I don’t fight with my kids about food any more. I used to, until pretty recently. Back then, I’d get upset that no one but Cooper would try anything new, that everything had to be dipped in ketchup, that cucumbers and frozen corn were the only vegetables palatable to the girls. I stuck to a pretty boring routine of cooking what they’d eat (pasta and corn, pasta and cucumbers, pasta and chicken nuggets, pasta and ketchup). Ray and I ate a lot of frozen food or leftovers from the few adult-friendly meals I threw together.
This year, it all changed.
At some point, I decided I was getting shafted. I like food. I like to eat (with guilt, to be sure, but I like to eat good food, whatever the calorie count). Why did I have to suffer just because my kids were, well, kids?
Plus, dinner time was agonizing for us all. I’d cajole, threaten, beg, bribe — whatever it took to get a “decent” meal into the quartet. I planned meals that they could help cook. The love to cook, but preparing it didn’t change their opinion that new food is bad food. My anxiety increased as the control I never had slipped through my fingers.
Clearly things had to change. I didn’t want to cook two meals every day (as easygoing as Ray is about getting fed, I sensed he was getting restless at yet another night of frozen pizza). I wanted my kids to eat well and enthusiastically — that is, to be culinary explorers.
Okay, I watch a lot of Top Chef.
But I also needed to ease up on my need to control. Here are things you can’t ever do for your kids — poop, sleep and eat. My stress was never going to change that truth.
So I started cooking for the family. Like it or lump it. Don’t like it today, you’ll like it tomorrow.
At first, some kids ate a frighteningly small amount. I worried about slow starvation, vitamin deficiencies, loss of teeth and hair. But eventually, over many painful months of holding my breath and throwing an embarrassing amount of picked-over food away, night after night of biting my tongue and/or counting to ten to relieve the frustration threatening to boil over, the strangest thing happened. Just as my mom said they would, just like I did when I was little, my fussy kids started eating what I cooked.
They didn’t eat everything all at once. They still don’t. But every dinner they each taste something new, sometimes liking it, sometimes lumping it. One meal, for all of us, a meal we all could eat and enjoy. Healthy meals (usually) with vegetables, whole grains and a little something sweet.
Tonight I jumped off the bridge and cooked fish. I’m relatively new to fish, as a cook, and have never tried to serve it to the kids. God forbid. I mean, for these guys, pork is a stretch. But I stumbled onto a nice recipe for tilapia, which I successfully made for Ray and I one night. Tilapia is such a mild fish I had to test it on the kids. No, I didn’t tell them it was fish. Mitzi kept calling it chicken. But she ate it. So did Coop. Joanna had two servings. Sadly, Ellie ate none of it. She’s a tough one. She also knew it was fish, after this exchange with me earlier today:
“Mommy, what’s for dinner?”
“We can’t have fish tonight. We didn’t go fishing!”
I do try to serve at least one thing they each like — a pasta, a rice, raw peppers and tomatoes — and accept that I can’t make everyone happy all the time.
Thus, my greatest flaw revealed, exposed in my kitchen, but true everywhere else I live. No, Jennifer, you cannot please everyone all the time. Get over yourself and stop trying, whether it’s feeding your kids or participating in the town discussion about all-day kindergarten. Some people will not like me or what I say or do.
Sigh. I know, I know. Sometimes I just can’t help wanting them to.
Mitzi, my toughest food critic, said that, while it wasn’t her favorite, she’d eat this meal again (see below). That, my friends, is a rave review.
Not that rave reviews, ahem, matter. Not to this well-adjusted Mommy.
Tilapia with Balsamic-Butter Reduction
Brown Rice Pilaf
Steamed Vegetable Medley
Cherry Tomato and Fresh Mozzerella Salad
Applesauce and Fresh Ripe Pears
Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies