Got a Picky Toddler? Get Hungry Monkey

Got a Picky Toddler? Get Hungry Monkey

People, I haven’t even finished reading it yet but already I know that Matthew Amster-Burton‘s Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater is a game-changer.

I bought the book months ago, but it was relegated immediately to my Someday stack. Honestly, I was intimidated. It’s the story of a food writer dad and his four-year-old daughter, and how they bond over exciting and different foods. Or at least, that’s what I imagined it was after reading the flap copy. I assumed it would make me feel even more like a failure, given Harry’s newfound disdain for oh, every vegetable on the planet, not to mention the actual tears that flow if some kind of sauce touches his food. Y’see, the book carries endorsements from Anthony Bourdain, Paula Wolfert, Dorie Greenspan, Steven Shaw, and John Thorne (personal heroes of mine, all), and nowhere on the flap does it say the one thing I most needed to hear: The fact that even though Matthew Amster-Burton is a food writer and restaurant critic, even though he may be pals with all the heavy-hitters mentioned above, his daughter is still one heckuva picky eater. And he’s not only learned to live with it, but also to work with it. Really well. I discovered this thanks to my friend Rachel, who sent me a link to an eye-opening interview with the author on the New York Times’ site. Even before I finished the interview, I was reaching for the book.

Want to feel one thousand times better? Read chapter ten, Picky-Picky:

“It’s hard not to take this personally, since Brussels sprouts are my favorite vegetable and I write about food for a living. There are, no doubt, some three-year-olds who are truly adventurous eaters. But I haven’t met any. Children of chefs? Hardly. I talked to one acclaimed Seattle chef who admitted that his five-year-old son likes to eat Trader Joe’s frozen cheese pizza, still frozen.”

Ahh. I’m not alone. Of course, I knew I wasn’t alone since all my mom friends are going through the same thing right now, but like Amster-Burton, I expected my own interest in food to somehow transcend toddlerhood. The fact that it didn’t, and that in reality my child eats worse than many of my friends’ kids, had me hanging my head in shame. It’s thrilling to know that food people much more accomplished than I are experiencing the exact same thing. And it’s also thrilling to read what Amster-Burton ultimately did to convince Iris to expand her horizons: Nothing. He’s managed to take Ellyn Satter’s advice to heart—she’s the author of Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense, a book I devoured some time ago and have tried—and failed—to live by. The main thing she says is that it’s the parent’s job to serve a variety of healthy foods at each meal (and snacktime), and it’s the child’s job to decide whether and how much to eat of each. Period. See, this makes perfect sense to me, but somehow I find myself negotiating with junior almost every night, telling him he can’t have another strawberry until he takes three bites of carrot, or calling his dad’s homemade spaghetti sauce “Lightning McQueen Sauce,” which will of course make him run faster (that one works, so I’m sticking with it). But it seems Amster-Burton actually pulls it off—though not without inner turmoil, which is highly entertaining to read about.

Look, it comes down to this: Matthew Amster-Burton isn’t going to help you transform your child into one of those annoyingly precocious, preternaturally adventurous eaters. Harry is not going to turn into Anthony Bourdain, now that I’m reading the book. But I’m going to spend considerably less time stressing about junior’s diet, and that’s well worth the price of admission.