Developing a Healthy Diet in Honolulu

From picky eater to raw tako man in eight short years.

When I realized my my son, Kennedy, was a picky eater, I was a little out of my element. You see, I’ve always considered myself a “good eater,” which is a polite way of saying I consume just about anything placed in front of me.

My wife and I couldn’t figure out how it happened. Kennedy had loved eating poi, rice, chicken and all the pudding like baby foods. Then, all at once, it seemed, his diet consisted of five basic food groups: ramen, spaghetti, pizza, sliced Fuji apples (skin removed) and dinosaur chicken nuggets, his all-time favorite.

My wife and I discussed his unique diet with his pediatrician, who wasn’t concerned, telling us Kennedy was happy, healthy and getting all the nutrition he needed. “Just don’t forget the vitamins,” he said.

My mom wasn’t worried either, reminding me that my sister pretty much ate only one vegetable—cucumbers—till she was nearly a teenager. Today, she’s a good eater, too. There was also a cousin who somehow survived on udon, rice, nori and scrambled eggs. It was just a phase with Kennedy, we thought.

When he was about 6, we were perusing the aisles of our neighborhood supermarket when he discovered a box of mac and cheese. I read the directions on the side of the box to him and watched as his curiosity and appetite slowly piqued. When we got home, we cooked the animal-shaped pasta and mixed in the bright-orange cheese sauce.

When I offered Kennedy the first gooey spoonful, he cringed and turned away. I chuckled and offered it again. He shook his head and pushed the wooden spoon away. I stopped laughing, offered again and, the next thing I knew, I was trying to shove a piece of macaroni through his pursed lips and clenched teeth. I’m not sure what came over me, but if a neighbor or my wife had walked through the door at that moment, I’m pretty sure the cops and Child Protective Services would have followed close behind.

Then, several years later, Kennedy’s tastes blossomed, seemingly all at once. It may have started with a fish stick, which led to a Filet o’ Fish, which led to a real filet of mahimahi or ahi. Or maybe it was a french fry, which led to a piece of boiled potato, which led to a chunk of cooked carrot. Today, unbelievably, he occasionally has a tossed salad with dinner. To be honest, I can’t remember when or why the variety started. Maybe he just got bored with his old menu.

Late last year, something amazing happened. Kennedy and I spent the day at the beach. Just before lunch, a friend’s grandfather offered to teach us how to spearfish. “If you kill it, you eat it,” he said as we entered the water. Nearly an hour later, we emerged from the surf with a 2.5-pound octopus and a handful of manini. The tako was saved for later, but the manini were immediately gutted, salted and thrown on the grill. Kennedy was fascinated with the entire messy, smelly process. Having eaten the algae-flavored reef fish before, I was a little worried for him. “You kill it, you eat it,” I reminded him.

Minutes later, he was tearing through the fish as if it were his only meal of the day. “This is so good, Dad. You have to try some,” he said between bites. From where I was standing, that manini looked like the most exciting meal ever eaten.