I don’t know if you’ve ever been in charge of feeding a toddler, but it is a challenge. Last week, my kid loved bananas. Today he cannot stand them. Pasta, one of the most universally beloved foods? Only if it’s bowtie shaped and then only on every other Wednesday. Fruits? Probably poison. And forget about anything green—that will be ignored or, more likely, thrown across the floor.
Since I refuse to have my child grow up eating a diet of McDonalds nuggets and peanut butter sandwiches—his preferred foods—I have gotten to be an expert in toddler logic. Anything in muffin form is automatically delicious. Offering a dip—whether ketchup, ranch, or hummus—makes foods mildly more appealing. The other night I was reduced to putting sprinkles on zucchini to try to get him to take a bite. (It worked!)
Fruit has always been an issue. And I get it: Unlike a Cheerio, which tastes exactly the same and has the same texture every time you eat it, every piece of fruit is different. Some blueberries are tart and others are sweet. Some apples are crunchy and others kind of mealy. And really, what’s up with kiwis?
And then we went berry picking.
I was convinced that my toddler would hate the entire experience—sitting in a row of fruit bushes out in the hot sun, staring at a fruit he refuses to try. But I was adamant that this was a summer experience worth having. Plus, fresh-picked, local blueberries are infinitely superior to the blueberries you get in a plastic clamshell, each of them equally round and facilely sweet.
At first the child was skeptical. We wanted him to do what? To eat what? To reach his hand into a thorny raspberry bush to eat this red thing covered in seeds? Why is this fun again?
Fifteen minutes later and he was grabbing totally unripe raspberries and blueberries and jamming them into his mouth as fast as he could. I’m fairly certain he ate as many as we picked. When we got home, his enthusiasm hadn’t waned, and he continued to eat giant handfuls of berries at every meal, sobbing when we told him they were all gone.
Not only have I apparently stumbled upon a foolproof way to get toddlers to try new foods—go to the farm and harvest it themselves!—but it also struck me how communal this experience was. Sitting in the dirt, surrounded by other people, and coexisting with the bees, spiders, and birds who would also like a share of the berries. In an afternoon of berry picking lies a small-s sacrament: a glimpse of God’s grace in both a toddler’s breakthrough and in the creation that surrounds us.
Unfortunately, I don’t think this is an experience that can be replicated at every meal or with every food, or I would be running to the nearest broccoli patch. But it has inspired me to be more intentional about how I share food with my family. Whether it’s taking my child to the grocery store with me and having him pick out the produce, letting him mix the batter when I make cookies, or simply just asking him to bring his plate to the table, food is something we do together. And I’ve noticed he’s more likely to try the food in front of him if he feels like he contributed something to the experience of making and preparing it. But more importantly, I hope he is learning that food connects us—to our families, to our broader communities, to the rest of creation, and to God.
This article also appears in the September 2023 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 88, No. 9, page 9). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.
Image: Unsplash/Samantha Fortney