Before I had a child of my own, I thought picky children were always picky because their parents made them that way. In fact, much of the information I read about feeding children seemed to corroborate this view. Children eat what they’re fed. Indian children eat curry. Japanese children eat raw fish. There’s no such thing as “kid-friendly food”--we just feed kids the same thing over and over, never exposing them to new flavors and textures, and then they learn to be picky.
If there was one thing I was absolutely determined about when I had a baby, it was that my baby would never, ever be picky.
As my newborn lay asleep in her crib, I had visions of The Child Who Eats Everything. My child would like spicy food! We could take her to ethnic restaurants and she would want to order the wildest thing on the menu! She would eat octopus and kimchi and live crickets! She would put the other children to shame!
I would do everything possible to make this happen. I read books and pinned healthy baby food recipes to Pinterest. By golly, I would be the mother to The Child Who Eats Everything.
The first year my child started eating solid foods, the vision seemed to be realized. Unlike other babies, my baby would eat any puree I put in front of her. When she started eating regular table foods, she was a curious eater and was willing to try just about anything. I was beginning to be very smug about my baby, the product of my months of research and careful honing.
You can see where this is going.
One day, she suddenly wouldn’t eat her normal foods. I’m not exaggerating; it was an overnight change. She even refused blueberries, which she’d eaten with vigor the entire previous week. It was baffling.
I wasn’t worried at first. “It’s just a short phase,” I said confidently. “She’ll be back to her regular eating habits soon.”
But she never returned to her “regular” eating habits. Now, she is one of the pickiest toddlers I know, no exaggeration. There is not a single fruit or vegetable she’ll eat in its raw, unadulterated form--unless it’s pureed into applesauce or a smoothie, no dice. Contrary to the assumption that kids will only eat the foods they’re served most often, Rhonda will gladly chow down on macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets every chance she gets, despite the fact that I hardly ever serve them to her. (Oh, and no, she does not like homemade chicken nuggets--only the mystery meat, soggy, store-bought kind.)
I continue to stoically follow the advice from all the nutritionists I’ve ever read and offer her healthy food often. At dinner, I always serve her the regular adult food that my husband and I eat (which she almost never touches, opting to eat nothing but plain whole-wheat bread, which is the only other option I give her). I’ve finally gotten to a place where I mostly feel good about myself as long as I serve the healthy food, even if she doesn’t eat it, so I don’t pressure her to eat anything. I follow the advice, gosh dangit!
And I’ve come to the conclusion that while some picky children may have entered into pickiness because of their parents, most children are probably just going to be picky or not and there’s nothing we can do about it.
As for Rhonda, I can easily see how her pickiness plays into her personality. She’s a naturally cautious child and doesn’t like to take risks. She’s detail-oriented and notices if something is slightly out of place--she regularly picks up tiny crumbs from the floor and puts them in the trash. She’s more sensitive than other kids her age. It only makes sense that these traits apply just as much to eating as they do to the rest of her life--and I didn’t make her this way; it’s how she was born. I think she’s just more sensitive to unusual textures and flavors than other children are.
We like to think that we parents dictate what our kids are going to be like. But in many ways, there’s only so much we can do. I still believe in the approach I’m taking to my daughter’s eating, but instead of believing that she will ever be The Child Who Eats Everything, I just hope that she’ll grow out of her pickiness a little earlier, and that she won’t have the kinds of emotional food issues as an adult that many others have. And if I can achieve that, then I’ll count it as a success.
And if I don’t achieve that...well, blame the experts who gave me the advice.