Toronto Star

Picky eater in the bunch? Relax, you are not alone


There’s one in every crowd: The picky eater. The one who makes sure one food doesn’t touch another. The diner who blanches at the sight of anything green.

In my family, it’s my father, the quintessen­tial meat-and-potatoes guy. Serve him a slab of meat and a side of potatoes and dinner is gold. Dress it up with a sauce or mix it together with other ingredient­s and he will politely, but firmly, leave it untouched.

But even he has exceptions. As a hunter and fisherman, he will eat anything wild. There have been more than a few discussion­s at the dinner table about this logic. Elk, duck, halibut and venison all work for him. Asparagus and broccoli, onions and mushrooms, not so much.

Which may be why, in my childhood years, my mother rarely looked beyond the big three vegetables. Corn, peas or green beans rounded out every meal. Then again, those menus predated the abundance of fruit and vegetable choices we have today, so perhaps I can’t blame Dad and his quirks entirely for the simple nature of dinner so many years ago.

Despite these mealtime limits — or perhaps because of them — my siblings and I will eat anything set before us. More to the point — and here my father would shudder — we search out new flavours and experience­s.

But as I said, there’s one in every crowd. Years later, when I gathered my own brood around the table, one child stood out, and not because he was a hearty eater. Yes, that picky gene had hit the next generation. Although the family was fed a varied diet driven by my recipe testing — one of the perks of having a food writer as head cook — he froze at the sight of anything new. Or green. Or mixed together.

“It’s simply a different kind of burger,” I would sigh as I served up a slice of meat loaf. He would pick out the onions, one by one, then scrape off the tomato sauce. As for his sisters, they ate everything.

As parents, we’re sure we can develop good eaters with a few simple culinary tricks, just as we’re unwavering in our belief that we can shape our kids into straight-A students or super athletes or whatever the goal may be by simply following some prescribed Rules of Good Parenting.

But the truth is kids come with their own personalit­ies. Sometimes our plans work; sometimes they do not. At least not on our timetable. Just out of high school, my son worked at an Asian restaurant, where he scooped up fried rice and chicken with broccoli for hungry diners. Only a few weeks into the job, he brought me a sample.

“Have you ever tried chicken and broccoli? It’s really good,” he said with delight.

Ah, yes, experience. That first bite of chicken and broccoli, so much more enticing from the commercial wok than at the family dinner table, led to more experiment­ation over the next few years — some of it quite bold — onions, broccoli, Sriracha sauce.

On his own, the picky eater had evolved into not-so-picky. Today he eats and cooks — you guessed it — just about everything.

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