October 1, 2009

No peas, please

My son, Jack, is what we call a "picky eater". In the past ten years, I've tried really hard to recreate the amazingly diverse and creative dinners my mother put on the table my entire childhood, but I have not had much success. I'm not a great cook, no matter how hard I try. But I'm not terrible, and I still have this kid who won't eat 98% of what I make.

I can't remember how old he was the first time he expressed his dislike for some food or another, but I know that the minute he did, I must have launched into some mental justification of why I shouldn't make him eat food he doesn't like ... something to do with my own eating disorders ... who knows ... but now, at 11 years old, he usually gets to eat something in the very narrow category of food he likes, although I do usually insist on, say, six peas, or two little broccoli trees.

Which drives my mother totally, completely insane. I actually think I can see her twitch when I bow to my child's wishes. I am quick to apologize to her (for what?) and to explain my reasoning (which, really, is crap) but she just purses her lips and shakes her head and says something like, "It's no wonder he won't eat anything. He doesn't have to."

I'm starting to get her perspective. When I was a kid, she took cooking classes like Chinese Cuisine and tried obscure recipes like Green Tomato Pie. Some of it we loved, some, not so much. But we ate it. And we did so because of the Five Rules of Eating, Circa 1960-something:

1. Dinner was at a certain time. May not be the same time every night, but it was only served once. At whatever time Mom said. Be there or be hungry.

2. Dinner consisted of what was served to you on your plate. There were no substitutions, no negotiating portion size, no saying something crazy, like "no peas, please." You get what you get and you don't throw a fit.

3. Dinner had four food groups. There was always, and I mean always, something green on the plate. And you ate it. Even if it was spinach. Sometimes, there was a salad in addition.

4. If you didn't like what was for dinner, you didn't have options. You didn't get to have a PB&J, even if you made it yourself. And most of the time, just not eating wasn't a very popular suggestion either. One exception: Occasionally, she would make liver and onions. Even my Dad didn't have to eat it. We all got something else if we wanted.

5. We never, ever ate dinner in front of the tv. Unless: there was something really, really special on (like the Moon Landing, which I don't remember, it just sounds important enough) and you then ate on TV TRAYS in the family room. This happened about once, I think, in my life. Maybe twice.

What happened to that list? Was there something wrong with it? Let me just say that, eating issues aside, I think it kicks ass. As an adult, I gotta have my food groups at dinner. I adore spinach. I would have a salad with every meal if I could. I am a freak for foreign food and will try anything once. I still hate eating in front of the tv, although we get a little lax about it during baseball season. When did I get it into my head to cater to this "I don't like that" BS?

Oooops, I think I just admitted that Jack's picky eating is essentially my fault. Dang it!

The other day, he called from a neighbor's house to ask if he could eat dinner there. Sure, I thought, why not. Who cares if I've already put unbelievable energy into inventing something you might like - maybe - and that it's almost ready. Go ahead, eat at the neighbor's.
The next day, I asked him what they'd had for dinner. I know he knows better than to be rude at someone else's house, so I was curious to see if he had tried something new, or funky. Here's what he told me:

"We had Hamburger Helper and it rocked! It was even burned, 'cuz Mrs. Neighbor cooked it way too long, and it still rocked!"

Coming from our house, that would definitely be new and funky. Way to go, stepping outside the box, Jack. It only gets better from here.


  1. Eating at my house growing up was very similar to eating at yours!

  2. I really hope I'm not looking forward to this eating problem with my son. He's only 16 months and he's just begun refusing meals I've made him. It drives me absolutely bonkers! I've even tried to force him...yeah, that didn't work. At all.

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