What I wish I could do over: Introducing my kid to food

My nine-year old son is a very picky eater. I was the same way. The world will not end over this, and he is certainly not lacking in the nutrition department — red bell pepper, raw spinach leaves, and hummus are on his limited list of approved foods. More than anything, it’s inconvenient.

Going to a barbecue stresses him out because he doesn’t care for anything on a bun. Taco Night, a crowdpleaser at most multi-family dinners, means that he approaches the DIY food station and selects a tortilla and shredded cheese. No meat, no beans. Tomato? Fugeddaboutit. At that point, I usually open my friend’s fridge and pour him a huge glass of milk to be sure he won’t be hungry.

No sauce on his pasta; no fruit salad. He would prefer a pile of strawberries next to wedges of apple and nectarine slices, lined up, but not leaning into one another. He will not eat sweet potato fries or French fries, or anything else served at a baseball game concession stand.

This is my fault.

If there is an opposite of Baby-Led Weaning — that’s how I introduced baby Julian to food. I prepared individual bowls of homogeneous foods that lacked texture. A cup of apple sauce. A bowl of mashed avocado. No seasonings. No meat.

Those plastic children’s dinner plates with divided cubbies? That’s how my brain works. I set up his meals that way even without cubby-plates, because that’s what I liked when I was little. And by the way, my picky eating was an inconvenience as well. I never ate a casserole or lasagna before age 20 because, eewww, textures.

A divided plate for a toddler caused me years of food-related angst

My second child was eating lentils and tomato soup with chunks of sweet potato with her fingers at ten months old. Scarlett’s a little picky, as most children are, but not as much so as Julian (she tries new foods regularly and will not starve at a campout).

I tell myself it’s okay. When he travels in Latin America, as I did in my early 20s, he’ll eat whatever’s on hand: beans and meat included. When he gets invited to his girlfriend’s house for Easter dinner, he’ll put food on his plate and force it down. Peer pressure in his teens will introduce him not just to beer, but also to pasta salad and turkey sandwiches. God, would my life be easier if the kid would eat a turkey sandwich.

If I could do it over again, I would feed him curried chicken and vegetables from a Thai restaurant before his first birthday. I would let his applesauce ooze over and touch, just barely, the carrots, and tell him that it’s okay. I would pack tortellini with pesto in his daycare lunchbox when he was 24 months old. And I would not make different dinners for the kids and adults in our family.

But I cannot go back in time, so I’m laying in the bed I made. Sometimes fretting, sometimes feeling embarrassed, and trying to tell myself that in the scheme of things, there are worse problems to have.

Have you ever reminded yourself, when your child is a late bloomer in some arena, that everyone learns to walk eventually? No one brings their bottle with them to Kindergarten. And for the most part, daily tantrumming dies out before adulthood. I’m trying to have faith that ability to order without stress in a restaurant, identify food one likes at a potluck, and be flexible enough to enjoy dinner at someone else’s home will also be milestones we arrive at one day.

Related: 3 parenting tips that have completely failed me