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The All-Nugget Diet

Dear Picky Eater of Mine,

I love you dearly. But you’re going to have to bite me.

I’m done with the dinnertime drama. The passive-aggressive poking at your peas. The pantry full of bland, beige, carb-crammed kidnip that makes up your undigestible diet. Cereal and crackers, chips and tortillas, rice and French fries. What are you, a park pigeon?

The fact that your four-year-old body still has the energy to jump on the trampoline and the cognitive focus to work a jigsaw puzzle is, I’m certain, entirely due to the fact that I manage to get three to five soy beans into you every week by bullying you and bribing you with cookies.

I’m not supposed to do that, you know. I’m not supposed to use dessert as a reward. Or cook you separate meals from what the rest of us are eating. Or allow the family table to become a battleground upon which I demand that you nourish yourself, and you take cruel glee in reminding me that I can’t make you.

The experts say I’m doing it all wrong. And by the way you bellow “that’s YUCK!” at the sight of a bell pepper, I can see their point.

It’s not all my fault, though. Your brother is an adventurous eater who’s been happily swallowing sushi, tofu, and artichoke dip since he could say the word “delicious.” How was I to know you’d be so fussy? How could I have predicted your taste range would start off so meager and then — inexplicably, alarmingly — shrink from there?

Remember when you used to like eggs? And yogurt? And hummus? Ew. Ick. No, thanks. Then there was the time you begged me to pay — in advance — for a year’s worth of pizza lunches at preschool, then cried every Friday because you had to eat it. You’re killing me with this stuff.

But you’re crafty. You’ve got me running all over town hunting down those chicken-ish nuggets shaped like dinosaurs. (Not the ones shaped like Mickey Mouse! Not the other brand of dino nuggets! The ones from crying-out-loud Canada!) It’s the only meat you’ll touch, so I tell myself that the value of eating something whose primary ingredient is not “enriched wheat flour” outweighs the potential risks of ingesting processed, breaded, frozen mini-pterodactyls containing something called guar gum and, gulp, L-Cysteine Monohydrochloride.

I’m probably wrong.

But the child nutrition experts are wrong, sometimes, too. They proclaim, “Kids love to dip! Serve them veggies with cups of ranch dressing!” They instruct, “Make mealtime fun! Arrange healthy foods in the shape of a funny face!” You won’t have it. Any attempt to cute-up your lunch earns me a look that says, unmistakably, “You could dip that zucchini in hot fudge and roll it in jelly beans. I’m not getting near it.”

To be honest, I’m impressed with your resolve. When I hand you a plate and you don’t like what’s on it, there’s never any panic in your voice. No latent fear that I might somehow succeed in getting the morsels down your gullet. There’s only chilling certainty. “I won’t,” you say. And you don’t.

But I’m tired of the hassle, frankly. I’ve had it with nuking your nuggets or toasting your waffles while I’m busy chopping and broiling a healthy, colorful, balanced meal for the rest of us. The experts — and let’s give them one more chance, shall we? They don’t call them that for nothing — assure me that when you only offer one choice, eventually, after much pouting and tummy-grumbling, it will be eaten.

So you win. We’re all switching to nuggets. Guar gum be damned.

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Published inColumnsParenting
My columns are collected in three lovely books, which make a SPLENDID gift for wives, friends, book clubs, hostesses, and anyone who likes to laugh!
Keep Your Skirt On
Wife on the Edge
Broad Assumptions
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