Picky, Picky: When Your Kid Is Not a Foodie

Dead end street.
Dead end street. Photo by Scott Ableman
I was a picky eater well into my twenties. I had a reputation among my family members as a skinny, vegetable-eschewing bookworm. I am still a bookworm, but the skinny moniker is no longer appropriate and I now not only eat my vegetables but grow them.

I blame part of my former pickiness on the fact that my mother had an unusual obsession with limas and butter beans. I would sit at the kitchen table, gagging with each pale, whitish legume I was forced to stick in my mouth. My brothers, human garbage disposals that they were, had long deserted the kitchen table while I sat alone, tortured by the disgusting, sulphuric smell hanging in the air.

I still hate lima beans. And butter beans. And canned spinach. No amount of “Popeye eats spinach” could make me stomach the green slime. In fact, it wasn’t until my sister-in-law made a strawberry-spinach salad one day that I realized spinach is delicious, so long as it hasn’t been cooked to death and put in a tin can.

Like many families in the '70s, we ate a lot of canned vegetables. They were cheap and with three children close in age, my mother could open a can of veggies and feel like she was meeting our nutritional needs. Except for me. My family blames my lack of height on my picky eating.

I also liked Taco Bell. A lot. I craved Jack in the Box tacos. I once looked inside the fried shells and was horrified, but I ate them anyway.

Years later, as I learned more and more about cooking, it fueled my desire to try new cuisines. I thought I hated Indian cuisine. It didn’t matter that I had never eaten anything remotely Indian in my life. I just knew I hated it until some British friends took us to their favorite Indian restaurant. While chicken vindaloo might not seem adventurous nowadays, for me it was a revelation.

From then on, I was subscribing to Bon Appétit and Food and Wine and trying out recipes. With lots of misses came a few hits, and I was hooked. I learned to cook different sorts of vegetables. My mother had become quite
a good vegetable gardener, so I decided to try my hand at it too.

My mother is amused to see the change, but it took a number of years before I shed my pickiness and opened up my taste buds to the gloriousness of food.

click to enlarge The garden in late spring. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
The garden in late spring.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Then I had children of my own. Karma is a bitch, so they say, and it came back to bite me with a vengeance.

It was easy when they were young, but as my children grew, they became pretty adamant about their likes and dislikes. Begging and coercion seldom worked. I did convince my daughter when she was three that my homemade Bolognese sauce was porridge, just like Goldilocks ate when she trespassed at the Three Bears’ house. It worked. For a while.

When my son came along, I was thrilled with his eating habits until he stopped eating food that wasn’t some form of dairy. I worried about his lack of meat protein and wondered if a person could really live off of yogurt and cheese.

Now that my kids are teens, I am still dealing with their food issues. One hates beans, the other rice. One likes chili con carne, the other detests it. And it’s not just the kids. The husband doesn’t care much for meat. He prefers fish, which neither of the kids eats.

Dinnertime used to be a pleasure. Now I wonder which family member is going to be disappointed in the meal.

Sometimes, it just seems easier to eat at a restaurant or get takeaway.

There are glimmers of hope. My daughter, despite sticking to her hatred of onions and even chocolate, has become adventurous when it comes to raw seafood and cruciferous vegetables. And when my steak-hating husband is out of town, I grill medium-rare NY Strips for the two of us, while my son heats up a Hot Pocket in the microwave. Not ideal, but it’s all about balance.

My son still has an abnormal affinity for dairy products, but at the age of 13, he has surpassed his father in height, so I guess a person really can live off of yogurt and cheese.

I am still jealous of parents whose children happily eat kale salad and love coq au vin.

I thought that would be my family. I buy grass-fed beef and pastured pork from a small rancher, grow organic vegetables and cook lovely, well-thought-out meals. Meanwhile, my kids are eating 20-piece boxes of chicken nuggets with their friends.

And I just know my mother is gleefully smirking when I complain to her about my picky eaters.

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Lorretta Ruggiero is a Houston Press freelance writer based in Cypress, Texas. She loves entertaining her family and friends with her food and sparkling wit. She is married to Classic Rock Bob and they have two exceptionally smart-aleck children.