Not unlike doctors, parents have their own version of the Hippocratic Oath. You may know the one I am talking about. It goes something like, “when you know better, do better”. I think it has something to do with being even better parents than our own were. I mean, we never grew up wearing seat belts and now that we know better, it’s the law. And for the record, I have great parents who raised me and my 4 other siblings very well, even though we likely all road home from the hospital in the front seat. So when we apply this rule to feeding our family, why do I sense a kind of shame and guilt that we feel we are somehow coming up short?
As a parent, I know to give my kids healthy options. Keep trying until eventually they like it. I know. Try to resist the urge to cave. Rise strong and hold strong. And by no means in your day do you stoop to the level of “short order cook”. Been there. Done that x 4. But here is the truth. And since the truth is often told in the form of a story, here is mine.
I happen to have inherited from my wonderful Dad, the ability to tell a good story. Some call it being long winded. I call it my own loopy way. Even if it takes a while to get to the punch line I don’t really mind. It is a story that explains where I got the term “bad food” from. If you do mind, by all means skip the story in italics and read on below.
We have a dear family friend, a real doctor, who invited our whole family for dim sum at Dynasty restaurant in Yorkville, Toronto. A real treat and a generous invitation for such a large group. Sixteen of us in total I believe. When you are a family of 6, invitations like this do not come along often and Dynasty is a wonderful Chinese restaurant to enjoy a weekend dim sum and time together at one of their impressive round tables.
Knowing that our youngest is a picky eater, I graciously accepted and secretly dreaded the date. Don’t worry, I kept telling myself, it will be lovely. And it was. All 16 of us gathered around the exquisite round table as dishes carefully selected got brought to us and rested on an oversized “Lazy Susan” as pictured in the photo here. Number 4 sat beside me. He quietly said nothing and was polite as we tried to pass off breaded lobster as chicken nuggets and vermicelli noodles as “plain pasta”.
As we neared the end of the lovely meal, my 4th announces in his loudest possible voice, “Why are you giving me this bad food?” Well I nearly died. I smiled and looked at everyone ashamed and turned to my son to say the only polite thing I could muster, “Honey, this is not bad food. It’s delicious and I do wish you would try it”. Later I emailed our friend to thank him once again. He replied jokingly something about being sorry “W” did not like the “bad food” to which I explained that getting 5 out of 6 in approval rating was a considered a big win in our house.
I love all food. I love food magazines, blogs, pictures. I love eating it. And if you are still reading this, we all gotta eat so that makes us all “foodies”. I especially love food that I do not have to make. It could be cheese on crackers (something my Dad also loves). Don’t care. Left to my own vices, I would come to the table each night, sit, enjoy and share a communal moment.
Truth be told, since this is all about owning your own truth, I don’t really love making food. This much I do know. Years and years of picky eaters has a way of wearing even the best dreamers down. You work hard to make a meal you think everyone will love (see my roasted tomato & garlic soup) only to be met with “Meh, it’s OK”, if you are the teenager, or and astounding “NO” followed by tears if you are the youngest of the pack. In fact, here are some of the phrases that are common in our household. All names or references have been removed to maintain anonymity:
“Not pasta again”
“No sauce, I want it plain”
“I don’t like rice”
“I’m not eating that”
“Just plain cheese pizza please”
“Can I just have a Nutella sandwich?”
This is my reality. When you have kids and teenagers under the same roof that are perpetually hungry and complain daily that “There’s no food in the house!” like you are some Old Mother Hubbard, all reason gets checked when you walk through those electric silver gates of the supermarket.
So… In our house, KD, Kraft Dinner or Mac & Cheese is its own food group. At least 1 box is stored in our house at all times. It’s like a pack of matches. Everyone should have them in case of an emergency. Ramen noodles too. “Mr. Noodle” and “Indomie” instant noodles, might be loaded with a week’s worth of sodium and possibly even some other unknowns we care not to be told about. Yes, the shame. I do buy margarine because our butter is always hard in the fridge and it is just so darn easy to spread. And while I am being totally transparent here, please don’t get me started on sliced cheese/cheese singles/plastic cheese. You can make the fastest (*insert profanity) grilled cheese sandwich with this stuff!
What I have learned over the last 18 years is that I can only do my best. Always try. Sure I know better. But I do my best. So what’s my best? Sometimes it is sneaky, like Spinach Ice or Kale Cubes. Sometimes I just remove the guilt by adding veggies to “bad food”. Sometimes it is breakfast for dinner. But I also know that my kids will not die because they eat crap from time to time, even several times a week. I have an 18 year old who is studying at McGill and grew up eating deli ham (with nitrites and sulphites) as a toddler and Nutella sandwiches even to this day. I know the first 6 to 7 years of a child’s life are those crucial brain building kind of years. But “bad food” is OK too. That’s my oath.