One of the blogs I follow daily is dedicated to all things gustatory. (For those of you who find 'gustatory' a new word, it simply means pertaining to the sense of taste.) The writer of the blog had this item to kick off her daily offering:
"...Denise Snow, the school cafeteria manager, said that children can be taught to eat better. 'When we went to whole-wheat pizza, the kids fussed for a while and we lost some of them,' Ms. Snow said. 'But now they don’t say a thing, and pretty much everyone is back to eating them.'"
And that reminded me of something that happened when my granddaughters Stacey and Carley were little kids, probably 10 and 8. In the summer I took a week's vacation from work and brought the little girls, along with their cousins April and Robyn, to my house to stay for that week. We had a swimming pool in the back yard and all the kids had learned to swim like fish. At seven every morning I had four sets of eyes peering in my bedroom door waiting for me to get up so they could hit the water. It was never hard to take care of four of them at one time, because for the most part they swam all morning, ate lunch, and then swam all afternoon. It was such fun for them -- and very honestly, fun for me.
Lunches were always grilled cheese sandwiches. Lunch never varied, at the kids' request. Grilled cheese sandwiches and a big glass of milk, followed by a cookie or two were ordered up each day, and the cook obliged.
The first year I did this, April and Robyn went home on Friday night. On Saturday Stacey and Carley's folks from San Diego arrived shortly before lunch to pick them up. The little girls asked me if I would make everyone grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch and I told them I would but they would help me make them. They excitedly agreed.
I gave each girl a kitchen knife, laid out all the slices of bread and grabbed the jar of mayonnaise so the girls could start spreading the mayo on each slice. Imagine my surprise when at the first sight of the mayonnaise the girls let out a loud collective "YEEEWWWWWW," followed by an equally collective "WE DON'T EAT MAYONNAISE!"
"Girls," I said, "You have been eating mayonnaise every day this week and you know you love these sandwiches. This is exactly how I made them every single day. So now you know that you DO eat mayonnaise and in fact, you even LIKE mayonnaise, so go ahead and spread it on the slices of bread. No more YEEEWWWWWING!"
Knowing children, I wasn't sure this was going to work, but I let the girls cook the sandwiches on the griddle by themselves. As we gathered at the table around the pool to have lunch, Stacey and Carley both announced to their folks that they now loved mayonnaise! (Come to find out, neither mom nor dad liked it either, but at least they forced themselves to gag it down in front of me!)
Through the years we learned that actually this was a family who didn't like a lot of things. Mom and dad didn't like mushrooms, didn't like olives, didn't like this, didn't like that, and it is no wonder the kids were really very picky eaters.
But like the woman says about the whole wheat pizza's, it's possible to change eating habits. When I was a little kid, I wanted each of the items on my dinner plate to stay separate - that is, I didn't want the meat to have mashed potatoes hanging on one side and I didn't want the peas to touch either the meat or the potatoes. I made a big production about keeping my food "neat." In growing up that no longer became much of an issue and I now I pretty much let my food mingle on the plate willy-nilly.
I haven't been around Carley as much since she's been a "grown-up" but I know that Stacey at this point in her life is truly an eager-eater. I was dumbfounded to learn that she has even eaten escargot, knowing full well that they were snails. I agree that there are certain tastes that each person may not like, but for the most part, I think much of kids's eating problems are really just in their minds.
And between you and me, I think adults who are picky about the foods they eat are not much better than big babies! And they are missing out on lots of really wonderful gustatory experiences.