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Small Talk: Picky eater problems

The fireworks you spotted over my house last night may have been out of season and illegal, but I simply couldn’t restrain myself.

Last night my son ate meatloaf.

Now regardless of one’s opinion of meatloaf, at my house it falls into the category of “real food.” The contrasting other category is the limited list of things that my children, primarily my daughter, will generally consider fit for human consumption.

Until just recently, that category included only cheese, turkey dogs, noodles, tortillas, yogurt, scrambled eggs, graham crackers and anything baked by Hostess. That list is, of course, subject to change without notice. What we ate two helpings of one night will be haughtily dismissed as vile the next. Even as it stands, the half-dozen reliable items do not lend themselves to much culinary variety and rely heavily on chewable vitamins for a rounded diet. It makes packing a lunch impossible. It makes leaving my daughter at someone’s house for lunch, where she politely refuses to touch anything they offer, embarrassing.

If I didn’t have a husband who will eat almost any leftovers, I might have turned to raising pigs. But with this unexpected consumption of meatloaf, a glimmer of hope shines through that someday I may be able to actually cook one dinner meal that everyone will sit down and eat — quietly, if not enthusiastically.

I know for certain now why God gave me my second child. It was to distract me from the wildly arbitrary and particular eating habits of my first. It’s remarkable that I didn’t accidentally starve him to death. For the first few years of his life, his sister could have told him to eat sawdust and he would have done so with a big smile and an adoring gaze.

But finally, to my amazement, he occasionally tunes out her freely and loudly offered opinions. I’m not even trying to push those classic childhood horrors like liver or cabbage. I’m just shooting for those things that every child demands and loves, like spaghetti, pizza or peanut butter.

Preschool helped. When my son finally got out in the world and saw what his friends were eating, he was amazed. He soon began to sample things off my plate, and if his sister wasn’t around, he sometimes ate more than one bite. But each time I break out something new and normal, his sister chimes in with “Eeeuuuww, that’s yucky!” Her enthusiastic rejections are strong medicine.

I have become shamelessly underhanded in my efforts to get my son to take a bite before she can render her predictable howling judgment. My best trick is to slip him his plate first, while she’s looking the other way. At the same time, I will quietly whisper to him the name of the new delicacy, carefully couched in edible terms. For instance, the meatloaf (with a little cheese sauce, I admit) was “turkey bites with cheese.” And it worked.

I’m still celebrating. My confidence has soared. If it holds, I may go all out and offer him something really wild, like baked chicken.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer offering one from the archives. Contact her at [email protected]