For some reason, it is frowned upon to toss a box of cereal at your kids every night and say, “Dinner’s ready!” But I swear I am this close to declaring that from now on, they’ve got to fend for themselves if they want any dinner at all — because I’m tired of my kids pushing my delicious home cooking around their plates, claiming to be full, then begging for a snack half an hour later.
They don’t realize that feeding a family involves more than just standing over a stove stirring something. There’s icky stuff involved like meal planning, wherein I struggle valiantly to come up with things that are reasonably healthy, but that my kids will also not waste. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that they will eat anything beige or artificially orange-colored, so it’s tempting to serve up dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets and fluorescent mac and cheese every night and know that they’ll be clean-platers.
But the mom guilt kicks into overdrive, my internal monologue spewing out hateful phrases like “vitamin deficiencies” and “obesity epidemic.” So I find myself combing endlessly through Pinterest, hoping to find something nutritious that isn’t a total fail. You have to include a vegetable, I think to myself. Are cucumber slices anything but crunchy water? Does tomato sauce count?
I try to expand their culinary tastes by exposing them to new foods; they’ve had risotto and radicchio, quinoa and kale, mashed cauliflower and butternut squash. I’ve tried smothering various things with cheese, pureeing them into soups and spreads, serving them over pasta because kids will always eat pasta.
I go to great lengths to experiment with food in hopes that somehow, someday, they’ll come to actually prefer the good stuff over the processed crap. But despite having a few successes here and there, it usually ends up the same: a few polite bites that I make them eat (we call it a “no-thank-you taste”), haphazard nibbling, some picking out of offensive items such as bits that are deemed “too squishy,” a creative rearrangement of the food so it appears they’ve eaten more than they actually have, maybe with a few wrinkled noses and pained expressions thrown in. And then me, balling up my fists and yelling, “You’ll eat a booger, but you won’t eat quinoa?!”
It gets worse. Because thanks to their finicky habits, I’m stuck with leftovers, which – let’s be honest – are only good a couple of times. And the amount of uneaten food that I’ve guilt-shoveled into my mouth rather than into the garbage is responsible for at least 15 pounds of this extra junk in my trunk — at least.
As if all that isn’t enough, I get to clean up after the meal I worked hard to plan and prepare — that my kids treated like a plate of fingernail clippings, such a kick in the (proverbial) balls.
Regardless of my frustration, I stick by my typical eat-it-or-starve policy. It won’t kill them to eat decent, unprocessed food once or twice a day. If they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat whatever is put in front of them, and newsflash: It’s not always gonna be pizza and fries (I mean, that would be awesome, but I digress) and “juice” the color of a Smurf.
So I’ll keep plugging away, scouring the internet for recipes that strike a balance between healthful and delicious — because somewhere, between kale chips and mozzarella sticks, there’s got to be a sweet spot. And even though they’ll never appreciate the effort that goes into dinnertime, I’m not going to give up trying to persuade them that what I’m cooking is not, in fact, as gross as they act like it is.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t gripe about it in the meantime. Like I said, they will eat boogers, so they can figure out a way to nibble on a whole grain or vegetable.