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Picky Eaters

I. Can’t. Stand. Them.

Picky eaters, that is.

They work my nerves with their empty forks and their “I don’t eat that” declarations and their turned-up noses, acting like I just placed a steaming pile of poo on their dinner plates. What kind of madness is this, kids inviting themselves to dinner and then sitting down to my table, announcing what they will and will not eat, even as they watch me stand over that hot stove, preparing a healthy, kid-friendly home made feast? When did this become acceptable dinner table etiquette?

What’s got me in a tizzy?

Yet another one of Mari’s friends stayed for dinner a couple nights ago and promptly ran down the list of stuff on my stove that she wasn’t going to eat. Apparently, smothered chicken and sautéed string beans were going to make her hurl a lung. It didn’t matter that she’d never tasted it before, or that both my girls were insisting it was, like, the best meal ever. She was just all, “No.”

“I’m only going to have the rice, please, with lots of butter.”

Huh?

I mean, I get the three-year-old who only eats beige food and the occasional peanut butter-smothered carrot stick. I had one of those. If it wasn’t a chicken nugget, a french fry, applesauce or popcorn, she wasn’t eating it. But we put an end to those shenanigans around age five; by then, if she wasn’t eating some version of the same meal the rest of the family was eating, she wasn’t eating. By age six, she was subjected to the same rule as every other kid in the house: You have to try it at least three times in three different meals before you decide you don’t like it. (Almost always by the third try, they’re total fans, trust.) And even if you don’t like it, oh well, then you don’t eat. I’m not hiding vegetables in your sauce to get you to the magical number of daily servings; I’m not cooking something separate from what everyone else is eating; and sitting at my table without eating your veggies, protein, and healthy starches is not an option.

And from now on, I declare before Sweet Baby Jesus and 10 episodes of Jamie Oliver’s Food Nation that the same rules will apply to visitors. Because here’s what I’m not figuring to do: I’m not short-order cooking for your kid because you allowed her to go through 11-years-worth of dinners without so much as tasting salad and turning down all 300 of the Earth’s vegetables, and empowered her with the right to tell grown-ups what to put on her plate.

Yeah, I said it.

I’m a foodie, see? I appreciate that the world is full of beautiful food and incredible flavors and delicious aromas and eclectic textures, and I happen to think my kids should be blessed with that knowledge, too. Mari, Lila, and Mazi are on their way, for sure: They eat sushi and okra and Jamaican ackee and codfish--ox tails and brussel sprouts and all kinds of fish drizzled with fancy sauces. The little ones are enrolled every summer in our local Young Chef’s Academy so that they can learn their way around the kitchen and try out some new recipes and pick up a few more stove skills, and together, we catalogue our recipes in our Home Made Love Family Recipe Book so that they can document their favorites and keep them for meals they’ll make with their own families someday.

Turning down a dish because they don’t like the way it looks or smells never occurs to them; if it’s food, they’re going to try it and most likely like it and want to add it to the repertoire (if you can cook, of course). Suffice to say, they’re not going to be the kids who go to another country and bypass the world’s best cuisines for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and a large fry. Ain’t happening.

And I’m not hardly about to entertain anybody else’s little one running my kitchen and my dinner table and driving me up the wall with their requests for something other than what I’ve put on their dinner plates.

So if your kid is a picky eater, let her get her grub on before she comes over to the house, or pick her up before dinner is served, m’kay? Trust me: It’s best for all involved.

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