I’ve never been a picky eater; at least not that I can recall. My parents, too, seem to remember me being pretty open to new culinary experiences even as a kid, and as I’ve grown, my appreciation for new flavors has only increased. I love trying out new recipes, new restaurants, and new cultural cuisine.
Which puts me squarely at odds with Bear, whose agenda seems to be “all carbs, all the time.”
And trust me, no one loves carbs more than I do. But it’s the same carbs. And it’s bland carbs – grilled cheese on white bread, shoestring fries, white toast, buttered noodles, mac and cheese (but only Annie’s, not homemade. God forbid, homemade). My husband, whose palate, as an adult, is just as expansive as mine, reassures me that he went through a lengthy phase as a “picky eater” when he was a kid, so, rest assured, Bear will grow out of it.
And, I mean, Bear is three-and-a-half. Lots of kids his age have their safety foods, their comfort food, their routine. I know it. I get it.
But man, is it frustrating.
Then, the other night, something happened.
I often get overwhelmed in the kitchen, especially when prepping a new meal. I have trouble following recipes as they are typically written, and will often skip steps and have to backtrack, or forget to prep an ingredient before it’s immediately needed, and inevitably, I will have to read and re-read a step several times. I either make a dozen trips to the fridge, frantically grabbing and returning items, or let things pile up on the counter and just hope at the end I’ll remember to make sure it all makes it back to the fridge (meanwhile, growing frustrated with the clutter). So, given the already inherent frustration, it’s been a general rule that Bear stays out of the kitchen while I’m cooking.
But the other night, I was making enchiladas – a pretty low-stress meal, as I’d made it before – and Bear wanted to help. Being that I don’t want to raise a boy who has no homemaking or self-sufficiency skills, cooking is pretty high on the list of things I want him to learn. And if he’s actively interested and pro-actively asking about it, how can I discourage that?
I sat him a safe distance from the stove, but close enough that he could see what I was doing in the pan, and narrated each step as I completed it (Bear’s constant chorus of “What are you doing?” every time I moved spurred me along). He helped as much as he could, when he could; he gave the onions and garlic a stir. He opened the package of tortillas.
“Is this bread?” Bear’s a big bread fan. Classic carb lover.
“It’s like bread,” I agreed. I pulled a piece off and handed it to him. He ate it. Good to see, but not a huge surprise. Again – carbs.
“You want to see the beans?” I grabbed the colander full of black beans and brought them over. “They look like bugs!”
Bear shrieked; he loves anything silly and gross. The idea of bug beans was pure comedy gold. “Bug beans! Bug beans!”
“You wanna try one before we add them to the pan?”
Surprisingly, he managed to stay actively engaged through all the prep, and finished up by helping me pour the sauce and sprinkle the cheese. He clapped when they went into the oven, and gave me a high five when I thanked him for helping me. It was a great moment.
And when they came out, he was waiting eagerly to see the finished product. When I put a serving of it on his plate, he smiled and dug in with gusto.
…Hahahaha, no, I’m kidding. He adamantly refused to eat it and demanded we give him chicken nuggets instead. He didn’t eat that black bean I offered him, either, he just put in it his mouth, chewed it, gagged and spit it out rather theatrically. I found a piece of it stuck to the kitchen door this morning, so he got some good distance on it, too.
He put it in his mouth. And he tried it. He didn’t like it – which is fine – but he tried it. And he tried a tortilla. And this week, he tried prosciutto, and pear, and honey. And cooked tomato. And pasta with homemade sauce. All recipes he helped make, or, at least, components of those recipes. I didn’t turn him into a connoisseur, but I made him a part of something he was curious about, and his curiosity, at points, overwhelmed his stubbornness, and he tried things.
He eats pears now. I’m okay with him not eating enchiladas. He eats pears. That’s a start.
And having to narrate my cooking journey was strangely helpful. Verbalizing what I was doing kept me more on track – maybe I didn’t take the most direct route, but I had fewer wrong turns, you know? Being able to keep Bear in the kitchen in a way that didn’t distract me from my cooking meant I knew where he was and could keep an eye on him, spend some time with him, and introduce him to a life skill that would benefit him in the long run.
And if he takes a bite or two of something new along the way, all the better.
PS: Every. Single. Tortilla. Had a bite taken out of it by the time we were finished. Freakin’ carbs. He truly is my son.