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Mom, please pass the brussels sprouts

By JANET K. KEELER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 16, 2003
photo
[Times files]
Brussels sprouts

When you are young, there are foods so disgusting, so vile that you know you will hate them forever.

Liver, for one.

Molded salads that aren't Jell-O and sherbet, for another. A jiggly salad with flecks of cucumber, carrot, tomato and shrimp? The adults called it aspic, but you just held your nose and ran.

There are so many strange and yucky foods (trout! blue cheese! beets!) out there that the prospect of eating PB&J sandwiches or chicken fingers every day is a comfort to many children. Even taking the ittiest, bittiest bite of something new is a monumental challenge for some children.

"I don't like it," she might say, sizing up the lightly blanched, salted and buttered stalk of asparagus on her plate.

"How do you know? You've never tried asparagus," Mom replies. Mom is calm at first, calling upon her arsenal of child psychology, but she begins to simmer like the blanching water before long.

For young kids, hatred of "fill-in-the-blank" for dinner is based on several factors, usually not taste, because they often dismiss food before it's sampled. The scorned food looks different. It smells different. You want us to eat it because it's good for us so that means it must taste like newly mowed grass. With bugs in it.

The "I-won't-oh-yes-you-will" discussion lasts far longer than it would take to sample the asparagus, something quickly pointed out by adults at the table. Usually in shrill voices. Sometimes force is employed, an ugly experience for everyone. It's hard to imagine that anyone would ever give peas a chance once a spoonful has been pushed at them.

It might help to deal with the open insurrection if you know that young children probably taste food more keenly than adults. They have taste buds all over their mouths, not just on their tongues. As we age, taste buds decrease. A baby starts life with about 10,000 taste buds, an adult has about 1,000 fewer and an elderly adult is left with about 3,300.

In my house, disdain is heaped on entrees in which all the food is mixed together. That would be stir-fries especially and casseroles in general. This from one child and one adult who like their foods in distinctly separate piles: Meat, starch, vegetable, salad, nothing touching, if you please.

But here's one for Ripley's Believe It or Not: Our favorite vegetable du jour is brussels sprouts. I am not lying. An entire family of brussels sprouts eaters? Can it be? Yes, we eat them at least twice a week. I cut off the nubby end, halve them and steam in the microwave for about five minutes. A sprinkle of kosher salt, a little butter, and they are on their way down the hatch.

Last week, I roasted brussels sprouts for about 10 minutes in a 400-degree oven with a coating of olive oil. De-lish.

Lest you think I am bragging about my champion 7-year-old veggie eater, who also likes asparagus, green beans and artichokes, let me tell you what won't linger on his taste buds for even a second. He will not touch chunky peanut butter, any kind of jelly, yogurt with fruit at the bottom, hot dogs with grill marks, sandwiches with both cheese and meat or any kind of fruit. The fruit thing kills me. Not a banana. Not watermelon. Not even grapes. Grape ice pops, yes; red seedless, no.

I find hope in knowing that there have been kids before him who have grown up and out of fish sticks. (I am hopeful even though I have never gotten over my dislike of sardines and rye bread, which was a sandwich served to me by a friend's mom when I was about 10. She obviously hated children.)

Maybe some day, liver fried with onions and bacon won't sound nearly so revolting to my son and other youthful picky eaters. I do suspect it will be the bacon that will sway them to this organ meat. That's what got me. Aspic may not become a favorite dish but at least most grown-ups don't screw up their faces and holler "Bleccccch!" when gelatin salad wiggles before them.

We learn grace as we grow older even though we are actually able to taste less, which might explain why we become more adventurous, too. We don't fully taste the food.

How else to explain eating raw fish and stinky cheese?

-- Janet K. Keeler can be reached at (727) 893-8586 or by e-mail at krieta@sptimes.com .

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