Once upon a time there was a little boy named Nate. When Nate was small, his single mother loved him very much in the best way she could. But she was addicted to drugs, and slowly but surely the drugs took over her life and she stopped taking very good care of Nate. She raised him in a filthy apartment, bought him chicken nuggets and pretzels with her food stamps and fed him those for every lunch and dinner and couldn't hold a job. Sadly, when Nate was six years old his mother became pregnant again, but she didn't know who the baby's father was. She was angry and didn't want the new baby, but gave birth to him and kept him anyway. She laid baby Matthew in his crib and let him cry and cry in his dirty diaper for hours, getting him out to feed him his formula but never really bonding with this boy like she had with Nate. Trash and food scraps littered the floor; mice and roaches occupied every room with her children. Neighbors told stories of little Nate chasing his drugged-out-of-her-mind, naked mother down the street, calling "Mommy, mommy" while trying to cover her up with a blanket. Authorities were called, but the children were finally removed from their home when their mother called 911 because she was high and little Matt wouldn't stop crying. She didn't want him. "Take him away or I will kill him!" she shrieked. So away the children went, and came shortly into my home, while mother got treatment and tried to clean up her act.
The children were so sweet and loving for what they'd been through. Little Matty was a charming baby; he never fussed much and was delightfully happy if he just had a full belly, a clean diaper, and warm arms to hold him. Nate was quiet but pleasant as well. But he came with issues, one of which was the unwillingness to eat most normal foods. He'd never even seen any of the meals we ate at our home, and refused to try anything new. He was a skinny little thing so for the first days, we calmly gave him his usual plates of chicken nuggets and pretzels. But then, I took on the job of helping him learn a different way of eating.
It was hard at first, but I found a few... very few... things he had eaten before and would nibble on: things like bread and butter, or applesauce. I started making our usual meals for the family, like pot roast with mashed potatoes and gravy and green beans, but without fanfare I'd be sure there was a dish of applesauce and a plate of bread on the table so that he always had *something* he would eat. He'd have a few pieces of bread and drink his milk, and then he'd watch all of us enjoying our food. Eventually he started tasting things, and within a few weeks he was eating with the rest of us. Sometimes for a snack, I'd serve my kids apple slices, a new thing for Nate. The first time he saw them, it went like this:
Nate: I don't like apples.
me: Sure you do. You like applesauce!
Nate: But apples are different.
me: Not really. They're just ground up. So grind the apple slices with your teeth and make applesauce in your mouth.
Nate: Oh. Okay.
(I hand him a dish of apple slices. He starts to eat them but leaves the peel.)
me: The peel is the best part! It's full of healthy things.
Nate: I don't like peels.
me: Have you ever tried them?
me: Then you don't know if you like them!
And with that, Nate took a bite of apple with peel, chewed, and said, "Hey, I like peels!"
Small steps. Little changes. Tastes can, and do change. Just because you were raised on junk food or never liked vegetables or think you hate salmon doesn't make it forever so. Nate did not have to stay chained to a diet of chicken nuggets and pretzels; we don't have to remain in the easy state of always eating the same things, either. We can train our taste buds away from some things (sweet drinks, fried foods, oversalted and processed items) and towards others (fresh vegetables, simple lean proteins, plain green tea). We have that CHOICE to make, to try new things, to branch out, to think in new ways. And unlike Nate, we're adults, so we can use our logical minds to make healthier choices over time. And we can learn to like and enjoy things we never used to like.
I never thought the day would come when I wouldn't like the taste of hot dogs, but it has. Some weeks ago when I indulged, I stopped and realized that I no longer like them at all. Same for Reuben sandwiches. Same for sweetened drinks that now set my teeth on edge; I prefer water. I am slowly changing my preferences for the better. Oh, I still like cookies and pastries and even chips of some kinds, but that's okay. Small steps. Little changes. Over time, big results.
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