I’d like to debunk a couple of myths circulating out there in Mommyland. Myth Number One: if you raise kids on so-called grown-up foods, they won’t complain. They’ll always eat what you put in front of them. They’ll dig in with gusto.
Myth Number Two: If you let kids cook with you, if they’re involved in making what they’re going to be served, they will eat it gladly.
Yeah, right, I huff, I, the mother of Quinn, who has perfected the sport of pushing plates of unwanted dinners across the table. She’s working on besting her own record, the speed with which her plate reaches the other end of the table and goes crashing to the floor, untouched food and all. There we have it: in-my-face evidence that the myths are just that.
Take any given night, and you’ll find me bemused, at best, trying to shake it off, to refuse to be offended by my five-year-old. The other day, in fact, she was five-for-five, five nights in a row of absolutely refusing to try even a bite of the dinner I’d made for her, dinners that she contributed to making.
I believe she may have grasped her fork at one point, but I’m fairly positive its willing prongs never came within stabbing proximity of any of the dishes presented this past week, including soba noodles with carrots, chicken with couscous and corn, and tonight’s offering of lentils with more carrots, mint and goat cheese. Not exactly chicken nuggets posing suspiciously as T-Rexes, but then my kid’s never so much as gazed upon such an undesirable feat of processed protein (do they even make those anymore?).
It’s not that she’s been starving herself. If bread is part of the meal, she will reach hungrily for a portion. And she did in fact eat a slice of ham off her panino from two nights ago, a panino she insisted on making herself and to her exacting specifications, which meant dismissing its turn in the panini press. Which rendered it more plain ham and cheese on a par-baked roll. But perhaps she meant the bread and the cheddar to act as aromatics, imparting a few moist crumbs and a bit of salty agey-ness to the ham slice in the few moments the three were joined together before she whisked the floppy piece of meat from its nesting place. What remained was a cold, dry and rejected sandwich alone on her plastic flower-shaped plate.
At any rate, I’m contemplating tonight’s pasta plan, and wondering why I, of all parents, have a picky eater. They say that if you give children so-called grown-up food from the get-go, that will set their palates accordingly. I’ve duly followed that doctrine. I don’t dumb down food for my kids. So if Quinn’s been eating this way her whole life, what is behind this sudden rash of dinnertime revolts?
I suppose it’s typical of motherhood that my efforts to ply my children with flavor and variety would fall flat in certain stages. Maybe it’s a call to humility, a reproof from the Spirits of the United Motherhood. Because last month I cast a mental rolling of the eyes in the direction of a certain mom at gymnastics when I overheard her give dinner instructions to her husband regarding their toddler- and preschool-aged girls. “I don’t know what they want yet. I might call you to put something in the oven,” she said. As it was nearing 6 p.m. and her two had just exhausted themselves with an hour of somersaults and trampoline jumping, her “something in the oven” could only mean something frozen and shrink wrapped.
And I almost felt my eyebrows visibly arch in disapproval when a couple of weeks later another fellow gymnastics mom told her husband that “we have snacks, didja get my message? We’re not gonna have a full-fledged dinner but you have plenty of fro-yo and whatever else if ya feel like it.” I had planned ahead and had all the trappings of a full-fledged dinner waiting to be pieced together when we got home from gymnastics and yes, I felt smug about it.
So while I suppose Quinn is just acting her age in exerting picky-ness at her pleasure, her decidedly non-diplomatic way of pushing plates across the table has brought me back to earth a little – to an earth populated by busy kids driving their moms to look for easy meal solutions. To an earth where little ones handily refuse to eat a food for reasons that seem completely random, despite our best efforts to school their delicate taste buds from infancy.
But I’m not caving. Weary gymnastics moms and their frozen stashes, Quinn and her untouched fork and flying plates be darned. Around here, there’s no such thing as “kid food.”