This past Saturday evening, my four-year-old daughter’s other parent dropped her off while I still had a friend over. We were eating takeout sushi, so I ordered a few extra rolls specifically for Anna.
“Mama, I wanted the triangle sushi,” she tells me, referring to these little $1.99 sushi pockets we sometimes buy at the Korean grocery store. (Yes, I know this post is already so reflective of my living in a big city.) Most Mondays we go to a farmer’s market, and Anna knows many of the vendors far better than some of her own blood relatives (I have a complicated, not-very-fun family that I’m mostly not in touch with).
Read more: Easy harvest recipes for weeknight dinners>
When we walk through our old neighbourhood, she points out the place where she remembers eating noodles with her friend Emmy, or the health food store where she sometimes picks dried mangoes out of the bulk section as a treat.
Anna’s relationship with food isn’t limited to nourishment. It’s social, it’s cultural, it connects her and I to our surroundings and gives us a routine. She helps cook and bake (although her other parent is the baker, I’m more inclined toward savoury foods), and I like the ritual of doing the activity together.
Food choices have changed for Anna over time. She stopped liking yogurt, cheese and avocado when she reached toddlerhood. More recently, she’s stopped liking mushrooms or cooked tomatoes. Before starting school last month, she was no longer interested in the majority of starchy foods. Like any other kid, she has her idiosyncrasies about food: She likes the stems of asparagus and broccoli over the tips, she’s happier with food separated on her plate rather than mixed all together, she’ll eat tuna cooked into patties, but not cold. She’ll—no word of a lie—eat spinach only with her eyes closed. Despite these quirks, she eats spinach, broccoli, asparagus and tuna. So, I'm happy.
The other night I ordered a pizza, which I’m not sure I’ve ever done before. I couldn’t really afford it, it was just the two of us, and I have a gluten allergy (gluten-free pizza tastes awful and costs too much). Anna requested broccoli on her pizza, and proceeded to pick off the broccoli and only eat that. She also accepts cucumbers as dessert.
When fellow Today’s Parent blogger Jennifer Pinarski asked if she was raising food snobs or picky eaters, I remember wondering if I was raising a food snob or cultured eater, an open-minded child or pretentious one. Is Anna's openness to food obnoxious, or admirable? Like Jennifer, I ate a lot of canned vegetables as a kid. There was a regular rotation of Hamburger Helper, Cup-a-Soup and Rice-a-Roni in my childhood home. I thought Uncle Ben’s packaged onion soup was an old family recipe (I still kind of do, and it’s one of the few processed foods I will still eat if it’s put in front of me). In contrast: My daughter grew beets in a container this past summer, and harvested butternut squashes and beans in our city backyard as a toddler.
When I watch friends picking anything orange out of their kids’ food, or being limited to only serving orange foods, or making snowmen out of mashed potatoes to get them to eat at least one bite, my heart goes out to them. I had a younger brother who wouldn’t eat anything without ketchup, and another who would literally wash his food under running water if he suspected it had any sort of seasoning on it. They were chicken-and-fries kids, and although I barely ate at all as a kid, my colourful alphabet vegetable soup seemed almost exotic in comparison.
Here’s the thing: I sometimes feel guilty about my kid’s food choices. I won’t say she never screams for candy or juice sometimes, or that we didn’t overindulge in ice-cream outings this summer, but for the most part her willingness to try lots of different foods makes my life easier. When I run into parents at the farmer’s market whose kids want to go home for hot dogs, or watch parents have stand-offs in the grocery store aisles, I feel like I haven’t done my time. I know this is probably ridiculous, but it’s a part of parenting I witness so often but don’t actually experience.
To my friends with picky eaters: I won’t deny that I take some pride in Anna's eating habits. I do not feel left out because I don't cut off bread crusts or hide cauliflower in our food. It’s true, I make happy faces on my daughter’s plate sometimes because it's cute, but never because it's required to get her to eat. I take credit for exposing my kid to many food options, but not for her decision to actually try a variety of foods. As a child who ate mostly rye bread and butter, who had picky-eater brothers, and who provided child care for a kid who only ate food that came in bar form—I know it’s not you. And, in solidarity, any time you want to eat a beige meal together, I’d be happy to. Just no mashed potato snowmen, please.
Read more: How to get picky eaters to try new foods>
Struggling with a picky eater? Check out this video on how to get picky eaters to try new food:
Keep up with your baby's development, get the latest parenting content and receive special offers from our partners