My son is terrified that he might win his school's reading contest. If he does, he'll be invited, with the other winners, to attend a special lunch at a local Chinese food restaurant. My son loves books. He hates Chinese food. In fact, he hates pretty much any food that isn't chicken fingers, french fries, ketchup, bagels and cream cheese, or cereal. Occasionally he'll eat a jam sandwich but only if the jam isn't homemade. He'll eat apples, but only Red Delicious. And carrots. Raw.
I know what you're thinking. I let our child dictate the menu for the entire household based on his sugary and basic likes. Except I don't. I just have a very picky eater.
His fussiness over food has been something I've struggled with. I devoured articles on picky eaters and followed their advice to the letter. Did you know that if you present picky eaters with a certain food an average of 17 times they will finally try it because it seems "familiar"? Except he didn't.
I tried sneaking "good" food into what he would eat. Bran muffins harbored shredded zucchini. Pizza sauce hid pureed carrots. Chocolate cake was made moist with pumpkin. I felt like a cheater. And still, it didn't work. This kid has olfactory skills that would shame drug-sniffing dogs – assuming the drugs smelled like broccoli.
I model good eating. A plate loaded with organic veggies aside whole-wheat pasta, for example. Homemade bread teeming with hemp seed. Even my "bad" food is good—biodynamic wine and homemade tortilla chips.
Nope. He had none of it.
I felt inferior to friends whose toddlers nibbled shrimp or requested sushi with an adorable lisp. I envied their breezy sophistication. Their worldly and open-minded kids. I feared a life that precluded ever taking my son to a restaurant that didn't offer a kids' menu. I imagined the future people who would never date him, joking with their friends about his love of "nuggets." I imagined the jobs he wouldn't get because the executives, over lunch, would conclude he couldn't think outside the box, given that his food was served in one.
But most of all, I worried about what my son's narrow appetite said about me.
I was pedestrian. Parochial. Predictable. Picky.
It's with that realization that I was able to abandon my mission to convince, cajole, bribe, trick or otherwise coerce my child into eating food he refuses.
I ate pizza for the first time on my 19th birthday. Tried lasagna in my second year of college. And finally indulged in spaghetti and meatballs when, at 23, I was poor, studying in France and ordered the cheapest—and most recognizable—thing on the menu. I was 25 before I tried any type of ethnic food. Twenty-eight before I ate lobster. I still don't eat ketchup. Or mayonnaise. Or mustard. I'm not just anti-condiment. I also won't touch fish with their eyes intact. Liver. Tongue. The list goes on and on.
My own childhood menu consisted of bologna sandwiches (white bread, thank you very much). Saltines. Boiled potatoes. I ate hamburgers, plain. Chicken (white meat only) with no skin or sauce, broiled. Iceberg lettuce and carrots. Occasionally I would eat an apple. My brother refuses to accept I've ever been a child since I didn't eat peanut butter, "the official food of childhood," he points out.
What changed? Well, I grew up. Moved away from home. Spent time in another country renowned for its food. On my own, I began to experiment. To try, just a nibble. With no one taking inventory of what went into my mouth, I felt freer to explore and draw my own conclusions.
I'm beginning to believe my son will follow a similar path. Just the other day he tried red pepper. "Yuck," he said.
Will he someday meet me for sushi? I doubt it.
But I don't like sushi anyway.