Jesse Tyler Ferguson Wishes He Could Feed His Toddler As Easily As His Infant
The Modern Family star is in the throes of his toddler’s finicky eating phase.
Having an infant and a toddler at the same time is an exercise in perspective. Suddenly, when you see your eldest side-by-side with their sibling, you see how much they’ve grown up, and how fast it all happened. But every now and then, the younger child will make you wistful for less challenging times, and that’s kind of what’s happening to Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
Ferguson is perhaps best known for playing Mitchell Pritchett on Modern Family for the show’s eleven seasons, but has also appeared in a number of television and movie roles, including the Netflix children’s series Ivy + Bean and the 2023 black comedy Cocaine Bear. His recent turn as Mason Marzac in the Broadway production of Take Me Out earned him a Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Play. He’s also a father to two boys, Beckett, 2, and Sullivan (whom he calls Sully), 4 months, whom he shares with his husband, lawyer Justin Mikita. But talking to the actor over Zoom, one could have been talking to any parent about juggling a career and the all-too-common challenges of raising children, specifically finicky eating.
“With Sully it’s so great because we have formula. We’ve been using Enfamil since he was in the hospital and I’m grateful and I’m thankful that his [meals are] so easy,” he laughs a little. “I kind of wish that Beckett was on a similar system, where I just knew that there was a foolproof thing that he would get the nutrition he needed.”
“There are days where he’s ravenous and he’s just eating everything. And then the days where he doesn’t have a lot to eat,” he shrugs. “I have to remind myself ... if he really wanted to eat, he would be eating right now. He’s just not hungry and that’s okay.”
Romper caught up with the actor to talk about all things food and feeding, and how the famous TV dad has avoided giving parenting advice to fans.
You were born in Montana, but you grew up in Albuquerque. When you think about the food culture you grew up in, what was the vibe... and of course, I say this knowing you’ve literally co-written a book on the subject.
My mom was a great cook. She also had a full-time job, so it was a lot of easy meals that she was able to throw together quickly. And probably once or twice a week we would go out to a restaurant and have a fancy meal, usually on a Friday. And the fancy meals were not fancy — usually a cafeteria of some sort where you could bring children. But holidays were a very important time for us, my mom would always go above and beyond. What I was really inspired by was just how she was such a good cook while juggling a full-time job. She was a nurse and my dad was a microbiologist. And they both did a pretty great job of making sure that there was some sort of a home cooked meal on the table, even if it was made with canned soups. A lot of casseroles with canned soups when I was growing up.
Did you grow up cooking with them? Or were you more an observer?
I made holiday cookies with my mom and I would help a little bit, but I definitely was more of an observer. I think mostly because I was probably just in the way, not that I wasn’t going to be helpful. But we had a small kitchen and my mom needed to be able to move.
So when did you learn your way around a kitchen?
It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles that I started providing for myself and cooking for myself. When I was living in New York doing theater before moving to LA, I had a very, very tiny kitchen, which is very common in New York. And it was just easier to eat out. There was such amazing cuisine and I was exposed to all these different types of food that I didn’t have in Albuquerque, New Mexico. So I was so excited to try the really great Indian food place or the Pakistani place, or the Ethiopian place, Thai food, I’ve had sushi for the first time. So I was really excited by the culinary scene even though I didn’t have a ton of money, I would find the cheap versions of all those exciting places.
So now that you have a family of your own, what does a family dinner look like? Between movies and TV and Broadway, I can’t imagine your schedule is terribly conducive to a sit-down family dinner every night.
It’s kind of a miracle when it does happen, and it does happen every once in a while where we’re all together. But with the baby specifically, he takes his bottle, he’s just on Enfamil — we give him the Enspire Optimum — so he has his own thing going on there. We’re at the brink of starting the solid foods.
Beckett has his plate of food that he is eating at that time, and his tastes change daily. And all of a sudden you’re like, “I thought you liked hot dogs yesterday. You don’t like them today? Okay.” So there’s a lot of juggling and figuring out what we’re going to feed him. And then occasionally, I’ll be able to also provide for Justin and I, have a great meal for us, and we’ll all be at the table together and it’s like this miraculous moment. But that is so rare and so far between the days that happens. I wish it happened more, but it is. But juggling a full-time job, there’s nights where I was like, “Justin, we have to order in tonight. I can’t do it.” Letting yourself off the hook is very important.
Oh, 10,000%. And I regret to inform you that the changing taste thing does not improve when they get older.
I know. I’ve heard.
So on the rare occasions when you are able to make it work, is there a go-to meal that everybody likes? Or are you still short order cooking it at this point?
I refused to short order to cook. I will make Beckett one meal, but if he’s not wanting that, I’m not going to try five other things. I did that once, I made that mistake once and it was like he didn’t really want it. He was just stalling. I made a whole other meal and I was like, “Well, you said you wanted this!” And he didn't. But the other thing is, Beckett’s taste, like I said, changes day to day. One day I made a salmon dinner for Justin and I, and I was like, “He’s not going to want this.” And he ate basically the entire piece of salmon. And then a week later I was like, “I’m going to do that salmon dish again.” Guess what? Didn’t like the salmon that day. So no, there’s not a foolproof one yet.
Is there something that is always in your pantry?
Salsa. I have a back stock of a very specific brand of salsa from Albuquerque, New Mexico that I order in. And I can’t believe how often I order it and how much I have in my house. It’s just a great snack!
When you think of a favorite meal you’ve had, or a favorite type of meal even, where are you, who are you with, what do you eat, and what’s the vibe?
Oh God. I’ve been so lucky that I’ve had so many wonderful food experiences recently. For me, I mean great food’s great food, but it’s about the experience around it and the company you keep. I remember the first date that I had with Justin at a little French place in Silver Lake, and we go back to that restaurant quite often. And every time I go there, I’m so happy to be there. And the food’s really good, but it’s less about that. It’s more about the memories of meeting this person, sitting down with him for the first time. And so that’s a meal I always think about. And then really subsequent meals there, even if they’re with my family or friends, it’s always been very special. So again, it’s about the experience and the place and the meaning behind it.
You played a beloved father on television for many years. Do you find people come up and ask you for parenting advice?
Oh God, no! But you know what? Then I’m like, “Oh, was Mitchell not a great parent in other people’s eyes?” But then I look back and I’m like “What did Mitchell do in this situation? ... Oh, I don’t know if I would do that.” I mean, it was a sitcom: you don’t want to see people succeed. You want to see people flail and fail.
To be fair, “flailing” is a word I often associate with parenting...