My friend Karl once told me that there’s a good reason that children develop pickiness in their food choices around age two. Around that age, hunter-gatherer kids would start to stray farther from their mothers. Their dislike of unfamiliar (and I assume a bunch of familiar) foods protected them from sampling poisonous leaves and berries when mom wasn’t looking.
As I discovered with breastfeeding, “natural” doesn’t mean “easy.” A picky kid, normal though she may be, is a pain to deal with. It seems ridiculous that in a time where nearly any food is available to us at any time of year, we struggle to get our kids to eat a well-rounded diet.
I have egg on my face from my bragging about what great and varied eaters my girls were during the early stages of solid food.
J is a little picky. She hates anything in sauce… unless it’s pasta in red sauce, dryish macaroni and cheese, or ranch dressing. The toddler who inhaled yogurt, bananas, fish and curry has turned into a school-age lover of pizza, sandwiches and mac and cheese. She won’t sit near anyone eating yogurt. She’s recently decided that all cheese is “slimy” unless it’s grated, so I’ve had to start leaving cheese out of her sack lunch sandwiches. She’ll eat most kinds of fruit and raw vegetables, although she’s anti-pear and anti-banana. She likes chicken fine and loves fish. She loves bready things of all sorts: sliced bread, rolls, muffins, tortillas, pancakes, waffles. We stick with whole-grain at our house.
M is much pickier. Like Sissy, she hates sauce textures, although she will eat applesauce and has recently branched out to marinara. She even allowed herself a taste of yogurt the other day! We’ve come a long way from dealing with her texture aversion in feeding therapy. She’ll eat several kinds of raw vegetables: broccoli (stems only), spinach, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, jicama. She’ll also eat boiled or canned corn.
She loves apples.
Other fruit? Don’t bother, unless it’s a purple seedless grape. Green grapes are a no-go in the under-30 set at our house.
Protein is easier. Like J, M will eat chicken, pork, fish and eggs. And breads… she loves her bread. The kid would live on pancakes, apple slices and breakfast sausage if I let her, occasionally eating a croissant for dessert.
These children have inherited my sweet tooth, but that’s a tale for another day.
For years, I’ve sought out recipes that will tempt my children’s palates. When M was a toddler, I came to terms with her odd rhythm of living on milk for a couple of days, only toying with her food at mealtimes. She’d then eat a single gigantic meal before returning to 2 days of a liquid diet. I’ve learned to accept that the things that my kids will eat taste bland and boring to me. I’ve learned to focus on nutritional balance over variety. And I’ve learned that I’d rather spend time talking to my kids about their observations of the world than arguing over food.
In recent months, I had a flash of insight. If my kids prefer their fruits and vegetables raw and separate, why do I seek out vegetable recipes? My love for rich combinations of flavours and textures doesn’t mean that different concoctions and preparations will tempt my children. They can have their veggies raw. At least they’re eating them.
Now, instead of coaxing my kids to try the latest and greatest vegetable solution I’ve come up with, I lay out a raw vegetable or collection of veggies at meal time. The girls can assemble their own salads or keep their carrots from touching their jicama if it’s that kind of day. J can have her ranch while M and I forgo dressing.
Do they like what I like? Not yet. Are they getting their fibre and vitamins? Yes. Are they learning to make good food choices? Yes. Would I rather we could all enjoy Cajun okra or curried cauliflower together? Absolutely.
What’s your children’s take on fruits and vegetables? Do they eat them cooked? Raw? Not at all?