When my daughter started eating solid foods, we did exactly as the pediatrician said. Start with rice cereal, then move to fruits and vegetables that are yellow & orange, then to fruits and vegetables that are green, purple, and red. My daughter liked to eat and I never really thought more about it. As she grew older, she grew pickier. She moved from eating most things to only eating some things to only eating a few things: macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, bagels (with butter, no cream cheese), grilled cheese, and a pretty good variety of fruit. But NO VEGETABLES.
No vegetables. Not one, not ever. When she was 2 1/2, we went to a friend’s house, who just happens to be a professional chef, and she served purple and orange carrots, roasted vegetables, and meatloaf with veggies hidden inside. My daughter picked at the meatloaf, but that was it. At 3 years old, I hosted a dinner play date for a bunch of friends. We made ravioli, edamame, and steamed carrots. My daughter refused the carrots, only tried the edamame because we called them magic beans while singing a song from Yo Gabba Gabba about trying new foods, and she even hated the ravioli, which is cheese and pasta–the same as macaroni and cheese–but I guess it’s not, to her.
I felt so guilty for the picky eater I was raising. Had I done something wrong? Should we have started solids with green beans, not sweet potatoes? Where did we go downhill? I felt judged all of the time. While other kids are chomping on broccoli and brussels sprouts and kale, my daughter basically just eats a variety of combinations of bread products and cheese products. I’m often the recipient of that look from other moms, the one that says, “Oh thank God that’s not MY kid who doesn’t eat vegetables.” It’s almost as bad as the judgment across the aisle in the breastfeeding vs. formula debate. I was embarrassed to have my daughter eat meals with other kids, especially new friends, because explaining her eating issues felt like an indictment of my parenting skills–or lack thereof. I try to console myself with the fact that my brother didn’t eat vegetables until he was 22, and now he’ll order a salad when he goes out for a meal…but that doesn’t really help.
But then my son was born. And though he didn’t like solids for a really long time, when he started to eat them, he ate them ALL. He loves peas and green beans and broccoli. His favorite food of all is zucchini sauteed with garlic and olive oil. He’ll purposefully eat carrots before eating carbs. I made steamed vegetables the other night as part of my dinner and my son pulled himself up on the side of the table, crying until I gave him a piece of cauliflower.
My truest moment of redemption came a few weeks ago, when we’d bought some horseradish hummus from Trader Joe’s. I figured there was no way he’d eat it. But I was eating it, so he wanted to try it. And not only did he try it, but he loved it, and cried for more every time I stopped putting it on his carrots.
The thing is, when you’re parenting one child you don’t know whether the things that your child does are based on her personality, or based on you and how you’re parenting. It’s having that second child that teaches you so much about who your first child is, who your second child is, and really who you are as a parent. And it turns out that it’s not my fault that my daughter doesn’t eat vegetables. It’s just who she is. I’ll keep on offering them to her, and someday, someday, I bet she’ll learn to like them. And that will be the true redemption.