Catholic New World: Newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago

The Family Room by Michelle Martin


After dinner, when it’s time to make lunches for the next day, I often pull out the bread, peanut butter and jelly to make sandwiches.

But it’s not the traditional PBJs for my kids. Neither one will eat them.

Caroline gets plain peanut butter, between two slices of bread, with the crusts, preferably cut off. If I don’t cut off the crusts, she doesn’t eat them anyway—she returns them in her lunch bag at the end of the day.

Frank, on the other hand, just gets jelly. Grape is fine, though he really prefers raspberry or strawberry—and even currant will do in a pinch. For him, the crust is the best part, and he’ll happily eat the ends of the loaves.

Yes, they both can be picky eaters, but they’re not picky about the same things. That would be too easy.

Hamburgers? Caroline. Cheeseburgers? Frank.

Cucumbers? Caroline. Carrots? Frank.

Corn Flakes? Frank. Rice Krispies? Caroline.

I wonder how many of their preferences are innate matters of taste (I, like Frank, have never liked peanut butter), how many spring from the fear of trying something new, and how many are just attempts to set themselves apart.

After all, Caroline was never picky as a baby or toddler. She ate everything, from spinach to scrambled eggs. It wasn’t until she was about 3, and Frankie was a new arrival, that she began to turn against foods she had previously enjoyed, up to and including freshsqueezed orange juice from her grandmother.

Then again, Frank followed much the same pattern. Early on, he’d eat—or at least try— whatever was put in front of him. Then he decided that maybe not all of it was so good. And if Caroline liked it, he couldn’t possibly.

We cater more to their preferences than our parents ever did. Maybe they would be better off if we served meals and told them to take it or leave it, without any consideration of what they like. But I don’t see any harm in giving Caroline some cucumber slices while I make a salad, or a handful of frozen peas (she likes them that way) before I throw them into the soup.

Giving her things she likes shows that I pay attention to her, that I know she likes and dislikes certain things, and she’s not just like anyone else. Frank likes to know that he doesn’t have to be just like his sister. He doesn’t have to do the same activities or like the same subjects in school. She’s all about drawing and designing, everything from outfits to imaginary animals. He’s all about planning train trips that we might someday take.

God, after all, knew each of us before we were born—and to me, that means he knew that we were all different.

Knowing that, and respecting it, makes it easier for my kids to appreciate the ways they are different—and the ways other people are different, too.

Sometimes, they move out of their niches and try on the others for size. Frank finds some of his sister’s creations more than a little amusing, and she puts in her two cents about where we should travel.

And who knows? One day they might venture beyond their culinary comfort zones, too. Last year, Caroline discovered that she liked whipped cream after years of avoiding it. This year, she tried tomatoes.

Martin is a Catholic New World staff writer. Contact her at [email protected].