How did we end up at this impasse? I’m sitting at the table trying to convince Reina of the benefits of eating her vegetables. You know, the usual arguments: She will grow up big and strong, her hair will be silky, her grade point average will be 17 percent higher, she will be 60 percent less likely to need glasses (which is important considering both her parents wear corrective lenses) and when all else fails, the road to ice cream is paved with veggies. To which she responds in her adorably witty repartee, "Baba, you are silly."
I know Reina isn’t the only kid out there who thumbs her nose at most fruits and vegetables, but I don’t have much evidence of this. Her friends appear content to munch and crunch on all manner of raw or cooked vegetables. I’ve watched one 5-year-old boy happily chomp away on raw onions. If that’s not enough proof that my daughter is abnormally adverse to vegetation, I have witnessed another friend’s child blissfully munching on fresh cilantro and parsley. That is amazing, because I mistakenly thought I was the only human being who eats parsley. Everyone else thinks it’s merely a garnish to be looked at from a safe distance while cutting into a main course. Most people would rather chew on tinfoil. But I digress.
It was not always this way. When Reina started eating, she was content to chew on anything that made its way into her mouth. Aside from the usual sticks, leaves and dirt that she would collect on her own, we would augment her diet with more palatable choices of carrots, peas, mustard greens and the like. It did not matter if we cooked at home, ate out, or dined at a friend’s house, she was happy to eat just about everything.
The turning point in Reina’s dietary preferences occurred on an innocuous visit to Peter’s Tex-Mex shortly after we moved to Beijing from Shenzhen. We scanned the kid’s menu and decided to let Reina try her first taste of macaroni and cheese. And she liked it. She really liked it. She ate the whole serving and asked for more. That was over a year ago and ever since, mac and cheese stands as her favorite meal – that or cheese pizza or just cheese. Prior to Peter’s Tex-Mex, Reina had occasionally nibbled a bite of cheese, but it was not the dietary mainstay that she requires now.
Fruit is also off Reina’s list since we relocated to Beijing. Sure, the occasional banana slips past her defenses and she does enjoy a good orange, but give that kid a bite of apple and she spits it right out. Pears, pineapple, blackberries, and almost all the other fruits are equally rejected. She adores strawberries, but if I slice up a bowl for her, she would rather use them as floor decorations to be squished under her feet. She doesn’t even like strawberry yogurt and it’s pink – her favorite color.
Looking back on my own childhood, I suppose Reina’s aversion to fruit and veggies should not come as a surprise. Perhaps there are genetics involved – clearly not her mother’s – that gives Reina a predisposition to starchy, cheesy foods at this age. I know I did not come to love all the world’s vegetables in my childhood, so I try not to fret too much about it when Reina gets finicky over new greens. Asparagus, eggplant, brussel sprouts, kale – no problem. Drown those suckers in enough melted cheddar, and I’ve got a 3-year-old who is bound to get a bite or two of the healthy stuff between all the gooey cheese.
But hey, at least she doesn’t like candy – yet.
Christopher Lay comes from the small town of Ashland, Oregon, USA. He is the father of 3-year-old Reina and husband to Savvy Him. He is a
freelance photographer and writer in Beijing. Visit his photo blog at www.alivenotdead.com/chrislay.