Until I came to the United States at the age of 16, I had never heard of special meals for kids – except maybe for really small kids who had 2 teeth or less.
We got to eat everything that the adults were eating.
I feel bad for kids who are made to eat “special” food because I don’t think that it is special at all.
More often than not, it is tasteless, unhealthy and the flavors are one-dimensional. Things like chicken fingers, french fries and plain spaghetti – are not an adequate representation of all the food that exists in the world. It is certainly not the way to begin one’s foray into the world of all that is edible.
There is not just the taste and the nutrition (or lack of) that bothers me about kids’ meals – it is also the major disservice that parents are doing to the child’s gastronomic life. Kids might learn to be picky eaters if they are offered choices different from what the adults are eating. All the tip toeing around, and fear that parents express while the child eats something, or not, gives the child a sense of unhealthy control.
I wish parents would present a variety of food in various forms; and as something to be grateful and excited about. Not a chore, not a struggle, and certainly not a fight.
While I do not have kids – I was a kid once and have been around plenty of kids both in India and in the United States. So, based on those experiences and very strong opinions – I deal with kids – both personally and professionally (as a cooking teacher).
Now to the story that prompted me to write this post:
At the last moment I was asked to entertain/babysit my friend’s 6 year old. “What am I going to feed her,” was my first thought. Food always happens to be my first thought. It was so last minute that I had no time to go out and purchase anything. I also wanted to conduct my own experiment on her. I am crazy like that – what can I say!
The statements about scared parents who try to act like short order cooks in their own homes is partially based on my friend M and her daughter S. “She is the most picky eater,” my friend tells me all the time. I roll my eyes every time I am on the phone with her and think to myself, “If only I had S to myself for a few days, I would show her that she doesn’t have to be a picky eater.”
M always say that S refuses to eat anything green ever. I have met other kids like that, who shun green. I vowed to myself that I am going to make S eat something green; not forcefully or by sneaking it into something like a french fry. I am going to trick her. Yes, trickery is the best policy here. But its for S’s own good, I rationalized.
A Rule: Start small (works for adults too). If someone won’t eat anything green, don’t set yourself and the other to fail by expecting them to eat a salad!
It was around Easter and bunnies were on everyone’s mind. I used that to my advantage. When S was left under my care and the door to the apartment closed with M on the other side of it, I told S that I was so hungry. I asked her if she would stay with me in the kitchen while I cooked myself some lunch. She agreed and I opened the cupboard and began staring at it and mumbling that I didn’t know what to eat.
I had strategically placed this box right in front on the shelf.
“Why don’t you eat some macaroni and cheese,” suggested S.
“That’s such a great idea – I love mac and cheese and peas,” I said with exaggerated excitement.
S looked at me as if I had just told her that Miley Cyrus was a boy and not a girl (I am not sure if 6 year olds are into Miley Cyrus – but you get the point). She appeared shocked but didn’t say a word.
I pulled down the box and also a box of sardines. S took a step back.
I put some water to boil and chatted with S about her day and how school was going, etc. Then I looked at the box and said, “Aw, look at the bunny in the picture – but bunnies don’t eat pasta. That is so silly”. I kept blabbering and telling her about my friend L’s bunny who I take care of sometimes. “He eats nothing but some parsley, dill and basil – with 2 baby carrots as a treat.”
The water came to a boil and I put in the pasta; I opened the freezer and took out the peas and put them next to the sardines. So far I was just making lunch for myself as far as S was concerned – I hadn’t suggested to S that she eat some with me or asked if she was hungry, and what would she like, etc. When about 2 minutes were left for the pasta to be cooked, I threw in a handful of peas without hesitation. I stirred the pasta and peas and set up the colander in the sink to drain them in a couple of minutes.
I pulled out the 2 percent milk from the refrigerator and opened the can of sardines and drained the oil out. After the pasta and peas were drained, I put them back in the same pot right away and poured 1/2 cup of milk and stirred in the cheese packet. As it was simmering, I picked up the empty box and said that I feel bad that the bunnies don’t get to have what they really eat, in my lunch bowl. “O, I do have some parsley!” I picked a few leaves and held them up like a bunch of flowers. “Could you hold these for me while I stir the pot again?”
My lunch was ready, I put a little more than half in my bowl and said to S that it was too much for me to eat. Would she like to try some, I asked her. “Sure,” I was told. I scraped the rest of the mac and cheese and peas (green) in her bowl and told her to decorate the bowls with the parsley since we eat with our eyes first. She looked at her hand with the parsley “bouquet” and stuck a few leaves on her bowl and a few on mine.
“That looks pretty, lets eat. O, I forgot my sardines.” I put three of the four on my bowl and ate one standing over the sink as I was soaking the pot for rapid clean up later. I wasn’t about to push my luck and get into eating sardines – I was going to keep it simple and get her to eat green things. Peas and parsley in this case.
We sat on the table and ate – S with her mac and cheese and peas and parsley; me with my mac and cheese and peas and parsley and sardines and a dollop of Siracha hot sauce.