- I tried everything to get my three children to eat a variety of foods, but nothing worked.
- It got to the point where I was overwhelmed by everything I was preparing.
- After a year of traveling through Latin America, my children are not picky anymore.
Eating trick-or-treat style had become my household norm. The ice cube tray turned into a rainbow buffet designed to tempt my picky kid—strawberry slices for vitamin C, blueberries for antioxidants, hard-boiled eggs that looked like Saturn for protein. But those sharp young eyes always found the spinach buried in my muffins.
I put on a chef’s hat and explained the importance of healthy eating habits to my children. I built a chicken coop to keep them close to the roots of the food. I involved them in meal preparation. Now my 3-year-old has enviable knife skills. I even signed my oldest up for a cooking class, where she expertly rolled the dough into a personalized pizza and topped it with just pepperoni.
When faced with new foods, my children would shy away and sometimes fight back. They have natural aversions and sensitivities. I have inundated myself with explanations and warnings. Kids need choices to fill their energy buckets, but not too many choices – it’s overwhelming. It’s a phase, not a trait. Pickiness is developmentally appropriate.
A caring pediatrician told me to feed my underweight child ice cream, and I hugged her with relief.
It was impossible to keep all 3 happy with their pickiness
Every parent wants to fill their children’s bellies with the nutrients they need to grow. I was hoping to instill openness in the long run, but our organic produce and three-bite rule didn’t matter. They knew what was on the shelves and consumed broccoli only if it was made to their liking.
Squeezing three children’s preferences into the constraints of the food pyramid and my own time felt impossible. I was drowning in homemade chicken soup – with the chicken strained out. My vision of health turned me into a personal chef, and no amount of advanced canning got me out of this jam. I was burnt out hearing the begging for lightly buttered brioche.
We moved to Latin America for a year
My family decided to leave the US for permanent travel through Latin America. We ate in the culinary meccas of Mexico City, Antigua and Lima, Peru. During a week in Oaxaca, Mexico, we all accidentally ate grasshopper tamales and flying ant sauce.
One of us – me – almost threw up. But this was the beginning of a second, parallel journey with fewer familiar foods for our children and little room for us to breathe at mealtimes.
I forward menus with appealing translations. A tlayuda is “like a pizza” and tejate is “hot chocolate but earthier.” These loose characterizations get a sample in the mouth without it being that much extra convincing.
This era of exploration was born from the fact that there were no alternatives. A landlord showed up at 7:30 each morning with pupusas, handmade masa patties topped with tomato puree and pickled cabbage. With no market nearby, there was no grain, no syrup and no choice. The children accepted the breakfast in El Salvador for what it was.
Their pickiness disappeared
When their best choices are scarce, my kids eat what’s there. Cinnamon used to be scary, but no one has abandoned a streak since Mexican churros.
Biological imperatives took over, and some of the culinary criticism I mistakenly considered faded away.
Each country brings about a change in food culture. There is no brand recognition or American style of cooking, so our kids can’t reject what they don’t know. They are too curious, too hungry. I haven’t cheated on them in a year, and tasting everything is the new norm. We respect their receptivity so much that we do not push when they protest.
From rainforests to deserts, our children consume what a place provides. Their diets have expanded, and the variety has an influential benefit to their health – papaya for fiber, choclo for vitamin A, rambutan for potassium.
We are reminded that nutritional balance is not found in food groups on a plate but in a series of small successes spread across many places around the world.
I used to have kids who loved pickles but never pickles. This trip made it acceptable for us parents to say what we needed all the time, “This is what we have to eat.”