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I Love You Just the Way You Are…

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There are lots of good reasons to have children. They make it possible to carry on the the family line, they are adorable and cuddly when small, their little hands reach into tight spots when you lose things, and they provide a good excuse to watch “High School Musical” and buy Captain Crunch. An urge to prepare and consume a variety of interesting foods, however, is most definitely not a reason to have children. No sir. If that is an important goal for you (and its not too late) I say get a parakeet, hang out with your nieces and nephews or become a Big Brother, but do not acquire children who live in your actual home and eat your actual food.

With very few exceptions, children like food to be the same, all the time. They go through cycles, including “I only eat peanut butter, baby carrots and animal crackers,” will occasionally blossom into a new phase, such as “oh, and I really like those Thai spicy noodles,” only to dash your hopes when you make those very noodles again, saying “I don’t like those noodles any more, I just liked them that one time, I think. Do we have any baby carrots?” They are fickle creatures, those children, and I believe that they have some sort of secret manual (well, for the ones old enough to read) that directs them to tell you that they “love, love, love” something and want it in their lunch, on their toast and served at their birthday dinner, wait until you have purchased a gross of whatever it is, and then decide that they don’t like it any more.  This has happened to me with pickles, ham, frosted animal crackers, grapes with seeds, grapes without seeds, and homemade cookies of various kinds. I only have one child at home these days, but I can also warn you that for each child you harbor in your home, there will be an entirely separate set of forbidden foods, temporary infatuations and constants. If you are very lucky, there is some overlapping of the circles, and you may have two, maybe three meals you can prepare and serve to the entire family sans complaints.

Of all the things these children do, the most troubling to me as a cook is the fact that nothing can ever change. If you made a stir-fry using green peppers, and the child liked it, it is fatal to decide to use red peppers the next time “to add a little color.” The child will be suspicious, and will ask “what are the red things?” When you explain that those are red bell peppers, which are really pretty much the same as green bell peppers only, well, red, the child will say “but I liked it the way it was before.” If you are served spaghetti with cheese from a green canister when you are guests in someone’s home, your child may say (politely, in your ear) “but we don’t eat that kind of cheese. I like the kind we have at home.” Heaven forfend that you attempt to “jazz up” macaroni and cheese with smoked cheese, put chicken in the curry instead of beef, or cut the carrots in cubes instead of “coins” in chicken noodle soup. They like each dish as it appears in their iconic memory, and there is orthodoxy involved that cannot flippantly be dismissed by a parent with some cardamom and a recipe burning a hole in his pocket.

Of course, the goal is to get children to branch out and try new things, and I do that as often as possible. With age has come greater willingness to try things, and this has been true with both of my children. It is a slow, painstaking process, though; not unlike taming a wild animal. There are many “no thank you bites,” many bowls of cereal in lieu of the proffered ratatouille, and sometimes there are delightful moments when something clicks and you see the door open a tiny bit. My advice to you is to cherish those moments, be patient, and don’t get carried away. The fact that a child will eat and enjoy a bite of gyro in a restaurant on Thursday does not mean that you should plan a Greek meal for Saturday. You’re in this for the long haul, and there’s plenty of time to try a lamb kebab or a little moussaka in a month or so.

Of course, if you do not have, or plan to have children, this is all irrelevant and probably somewhat horrifying. Please don’t judge us; we’re doing the best we can. For every child you see ordering chicken strips in a chic French bistro, there is at least one parent writhing in silent agony and trying to figure out how to sell the kid on steak frites….


About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

20 responses »

  1. My youngest son had a “thing” for frozen waffles with a slice of american cheese, popped into the microwave for 30 seconds…..but at 19 he is a very adventurous eater. He picked up deli sushi at the store today because he was hungry…. Go Figure!
    Have a great day!

  2. Ann,

    You neglected to mention the unmatched entertainment value of ‘Broccoli face’. What a hoot….

  3. I love this post! When my stepson came to stay with us last summer, we were told that all he ever ate was chicken nuggets, Pepsi, and potato chips. Three items you will NEVER (Did I say NEVER/ I meant NEVER EVER — it will be a green day in aachh eee double hockey sticks before I will serve that garbage.) My husband supported me completely. Poor Jake was forced to either go hungry or eat homemade bread, kabobs, risotto, fresh fruit, garden vegetables, homemade frozen yogurt, etc. You get the idea. He refused to eat the first day. He drank water and fresh-squeezed orange juice (although he told us that the orange soda had “gone flat”) that first day. The next morning, he appeared in my kitchen and wanted to know all about cooking. I was making blueberry pancakes and he decided to help. It was our very first breakthrough. He loved it and served his daddy Mickey Mouse shaped pancakes, Made by Chef Jake. He ate every drop of his pancakes — devoured the fresh strawberries and helped squeeze th oranges.

    At lunch, he helped me make turkey sandwiches with tomato, Romaine, and avocado — and ate every crumb. We even made homemade sweet potato chips to go with our sandwiches and he called his mother and said (don’t cry — I did): “Mommy, they cook food here. I like avocados and turkey. I made pancakes and picked tomatoes in the garden. I want you to call me Chef Jake from now on. Have you ever had an orange, Mommy?”

    I cried that night after we put our little chef to bed. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t eat real food — he’d never even been given the chance.

    When I read your post — all I could think was how much I wished that you were Jake’s mommy instead of his real mom. How wicked am I? I wish that Jake could experience grapes with or without seeds — that his mommy took the time to let him try new things and then honestly cared how he felt about them.

    You are just the kind of kitchen mom I hope to be one day.

    Blessings to you!

  4. Eric Williams

    How come Lacy gets all those letters to her account? I get to say a lit.

  5. Eric Williams

    somebody cut me off…

  6. imagineannie

    Chris, I think for the most part that early exposure does lead to later acceptance. I have never been a big supporter of “picky eaters,” but I also think that if you force kids to eat things they hate, they develop a really negative attitude about trying new things. Plus, there is room in the world for waffles with American cheese and sushi; I think I’d rather have sushi, though!

    Robert, is that the face made of broccoli to entice the child to eat it, or the woeful, pitiful face made by the child who has been required actually to eat the stuff? (Thank God my kid actually liked it).

    Lacy, I can tell you that you are already surpassing me as a kitchen mom. What a wonderful story. When my stepdaughter came to live with us when she was 9 and my son was 2, she had eating habits very similar to your stepson’s. All processed food, no fresh fruits or vegetables, and nothing that wasn’t familiar. I caved, which made me terribly sad, because I had envisioned raising my son to eat as we eat now; fresh stuff, variety, sophistication, etc.. I would not buy Shake & Bake, Hamburger Helper or Velveeta, but I did make very simple meals for a long time, and she ate only the parts that were “safe.” She had been through a lot, and I wanted her to feel safe and comfortable, (plus I was completely overwhelmed), so I didn’t push. It all turned out okay; she is now (at 18) a pretty adventurous eater, and Sam has adapted to my new regime of interesting meals. I just wish I’d had the guts and patience to do what you did. We could have had 9 years of eating fresh and good things all the time instead of pork chops with frozen corn and chicken with rice.

  7. when danny and i were first married, his (and his girls) idea of vegetables was lettuce on their big macs. connie would hide her broccoli by stuffing it down her socks, spitting it into a glass of milk….etc etc.
    my kids had never had white bread, red dye, and given a choice would choose a tomato, warm from the sun, over a hershey bar.
    talk about worlds colliding! lol
    fast forward 20 years…….danny still has to have his little debbie cakes (blechhhhhhhhhhhh) and both connie and patty have overweight kids. brianna has rebelled and cooks mostly from boxes and jars, matt married a girl who doesn’t cook at all…..but he does and calls me alot for this recipe or that. liberty lives in an apartment, but grows a little container garden, bakes her own bread and is closer to being a hippy mom (ie ME) than the rest. scott and nick are just plain hungry. they don’t care what i put on the table as long as there’s a bunch of it! for jake and james there is nothing better than a lovely fresh salad with local seasonal ingredients and when they want a snack will just as likely stroll out to the garden for a handfull of green beans as anything else. and young daniel……HE’s my boy!
    he will wax poetic about the benefits of pasture raised poultry and beef, is feeding his poultry a diet supplemented by marigold blooms to increase the depth of color and flavor of their egg yolks and knows how to chiffonade the basil when i ask him to.
    a pretty diverse group………and then there’s me…….still perking along and trying to convince them all that good food is an adventure they want to be on!

  8. Ann,

    Woeful, pitiful?

    No, was talking about the “Im dying a slow and agonizing death because of the stuff in my mouth” face. The one always accompanied by the “plaster has cured in my throat” clutching motions and muffled gurging sounds. You know……..that face.

    Caught the girl (22 now) eating all the Broccolli in her stir-fry not long ago. Thought best to just let it pass unmentioned.

  9. imagineannie

    jayedee, you win some, you lose some, but in your case I KNOW you never lost for lack of trying. James sounds like a prize, by the way; I wish I could taste some of his eggs.

    Robert, gotcha. I get that face from the 48 year old child and the 11 year old child when I serve tofu…well, I don’t even try that any more. i gave up. They do grow out of most of it, and as for the rest, I guess we don;t all have to like everything. I still hate okra.

  10. Eric Williams

    I’m with you on okra, it’s gross. slimey. Of couse, I’d eat it if served at someone’s house, but, I’d never buy it to cook. One exception are these pickled okra you can buy, mild or spicy. They are pretty good, actually.

  11. This blog made me wonder if the reason we often have food weirdness during pregnancy (for me it was sudden and intense revulsion at mustard in any form–when I had been a mustard-lover) is to prepare us for the children we are about to have.

    I understand Lacy’s approach, but I don’t use it. Being someone who suffered through childhood being required to eat milk, when it turns out I had (have) an intense lactose intolerance, taught me to let my kid decide what feels good to eat. I don’t want to even go near having him experience what I experienced–unrelenting pain for 22 years. My parents and I didn’t know that’s why I had pain, but I think we could have figured it out a lot sooner had I been allowed to eat only what felt good.

    For me, honestly, it’s also an issue of respect. If my kid respectfully tells me he’d rather not eat coq au vin, then I get that. I don’t want anyone telling me I have to eat blood sausage.

    So I encourage, but don’t require, that he eat what we’re eating. And judging by my brother, someday my son will be eating everything I cook.

  12. imagineannie

    Eric, pickling doesn’t help me. I guess it makes it less slimey, though.

    Alice, as you know, I pretty much agree with you. My-brother-the-doctor told me years ago that, left to their own devices, most children eat what they need to eat in correct quantities and ratios. This inner sense of balance does get corrupted by outside influences, but Sam still loves vegetables and fruit, even though he also wants a Big Mac sometimes. I wouldn’t have to use Lacy’s approach on Sam, but it might have been a useful tool on my stepdaughter, after her initial period of adjustment. She had really almost never had anything fresh or homemade, and it just all seemed “wierd” to her.

    You don’t like blood sausage?! 🙂

  13. Eric Williams

    You’re back. We had begun to think you’d been captured by aliens and not able to call for help on your blog. New post, new post, new post (chanting)

  14. Eric, I am still alive and on earth, but up to my a** in City political stuff. I am a one-woman press release-writing, meeting-planning, interview-giving machine. It may end some day, but in the meantime, I have barely had time to cook, let alone write about it. Bear with me?

  15. we’ll all bear with you annie girl………but know we love YOU just the way you are and are beginning to miss you…….alot!

  16. imagineannie

    Thanks, jayedee. Honestly, there is nothing I’d rather do than get back into my cooking and blogging routine. When I am done tilting at windmills, I’ll be back on the job.

  17. Eric Williams

    Ann, Great recipe to share-Cornish game hen stuffed with blueberries(tossed first with some sugar) baste with a mixture of lemon juice, honey, worcestershire sauce and fresh sage. OMG, soooo good. Don’t cut it on a wooden board, tho, you’ll stain it blue. tie the legs together with string or the blueberries will come out. Roast at 350 at least one hour. keep basting. you’ll thank me. very elegant.

  18. Eric, that sounds fabulous. It would have to be a “company dish” here, because it would take some arm twisting for me to get either of my guys to eat it, but I think it sounds amazing. When I come to SF, we’ll cook it together and they can eat something else,

  19. Eric Williams

    Really? Cornish game hens are just “little” chickens, and the blueberries aren’t nearly as sweet as they sound, they make the game hen taste oh-so-good. I would have guessed Sam would have enjoyed having his very own “little chicken”. As for Mr. Annie, goodness, he should know what he’s missing, but you’re on–we’ll make them for us and Dale and your guys can have pizza, or whatever.(they’ll be begging for a taste, I bet)

  20. imagineannie

    Eric, maybe you’re right…maybe I’ll try plain cornish hens, then the jazzier, blueberrier version.


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