You know you’re the parent of a picky eater when you peel a hard-boiled egg, extract the ball of yolk, and rub the two half-spheres of white with a napkin, lest—horror of horrors—a clinging molecule of yellow remains. If you’ve never met a picky eater, feel free to groan and mutter, “Oh, that Jessica. She’s just another overindulgent parent, catering to her child’s every whim.”
I used to react the same way. That is, until I became the mother of a picky eater. As I have written in a previous essay, Olivia will reject parmesan cheese insufficiently aged, and possesses taste buds so discerning she can distinguish among brands of balsamic vinegar. A trip to an ice cream parlor engenders thirty minutes of debate (see above). A buffet is unthinkable.
Nothing I cook is good enough for my daughter. Not my scrambled eggs, not my chicken fingers, not my grilled cheese sandwiches. I’m sure that in a blind taste test, she could pick out a bowl of cereal that I poured and label it “too sweet,” “soggy” or “bland.” Even my microwaving is sub-standard, according to her.
“I don’t like your bacon,” Olivia says, turning up her nose at breakfast with a sniff. “It’s too clear.” Her dad’s bacon, on the other hand, she deems superb. She proclaims it “restaurant quality.”
That’s why I appreciated this article by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic, Parents of Picky Eaters, It’s Not Your Fault, in the New York Times Motherlode blog.
Apparently, it’s not enough for parents to worry that their 2-year-old doesn’t like green vegetables, or that their 8-year-old despises the texture of hamburgers. They also have to worry that their child’s pickiness makes them bad parents. This judgment isn’t being handed down by pediatricians or scientists or, you know, the people who actually have the facts to back up their opinions. It’s being leveled at the parents of the picky by the parents of the non-picky.
“She’s picky because you give her choices.” “I just wouldn’t allow [my child] to be picky.” “You should just let her go hungry if she won’t eat [insert disliked food here].” That’s just a taste of what has been said to a friend about her daughter, and it makes her feel like a lousy parent. She’s not. I was a picky eater, and I know: getting a picky eater is no more a determinant of parental fitness than is getting a kid with brown eyes. I am living, eating proof.
For nearly three decades, I ate very few vegetables and hardly any grains, and I lived to write about it. My food issues had nothing to do with my parents’ collective parenting prowess. I don’t know why I was a picky eater, and I’ve tried to figure it out. Scientists and medical practitioners I interviewed on this topic over the last two years have theories, hypotheses and studies, but even they can’t conclusively tell me why I was a picky eater for 27 years. If they can’t pinpoint the causes of picky eating, what makes Mommy McJudgerson down the block think she can?
If you, like me, are the parent of a picky eater, treat yourself and read the article. You’ll feel much better.