How Frozen Nuggets Destroyed My Toddler's Eating Habits

by Kimberly Zapata
Originally Published: 
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When my daughter was born, I vowed to make every meal from scratch. I bought a brand-spanking new food processor, just for her baby blends. I shopped fresh daily which, in Brooklyn, isn’t hard to do, and I made exotic combinations—petite peas with roasted butternut squash and a spoonful of ricotta cheese or apples and strawberries with a pinch of cinnamon.

I was determined my child would have an eclectic palate, and for a while, she did. (It was around that time I started imagining us brunching together on Sundays, a mother-daughter brunch where I would sip on a mimosa while she colored neatly on her placement, where she would choose the fish of the day instead of something smothered in sauce or cheese, and I would smile, approvingly and cynically, from beneath my oversized straw hat.)

Ah, the delusions of new motherhood. I knew the wide-brimmed hat was nothing more than a fantasy—with my boyish cut, hats look far too masculine—but I did think my daughter would be a good eater. And she was, until I got sick and fed her an emergency chicken nugget around 16 months (the kind every parent keeps hidden in their freezer, for husbands or rainy days). She loved it, but after the nugget incident, things went downhill. She had her first first bite of cake on her birthday, a bit of pizza here, and a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese there.

Before long, she was pushing away anything that wasn’t rolled in sugar, dipped in ketchup, or hidden under a thick layer of cheese.

Now, at 2, my daughter is a twouche, plain and simple—especially when it comes to food. If it isn’t carbs, she doesn’t care. Actually, that isn’t entirely true; she is also a fan of the aforementioned sugar food group and apples. Gone are the days of enjoying our vegetables and to hell with scrambled eggs; it’s waffles and goldfish crackers and PB&J every day. And I have to make two meals whenever we eat or suffer the consequences, like getting stuck eating lukewarm French fries and chicken scraps.

I feel like a failure. Not because I’m failing my daughter; I know this is a phase, and with time and patience and continually picking beans off the floor and peaches from her thighs, it will pass. But I feel like a failure because in my pre-parenting days I judged parents of picky eaters. I guilt-watched Maury, especially the episodes with overweight children, and would snidely say from my sofa it was the parents’ fault. Parents choose what and when their children eat.

Ha! It is so easy to sit on a high horse when you have no fucking idea what being a parent is like, and boy, oh boy, is that horse kicking me in the ass now. You see, while it is true that parents choose their children’s diet (I sure as shit don’t give my daughter McDonald’s or KFC Double Downs), it is only true to a certain extent, especially if you are driving from New York to Boston and only have two choices at every rest stop. (I’m looking at you, Connecticut. Really, all you’ve got is Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway?)

So for all those looks I gave you, for all those guffaws I made, and for all my not-so-silent grumblings when you ordered the “kids nuggets with fries,” I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Oh, and I’m still sorry.

But seriously, fuck those nuggets. It is still their fault.

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