My husband is going out
tonight, and I’m doing a happy dance. Not because I don’t want to spend time
with my beloved but because it means I don’t have to cook dinner. I plan to heat up
a hot dog or two for my 8-year-old son with a handful of baby carrots
alongside, and I couldn’t be happier.
Which is strange, since I’m a
I’m living no every food writers’ dream: parenting the world’s pickiest eater.
Until he turned 2, I
smugly believed I was doing things right.
He ate everything! Pesto was my secret weapon. If he resisted a new food, I’d
stir in a spoonful of basil-flecked, garlicky paste to win him over. Clearly,
his omnivorous appetite was due to my superior parenting skills.
And then my precocious
toddler reached a developmental milestone. He realized he had very little
control over his life and began to grab it where he could, by refusing food
he’d previously gobbled down.
Six years later, I’m scared to
enter my kitchen. Not scared in the oh-my-god-ebola-in-New-York sense — more like
the paralyzing, damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t sense.
I’m scared to make a one-pot
meal. My son’s pickiness is of the foods-can’t-touch variety. Pesto hasn’t been
welcome on his plate since around 2008 — he takes his pasta with olive oil,
period. He’ll eat chicken, but plain, with the icky seasoning on the outer layer
trimmed off (I insist he does this himself, obvs). If it’s been cooked in a pot
with some kind of sauce and — god forbid —vegetables, even the inner portion of
chicken becomes suspect. Most nights I ignore this knowledge and forge ahead
with what I’d like to cook, but a cloud of uncertainty lingers over the stove
as I stir.
As much as I refuse to cater to him or play short-order cook, it stings when he rejects my food.
I’m scared to try a new spice.
A few years ago I brought home a jar of Aleppo pepper, a fruity-hot relative of
red pepper flakes from the Middle East. That little jar inspired me to come up
with new recipes for things like Corn,
Zucchini & Spicy Pesto Pizza and Roasted
North African Ratatouille, but I haven’t added a new spice to my repertoire
since. A jar of Ethiopian berbere, bought in a fit of optimism, gathers dust in
I’m scared to involve him in
the process. If you have a picky kid, no doubt you’ve heard the maxim that kids
who help prepare the food are more likely to eat it. My son wields a mean
chef’s knife (last night he dispatched a small mountain of carrots and sweet
potatoes) but he rarely eats what he cooks.
Sometimes I convince myself that if
he has a say in what I’m cooking, he’ll probably eat it. I’ll try to brainstorm
with him casually on the way home from school. “I’ve got some chicken
defrosted, but I can’t decide what to do with it,” I’ll say. “Got any ideas?”
It never fails: He either shrugs, uninterested, or engages in a lively
conversation with me, tossing around ideas — and come dinnertime doesn’t eat the
very thing he’s requested.
I’m probably painting a more
dire picture than the situation deserves. Life-threatening, this ain’t. We sit
down almost every night for a family dinner, and I try to respect Ellyn
of Responsibility. Most of the time I just cook, and let my son decide
whether and how much to eat. But the getting-ready part makes my pulse pound. As
much as I refuse to cater to him or play short-order cook, it stings when he
rejects my food. If I can just get it right, I think, I can avoid that pain.