A friend, with boys about the ages of mine, takes comfort in the fact that my children are picky eaters. “I get that my kids don’t like my cooking,” she says, “but if your kids don’t eat, then it really must not be about the cooking!” And every time we talk, and we commiserate about the newest things our children have dropped from their diets, I reassure her that I really do think it’s about the kids, not the cooking.
But still, it’s hard. It’s exhausting to keep putting the food on the table when you know it will be met with frowns, groans, or worse. It’s tempting to give up and set out plain pasta every night — and I do mean plain, because a certain someone in this house won’t eat melted butter. And you do tend to forget what it’s like to set out food that people eat unquestioningly, not to mention with pleasure. It’s also, of course, incredibly worrisome (as Lisa and I have both written) as you begin to fear that your beautiful children will shrink and grow stunted from nutritional deficiencies.
This is where I’ve gotten with Eli and vegetables. Every night, no matter what else is on the table, I’ve gotten in the habit of putting out a bowl of carrot sticks because he will eat a good handful of those. That, and a taste of the spinach/chard/broccoli/etc that the rest of us are eating satisfies me. I’d given up even suggesting he try anything more.
But the other night I happened to notice him eyeing the salad. It was pretty, I agree; I wish I’d taken a picture. I’d tossed some gem lettuces with pea shoots and wild arugula, all from our mystery box. Ben, who is a big fan of salad (despite his reservations about taste and texture), was messily pushing leaves into his mouth.
“Eli,” I offered, “Would you like one of these crispy lettuce leaves?” “OK,” he agreed, “But just the crispy part.” So I broke off a pale white rib from a gem lettuce and handed it over. He munched it like a little bunny. I gave him another, and another, this time with some more tender green leaf attached. He asked for more, and I passed him a few leaves tangled up with the nearly translucent green pea shoots. “What are these?!” he asked happily. “Pea shoots,” I answered.
He pulled a tiny leaf off one of the pea shoots and ate it. He ate a couple more, and then started to sprinkle them on his pasta.
He took a bite of his pasta and smiled. He asked for more pea shoots, and again tore the leaves off the stems and flicked them on to his pasta. A small pile of pea shoot stems started to grow next to his plate (later, I scooped them up and ate them all in one bite). “This is my new recipe, Mama!” he said proudly. “My recipe is pasta and pea shoots.” Of course, if I’d offered it to him that way, I expect he would have turned up his nose, but that’s ok — I’m glad he’s finding his way to food he likes to eat, and the meal was just one more reminder to keep putting a variety of food out there, because you never know. Or as Eli put it, “Maybe if I start to eat all these foods, I’ll be someone who eats every food!”
But I’m not holding my breath. The next night I put out the pea shoots again and they were roundly rejected.