The Monovore’s Dilemma

My friend Susan is back with more great book ideas for all the foodies out there. Enjoy!

My two boys have the taste buds of Wisconsin linebackers. In other words, they’ll eat anything, so as long as it’s cheese. Yellow cheese. Pasta’s acceptable, too, and so are tortillas. Some fruits, especially white ones, are okay. But put a vegetable in front of them? Get ready to duck.

For a vegetarian, hot-chile-and-Thai-food-loving person like myself, their pickiness makes mealtimes torture. What’s worse is that I seem to be surrounded by foodie kids. “My daughter just loves chervil,” one mom coos to me. “Can’t keep little junior away from the sushi!” another mom raves. I love my friends dearly, but please! Are they just trying to make me feel bad?

That’s why it was such a relief to discover these children’s books about mealtimes. Not one of them – not one – is about a child who trails after his mother at the farmer’s market, pointing out which radishes are just perfect for a salad. No, these books are all aimed at children just like mine. The ones who will eat about four things.

What I like the most about these books is that they are realistic. Just like me, they resort to lies, trickery, and sneaky reverse psychology to get kids to eat a balanced diet. I think of them every time I try to hide cauliflower in mac and cheese, or explain that the green in the spinach pasta means it’s from Mars.

I don’t think these books will actually persuade my children to eat something new. But they do give me something to laugh at when yet another plate of delicious, nutritious food goes uneaten. They also remind me that the most important thing I can do, besides offering vitamins, is to feed my children’s brains.

Little Pea, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Ah, the joys of reverse psychology. Poor Little Pea has to eat candy every night for dinner just to get his favorite dessert – spinach! The simple illustrations and text might be perfect for younger children, but the “lessons” will probably be needed until your kids are in college. Little Hoot and Little Oink, Rosenthal’s next books, explore characters with similar dilemmas – they hate having to stay up all night or mess up their rooms.

I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato, by Lauren Child. A big brother gets his picky little sister to eat all the foods she claims to hate by describing them in magical ways – carrots are orange twiglets from Jupiter and mashed potatoes are cloud fluff. At the end, she even eats the “moonsquirters,” which are really – you guessed it – tomatoes. The illustrations are abstract but understandable, even for younger children. This book is part of the British Charlie and Lola series, which is also a fabulous cartoon.

The Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Marla Frazee. When her first child will only drink milk at the perfect warm temperature, Mrs. Peters just chuckles. But as additional children arrive with their own finicky – and completely different – appetites, Mrs. Peters works herself into a tizzy trying to keep them all fed. I won’t give away the ending, but let’s just say it’s a mother’s dream come true. The story is told in understandable rhymes that actually scan. The length, however, may make this book better for slightly older children.

The Incredible Book-Eating Boy, by Oliver Jeffers. While his parents eat a regular dinner, Henry bites into a book. He’s soon devouring entire stacks of them, and getting smarter with every nibble. But after Henry outstrips his father and his teacher, all his new knowledge gets mixed up and makes him ill. He soon discovers that reading is the best way to digest books, after all. The illustrations are probably better for older children, as they have a dark flavor, but the overall message—and the “bite” out of the back cover—are nicely whimsical.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications.

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