A few months ago, I wrote an entry for Park Slope Parents on using the crusts of toasts some of us cut off daily for our kids. I saved mine over the course of a month to make a buttermilk banana bread pudding. It’s the kind of thing I do, in part because I’m manic about not wasting food, and in part because finding value for myself in something I intended for my kids is a small, possibly twisted, parental victory. In the parents cooking workshop I teach, we talk a great deal about picky eaters (who, by the way, aren’t just kids). My goal in these discussions isn’t to help parents figure out the logic behind the way kids eat, but instead to help them accept that there IS none and to get on with feeding ourselves.
Here is the example I always give: One day, my kids came home after school and saw me wrestling with the contents of my freezer. On the counter lay two bags of accumulated crusts, for which I had little room and increasingly less patience. They spotted them immediately and wondered what to make of the collection.
“What are those, Mommy?”
“What are ‘toast crusts’?”
“The crusts I cut off the toasts you eat for breakfast.”
“Mommy?” (You know what’s coming. . .)
“Can we have Toast Crust for snack?”
In the game of feeding young kids, the odds are stacked against us. Sure, there are things we can do to set examples of good nutrition and discerning taste, but kids seem to operate largely without logic or a healthy sense of irony. What are we to do?
For one, we can admit that they aren’t that different from adults with quirky eating habits. My husband cannot deal with the feel of a popsicle stick against his tongue. My friend, Billy, runs from a plate of fried chicken, because of the way the grease makes his napkin stick to his fingers. Plenty of smart people I know choose low fat over taste every time. What we come to accept as “preferences” or “aversions” in adulthood are seen as “fights for control” in kids.
So my suggestion is to let them take charge, but give them many examples of what they’re missing by their limiting choices. Give them plain pasta, sure, but some for yourself, too—and then top yours with pesto and mussels. Make a big deal out of showing how much you enjoy your meal, without offering some of it to anybody else. Grab seconds. Find other ways to taste the pesto—maybe grab a few of their favorite crackers out of the cabinet or find a dependable carrot in the fridge. Messily slurp some broth from those iridescent black shells and make a game of piling them in the center of the table. Maybe your four-year-old will want to play, too, so that she’ll have to lick her fingers of mussel juice in the end. Your six-year-old might forget that pesto is scary, after you show how good it is on, say, toast crust.
The key (note: there is no “trick”): Show how happy you are to be eating a delicious meal (and in the process, you see, you actually get to eat one) and maybe, just maybe, one day your kids will want to see what the big deal is for themselves. Kids don’t want to be told something is good; they need convincing. And what better way to show them than to enjoy the meal yourself.
And I’ll leave you with one last idea: another “recipe” for toast crusts, this time to enjoy with grown ups and a cold beer, after the kids have gone to sleep.