Saturday, May 31, 2008

Nibble Quirks

You don't need to ask my mother about what a terrible eater I was as a child. I have no problem owning up to it, if only to help explain why my son Jacob is the way he is. Like musical genius or a brilliant way with words, picky eating is apparently genetic.

When I was young, I wanted nothing but the solitude of my room (so that I could read and write) and, when I had to come to the table, bread and milk. No vegetables, no fruit, no meat; my needs were simple. I would have made a great prisoner.

Jacob is the child my mother always wished upon me during mealtimes, mumbling as she set the timer for me, ostensibly giving me a deadline by which to finish my meal or go to bed. These were the meals I often finished alone, after the sun had set, the dishes had been washed and the rest of the family had retired to the living room to watch M*A*S*H. Jacob is the offspring I was to her, the one whose job it is to put me through the hell of worry over whether he is getting the nutrition he needs, whether he's got an eating disorder, whether he's going to turn out to be only five feet tall. Though she'll never say it, surely she's thinking, "it serves her right."

Ben, on the other hand, looks exactly like me, but that is where the similarities between us end. One of Ben's favorite statements as a baby was, "Mom, what's dat? I eat dat!" He has tried everything from arugula salad to yellowfin tuna (cooked and raw), and prefers steamed mussels to chicken nuggets. Eschewing all forms of processed "kiddie" food, he is the child who will clean his own plate and then ask to eat from mine. He is his father's son, without question or limitation.

Aside from food jags, which we are thankfully pretty much past, I actually enjoy watching the bizarre ways my kids go at food. Benjamin likes to eat raw carrots from the fat end to the skinny. They both prefer small pancakes so that they can boast that they each ate 21 of them for breakfast. And Ben will only eat string beans by opening the hull and pouring out the individual beans, then popping them like M&Ms. If Jacob's steak has even a shadow on it that resembles fat, it will not touch his lips, though he will eat miso soup, made from seaweed and tofu, as well as various kinds of raw fish sushi. But forget about giving him a grape because, he says, "the insides look like boogers." How do you reason with that kind of logic? "Just try a bite" doesn't fly in my house, because if it looks like a booger, he figures, I don't need to try it to know I won't like it.

My hope is that we can expand Jacob's palate by getting him to start making some meals for the family, beyond opening a jar of Ragu and adding fresh basil to it. Since Ben is up for anything edible, he's sure to go along with the kitchen staff change without argument, and will probably sign up as sous chef. In fact, I am looking forward to the day when we incorporate family game night into family sushi night, and roll our own sushi. I can just hear them now.

"Mom, how do you spell 'wasabi'?"

"W-a-s-a-b-i. And when you're done with it, pass it down this way. Oh, and don't forget the soy sauce."

Sure, their friends might think that sushi and Scrabble sound kind of quirky, but hey, we're expanding palates and vocabularies. What's not to like? If that makes us a quirky family, I'm all over it.

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