Sunday, October 3, 2010

Weekly Column: They Might Surprise You!

Man, do I hate mushrooms. Raw onions, too.


My childhood was spent, to a surprisingly large degree, avoiding those (and a few other) supposedly inedible bits of culinary terror. I was the very definition of ‘picky eater.’ And honestly, I didn’t expect much different out of my own children.

It seemed to me that children, by their very nature, are picky about food. I brought my own prejudices into my parenting and assumed I’d have constant battles on my hands over what they should and should not eat.

Imagine my surprise when I learned otherwise. I still remember the first day it dawned on me that my child was capable of trying – and liking – new, unusual flavors.

I was chopping vegetables in the kitchen. Piles of diced onions, bell peppers, celery, and carrots graced my countertop as I prepared to sauté them for a hearty pot of soup. Colorful bites of food surrounded me and I liked it that way – I’d outgrown some of my pickiness, finally appreciating the vast supply of flavors available in fresh produce.

But with a two-year-old darting around my ankles, I remembered that as much as I’d wish her to appreciate the same vegetables I did, it wasn’t likely to happen. She was too young to like the crispy bite of a cucumber or the sweet crunch of a bell pepper. I wasn’t sure if her tiny teeth could manage the work of pulverizing a raw carrot, much less navigate the bulbous broccoli on which I loved to snack. But then again, I’d never offered her the chance.

That day, she watched intently as I chopped away at a stack of green bell peppers. When I scooped them into a bowl, she reached up quickly, stealing a bite. My first instinct was to stop her; first of all, it wasn’t snack time (the horror!), and second of all, I didn’t want to clean up a pile of barely chewed pepper when she decided it was nasty (which she would inevitably do, I trusted) and spit it on the floor.

Somehow, mothering genius overcame controlling tendency, and I decided to see what would happen. I put an innocent smile on my face as she ate the pepper. She chewed with half of a scowl on her little brows, and half of a grin on her little lips; she’d gotten away with swiping a bite of something she probably wasn’t meant to have, and she knew it.

After swallowing – a feat I never expected her to achieve – she sweetly asked for more. Bewildered, I handed her a pile of peppers and watched her munch on them contentedly.

What had just happened? I wondered. That was a green pepper! And she LIKED IT!

Emboldened, I gave her a slice of carrot. A few stern chomps later, she’d swallowed the bite and asked for more.

Clearly, I’d been babying her. Of course her teeth were strong enough to handle a raw carrot. Of course she could try things I assumed she wouldn’t like. This was my hurdle to overcome, not hers.

Not always, anyway. As she’s grown, I’ve let my firstborn child try whatever she wants to – onions, olives, mushrooms, tomatoes – and she’s successfully formed her own fledgling opinions. Olives and pickles are a giant ‘NO THANK YOU.’ Lettuce and cucumbers are a sweet ‘Yes, please!’

Her tastes are different from my own. She definitely has her own areas of pickiness, but I try not to influence her preferences with mine.

Which means I avoid swatting it out of her hand when she attempts a bite of mushroom.


[Online version.]

2 comments:

  1. This sounds so familiar! I always have to stop myself from stopping the kids when they try to swipe bites of the veggies I'm chopping. I'm always worried about the messes they'll make and then always delighted when they discover something they enjoy. Now my problem is...if they swipe all the veggies, what on earth am I going to cook for dinner?!?

    Thanks for another great article, Sarah! Your advice really keeps me motivated as a mother! Have I told you that before? Because it's true. I really enjoy your insights!

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  2. Sarah, I felt the same way with my oldest. I thought for sure peppers and cucumbers would end up in chunks on the floor, but he loved them, too. And while he doesn't like onions or celery, I know he's at least given each a shot multiple times, and those are his tastes for now.
    :)

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Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?