Saturday, July 04, 2009

How do you solve a problem like Owen's eating habits?

Not his manners. The manners may be hopeless.

Those pictures are from our recent vacation. Throughout the trip, Owen ate like a starving grizzly confronting a salmon run. He out-ate us at almost every mediocre diner we visited, demolishing ribs, pancakes, scrambled eggs, french fries, baked potatoes, bacon, gallons of root beer. And when he was done with whatever he ordered, he devoured our leftovers. In between meals, in the car, he kept busy with tortilla chips, cocktail peanuts, and cinnamon Altoids.

Wow, I thought. Finally. He's growing up, getting an appetite. Boy, it's going to be fun to cook for you when we get home!

So, we got home. The other night, I made a beef stew from Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. It was stupendous; recipe here. You braise chuck in a rich sauce of onion and tomato, with a little lemongrass, star anise, and 5-spice powder for flavor. Chunks of carrot go in at the end. Served with bread. Nothing weird. Like "regular" stew, but zippier. Isabel -- the world's daintiest eater -- loved it.

Owen: I hate soup. Why did you make soup? You know I hate soup.

Tipsy: It's not soup, it's STEW.

Owen: I hate stew, too. And cooked carrots. You know I don't like cooked carrots.

Tipsy: Okay, you can go to your room.

Seeing an opportunity for family drama, instead, he went to the computer. Tipsy then had to put down her fork, lay down law. Husband played good cop, annoying Tipsy because there should be no good cop in such a negotiation. (Right? Please tell me I'm right.) Dinner disrupted, possibly ruined. 

We long ago gave up trying to force kids to eat anything. (I don't know how my parents pulled it off, because I can't figure out the mechanics.) Unfortunately, it's not enough that Owen doesn't have to eat what he doesn't like, he's furious and insulted that I even cooked it. He will actually get up in the morning and say first thing, "What are we having for dinner?" No matter what I answer -- unless it's pesto pasta -- he gives a massive groan and responds with either: "I hate X," or, "I like X, but I don't feel like X today." He'll drag the grievance on and on if he gets so much as a nibble.

I am really loath to pander to his tastes. And if I did, I'm pretty sure it would backfire. What I cook, by definition, is objectionable. 


Maybe I have pushed too far. This is possible. I am an extreme cook and have, on occasion, betrayed his trust. Two words: bacon salad. For this, I am sorry. 

But the comedian husband also plays a role. For dessert the night of the beef stew, I made Nguyen's almond jelly with lychees, jackfruit and strawberries. Is it helpful to the cause that husband loudly referred to the lychees as "eyeballs?" 

I have three possible solutions: 

1. Enlist Owen in the cooking. Maybe then it will seem less hilarious and cool when male role models who stockpile Good n' Plenties make side-splitting remarks about the dishes.

2. Ask him what he wants and basically just make that.

3. Grimly wait him out. One day he will come around. Isabel did. She eats almost everything now, including eyeballs.

I am leaning towards #1. In fact, am suddenly filled with excitement about this new tactic. 

P.S. the yummy almond jelly dessert looked a lot like this borrowed photograph, but without the maraschino cherries. I first tasted this dish at a Chinese restaurant when I was a child and it's one of my favorite things, though it involves an appreciation of almond extract.


  1. Arrgh! I was crying about this exact topic just the other night, because I am at my wit's end. I'm trying the "help me cook this crap you hate" method to see if it helps, and letting him choose one element of every meal. I refuse to pander, though.

    The other night he wailed to me, "Why can't we EVER have a yummy meal?"

  2. This is what I've learned from my experience with my 2 teenagers:

    Palates take years to develop--at some point Owen will start eating everything--or enough that you will both be happy. My son, now 19, will eat everything under the sun, but still doesn't like soup.

    Give them control over what they eat--that is eat what is served or don't eat. Or fill up on the salad or vege that is being served along side. We used to have the "what's for dinner" conversations and it really is a way for them to spend the day figuring out reasons not to eat it. "It's a surprise" works if you keep repeating it all day long!

    We tried the "help me cook the crap you hate" method with little success. What did work was letting them help with the stuff they liked. That was what they were proud of and the rest of the meal would often slip down.

  3. We always had SOMETHING that the kids liked on the table: a veg, a starch or a meat. Well, not always but almost. Then it was up to them. We put up with no bitching: eat or don't eat but shut up about it. And they never had to eat what they didn't want to.

    Eventually, you outlast them. Echoes to Crabapple about everything she/he said: exactly right, IME.

  4. I agree that palates take years to develop and in addition, some kids take a few tries of a new food to decide they like it. I have been blessed (and I know it and thank God every day) with kids who would mostly try anything and like a wide range of foods. We always have salad with a meal and my kids will fill up on that if they do not like the main dish. In the meantime, you could try getting him to add the condiment of his choice. One of my twins will eat anything with hot sauce on it. When my oldest was little, he would eat anything with italian dressing on it.

  5. Give him the opportunity to help you in the kitchen so that he can appreciate all the hard work you go through to prepare thoughtful, delicious meals. If he balks at the food, make sure there's always pb&j fixin's in the fridge – that he can make for himself as a backup. If he's hungry, he'll eat it. Repeatedly. Ignore his crappy attitude about what you make. And overall, DO NOT pander to his pickiness by making a second meal just for him. The DH should be backing you up, btw. A united front is the best way with these things.

  6. Ugh, that sucks and I feel your pain. I have a picky almost 6yo, and his 3yo bro is in a phase where he just repeats (and rejects) everything his brother said. I was going to make a stir fry tonight, but couldn't face the fight so we went out for pizza. (OK, I didn't really want to eat stir fry, either, to be honest).

    Don't pander. Give the involvement in cooking a try, but it might not work. As long as he's got pbj, or mac and cheese, or something in the house he'll eat, you'll manage. Good luck.

    Too bad he's too old for Green Eggs adn Ham and Bread and Jam for Frances. Not that those work in any case, but they are entertaining at least.

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