I cook a lot, and I take it seriously. I give Alice Waters a lot of grief because she insists on eating only the freshest, seasonal ingredients, but she’s not wrong, and it’s how I try to cook.
I am not above a shortcut here and there, but I’ve mostly drawn the line at buying frozen pre-cooked meals.
Except where it comes to the kids because you have to feed them for them to grow.
I am acutely aware that some people, some of you perhaps, could legitimately pull off the “you are not leaving the table until you eat those turnips” thing. I cannot – and my wife? Let’s just say I’m the bad cop.
Also, I get it. I was a picky eater as a kid and didn’t start to develop a palate until the time I was 12 or so. Before that, you could not make me eat something I did not want to eat, and woe betide you for trying.
All that to say: I made a chicken nugget burrito this evening for my 9-year-old. This is not a complicated recipe. The ingredients are a flour tortilla and four chicken nuggets. You microwave the nuggets for 1 minute, then dump them onto the tortilla and microwave again for 10 seconds before folding it up into the rough shape of a burrito.
There is no salsa. There is no cheese. There are no beans, chiles, herbs, or crema. This is how she likes it, and she will eat it and thus grow and develop a palate. This is what I tell myself, and there is some logic behind it.
Children are hard-wired to like sweet things and very basic flavors. I have no research to cite for that statement, other than my observations. I have heard, “It’s too spicy!” about egg noodles with butter. I have bordered on threats while trying to get children to just taste something, and even so I have a failure rate around 45 percent. The “I don’t like it” rate is closer to 90 percent.
My 9-year-old’s diet is largely noodles; rice (sometimes); chicken-flavored ramen; two types of Campbell’s soup – chicken noodle and chicken with rice; and peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches on lightly toasted bread, sometimes with honey and banana.
But lately she’s expressed an interest in cooking. It started as “Can I open the can of soup?” and it’s progressed to, “No, Dad, I can cook scrambled eggs myself!” When she makes black beans, she adds a pinch of cumin and some lime juice. She asked out loud the other night, “Should I grind some pepper in this?”
She decided against, but at least she considered it. She requested broccoli cheddar soup the other day, though she did not like it when served. I think she liked the idea of it more than the reality.
Having said all of that, my son is now 20 and has a varied and eclectic diet. I think he may like sushi as much as I do, and he is always down for something unusual. My 15-year-old eats a lot of different things and certainly doesn’t avoid spice, subsisting largely on Takis and buffalo sauce. (Kid can eat some Takis.)
The point is that they were both picky eaters when younger, too, and so I have hope that the small one will come around.
I will accept advice and/or recriminations in the comments or by email.