So now that summer is really, completely over and we’ve fallen back into the school routine, my greatest daily headache has returned to me once again: what to make for dinner.
I complain about this all the time, I know, but that’s because, with my picky daughter, it never gets any easier, despite the many assurances I’ve received that she will “grow out of it.”
Here’s what I’d like to know: When? When will she grow out of it? Because my daughter is ten now, and her eating habits haven’t changed at all since she was two. She doesn’t like fish, or lamb or veal or pork, though she’s never tried any of those things, so I’m not sure how she knows that. The only vegetables she’ll eat are broccoli (steamed), cauliflower (roasted), carrots (raw) and sugar snap peas (but only the inside).
Aside from soy sauce and butter, she still abstains completely from any sort of flavor. Meatballs without red sauce, lettuce without dressing, pita chips without hummus, bagels without cream cheese, barbecue without barbecue sauce, hot dogs without ketchup. Marsala, picatta, tandori, curry, teriyaki – forget about it. When we went to Spain this past summer, the only Spanish phrase she felt compelled to learn was “la salsa en el lado, por favor,” or, sauce on the side, please. She is, to put it nicely, a pain in my ass.
So what to feed her? If it were up to her, she’d live on pasta with butter, and even though I only buy Barilla Plus pasta (made with legumes and flax seed and spelt, yet still somehow very close to the color and texture of regular pasta), I refuse to let her live on that and that alone.
Now that she’s on the cusp of puberty, the need for her to eat a more diverse and healthy assortment of foods feels more urgent to me than it did two or five years ago. And while I try not to vilify any food groups – everything in moderation, I believe – it’s only a matter of time before her friends start talking about not eating carbs, and it would be nice if she had some other foods to fall back on.
So what to do? I’m not willing to make two different meals every night. I’ve been there and done that, and I’m over it. I will deconstruct a meal for her when it’s possible – for example, if I make turkey meatballs and spaghetti, I’ll keep the meatballs and spaghetti separate from the sauce and let everyone put it together – or not – themselves.
But I’m starting to think that maybe tough love is the way to go. As in, if I roast a chicken, she’s going to eat it, and if she doesn’t like it, well…tough. Of course, I wouldn’t stick a plate of anything really outrageous in front of her, like chopped liver or super spicy Indian food, but I’m kind of finished with indulging her.
Years ago, when I went to my pediatrician and asked him what I should do about her pickiness, he told me to just put food in front of her and make her eat it. If she’s hungry, he said, she will. At the time, I thought he was mean and old-school. But after ten years of being nice and open-minded, I still have a kid who won’t eat anything, and I end up frustrated and angry at every meal.
Suddenly, mean and old-school sounds kind of refreshing. I think it just might suit me.