The Picky Palate

Laura Anders Lee takes great pride in the broad variety of foods her kids adore: peanut butter and scallops.

Davi Vallejo

Our diverse city is home to residents from across the U.S. and the world, all with our own cultures and comfort foods. We have French, Brazilian, Venezuelan, Dominican, British, Colombian and Russian—and that’s just in my family’s neighborhood. Everyone has been generous in sharing their favorite native foods, and in return, we are all eager to try new things. 

Everybody, that is, except one. My first-born son, Anders, is a picky eater. With all the amazing food offerings in this city of ours, he pretty much eats only peanut butter. 

I swore my children would never be picky eaters. When I was growing up, my brother’s best friend refused any kind of food at our house. He turned up his nose at my mother’s perfectly good cooking, resorting to Cap’n Crunch cereal instead. I thought his behavior was totally unacceptable, not to mention the fact he wasn’t getting a well-balanced diet. But then, I had a child of my own. And as it turns out, parents don’t have as much control as I thought over their children, especially when it comes to eating. 

When Anders was two, he refused even to try ice cream because it was “too cold.” I lost a stubborn standoff with my chubby-cheeked toddler who, despite my pleas to taste the most heavenly treat in the world, kept his jaws resolutely locked. 

Then William was born. To my relief, he was adventurous when it came to food—and anything else. Since a young age, he’s thrown caution to the wind, trying everything from sashimi to Disney’s Tower of Terror. 

When we moved to Orlando, Anders and William attended a Seventh-Day Adventist Church daycare, so all the food was vegetarian. At pickup, I reviewed their daily progress reports. “William ate two helpings of quinoa and kale salad with Aegean dressing and played nicely with others.” “Anders refused to eat. He was irritable and acted out on his teachers and friends.” To make matters worse, one of his classmates had a tree-nut allergy, so I couldn’t pack peanut butter. Some experts say if they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat. Those experts have never met Anders. 

For Anders’ birthday, my brother sent him a case of Jif To Go from Costco. Hours later, we found Anders asleep holding his spoon stuck in a container of peanut butter. Now we carry it with us everywhere, a necessity as vital to our family as Band-aids and wet wipes. On a trip to New York, while the rest of the family gorged on all sorts of amazing cuisine from mussels to lobster, Anders lived off Jif To Go from my suitcase. 

Once we took the boys to Disney’s Swan and Dolphin resort so my husband, Bryan, and I could enjoy a nice dinner while taking advantage of the hotel’s free childcare. (Yea! Free childcare!) Well, it turned out William wasn’t quite old enough for the playroom, so he became our third wheel at bluezoo. I ordered seared sea scallops, got up to use the ladies room, and when I returned to the table, the plate was clean. William had eaten every single one. He loved them so much, he ordered scallops everywhere we went after that. Once, a bartender at a bowling alley asked if he wanted some fries, and he replied, “No thanks, but I’ll take some scallops.” 

The following Christmas, our French friends brought us an expensive jar of foie gras. Bryan and I did our best to like it, but after several tries we gave up. We felt guilty wasting such a nice gift, when William came along and scarfed down the rest of it, slathered on Ritz crackers. 

What I love about Orlando restaurants is that kids are welcome pretty much anywhere, and there is something for every palate. Living in a vacation town where adventure is part of everyday life, new and exciting culinary options come with the territory. At the Four Seasons, you’ll see European families dining at Capa at 9 pm. At STK at Disney Springs, instead of a coat check, there’s a stroller check. While picky kids can still get their hot dogs, chicken nuggets and cheese pizza, sophisticated ones can order sushi in a monorail car at Epcot’s Japanese restaurant or a braised short rib off Emeril’s “Kicked Up Kids Menu.” Kathleen Blake at The Rusty Spoon has boycotted the children’s menu altogether, saying her food is for anyone with a good palate. 

Restaurants are really stepping up to the plate for foodies and their kids. That’s wonderful news, unless you’re you-know-who. In that case I’ll be sure to stash a little Jif To Go in my purse for our next night out. 

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