The Picky Eater

When Char and I were first married so many years ago, she was an eater of mundane foods. Basically, she was what people would call a “meat and potatoes” eater. She wanted nothing to do with any form of seafood and she avoided international dishes at all costs. She had three vegetables - corn, peas, and green beans - and they better be in their most generic form. Adventure, to her, was not to be found on the dinner table.

When the boys started arriving, Char couldn’t refrain from making negative reactions to the foods she disliked. The boys quickly picked up on what their mother found distasteful and followed suit. The first two boys had their palettes ruined, so by the time Zachariah came along, I made some new rules. Char was not allowed to say anything about any food I put in front of him until after he had tried it. That included facial expressions and body language, as well. Furthermore, the older two boys were to refrain from offering their opinion.

I placed all kinds of food in front of my youngest and he not only ate practically everything that was put in front of him, but enjoyed it! My mother-in-law once gave him a lemon, believing his reaction would give her a good laugh. It didn’t, because he ate the lemon without batting an eye. And then he wanted another one! To this day, Zac will eat almost anything, which is proven by my constantly empty fridge. When it comes time to pay the grocery bill, I have to remind myself I caused it.

Growing up, my mother had the rule that you had to try a spoonful of everything that was on the table. It was a rule I adopted with our children and one we use with the 8-year old today. The reason for the rule was that you never know when your taste buds will change. Some dishes I had despised, I have suddenly enjoyed. Of course, some that I once loved I no longer care for, either. We like what we like when we like it and there’s no forcing it. However, you will never know unless you try.

I also believe some of it is purely mental. My older two based their reactions off of their mother. She, in turn, had based hers off of her mother. Of course, it’s also dependant on one’s mood. When the 8 year-old is crabby and pouty, nothing tastes good to her. Several times as we have sat at the table, she has asked what we were having and I’ve had to head off the whining with “Pork chops and you like them. Eat it.”

Having a picky eater in the group can limit your choices of dining pleasures. If there’s not a hamburger or chicken tenders on the menu, you may never cross the threshold of that new restaurant everyone is raving about. We had this problem on our last outing to St. Augustine. My sister’s children made Char appear adventurous in her eating habits. Several restaurants were passed over because there was simply nothing her children would eat.

Our problem is that we are raising a fast food generation that has a difficult time getting away from a six-piece McNugget and French fries. While it may be food of convenience, it is also stifling their palettes on top of being a poor, healthy food choice. It’s not even a treat. Parents need to realize it was given the moniker Junk Food for a reason. It should be avoided at all costs. Of course, the minute I say that I’m going to drive through and pick up a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.

Then there is macaroni and cheese, which is now on almost every kid’s menu as the entire meal and not a side dish. I found it sad when we ventured into a new restaurant in town called Possum’s Crossing and macaroni and cheese was on the adult menu as an entire meal for $10.99. We have fallen from the fine dining experience.

Of course, some people will ask, “Isn’t it more about the company you are with than the food?” I would answer that it’s about both. Sharing a meal is one of the most enjoyable things people do together. Not only is it a part of almost every celebration and festival, but it is also a time to relax, enjoy some great conversation and strengthen relationships. However, when one person is a picky eater and the other prefers to try new things, meal times can be problematic as opposed to relaxing.

In our home, we’ve come up with a compromise. While some like to experiment and try new things or have more than the basic three vegetables, we make sure every meal is a mix for all taste buds. New recipes are tried with enough of what everyone will eat on the table just in case it doesn’t work. We also serve at least two vegetables per meal, one of which is always of the standard three. As I said in an article I wrote, we shouldn’t become short order cooks for everyone in the home, but it also doesn’t make sense to create an entire meal that you know someone is not going to eat. We should be able to explore new dishes while still ensuring no one leaves the table hungry.

As in everything else involved in relationships, food is also about compromise. Being adventurous doesn’t mean you have to like it. It only means you have to try it. Like Char, you may walk away pleasantly surprised with a new taste on your lips.

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