“Habit, I guess,” she laughed.
And it made me remember. “Oh, gosh, it’s my fault, isn’t it? Remember how I used to say, ‘Eat your appetizer first, then you can have dinner?’”
We laughed together. Yes, she remembered. The little dishes of broccoli or green beans. The small pile of carrots. Always the vegetables first, even if it was just three tiny peas to get through. Then my toddler girls were allowed to move on to the high-interest foods. Potatoes, pasta, spicy stews.
My teen daughters have been vegetarian (the kind that includes dairy and very occasional seafood in the diet) since they were born. I’d made the change to my own lifestyle due to hereditary concerns about cardiovascular disease, and by now I forget that it was ever a challenge to be vegetarian or, for that matter, to raise vegetarian children.
Someone was always telling me I’d hurt their brains (I had to hold my tongue about hurting their hearts), or that they wouldn’t grow properly, or that they might not find spouses someday due to dietary incompatibility. I thought the spouse issue was especially creative. Eats veggies, will love. I could see their dating personals already. Desperate girls in search of a chickpea-cherishing man.
The problem with toddlers is often the vegetables. Thus, I developed an appetizer first approach. If I knew they particularly hated the vegetable, I made it simple. One bite of avocado, a sliver of radish. Then move on. I stuck to this, because I’d read it takes about ten times of tasting a new food before someone will entertain a culinary love affair with the item (though I’m not sure anyone has a love affair with Brussels sprouts, at least it can be agreed to sit in the same room with most foods, if given the ten-times get-to-know-you opportunity).
Time passed. Girls grew. Many bowls of “appetizers” were gotten through. The girls are rarely ill and are of normal weight. In fact, neither has ever been in danger of anorexia—another warning I was strictly given—nor have they been overweight. Two girls, just right. Goldilocks would be proud. As for their brains, one got impressive scores on both her PSATs and her SAT, though I admit to accidentally starving her of brain food the very morning of the biggest test of her high school life. Neither of the girls, to my knowledge, are searching for love. So our chickpea compatibility concerns are still untested.
I’ve told the girls: this is how I raised you, but you might make a different decision when you’re older. You might eat hamburgers someday. It could happen—for survival, or love.
That’s the hard part of parenting. Or, one hard part. We give them what we think is a good path, and they might decide that an alternate path is better someday. All I can hope, in my own case, is that we’ll all be grown-ups whatever comes. And laugh together—from habit, or love.
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