Every family has a picky eater, the kid who spends at least three hours at the dinner table, surreptitiously transferring food to the dog or her brother’s plate or the trash can under the kitchen sink (a daring move and, if you cloak it under a napkin and your mom doesn’t notice, well worth the inherent risk), thinking if she cuts her food in small enough bites, it will magically disappear. I was that child. This is the story of my evolution into a quasi-normal adult who can eat a fried egg without gagging.
My childhood was basically characterized by disdain for healthy food and an unfortunate love for red meat, fast food, and things with chocolate. Can’t say my base preferences have evolved too much, but my palate has expanded considerably over the years.
9 months old ““ My grandfather is babysitting me and buys me a hamburger Happy Meal. I eat everything–fries, burger, and drink–and when my mother finds out, she’s apoplectic.
1 yr., 2 months ““ My parents take me and my older brother on their anniversary outing to a steak restaurant. I’m cranky because I hate the mushy texture of baby food (this will continue to be a problem for years), but I gobble down little, cubed bites of their steak and hush up.
Kindergarten ““ Lunch-wise, I’m a bologna on white, American cheese and mayonnaise kind of girl (just typing that made my adult self a little queasy)–and heaven help the person who lets mustard touch my bread.
Kindergarten ““ My mom had a garden in our backyard, which produced tomatoes, asparagus, kale, and some kind of squash. You know how some kids sell lemonade? She set up a veggie stand for me, complete with a chalkboard easel that said “Meg’s Market” on it. I sat on a folding chair with bunches of kale and a wicker basket of change, but no passing cars stopped. I learned a valuable lesson that day–no one wants to pay for leafy, green, homegrown vegetables.
K–2nd grade ““ I’ll always remember these as the years of the bean and lentil, but mostly The Bean. My most dreaded adversary and childhood nemesis, beans are the only food I still actively dislike. I miss out on many an episode of Tool Time (what we called Home Improvement), because I’m staring at a bowl of chili or lentil stew. After several hours, my parents either put me out of my misery or I fall asleep at the table.
1st grade ““ I learn how to make the chocolate chip cookie recipe on the back of the NestlÃ© chocolate chip bag. Mixing up those cookies is my contribution to family meals, since my mom won’t let me touch the stove. Nestle’s is still the only cookie recipe I regularly use, fifteen years later.
2nd grade ““ One morning I throw up a fried egg that I hurriedly chewed and swallowed (trying not to taste the yolk) and my mom thinks I did it on purpose, so I’m grounded for the whole day (which is memorable because my parents usually did spankings, not groundings).
2nd grade ““ I think it will be funny to throw French fries at the butt of a lady who is yelling at some of the kids on the McDonald’s playground. She does not think it is funny, informs my father, and when we get home I get the biggest spanking of all time.
3rd grade ““ My grandma asks what I want for my birthday dinner and I say pork chops. She replies that she doesn’t eat pork, which leads me to believe that she must follow the Old Testament Jewish dietary laws. When I tell my mom she looks at me like I’m crazy and tells me it’s really because pork is so fattening, and I didn’t tell me grandma we eat pork, did I?
3rd grade ““ For my birthday party at home (spoiled, I know), I have a bunch of kids over to play in our pool and we eat fried chicken and chocolate cake, my favorites.
4th grade ““ Whenever my dad drives me to a piano competition (about half a dozen that year), he lets me get a banana split at DQ on the way there or a Whopper at Burger King on the way home. The Whopper has to be eaten after the competition or else I’ll get really queasy.
5th grade ““ Our church does this Wednesday night dinner, which we kids dread because the food is nasty, especially their taco pizza, which is basically chili beans dumped on pizza dough. Miraculously, I do not get sick from eating the taco pizza, but my dad and at least one brother do.
5th grade ““ There is a stocked pond on the farmland where my family is renting a house, where we catch mostly blue gills, the occasional bass, and perhaps once, a catfish. My dad cleans and skins the fish and my mom bakes or fries them. I’m not brave enough to eat their eyeballs (my brother is), but I grow to like fish.
6th grade ““ We move to Germany. On the weekends, we often go downtown to a farmer’s market and buy bratwursts from a street vendor. My favorite is the currywurst, sliced red sausage drizzled in a ketchup/curry powder mixture. Oh, and the French fries with sweet mayonnaise on top.
6th grade ““ In the Netherlands, we eat the most disgusting McDonald’s creation of all time ““ a sandwich with a filet made of either deep-fried gravy or deep-fried, blended fish. I genuinely believe this helped start to curb my fast food addiction.
7th grade ““ After the Netherlands debacle, we have primarily good food experiences. In northern Italy we have gelato and rice with squid ink; in France we have delicious pastries and egg-topped pizza; in Germany we go to a Greek restaurant and my parents let me try ouzo; in Germany (again) we go to the best Chinese restaurants ever and have duck and my parents let me try dessert wine (I liked my alcohol, even then). Also, I fall in love with German candies–Kinder Eggs, RitterSport Bars, Toblerone, and Haribo Colas. I even get to visit the RitterSport factory, which is pretty cool.
7th grade ““ For some reason there is a ChiChi’s Mexican restaurant (it’s a chain) on our military base in Germany. Anyway, the food there is not so great, but one memorable evening my dad bet me $10 I couldn’t drink an entire pitcher of water through a straw in one minute. He timed me and I did it, but unfortunately, consuming about a liter or two of water that quickly made me ill and I almost made it to the bathroom before I spewed water all over a hall floor in ChiChi’s. My mother was not amused, but I got my $10.
8th grade ““ At my youth group in Virginia, we constantly have a preponderance of unhealthy junk food available. The drink of choice is Pepsi and the snack of choice is Cooler Ranch Doritos. I learn to like these things, if not to love them.
9th grade ““ Sal’s Pizza is this hole-in-the-wall family pizza place where we eat every Sunday after church. I have never had as delicious a banana pepper and onion pizza since.
10th grade ““ My school bus comes at 6:15 a.m., and unfortunately my breakfasts mostly consist of Jimmy Dean sausage biscuits, these disgusting toaster pastries with egg matter inside, or anything else I can hold in my hand.
11th ““ 12th grade ““ My family moves to Seoul, South Korea, and here the final death knell to most of my food problems sounds. We eat japchae (glass noodles in sesame oil with veggies), kimbap (seaweed/rice roll filled with cucumber and ham), dried squid, something we call “cheese on a stick” (it was really rice rolls dipped in a spicy, red sauce), bulgogi (thinly sliced, fried beef), bibimbap (rice with veggies and egg on top), seafood pancakes, and a whole host of other delicious things. My breakfasts become more cereal and oatmeal-based and less fried-meat-based.
I’ll end the specific time line there. During my college years, entirely too much pizza, bacon, and fried ravioli was consumed, but I also learned to eat less meat and like Indian food, salads, and sandwiches that hadn’t been drenched in honey mustard and mayonnaise.
The first year after I graduated, I had a pitifully small kitchen in a studio apartment and when I cooked dinner, it was mostly spaghetti or a veggie burger. Then I got married, and budgeting and cooking meals became less of a chore and more of a hobby–I think the word “foodie” has been a bit abused of late (though that’s a whole “˜nother post), but if being comfortable trying new things makes me a foodie, I’m perfectly fine with that.
Better to be a foodie than a glum 1st grader, faced with yet another bowl of insurmountable bean stew.