Parents with kids who eat anything that’s served to them pat themselves on the back for teaching their kids to be “good eaters.” I, however, find myself constantly apologizing for my “bad eater"–a child with very specific culinary tastes.
The South has been pretty accommodating. There’s always French fries or white bread with butter to fall back on. But it’s been particularly hard spending the summer in the Pacific Northwest–a place that requires an advanced degree in environmental science just to figure out the recycling bins. Sure the restaurants offer the classics on their kids’ menu, but they’re always messing with success.
The other day, I found myself asking, “Do you have anything other than all-natural peanut butter? And what about bread without nuts or green flakes?”
The server looked at me as if I’d just stabbed a baby seal with a non-compostable straw. “Our peanut butter is very healthy and those ‘green flakes’ are rosemary.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’ll eat just about anything. In fact, I personally love my bread nutted and herbed and I’ve offered it to my child many times. To which Ava politely responds, “No thank you, Mommy.”
Her finicky food issues give my farm-raised father an embolism.
“Just try it!” he yelled tonight at dinner, shaking a coconut-encrusted prawn in her face.
“No thank you, Papa,” she said, happily drenching her dinosaur-shaped nugget in ketchup.
“How do you know you don’t like it if you don’t try it?!”
I asked my husband–another “safe” eater–the same thing many years ago, to which he responded: “I don’t have to taste a turd to know I don’t like it.”
He has a point. I don’t have to try jeggins on to know they weren’t made for me. I don’t have to get a bob to know that my head is shaped like a pin. I should take comfort in the fact that my daughter knows what she likes, even if that means she believes she’s “allergic” to salad. I should, but I can’t, because every time my child requests a second cup of ketchup or screams “Ickies!” whenever she spots a speck of onion discernable only to her or a microscope, some mom of a kid who probably eats soft-boiled eggs and stinky cheese tisk-tisks in disapproval.
I wish everyone would just lay off the force feeding. Ava’s not malnourished. She’s not overweight. She knows the difference between healthy foods and unhealthy foods and she usually makes the right choice. In fact, unlike me, she has a very healthy relationship with food. Growing up, I was told I had to eat everything on my plate–and I did, with enthusiasm. I still do, regardless of my appetite. I learned to eat what was served to me, rather than listen my body’s cues. It was considered impolite to do otherwise. Even tonight, I grabbed a few grapes an hour before dinner and Dad said, “If you eat all that and you aren’t going to eat your dinner.”
All that? I wanted to say I’m hungry. I wanted to say I’m 34. But instead I just said, “Dad, if grapes actually filled me up, I’d be a lot skinnier.”
Ava, on the other hand, is incredibly in tune with her body and her appetite. Rarely will she clean her dinner plate–she stops when she’s had enough. But the same goes for dessert. Let her loose on an entire carton of ice cream and she’ll take a few bites and then announce she’s full. So restrained! So self-aware! So French!
Granted, she’s a little high maintenance. She knows what she wants and those wants are often very specific. If she asks for “pasta and parmesan with just a little bit of sauce–and leave the noodles long, please,” she will eat it. Sometimes the nuggets need to be cut, sometimes left whole. Sometimes the ketchup goes under the hot dog; sometimes it goes on top.
Look, at some point we need to honor each other’s particular likes and dislikes. My dad likes his broccoli firm but not crunchy–a distinction only he understands. When he eats fish and chips, he requires two vats of tartar sauce and a lemon tree.
Hey pot, I’d like you to meet my little kettle.