Food has become an issue.
I understand dislikes of certain tastes, aversions to odd textures, but an all-out rejection because of appearance seems foolhardy at best. My parents are quick to remind me of my own ‘pickiness’ when I was growing up, and I certainly remember disliking a huge category of food, but I think that I at least tasted most things before rejecting them, in fact I have vivid memories of being forced to do so. I have come to believe that my own discerning palate might have stemmed more from a desire to assert my autonomy in a household with four overbearing brothers, than any real detestation of certain dishes; but regardless of my own history, as a father, I try to make efforts to broaden my son’s meal choices.
Finn was actually a really good eater as an infant; two hours after he was born by midwives in our living room we were all sharing large plates of East Indian food. He might not have participated directly in the meal, but since my wife hadn’t eaten during the fifteen hours of labour-which had began at one in the morning and ended at four in the afternoon- I contend butter chicken was the first flavors that hit his lips, even if it was filtered through my wife. This should have been a good base; my parents still haven’t tried butter chicken, at least not voluntarily, so it would have been a broader base than I ever had as a child.
There was also an uncomplaining eight month stint as a vegetarian, and after he was all too happy to gobble down most kinds of meat, with a true Albertan’s preference for ‘cow.’ But now, at the age of three, he has developed a keen eye for what he doesn’t like; so much so, that he doesn’t even have to bring it near his mouth to know with utter conviction that it will taste ‘awful.’
My wife is far more easy-going than I, more willing to trust his instincts and not willing to go through a grueling process of pleading before flipping a grilled cheese sandwich, or peanut butter and toast, onto his plate. But lately I have started using a trick, something that all smart parents have in their arsenal: the bribe. For him, and my wife for that matter, the best temptation is ice-cream, and so it goes.
“If you take one mouthful of mushy peas there might be ice-cream after supper,” I slyly remark.
“The vanilla white kind, with brown yummy choco specks?” I hear the euphoria in his voice.
“Maybe,” I try not to commit.
This sometimes works wonders, with him finishing his whole plate, and sometimes just gets a new food into-and then instantly spit out of-his mouth. I am content if he is willing to try a new flavor, and I try to honor his decision if he asserts that he truly doesn’t like it. And he ends the meal with a bowl full of ice cream.
My wife is impressed when I have managed to get him to try-and sometimes even like-a few things that he has hastily dismissed; and an impressed wife is rare enough that it too has to be cherished.
I thought I had this thing beat-or at the very least had a strategy when I hit resistance-and felt proud that I had a son willing to try new things, one that would grow to understand the merit in variety, and might even strive to discover new dishes.
I felt so good about it the other day that I flipped him his favorite go-to meal, one that has stood the test of time and has been a staple in our house: the grilled cheese sandwich. I created a large pool of ketchup beside the golden pieces of toast-melted cheese oozing out of their side-and set the plate in front of Finn.
“Okay I’ll eat that Dad, but there better be white ice cream with brown specks after,” he commands with hands folded across his chest.