I have a confession to make: I am in love with food. I might even go as far as to say I am obsessed with it. Really, I am probably obsessed with food. I like to cook only because it is a means to this food that I love. My days revolve around food and what I am going to eat or cook for my next meal or even the next day or next week. I am always reading recipes. I’m kind of obsessed with those too.
So imagine my joy when my son turns out to love food as much as I do. Even as a toddler, he ate anything I put on his plate, squeezing okra and calling the seeds “eyes.” He ate platefuls of the stuff. He’ll try anything once.
My daughter, however, is my challenge. My beautiful, picky daughter. It breaks my heart that I cannot share this love with her. Cooking she loves. She’ll sidle up to the counter and measure and pour, even taste a little. But put it on a plate in front of her and the battle begins. We’ve tried all the tricks. Everything. None of it works. Nothing.
We have well-meaning friends who offer up advice. Make her try it. How do you make anyone do anything? They don’t know what that would involve, prying open a clamped jaw with my hands and trying to force lasagna down her throat. How to get her to swallow? Rub her throat like a dog who won’t swallow a pill? I can see it now, the looks I’d get in a restaurant…and the escort out.
Or how about making her sit there until she eats it? Yeah, I have better things to do for a week. Do you? Because you can come sit with her until she eats it. Feel free.
The thing is, those things bring tears, yelling, and a whole lot of stuff I don’t want to bring to the table. And believe me, I’ve had to leave it many times. It all leaves me feeling bad. I can’t imagine the damage it does to her. Food should be a pleasant experience, with warm memories like grandma’s kitchen.
The best advice I’ve gotten? Don’t make dinnertime a battle. Put out healthy food and let her make her own choices. Amen. From our pediatrician who raised his own picky eater, who is now a chef. That’s right, a chef.
My daughter eats from all food groups. She loves fruit and often, but not always, prefers homemade to processed, meaning mac ‘n’ cheese and bread aren’t things I can just whip up. A speck of parsley or pepper in her food stresses her out. There’s just not a lot of variety in her comfort zone. I have faith that she’ll get bored with that. I have to trust that she’ll outgrow it. And she’s starting to come around…painfully slowly.
Take, for instance, the grilled cheese she tried recently. Growing tired of her meager menu, she decided a grilled cheese sounded safe. She likes bread. She likes cheese. It felt a little daring to put the two together. Nervously, she licked. I couldn’t bear to watch and paced behind the counter, ready for defeat. My son gave me the play-by-play and quickly announced it was all over: She had eaten the entire thing…and she wanted more. I couldn’t get cheese between two slices of bread fast enough.
Once that one was devoured, she pondered what had just taken place in her mouth. “I didn’t really like that cheese,” she announced. Hmmm. This usually means she doesn’t really like it. But here’s how I get around it: You eat it once, it’s on your menu now, Missy.
“We’ll work on it,” I said. Many tries later, we still can’t get it quite right, but she’s still willing.
I love her, pickiness and all. “You’ll make some man very happy with your high maintenance one day,” I tease. Check in with me in 20 years. I bet she’ll be a food critic. She’s getting good practice.