Parenthood in the Instagram era can feel like one big, fat, twisted yarn ball of shame, however self-inflicted and irrational it may be: shame for not breastfeeding (or doing so in public); shame for going out on date nights à la Chrissy Teigen and John Legend (because fun is apparently illegal once you have kids); and today’s exhibit A, shame for deigning to let tykes eat off the kids’ menu which is often chock-full of chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, and teeny personal pizzas.
Meet the self-proclaimed “pretentious foodie” parent who declared on Facebook—as reposted by the snarky motherhood site Sanctimommy—that she is “so excited” for her son “to start solids next month” and “being the somewhat pretentious foodie I am, he sure as hell will not be a kids’ menu kind of child. Kind of hate those things even exist.”
Cue parenting circles of the Internet lighting up with hysterical laughter—and likely some twinges of rage—at Pretentious Foodie’s blind confidence. “I can’t wait until she has to order, through bitter tears, macaroni and cheese with a side of macaroni and cheese because that’s literally the only thing her kid will eat, anywhere,” one of the hundreds (891 and counting) of commenters replied. Quoth another: “Get ready to join the buttered noodle club, Karen.”
The tenor of the response was like the digital version of a knowing chuckle: that the parent of a mere infant about to begin slurping baby food (homemade, I presume!) for the first time believed she could masterfully and divinely control her child’s eventual eating habits. Because, Karen, didn’t we all? Didn’t we all vow that our children would eschew chicken nuggets in lieu of wild salmon and organic avocado slices for dinner? Didn’t we all swear we’d make one dinner and one dinner only for the entire family, and be damned if the kids didn’t eat grown-up food just like their parents? Except that, Karen, you know what they say about best-laid plans! Or as the Yiddish proverb goes: Man plans, God laughs.
Unlike Karen, I was never so brazen as to declare on the Internet that my kids wouldn’t deign to order from the children’s menu. But, with the best of intentions for their health, I, too, set out to make them what’s often referred to as “good” eaters. As babies, I gave them puréed veggies and avocados and shredded organic chicken—roughly, the diet of Lisa Vanderpump’s Pomeranian, I presume. And they went for it for a time . . . until they didn’t. For the parents of picky eaters, the struggle is all too real: One day, they stick their tongues out at your lovingly rolled mini meatballs and decide buttered rotini and yogurt squeeze pouches are the only two food groups that matter. Their menu selections are so bleak, at times, I wish my daughter and son would eat off the kids’ menu—it would represent a broadening of their very limited horizons.
Parenting picky eaters is an anguishing pursuit—not just because it limits the family dining-out options to the local diner, but because it makes you worry if your kids are getting enough nutrition. Thankfully, my children manage to grow on an upward curve despite their finicky tastes. Their (sage, veteran) pediatrician is not so concerned, pointing out that they get protein from the milk they (thankfully) drink and the yogurt they eat, and that tons of kids are picky eaters and simply grow out of it over time, helpfully noting that his own adult child was reared on a diet of frozen Stouffer’s mac and cheese and is now a Doctor Without Borders. This is all very reassuring because having picky kids is yet another metric by which to feel like a failure as a parent. (I am truly happy for all of you on Instagram whose kids eat raw broccoli spears, I say while seething.)
What certainly doesn’t help the parents of picky eaters who are already aggrieved about their kids’ eating habits is to ostensibly be food-shamed, either by strangers like Pretentious Foodie or by loved ones. My husband and I eat everything, and we continue to try offering the kids bites of our veggies or steak, but at the end of the day, we’ve largely waved white flags and resorted to giving them what they will actually eat. We are temporarily fine with it . . . but some others are not. One relative makes a big fuss during the holidays, trying to bribe and coax the kids—to no avail—into trying new foods, loudly stating that the next time they see them, they hope they eat real food. Another recently dispensed the entirely unsolicited advice that we should teach our 2- and 5-year-olds a lesson by feeding them what we want them to eat, or nothing at all. Alas, starving my kids and/or letting their hunger devolve into tantrums is not a feasible way forward for me, nor is engaging in standoffs with toddlers at the Thanksgiving dinner table. I know better than to negotiate with emotional terrorists!
I wish Karen love, light, and plenty of baby kale in the journey of never feeding her kid kiddie foods. But whether it’s regarding their meals or their clothes (anyone else’s child refuse to wear buttons or jeans?) or their ability to get you to turn on at least a little TV, I suspect she’ll learn that sometimes our most noble goals for our kids simply don’t come to pass. As nice as it is to dream you can steer and control every aspect of their lives and make them as perfect as possible—they’re babies, not bots. At a certain point, they grow up, open their mouths, and say—and eat—what they please.