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….