If there was one thing I could change about what kind of mother I am, it would be how I feed my children. At least that's what it would be this week. I am one of those mothers who -- gasp! -- tends to cook one meal for the grown-ups and one for the kids. I am not proud of this. I am convinced that all those mothers who are able to get their kids to eat whatever they have prepared are miracle-workers, and am secretly afraid that the fact that my children do not eat the taco casserole or the baked fish or the lemon chicken pasta means that I am a bad mother.
Plus, this is one of those things that has an aura of shame around it, so much so that a "dig" at that kind of mother made it into the movie Dan in Real Life, which Rick and I got to see last weekend. (A great movie: go see it!) The main character is a guy who writes a parenting column, and at a family dinner, someone derisively referred to a woman as a short order cook for her family. I cringed inwardly. I can't actually bark out to the family: "What am I? A short order cook?!?!?! No way, buster, you're eatin' what I'm makin'!" because I am, in fact, often a short order cook, in a family bigger than the mid-morning crowd at many a greasy spoon. It's pathetic.
But I can't quite break the habit. Honestly, I just don't have the energy for that particular fight. I can't quite muster up the courage to lay down the law and demand that they eat the casserole. But oh how I wish I could have the satisfaction of making a meal that everyone in my family would eat. Notice, I did not say enjoy, just eat.
ALL of my kids were great eaters as babies, until about age 2. They ate avacados, and broccoli, and chicken (lots of chicken); they ate fruit, meat, hummus, veggies of all kinds. It was great, and I thought I was looking forward to a lifetime of enthusiastic eaters. So what the hell happened? How did I go from that, to a bunch of kids who subsist on carbohydrates, apples, and cheese?
Well, somewhere along the way, after too many fights with stubborn three year olds, after their taste buds seemed to inexplicably change right about the time I was having another child and my energies were directed towards breastfeeding and surviving, I ended up buying Y2K supplies of pasta and Parmesan cheese and giving up on having adventurous, well-rounded, or even obedient eaters.
OK, it's not as bleak as all that. I must say that we've been good (and lucky) when it comes to green vegetables. They may not always like them, but most of the time they actually do, and they will always eat salad. They happily eat raw spinach, which is our salad of choice, green beans, broccoli, edamame. They will not as happily eat asparagus, zucchini, and chard. It's main dishes that I have trouble getting them to eat. (Except for Lola, who eats EVERYTHING. Or at least will try everything, and while she may not want to eat something one day, will devour it on another day; she is a dream eater for a parent. She is so fun to take to a restaurant. One of the great joys of my life is to watch her suck down sweet and sour soup at our favorite Chinese food place...)
But the boys, and Elizabeth? Fuggedaboudit. They won't eat anything "mixed." That means no sauces on pasta, no casseroles, no burritos, no oatmeal with yummy things mixed in, no rice and [fill in the blank], no nuthin' if it's more than one ingredient. They like plain everything.
It's maddening. It's annoying. It's embarrassing. And it's got to stop!
So tonight, I engaged in a little stealth parenting, or stealth cooking. Dinner tonight was homemade pizza, which is very popular around here, and a meal that I can justify making differently for different eaters. Since I have to make three pizzas anyway, it's no big deal to make a couple of different kinds. But the problem with pizza is that the boys don't like red sauce, or anything else on the pizza: just crust and cheese. Aside from being incredibly boring, the cheese-only pizza is woefully lacking in nutrition and in heft. So a few weeks ago, I finally tried to hide a little extra something in the pizza and it worked like a charm (other hiding attempts of mine have never worked). I did it again tonight. Underneath a layer of shredded cheese, I loaded on a nice layer of shredded yellow squash. It was perfect. The pizza was delicious, as was the whole experience of tricking them into eating a pizza that packed a bit more punch than usual. Add some asparagus and green beans, and score one for mom! I got the satisfaction of watching them eat a meal with enough nutrition to ensure that they will grow up strong enough to move out one day.
This is, of course, a minor victory, and does not solve the bigger problem. I'm workin' on it. I've been better about insisting that they at least try whatever it is I've made. They've been better about eating new things.
Even still, I'm a long way from hanging up the short-order cook apron. I'll get there one day and will hopefully still have enough brain-cells left to enjoy it.