I would like to like to point out what a sheer bloody grind it is feeding my two small children. For context, this means two kids who have no allergies or any excuses not to eat, but ensure that the process is as labour intensive and as unenjoyable as possible. The younger child eats most things because he can’t speak yet and disagree with me verbally, but he can still throw it across the room or over me. I then have to cook a separate thing for my eldest – so that’s SIX separate meals daily before I get to eat anything myself.
Some days the process throws me so much that I stand paralysed in front of the fridge for sheer lack of ideas of what to actually serve them. My brain freezes over, and my mind starts to tick-tock through all the vegetables my eldest will refuse to eat, while trying to marry it up with what we actually have skulking around in the fridge, mixed with what is safe to feed my youngest, and how will he get it into his mouth without dropping it, flinging it all over the wall, grinding it into his hair or choking. It often takes all my mental energy to serve them meals that have any nutritional boxes ticked (eg, not from a packet, not endless bread and butter, and not leftover Xmas tree chocolates) and for said meal to make it over to the dinner table and get ingested without me swearing or completely losing my shit.
Usually it goes like this:
Me: (in bright, enthusiastic voice, since I’ve actually managed to think of a meal) So we’re having chicken and sweetcorn and rice for supper. Ok?
E: I want chicken leg. Is it a chicken LEG, Mummy?
Me: No, it’s chicken pieces. With rice and sweetcorn.
E: (starts to cry) I want a LEG. I don’t want rice. And sweetcorn smells of gross. I don’t want it!!!
Me: That’s all there is, I haven’t got anything else. And anyway, you love chicken and rice!
E: (throws self onto floor, dramatically) Noooooooo! Don’t want it!
Me: (sighing) Eat your dinner, or there won’t be any TV tomorrow. Or pudding.
E: (more dramatic flouncing) Don’t want pudding. I’m not hungry.
Me: (tight lipped) Fine. You’ll go to bed hungry…
E: (still lying on floor) I don’t care! You’re a bum-bum Mummy…
Meanwhile, my youngest has managed to empty a lake of water all over his crotch, tip a bowl of rice over his head and throw all the chicken pieces onto the floor. He will then begin to shriek for a very long time. It feels like my brain is being pierced by a long needle, at which point I break resolve and start to boil up some pasta for eldest. THE DESPOT HAS WON AGAIN. But the idea of her waking up in the night hungry (and waking us up) is actually worse to deal with than anything else.
I have to observe rules for my eldest, which, if I dare break, means that the food will always end up in the bin. It’s a bit like what I’d imagine dining with Kim Jong Il would have been like – dare to serve his pastry swan stuffed with foie gras on the incorrect serving china and you’d be screamed at by someone quite short and wearing small shoes, then locked in a metal-lined torture dungeon. Eldest child’s rules include:
– Sauce for pasta must NOT touch the pasta, it must be served in a separate bowl. But pesto on pasta at a friend’s house is somehow acceptable.
– Carrots will sometimes be tolerated if they are raw, but not if they are halved or grated. They must be whole.
– Butter on toast must remain UNMELTED. If any part of the butter has dared to fade into the bread, the toast is deemed unsuitable.
– Any stew must NOT have any discernable bits of onion or tomato in it. If I blend it up, it is too suspiciously ‘paste-like’ and is immediately rejected. A beef stew must contain large lumps of meat, but sauce or vegetables induce persistent whining.
– Chicken – see above.
– Sandwiches will only be eaten if I have made them at home, on HALF a pitta bread. A whole pitta will be rejected. Any sandwich bought in a cafe causes unspeakable terror and loathing.
– Any food served at another person’s house will induce great shaking sobs for at least 20 minutes until eldest has decided we are not trying to poison her.
– No peas, under any circumstances. They are too ‘green and small’ and must be obliterated.
– Satsumas will only pass muster if every atom of white pith has been removed. But if the skin of the satsuma segments has dried out at all, once peeled, the fruit will be flung across the room.
– Cake cannot have any bits in it, i.e. fruit or nuts. It cannot be vanilla. It has to be chocolate, but only the plainest sponge. Icing is better than the whole cake.
– Mashed potato is evil. Potatoes can only be in chip or crisp format. Occasionally, a roast potato slips through the net.
And so on, ad nauseum. The minutiae and stringency of these rules are complex and constantly shifting. I can never keep up. It’s like living with two tiny (drunk) angry pop stars with impossible riders. All I can say is: thank God for chips and crisps in pubs! Without these solid and reassuring carbohydrates, E would be an invisible husk of a being. Look – I know that I’m having a middle class moan, and that my kids are genuinely very lucky, and I don’t live in a hideous conflict zone with genuine and real food shortages, but this is my set of experiences for now.
My friend R posted the below rant on her FB page, which I totally connected with. It discusses her daughter Mabel and her husband Jon. Cooking for one’s family has become a bloody minefield:
“Sometimes I feel like a freak because I hate cooking.
Then I remember why.
Jon won’t eat chicken but it’s Mabel’s favourite meat. She especially likes it in a nice mild curry sauce such as korma. Jon and I are sick to death of nice mild curry sauces.
I am a fruitaholic. Mabel can’t stand the crunch of an apple or the smell of a banana. Jon is allergic to apples and deeply mistrustful of all raw fruit. Except for tangerines which Mabel hates.
Mabel loves sausages. Jon and I try to steer clear of processed meat unless it’s a bacon sandwich and we’re in a train station and it’s Sunday and we’re hungover. Mabel does not like bacon sandwiches.
Mabel does not like bread. Unless it’s a baguette, made in France. British ones don’t have the same ulcer-inducing crust. She will occasionally hoover up a wrap or a peanut butter sandwich or a tuna melt panini but you can never quite tell when this will happen.
Jon loves bread. The more bread the better. He and Mabel love rice. Mabel is a pasta monster. If she could eat nothing but penne for the rest of her life she would be content.
I am trying to cut down on carbs.
We all like beef and salmon and tuna. But it has to be organic beef. It has to be MSC-certified salmon and tuna. And it has to be affordable. We don’t eat very much beef or salmon or tuna.
I love pizza. Mabel does not like pizza. Jon likes pizza but not with too much cheese as it’s bad for his skin. He never ever eats pizza except when we go out for dinner. Then he always has it.
Mabel and I like icecream. Icecream gives Jon head freeze.
Mabel needs to eat by 6.30pm or she will be super grumpy. Jon must never be forced to eat earlier than 7pm or he will be super grumpy. I eat a bit with Mabel cos I’m super hungry and also her leftovers and then a bit with Jon to keep him company. I eat too much so I am super grumpy.
Sprouts and broccoli. That’s about the only healthy thing we all like.
So yes, I hate cooking. I can’t cook and won’t cook except under duress which, by the way, is every effing day. And if you’ve got a problem with that you can bake off.”
Kind of says it all, doesn’t it? R, I have your back. Come round for a gin when you’re in London. And we can eat three types of potato and several elaborate puddings, while the kids fight over a bag of Walker’s crisps.