Dining with despots

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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.

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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.

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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.

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10 comments

  1. Esther Robinson · · Reply

    This has made my morning. Mash is also evil in our house, the satsuma rule applies but carrots will only be eaten cooked and long. Perish the thought I’d dare to serve round ones… Little fuckers.

    Xx

    Sent from my iPhone

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    1. Haha little fuckers indeed! Glad I made your morning Esther xxx

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  2. Oh it’s all so true! I hate cooking, it’s just so stressful trying to decide what to make and the children end up with pasta every night with a variety of sauces while my husband would happily eat pizza for dinner every day. I have friends with children that will eat anything and I’m so jealous, I don’t know what I did wrong!

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    1. Oh yes, what would we do without pasta eh? We’d be totally screwed! Who are these perfect children who eat quinoa and spinach anyway? How annoying they are!!!

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  3. Haha! Very cute pictures. Yes I’d love to come round for gin Anne, thanks. And I don’t even care how it comes. Neat, with tonic, slice of lemon, lime or Granny Smith apple, shaken and stirred with a dash of Ribena. I do not even care if it has floaty bits. DO NOT CARE.

    Oh my life, I’d forgotten the torment of the early years. It does get better but just don’t get any funny ideas about actually being able to eat the diet YOU want.

    And yes, mashed potato is evil in our house too. UNLESS it’s served in a pub with sausages and gravy. And costs at least a tenner. Why God? Why?

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    1. Oh yeah, that trick they do where they won’t eat the food at home but they’ll eat it in a bloody gastropub argh!!!
      Let’s get on the gin and Ribena with chunks floating in it – mmm! Signal me when you head to the Smoke, I’ll shout yer. xxx

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  4. This was so my life up until a couple of years ago – but the good news is, it gets better! Mine are now 9 and 10 and even the really, really fussy one is starting to eat most things (not all, but most). Like yours he used to think mashed potato was evil – but as of about 2 months ago, he announced that he really, really likes it (and that’s down to nasty school mash – not lovingly made by me because I’d given up on it). Veg are also creeping in so we no longer rely on cucumber slices and raw carrots with every meal.

    When I think of all the stress I went through when they were little….all I can say is don’t let it get to you too much. Oh and if they have a friend who is less fussy invite them around to eat, because there is nothing like a friend liking foods to make them try it.

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    1. Thanks for the wise words – I try not to let it get to me too much (really?) but there are phases where it definitely sends me over the edge! Glad to know there is light at the end of the very long tunnel at least. Only a few more years…ha!

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  5. This may seem like the most counterintuitive, poncy, possibly patronising ( please don’t read it as such it’s simply a left field idea ) but I love cooking and loved weaning my three.

    I was brought up half in France and lots of French children are brought up on a book called ‘La Cuisine Est Un Jeu d’Enfants’ – again not to be poncy the French is simple and the illustrations bit late 60s potty but on the whole children love it. The visuals are not unlike Eric Carle.

    You can get it on Amazon – it’s expensive but will be with you and your family forever. Call me an optimist…Good luck !

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    1. Not poncy at all – thanks for the tip, I will check it out! Being half French myself, it might actually work! :o)

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