with my daughter’s eating habits!” Party Mom said. She was having trouble getting her two-year-old to even try a latke (potato pancake) even with gobs of apple sauce on it and I could see it was making her feel like a failure.

I understood her pain. Elby, my oldest, is one of the pickiest eaters I know. There was a period of about a year where she basically ate a plain bagel with cream cheese on it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Yes. For a year. I tried everything to break her out of it, offered every kind of food, lots of healthy choices, you know the drill. But nothing worked. So in order to get her to eat something, I always broke down and gave her a bagel or one of the other three or four foods she’d eat when in an especially daring mood. I didn’t tell many people about it because it seemed so embarrassing like it was something I was or wasn’t doing.

Some of my friends who had her over for dinner were amazed at her lack of adventurousness when it came to all things edible. The kid wouldn’t even try a piece of candy corn because it “looked weird.” No matter how much peer pressure was exerted by the friends’ kids, Elby wouldn’t bow to it. She stood her picky ground.

Jon even bought us (okay me who are we kidding here?) that Sneaky Chef book where you can smuggle some spinach into a brownie the way a stoner smuggles weed. But I always found that technique suspect. How good can chocolate taste with spinach in it? And if it’s such a tiny amount that you can’t taste it how can it do any good? Plus, I don’t like the idea of tricking my kids with food. I feel like they should come to love healthy food on their own. Much like I came to love men who weren’t assholes.

The thing is, I was even pickier than Elby at that age. I don’t think I ate a vegetable until I was twenty, and that was just cauliflower, the most mild mannered of all veggies.  Yet now I eat almost everything. Well, I still hate onions but they are a horribly offensive food. I’m also not going to ever enjoy liver, olives or anything with raisins in it. Please please think before adding raisins to a dessert. They have the ability to ruin a perfectly good rice pudding or cake. Other than that, I am fairly open and I believe that my kids will turn out that way too if we don’t freak out about it.

So there’s my secret. I don’t have one. Go figure. I encourage my kids to try new foods but don’t force it and when they love something healthy I make it more often. But really, I think kids grow out of the picky phase on their own. I’m happy to report that Elby now seven, loves sushi, Thai egg rolls, apples and carrots. She also still adores a bagel and cream cheese but at least she’ll put a little lox on it.

As an added bonus, here’s a little sampling of the foods I ate as a kid with a humorous explanation.

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  • Charms lollipops 1 of 5
    Charms lollipops
    I wasn't picky about the flavor. Okay, that's a lie -- I mostly liked cherry but the blue one would do in a pinch.
  • Dried salami 2 of 5
    Dried salami
    Maybe I had a salt deficit. We'll never know. What we do know is that I still love a dried meat product. Jerky, salami, smoked turkey whatever, bring it!
  • Peanut butter 3 of 5
    Peanut butter
    it's a good thing I didn't have a peanut allergy because that was one of my few sources of protein for about ten years.
  • Pepperoni pizza 4 of 5
    Pepperoni pizza
    I loved it but it's not like it was plentiful. My mother insisted on making home cooked meals which I ate none of. Ever. So when we ordered in pizza once in awhile I savored the memory for weeks. And throw a dried meat product on it and that was my version of heaven.
  • White bread 5 of 5
    White bread
    I loved to spread butter on it and put it in the toaster. You weren't supposed to do that because you could start a fire...supposedly...now that I think about it, how would that possibly start a fire? That was a damn lie! I want my childhood back!

Want more from me on Babble? Try  Have You Gone To the Parenting Dark Side?

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