I have this really vivid memory of when I was about five years old and my family was out at church for Wednesday night supper (most of the good Southern Baptist churches have Wednesday night supper), which was never anything really magnificent. It was typically something (a bunch of canned foods) thrown together in mass quantities as quickly as possible by volunteers - eerily similar to school cafeteria lunches. On this particular Wednesday, my little five-year-old mind was looking at each pan of food with dread. There was the meat dish, which I was probably okay with. It was the vegetables that made me want to pitch a royal fit worthy of a two-year-old (but I was five and I knew better).
Piles of orange, raisin-speckled sweet potatoes. (Gag!)
Great, big burgundy beet discs floating in a sea of…well, burgundy beet juice. (Double gag!)
There were rarely more than two vegetables on offer at Wednesday night supper (you know, because beets and sweet potatoes go so well together). I watched in horror as the volunteer on the other side of the counter spooned great heaping mounds of sweet potatoes onto the plate that was meant for me. Right beside it, she started to put beets on, but my mother knew that wasn’t going to happen, so I was spared.
We went to our table and sat as a family to eat our dinners. I ate everything but that pile of sweet potatoes (with raisins…gah!). When I was had finished everything else, I asked to get dessert, which usually consisted of something like cobbler or cake - desserts that are easy to prepare for the masses.
My mom said no, I couldn’t have any until I finished my sweet potatoes. (Let me just say here and now that this was 100% Mom making decisions. I’m pretty sure my dad was on my side, but he decided to let her have free reign in the encouraging-kids-to-eat-vegetables department.)
I tentatively tried them, and vehemently hated them. And the raisins were just gross. I know I didn’t finish those potatoes and I’m pretty sure I didn’t get to eat dessert that night. My mom and I both learned things, though. My mom learned that when I don’t like a food, there was no power on earth that could persuade me to eat it. And I learned that there was no dessert in the world that was worth choking down sweet potatoes (with raisins - eww) to eat.
Fast forward 26 years later and I have a little boy who is 6 months old and ready for solids. And I’m determined to make every bit of it myself. I didn’t even cringe when I saw sweet potatoes come up as a first food. I figured, why not? Maybe Brandon would like them more than me.
He didn’t just like them, he loved them. Especially when they were all over his face. And, in making them for him, I tried them again - sans raisins. And I liked them, too!
I’ve realized that my palate as an adult has broadened its horizons, branched out and discovered new tastes to enjoy from every food group. I’ve even eaten beets (at a fine dining establishment) that were really good. My mom would have been so impressed.
In fact, when Mom and I worked together once upon a time, we used to go to lunch fairly regularly at Marie Livingston’s - a really awesome steakhouse in Tallahassee. It wasn’t the swankiest, finest steakhouse you’ve ever been to, but it’s really good food at amazing prices. Hello - 8oz. top sirloin, baked potato, salad and a yeast roll that melts in your mouth for $6.41 (incl. tax), um…well, okay, that was over 10 years ago. It was so good I remember how much we paid!
But, I digress. We used to go to Marie’s with our co-workers and sometimes a group of them would order the mushroom appetizer. I would proudly (or was it loudly) proclaim, “You can have mine. I don’t eat fungus.” That usually got me a lecture about what I was missing out on from one or two of the group that I called my 10 moms, since they were all roughly in the same age range. In another turn of events that the 10 moms would appreciate, my palate grew up a little bit again and I’ve begun to appreciate “fungus”. Sometimes.
With my newfound ability to choke down enjoy foods that previously made me give up dessert, my Wednesday night suppers are far more interesting and healthy. So, all you parents of picky eaters, my message to you is that there is still hope. Don’t give up!
And don’t put raisins in my sweet potatoes. THAT will still make me gag.