One Mom’s Journey From Fussy to Foodie — Simple Scratch Suppers

by in Family, September 27th, 2011

fussy eaters
I wrote a post with this very title for my own blog eight months ago. Not surprisingly, it was pretty popular. Every parent wants to know the secret weapon that’ll get his or her kids to eat a well-balanced meal. I’m not here to share some infinite wisdom, but I do have a story that I think will provide other parents some comfort.

There was once a little girl who rolled her eyes at the thought of eating meat. In fact, she went so far as to hide it in the opening under the table where the leaves were supposed to be tucked away. She also had an issue with any type of sauce on her pasta. She survived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for all of elementary school, and well into middle school.

You’ve probably guessed this is my thinly veiled attempt at cluing you into my own early eating habits. So when did I begin to branch out? Believe it or not, my palate didn’t fully expand until I was well into my mid-20s. I remember the first time I met my late husband, Mikey. We sat at a now-shuttered restaurant on Third Avenue and 27th Street called Albuquerque Eats, and he ordered fried calamari. Having grown up in an Italian-American family this shouldn’t have been an adventurous food, yet the tentacles always freaked me out, so I always passed this dish aside at gatherings.

Not wanting to seem picky, I let him spoon a portion onto my plate. Rather than play with it, or try to hide it under the salad, I decided it was time to be courageous. It took me 21 years to realize what I’d been missing out on, and while deep-fried anything isn’t a diet I’d recommend on a daily basis, those crispy rings and tentacles are certainly a treat I look forward to now.

In the 16 years I spent with Mikey, along with my time working in the restaurant business, I went on to taste foods much more exotic than calamari. The list includes almost every part of a lamb, pig heart, bear loin, rabbit, veal, sweetbreads, shark and sea urchin. That’s not to say I love all these foods. In fact, I prefer to eat a mostly vegetarian diet.

The important takeaway here is that I needed to grow into my palate at my own pace. My mom didn’t stop cooking vegetables, and she certainly didn’t stop serving meat for dinner. She didn’t cook a separate meal for me, and there were no purees snuck into brownies. She simply made one dinner and it was my choice whether to eat or not.

I’ve used that same theory when cooking dinner for my own girls. I don’t let their preferences dictate the meals — we’d eat homemade mac ‘n cheese every night if I did — but I do try to serve up a well-rounded meal that includes foods we all love. They’re not big vegetable fans, so I compensate and make sure there’s always fruit on the menu. I still serve vegetables, though, so they can see that green beans, Brussels sprouts and spinach are foods people actually like. I just don’t force them to eat it, unless they say “yuck”; then I invoke the one-bite policy — it’s one thing to not want to try something, but you can’t have an opinion about something you’ve never tasted. My hope is that as they grow up, the mere exposure to a variety of foods will mean they’re eager to one day give them a try. As with any healthy relationship, you can’t hurry love. Some kids are natural-born eaters, and others need to grow into their palates, so be patient.

Thankfully, there are others who share this mindset towards dinnertime. For more advice and practical tips, take a look at this article Melanie Rehak wrote recently: 10 Tips for Dining (or Not) With Picky Eaters. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in the never-ending quest to raise a well-rounded eater.

Jennifer Perillo is a recipe developer and food writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her recipes and tips for feeding families homemade meals are a regular feature in Working Mother magazine, where she’s the consulting food editor, as well Relish Magazine, Parenting, Kiwi and her blog, In Jennie’s Kitchen.

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Comments (10)

  1. @ARFoodie says:

    Thanks for the reminder that I need to stop making multiple meals. Here I am, a classically trained culinary student, and I'm a short order cook at home. My little one only wants candy and Lunchables, and the oldest just wants macaroni and cheese. (At least I got her to switch to Annie's.) **gathering up resolve**

  2. VEsposito says:

    My mom got me to try a few oddities by not exactly telling me what they were- especially pasta dishes which I was already 50% on board with. She'd make pasta with Calamari, which I liked simply because the tentacles grossed my sister out which was entertaining. Pasta Milanese (in my Mom's book, this was pasta con sarde with red sauce) which I ate and enjoyed for a long time before I found out it was made with sardines. Her bog coup was tripe- she'd make spaghetti with ribbons of braised tripe. I asked "what's tripe" – she avoided the question and just said "It's good, try it" – after I tried and liked it (a lot actually!) she clued me in that it was stomach lining- to which I responded "Stomach lining is pretty good stuff then"

  3. I run a catering company that serves healthy nutritious hot lunch for schools in seattle
    check out NEST school lunch program

  4. jeri says:

    Back in the day…meals were served, if you didn't eat a majority, you didn't get dessert. I didn't fix multiple meals. If the kids didn't eat what was served, too bad! They didn't starve. They were healthy kids. I fixed 3 meals a day and served healthy snacks. My kids eventually liked everything I served and thrived! The kids actually started to fix their own healthy meals for us old folks! Now my kids are rearing their own kids and are doing the same thing, go figure! There's no winning, no "I want McDonalds", no tantrums over food. Take out is a special treat. My kids, and grandkids, are healthy and striving. Stop giving in to kids whims! Be firm and you will win the food battle!!! And stop obesity (a big problem today). Also make the kids go out and play!!!

  5. jody says:

    My mom was a Hamburger Helper/Campbells soup concoction cook (bless her for at least trying). I finally learned to cook from watching The Frugal Gormet in my 20's, and now have way too many cookbooks. Fortunately, my kids trusted me when I offered them something new to try and now as older teens they'll try anything once. Except when I was on a Lebanese kick, they nearly hurled when they tried the mint barley yogurt soup. Can't win them all….

  6. sunshyne says:

    My son lost the right to be a picky eater at 5, he ate 2 smoked pig eyeballs. Since then he has to at least try new foods. I don't force him to eat it if he really doesn't like it, but you'd be surprised at what he actually discovers he likes. I have always been a one meal gal, I'm not running a restaurant plus I work full time, even my husband has learned to branch out on his food choices. It still can be a battle some days with both of them, in fact my husband cooks more now so he can pick the meal.

  7. Polly says:

    My rule was one meal on the table, everyone present for the meal. Once I'd cooked, you either ate it or provided your own (healthy) alternative to eat with the family. Hence, at three, my picky eater could make a peanut butter sandwich to bring to the table.

  8. My mother raised my brothers and me to take at least one bite of everything. If we didn't like it, we didn't have to eat anymore. I used the same method with my daughter and now with my grandsons. Always interesting to see what foods they realize are to their liking!

  9. My mum was very lucky with me, I ate it all, my brother was very fussy to eat. It al depends from one child to another. But she was firm, he always had to taste it, and then she rewarded him. It wasn't an easy task.
    Nice to read other people their experiences!

  10. Rattling wonderful information can be found on website . “Often the test of courage is not to die but to live.” by Conte Vittorio Alfieri.

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