When my husband and I met, he was an extremely picky eater. The only green vegetables he’d eat were iceberg lettuce and bell peppers, and I was horrified.
I was raised a vegetarian, accustomed to grinding up all manner of vegetables and making imitation hamburgers out of them, so the concept of not eating vegetables was quite foreign to me.
“How did this happen?” I’d ask him periodically. “Our kids are going to learn to like vegetables. Kids HAVE to eat vegetables.” I was positive that I’d never raise a picky eater. I mean, my spouse likes chocolate and he likes nuts, but he doesn’t like chocolate and nuts together. My brain can’t even comprehend this concept.
Flash forward a few years, and I am faced with a middle child who eschews even the kid-friendliest of foods. This is my karma for saying I would never have a picky eater living in my house. This is what happens when a person — in this case, me — says repeatedly, “I would never make a special meal for a kid. Everyone is going to eat what I serve, or they’ll just go hungry.”
Well, 5-year-old Asher doesn’t mind being hungry. He can play hard outside all day, come inside ravenous, and if he sees anything on his place mat besides cereal, fruit, peanut butter and jelly, French fries, or oatmeal, he wrinkles his nose and walks away. He would truly rather be hungry than to put macaroni and cheese in his mouth. We’re going on four years of this, with no end in sight.
He’ll eat fish sticks, but not chicken nuggets. He likes cheese, but only cheddar slices that are square. He loves oatmeal, but only the quick-cook kind. Old-fashioned oats are too big, he says, and he doesn’t like butter. I sneak it in anyway. His ribs are showing. He needs fat.
For some reason, the list of acceptable foods is shrinking as he grows older. I choose the healthiest bread we can afford, and load him up with peanut butter and fiber-filled fruits like pears and apples. He munches on Rice Krispies at dinner while the rest of us eat chicken alfredo. Just like that, Asher gets a special meal — something I swore I’d never do.
I have a picky eater, but I no longer feel like a failure because of it. I just hand him a bowl of oats and an extra multivitamin, and hope for the best. The cares have been worn right out of me. Years of worrying about his pickiness officially ended this school year, when I told him I wanted him to eat lunch in the school cafeteria every day rather than bringing a lunch from home. I thought it would be good for him to try new things; after all, this strategy worked with our eldest child, who loves the lunches at school. This experiment was an epic fail for Asher. His teacher emailed and informed me that he was eating almost nothing at lunch and totally wigging out when his blood sugar crashed.
“I think he’s hungry,” she said carefully. “Can you start packing him a lunch?”
That was the day I decided to lean into the situation rather than to continue to fight it. His class made their own butter at school, just like the Pilgrims used to. In the photo of 31 children happily eating their slices of bread with butter, mine was sitting with his hands in his lap, bread and butter untouched.
He’s growing, and I watch for signs of scurvy. Other than that, what’s the big deal? I’ve got bigger things to worry about…like figuring out what the kids did with my wine opener.