Sitting at the Thanksgiving table this week, my family began to tell stories about what a "picky" eater I was as a child. The list grew longer, and as they added they giggled and laughed more. No white foods, no sauces, no condiments, nothing with any type of texture to it, no carbonation, no fermented anything, no beans, no leafy vegetables, and no milk. Basically, every chance I got I lived on Thomas english muffins with butter, Quaker maple brown sugar oatmeal, and Kraft macaroni and cheese.
Driving home I let myself sink back into those days where I was so cautious about what I ate. I didn't like surprises. I didn't like zesty, spicy, shocking, or interesting. As a child my sensitivity was significant and I could not manage any further stimulation than the intensity of each human interaction I was involved in. If someone was crying around me, I was heart broken. If someone was angry, I was deeply impacted. If something bad happened, it stuck with me for days, weeks, months, and often years. I was so hypersensitive to those around me that what I ate was unbelievably repetitive. Day after day after day I ate the same nutrient deficient, dried up, preservative filled, non-food.
My ability to deal with my sensitivity has increased and so has my palette. I follow none of my old food rules. As a matter of fact, I worship lentils, one of my arch nemeses from childhood. Lentils are just the greatest little things, especially when it starts to get really cold outside. A nice bowl of spicy lentil soup after a snowy walk is just the cat's meow. Looking back on all the times my grandmother tried to feed me Lentil soup and I turned up my nose and gagged. I realize now, it wasn't the Lentils, it was the relationship I had with the woman who cooked them. The way I used to feel about Thanksgiving dinner, pure and utter dread. Convinced I hated stuffing and gravy and mash potatoes, I would start preparing for the misery weeks in advance. But as decades have passed, it wasn't the foods, it was the amount of overstimulation I felt as a child in a room full of 14 people all talking at one another across a giant table.
These days, sometimes I gratefully receive the opportunity to work with a child that is a "picky" eater. Right away I know they are special, that there is something else going on. Maybe they need to feel more control, maybe they want to make the choices, maybe they are overstimulated, maybe they like routine.
I fully recognize that having many boundaries and limits with food is a privilege as in those families where there is not enough, children do not have the opportunity to choose. But, any way you slice it, being choosy as a child is only a symptom and most of us grow out of it. Now that I have grown up and learned to deal with my sensitivity, I love lentils, green leafy plants, fermented foods and sauces. Now instead of focusing on which shape Kraft pasta pieces I want in my macaroni and cheese, I can focus on which vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and probiotics I want to consume.