Food... Why Can't My Kids Love it as Much as I Do?
When I was the same age as my kids, way way back when, I sat at the table and ate what was given to me... however unappetizing and devoid of nutrients it was. I would sit there, poking at my room temperature canned peas and overcooked but still mushy shake-and-baked pork chops until it was all gone; which was some hours after it was first served to me. My glass of Pepsi would have long been depleted and my requests for more would fall of deaf ears. "Mom, these pork chops are CHOKING me." And she'd say, "You know where there isn't alot to eat and drink? Ethiopia. And the kids there save their small glass of dirty water until they are all done because who knows when they are going to be able to get more." Defeated, I'd slump down further in my chair, take a deep breath and shove a piece of pork chop in my mouth the size of a deck of cards and chew for the next 20 minutes. By the time I was allowed to leave the table it was dark and the microwaved cupcakes for dessert were hard as rocks (they may have come out that way anyhow). My mom was not a good cook. She gave us egg noodles with butter and ketchup, most things we ate came out of boxes and cans. She tried... but she too came from a long line of bad cooks. My grandmother is Irish and doesn't understand flavor, seasoning and proper cooking temperatures. Unsure of the latter, she just over cooked everything just to be sure. Spending time with my dad wasn't any better because my stepmother went to the same cooking school as my mother. Although it was important to sit down as a family and eat together, the actual food we were eating was unimportant. My stepmother had 4 dishes she rotated: tuna helper, sliced turkey in gravy, beans and hot dogs, and English muffin pizza. I lived for English muffin pizza day.
When not eating a "home cooked" meal, at both families houses, we ate McDonald's alot, or take out pizza. My favorite season was summer, not for the absence of school, but for the cook-outs at other people's houses. Cook-outs where I could get a burger that was cooked perfectly at medium rare, and hot dogs that were not boiled. And I would just take in the smells. As a girl, being untrusting of food, I was not a very ambitious eater. People would offer me potato salad, and guacamole and I would run away in fear. I was afraid I would try something new and it would taste worse than the food I was used to. So I would just be content to smell the BBQ sauce, rather than actually try it.
My eating habits largely stayed the same until high school when I was hanging out with older people who had cars to bring them to good restaurants that had real food. I was in awe and I was proud of myself for trying new things. I must have looked like such a tool to all of my new friends when at the end of a meal I'd marvel, "And I ate it ALL!!!" Later, it got even better in college because then I found wine, and how, paired correctly, it could transcend a meal. Back then some people I knew needed ecstasy to find euphoria, I only needed a plate of lasagna and a good Sangiovese.
I taught myself how to cook. In the beginning it was one disaster after another. I have a tendency for not following the recipe, which is a no no if you don't have a clue what you're doing, like me. I experimented alot with seasoning. I learned from my mistakes, and now, I'm mostly an awesome cook. I was commenting to my real estate agent that there are a good number of people hoping I get a house with extra space so they can move in, and she asked if it was for my company or my cooking. I can't tell.
So when I started having kids, almost 7 years ago, I was determined to not have them repeat my painful childhood eating rituals. I wanted to expose them early on to vegetables and quality proteins. I did not want to make them things out of a box or a can, and I wanted to offer them a wide variety of meals to choose from. I thought I was well on my way with Jayden. By 18 months he was eating hummus, tabbouleh, guacamole, pasta salad, omelets, baked beans, and tuna. Then all of a sudden one day, he refused to eat any of that, and we had to go back to baby food. And then baby food became a battle. 3 times a day I'd sit him in his high chair and it was like a gun fight at the O.K. Corral. I'm slinging food at him and he's ducking and dodging and slinging it right back. When it was all said and done the two of us, the kitchen, and any innocent bystanders would be covered in bath of pureed carrots. I tried again when he was a little older to try to get him to eat real food to no avail. Oh, the cookies and ice cream that Nana gave him he'd greedily consume, although he was picky about that stuff too. Ice cream can only be vanilla garnished only with rainbow sprinkles.
Delaney was born when Jayden was five and I had hoped that when she was old enough to start eating vegetables, Jayden would get curious. Nope. "Jayden... look! Laney is eating her sweet potato. Mmmm she likes it! Wanna try?" He would gag and run out of the room. I felt, 'well Jayden is a lost cause, Laney is my only hope'. She was a good eater. She wasn't gaining much weight though. When she'd go to her doctor's appointments we'd find her in the 3rd percentile. The nurse practitioner would look at me like I was starving her. Laney was breastfed, exclusively from the tap, until she was after a year old. She would drain my ample supply in 6 minutes eat an entire jar of baby food, and munch on an endless supply of puffs or cheerios. And she did that at every meal. Because she was growing taller and not wider, her body weight went down even lower in the percentages so we had to start her on whole milk and carnation instant breakfast. When that wasn't enough we were instructed to give her half and half and ice cream and avocados. When we started feeding her a super high calorie diet is when we saw a change in her eating habits. She wasn't eating vegetables and fruit any more. And then, what I had hoped for that Delaney's good eating habits would rub off on Jayden, the opposite happened. She only wanted what he was eating, which was crap.
I was told that a child will never starve. That when they are hungry they will eat. Those people have never met my children. my children would gladly never eat again if I allowed it. I tested this theory one day with Jayden. He went 6 hours with no food before I panicked and strapped him down in his chair. This fast had no effect on how much food I was able to force into him. Same old fight to the finish, ending with me holding his hands down with one arm, steadying his head with my other forearm and spooning yogurt in using my limited wrist action. I have bribed Jayden with trips to water parks, toys, and extra t.v., nothing will get him to eat a god forsaken vegetable.
Why were my parents so successful at getting me to eat, and their food was terrible, and I'm such a failure? I think it's a matter of scheduling. My mom ran a day care out of the house during the day, so she had the entire night to watch me stare down lumpy mashed potatoes. Me, if I'm not rushing off to work at night, I'm exhausted from going from appointment to appointment during the day, schlepping kids all over the North Shore. I cook the kids' meals first, which means I starve until they are fed. I can't spend hours looking at my kids gag at their meals. Which is another thing. No matter how much I disliked my dinner, I was always able to keep it down. My kids will literally throw up when they smell something different.
The kids will eat exactly three different things at home for dinner. Baked chicken nuggets and tater tots, pizza (home made, bagel bites or take out) and Jayden will eat hot dogs while Laney eats Mac n cheese (or pastene and cheese). For a "treat" Jayden will eat a plain cheeseburger with only ketchup only from McDonald's. I try very hard to avoid this, but it is the only red meat I can get into him. I'm so conflicted when I'm in the B.J.'s frozen section, pulling out and industrial sized box of dino shaped chicken. I can feel the judging eyes from passers by on me. I want to turn to them and say, "I'm really a good parent, really! I wish I didn't have to buy this, but at least it's hormone free, see, it says it right here on the box!"
Recently I was at a cook-out, and in rare form, I was without my kids. I sat complacently and watched all of the other parents plead with their children to eat something. For the first time, I figured out I wasn't the only one. There are other failures out there too! I sipped my lemonade peacefully and watched with semi attentive curiosity; the way nonparental adults would have been watching me at a cook-out with my kids. It was refreshing, and the cheeseburger I ate was hot. One Dad, exasperated, looked up and said that his kid has no idea how good he has it, and that his own mother made poison instead of dinner. I smiled and said, "Well, that's what multivitamins are for." He said, "How do you get them to eat those!?"