Indulging Picky Eaters


By Bonnie Baker Cowan

Are your grandchildren picky eaters? Aren’t they all? Most of us came from an era where we were told “to eat everything on our plate-or else.” I don’t recall what “or else” meant, but I do remember another phrase used that made no sense to me. The reasoning my parents used was “there are children starving in China.” My logical answer as a child to that was: Then, send them my dinner!

Children today have far more freedom to be choosy about what they eat. And, with a wide range of pre-packaged, ready- to- serve foods available, there’s very little need to make meals from scratch, from those basic healthy ingredients that were part of our diet as children. Even carrot sticks come in small, peeled, washed, bite-sized chunks now. Cheese doesn’t need to be sliced from a block. It comes pre-packaged as cheese strings. And then there’s the array of junk food, bags of chocolate-infused cookies, fruit rollups and gushers, even little packs of crackers with yellow-orange gunk proclaiming to be cheese.

In a week spent cooking dinners and packing school lunches for my grandsons, I realized how vast the network of food choices is. I also realized that most kids today, including my grandsons, are the decision makers in terms of what they will eat. Each of my grandsons has a favorite dinner, all completely different and they have definite ideas about what goes into their packed lunches. Finley, at six is a delight to cook for because he loves everything. Hudson, at 11, needs to have his food separated on the plate. Finley will eat sushi, salads, roast beef (with horseradish, please) and his favorite meal is pickerel. Hudson’s favorite meal is spaghetti and meatballs, but the meatballs must be in a separate pile on his plate from the spaghetti. If it’s pasta night, Jack, 13, prefers it with chicken and Alfredo sauce.

For the first few days, I placed myself under enormous pressure to please each of them, especially since I was taking over for their regular nanny, who according to them “cooked gross stuff!” I actually made different meals for all three for the first two nights. I drove myself crazy and the kitchen had turned into a full-service deli with me as the short-order cook. My daughter put an end to that very quickly and told me to make one meal of my choice and serve it to them. End of discussion. So the third night, I made a stir-fry to work some vegetables into their diet. And yes, I still separated Hudson’s meat into a pile and each kind of vegetable into a mound. He ate it, but wasn’t really overjoyed. I had to resign myself to accepting the fact that I cannot please all three of them all the time.

Can we blame the parents for letting children rule when it comes to food choices? Perhaps in some cases, but my daughter is adamant that they eat what is prepared and learn to try new foods. So while we can all surmise that working parents indulge children with the foods they love because the parents feel guilty or are just too tired at the end of the day to argue, I have to admit I am just as guilty or more so. Food has always been my way of showing love, and that seems to translate into pleasing people with what they prefer to eat.

Pickiness may be a tradition handed down too. If a parent is picky, a child will imitate. Millie and Don of Fredericton find their grand-daughter’s eating habits frustrating. “She is very picky and will absolutely not try new things,” Millie explains. “We couldn’t understand until one Sunday dinner when our daughter-in-law, Madison’s mother, turned her nose up at the salmon we were serving. It was easy to see where Madison had developed the picky habit.”

With childhood obesity, stemming from super-sized fast food as well as other culprits, a serious problem in this country, we need to return to the sanity of ‘real food’ prepared according to Canada’s Food Guide. The bottom line is we, the grandparents, and of course, the parents, need to be in charge of the food choices, not the kids.

I’m a bit nervous about opening their lunchboxes when they come home from school today to see what’s still there uneaten. I’ll just have to try harder for tomorrow’s lunches.