I don’t have a lot of patience for adult picky eaters, among which I may or may not number. Margaret Kim Peterson agrees with me, writing scathingly, “Deciding what one will or will not eat becomes a primary means of defining one’s own individuality.” She argues that instead of this identity-as-pickiness, a good eater finds herself realizing that “partaking readily of whatever is offered can be a way of affirming that eating together is at least as important as whatever it is that is eaten.”
Or, as Cat says in that tome of wisdom, Little Bear,
“Can you really cook? If you can really make it, I will eat it.”
When it comes to juvenile picky eaters, my parents had three principles. I have two.
- Make sure your kid is polite. They can’t ask for special treatment and they should eat heartily and compliment the cook wherever they can.
- Pack snacks. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich can get a picky eater a long way, and then the obligation to find something for your weirdo isn’t on the host(ess).
- Try things. We don’t enforce this. My parents tried and it didn’t really seem to speed up my transition into a functional eater. In the end, it meant a lot of fights. Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating, which I highly recommend if your child is not just stubborn but hysterical and anxious about trying new food, urges parents not to make food a battle field, and so we’ve tried to follow that route, despite our frustrations.
For this recovering picky eater and child of a health inspector, potlucks are an act of faith and vulnerability, a chance to try new food, enjoy each other’s cooking, and, yeah, risk consuming out-of-temperature food. But I treasure the opportunity to engage in the social part of eating, and I’m trying to pass that down to two children who are both food-selective to varying degrees. When you eat something someone has made, it makes them happy. Be polite when you say you’d rather not have a slice of that. See if you can find something on the table you can enjoy.
A recent personal victory occurred for me when we went to pick up a fellow parishioner for church. He’s Congolese and has some developmental delays and we think he speaks Swahili but it’s hard to tell because we do not. (It’s not common in Uganda as it is elsewhere in East Africa.) Greeting us in a mix of English and ?, he climbed into the car and handed me…Mandazi, I think, a little vaguely doughnut type thing. It reminded me of the Old Testament story: Manna being translated to mean, “what is it?” After decades when I would have gagged or demurred or both, I could finally accept his generosity and eat the damn thing.
And overcoming picky eating was, in fact, sweet as an African doughnut.
That’s what I hope for, in time, for my children.