Picky Eaters, Cooking and our Most Important Job as Parents

I am completely to blame for my kids’ picky eating for two reasons.  First, I am also a picky eater.  Second, I am a terrible cook.

I do not get the joy and excitement from food that others have.  I’m not eager to try new flavors and textures.  In fact, just writing “new textures” makes me think of eating something slimy and my stomach is turning already because in my head, that is what you foodies mean when you talk about “texture.”  I know it.  You want me to eat an eel or a jellyfish or a worm something.

My lack of interest in food naturally fostered a lack of interest in cooking. It makes sense, of course, doesn’t it?  If I’m not that thrilled with food, why would I spend time learning how to shop, prepare and cook the food?  Food is necessary for survival, but in the US, there is plenty of it around, or at the very least, there are plenty of things around posing as food. It’s relatively easy to eat out of a bag or box or a can or a vending machine and it requires less clean up, less preparation and less thought which allows us to get to all those other things we would rather do than deal with food.

Still, I did eventually learn how to cook. But without the inborn love of food, my motivation was not the food itself, my first motivator was money.  In my early, post college years, I did not have the money to go out to the glamorous restaurants to eat.  I had to teach myself how to cook.  I was drawn to foods with flavor, but not a lot of flavor.  When I had food cravings, it was typically for something cold or hot, or something crunchy.  And I had no idea what any spices looked like or were called.  I had a lot to learn!

And while I really didn’t want to be opening up a box or a can every time I ate– not because I had a whole foods agenda of any kind;  it was an act of rebellion against the way I grew up. We ate a meat and potatoes only diet supplemented with boxed Stouffers dinners.  When we had vegetables on our plates, it was usually broccoli or peas from the freezer, green beans from a can or a cob of corn.  Except for the corn which we loved to roll in butter, the vegetables were rarely eaten.

It should also come as no surprise that even back in the day when processed foods were less prevalent and GMO’s were non-existent, a diet lacking in a variety of nutrients made me a sick kid.  Ear infections and strep throat kept me out of school countless days.

Now, as an adult and mother, I am attempting to introduce more whole foods, more variety and more nutrients into my children’s meals.  It is not easy.  Everywhere they go outside my house, it seems they are offered convenience foods, sweets, snacks, candy and junk.  Between soccer, dance, softball, and baseball, I have yet to see orange slices handed out as snack.  Instead, the kids get gummy fruit snacks, Sun Chips, Capri Sun and last week … chocolate iced cupcakes with sprinkles.

How did cupcakes slathered with icing become an appropriate snack to give kids after running their hearts out in sports for an hour? Let’s set aside the long term illnesses like diabetes and obesity that can come from this, what about the short term stomach aches from all this sugar?  And while I was completely horrified, I seemed to be the only one.  Where has our judgement gone?
Why do we not seem to connect that not eating healthy equates with eating unhealthy and when you are not eating for health, you are eating for illness?

So, in all this, the challenge still remains … how can I introduce my kids to more foods and encourage a love of those foods without making them feel deprived, left out, resentful of those foods?  And how can I encourage them to love eating without making it an obsession?

I have to do what so many other families have to do.  I have to get involved and get my kids involved.  I have learned my lackluster talent in the kitchen is matched by my lackluster talent in the garden.  And my continuing education on cooking sometimes leads me to make meals that are completely inedible and nearly set the house on fire with 3 foot high flames coming out of my cast iron pan like I did last week when I was trying to cook a cheese quesadilla.  Yes, you read that right.

But I won’t give up.  I trudge forward with my gardening gloves digging through soil made with poop (UGH!), I compost my kitchen scraps and look up on the internet what those bugs are eating my tomato plants.  I try to saute, not flambe; to bake, not burn.  I flounder and fail and at times we feast on something delicious I will likely never be able to replicate.  And in all of this, I am learning some things that I think others might need to learn too.  I’ve learned to make stock as well as to take stock.  I can make my own sauces. I know the names of a dozen pasta shapes. I nibble basil leaves fresh off the plant.  I snack on fresh peppers and cucumber plucked from my own back yard.  I am starting to feel powerful and hopeful in  my newfound skills.  My kids are healthy and active.  At well visits, their pediatrician does not recognize them, even though when they were infants and toddlers, they had so many appointments and so many medications and so many missed days, the hospital nurses and pediatrician’s office receptionist would recognize us at the gas station and grocery store.

Can you imagine how powerful it is to cook and feed your family nourishing food?  I may not want to eat your eel soup or talk to you about bouquets of flavor or compete who can tolerate the hottest peppers, but I understand the satisfaction in nourishing my children.  My job as a mother is to prepare them for adulthood, encourage them to be their best, urge them to find and use their talents.  And the first step in all that is giving them something to eat.  If that food does not give them the energy, nourishment and nutrients to be the foundation for everything they have planned that day, then it really doesn’t matter if they can kick a ball, play a song on the piano or recite a poem in Spanish.  If they are going to miss the concert with an ear infection, ask to sit out the second half of a game because they don’t feel good and decide they’d rather watch TV all Saturday than go explore with friends, then they are not being set up for success.  They are being set up for failure.  They can’t win if they can’t play. And the foundation for success is health.

So, I’m not judging.  If you are new to this like I was, I understand how hard and overwhelming it seems.  And I understand how easy it is to do what everyone else is doing.  But I also don’t think it’s going to be easy, 15 years down at the road, to watch our kids heartbreak and disappointment as they lag behind, doubt themselves, medicate instead of motivate and give up believing they can do anything they want if they just set their minds on it.  Because their minds won’t go anywhere without their bodies to carry them.

For this reason, we can’t give up.  We didn’t sign up for parenthood saying, “I’m going to do this part way,” or “I’m going to quit when this gets hard.”  We may need to rest, we may need take out sometimes and we may just tear into a Stouffers now an then.  But can you imagine the difference in your lives if the frozen dinner is the anomaly?  Can you imagine what you will be able to experience  and accomplish if you no longer take sick days?  Do you know the money and time you will save over time?

I’ve rambled long enough and hope to tell you another time all those things.

Thanks for reading.

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One thought on “Picky Eaters, Cooking and our Most Important Job as Parents

  1. This post resonates with me so much! I am a picky eater as well – I still don’t like beans, sushi or most seafood, mushrooms, blue/goat cheeses, or even wine, just to name a few things! And I pretty much didn’t eat veggies until I was in my mid-20’s and my husband started requesting some kind of veggie with the meat and potatoes dinners I’d prepare. But having kids really does add a lot of pressure, doesn’t it? I am actively working to expand my own palate along with theirs, and even tried growing food for the first time this summer, only to lose my tomato plant mid-summer to some kind of fungus. Such a learning curve to climb, but so rewarding and such an important payoff as well!

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