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Wellfleet oysters and chicken nuggets: On patience and teaching children to be adventurous eaters

Every summer, our family takes a week-long trip to the outer end of Cape Cod for vacation. As we sat down at one of those shell-floored, outside tables for lunch, I noticed the raw bar. We were in Wellfleet, home of some of the world’s best oysters, so I decided to order three. I’m the only one who’ll eat them, and I certainly do not need to down a half a dozen oysters by my lonesome.

I polished off the first one. Then the second. And as I began to prepare the last oyster  a little mignonette and a dab of hot sauce is my style  my daughter, who was seated next to me, asked if she could have one.

There are two responses here: (1) I can be overjoyed. “Okay, yeah, let’s do this.” Let’s get her on a lifelong voyage of adventurous eating. Or (2), “No. Because you’re four years old and you’re going to hate it. It will be a waste of an oyster.” 

For reasons beyond just her gastronomic preferences, she’s definitely going to be trouble, but with regard to her tastes, if you ask her her favorite meals, she’ll tell you, “Enchiladas, steak, and lobster.” She’s got Champagne tastes. Mom and dad have beer money.

In my house, there’s an adventurous eater (me) and a conservative eater (my wife). When we revisit a restaurant, it’s not uncommon that she orders a meal she’s had in previous visits. “I know that I like it,” is her defense. 

But as we were planning our lives with children, we would both make note of families out to dinner ordering off the kids menu: chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and hot dogs. “We’ll never be that family.” Our kids weren’t even going to know what McDonald’s was, never mind throw a tantrum to go get a Happy Meal. How foolish we were. Somehow they always end up knowing McDonald’s exists, whether or not it’s a place their parents have been to in the last decade.

My son will happily eat chicken nuggets every day. We don’t even have to cook them in the oven; The microwave will do. Cover them in ketchup and he’s satisfied. Homemade mac and cheese, with a beautiful gruyere? Nah, give them the Kraft, but only if they’re shaped like Frozen characters. 

We all want our children to grow into sensational, healthy eaters. We want them to eat like we do now, but never take time to pause and think about what we used to eat like then. I remember sifting through a steak and cheese sub on vacation, picking out every last green pepper they’d mistakenly put on; I can recall refusing stuffed shells at a friend’s house because I didn’t like ricotta. I love these things now. I’m angry at that version of me just revisiting those memories.

My son will happily eat chicken nuggets every day.

Of the things we’re tasked with as parents, feeding our children is probably paramount. I suppose we could place nurture and care ahead of it (and teaching them the lyrics to Biggie Smalls’ “Juicy” somewhere below it). Does it really matter what they eat, so long as they do? This isn’t a suggestion to feed them Halloween candy every night, it’s just to suggest that if they’re eating hot dogs instead of organic avocado on 12 grain bread it isn’t the end of the world. 

They’ll get to the avocado eventually. If we have children who, from day one, decide that produce and lean meats are their favorite foods, then great. But a real parenting win? If we continually encourage adventurous eating and then one day — at complete random — our four-year-old reaches for an oyster, shoots it down best she can, and says, “So good!”

About the author

Matt Osgood is a freelance journalist based out of Haverhill, MA, where he lives with his wife, their two kids, and dog. While life as a dad certainly provides him with the best material, he writes mostly about sports and booze, both of which provide much needed therapy.

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