Golden Raisins—and Other Foods My Kid Can’t Even Look At
My son is deeply mistrustful of golden raisins. He discovered one in a handful of trail mix the other day and reflexively flicked it onto the counter, as if he’d just found a beetle crawling on his palm. “Mom, what is that?” he asked with a small, involuntary shudder. “Um, it’s a raisin, dude. You’ve eaten tons of them in your life, just not this kind,” I said. “But it’s yellow and squishy and weiiiiiird!” he shot back. This is par for the course with Jackson. It’s not that he’s a picky eater. He’ll happily scarf down things a lot of kids wouldn’t touch—like broccoli (a favorite, actually), tofu and pretty much anything on a Thai or Indian menu, no matter how spicy or flavor-advanced. His is a texture thing. And when he dislikes something, it’s a violent dislike. Full-body dry heaves might better describe it. There was the time when he was 5, for example, that my husband and I made fried chicken for the kids as a treat. Jackson took one bite of his drumstick, opened his mouth and just let the entire chicken leg roll straight out and—thunk—onto his plate. Bones. He’d never had chicken with bones in it before—just skinless breasts that, to a kid, don’t actually come from a chicken. They come from a supermarket, dummy. And he was pretty sure that what he was eating was still somehow alive. Therapy, he insisted, was imminent. And you know those little wooden spoons that come with Italian ice? Yeah, you might as well be handing him a splintered two-by-four to eat his dessert with. I won’t even tell you what he thinks about the texture of zucchini, except to say that the mouthfeel, to him, is not unlike plunging your hand into the guts of a just-carved Halloween pumpkin. Since both of my kids were little (he’s now 15, she’s 12), I’ve cooked for them according to two rules: 1. I am not a short-order cook and you will eat what I’m making. No substitutions. No side-eye. And 2. You must try at least one bite of everything. After that, you are free to banish whatever it is you don’t like to the cold, lonely edges of plate Siberia. Probably also cover it with a napkin. This, as you can imagine, has made for some delightful dinners. By which I mean epic battles over a bite of grape tomato, a pool of polenta or a seared scallop. And meals where the only food he really ate was beige: bread, pasta, rice—you know, the nutritional pillars that any well-balanced, carb-itarian diet is based on. So I’ve had to get crafty. What if I ceviched the scallops? (Then they’d be firm, rather than, “Oddly slippery. Like the inside of one of those bad white gumdrops nobody likes.” End quote.) What if I made a bruschetta topping with the tomatoes? (Less squish factor.) And what if I did a salad with raw coins of asparagus, instead of roasting them until tender (read: wobbly and stringy and blech)? Don’t get any ideas. This wasn’t a single epiphany that Changed Mealtime Forever. It was many trial-anderror attempts over, oh, half a decade. But by the time I introduced spiralized zucchini this year, Jackson asked for seconds of the “noodles.” (Zucchini! The ultimate win! Is there some sort of medal?) It’s not that I was trying to dupe my child into eating foods he’d normally kick to the curb. My idea was that if I could get him to tolerate them in one form, then over time he might learn to like them in any form. (Plus, I’d been told by a researcher who studies these things that it takes something like 30 exposures for kids to accept a food they don’t like, and I held out hope.) It took patience. It took martinis. So many martinis. But, for the most part, it’s worked; there are very few Siberian foods left. Just don’t try to give him one of those wooden spoons. And definitely no golden raisins.