Here's To Buttered Noodles and Bad Pizza
And accepting that what's best for them isn't always what's good for them
I had the best of intentions.
Like any expectant parent, I told myself things that, at the time, I believed to be true about how I was going to raise my future children—and more specifically, about how I was going to feed them.
I told myself that I would only serve them fresh, nutritious, whole foods—quality ingredients simply crafted into nourishing dishes. At the same time, I would work to foster adventurous palates, and help to develop in them the same love that I have for trying new things and experiencing new flavors. I would raise junior gastronomes, kids who would be as comfortable picking out fresh produce at a farmer’s market as they would ordering in French at a white-tablecloth restaurant.
Well, as Mike Tyson once said, everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the mouth.
I suppose I should be clear here—my children have not literally punched me in the mouth over dinnertime disagreements. Not yet, at least. But there have been times they’ve thrown such horrendous fits over something as simple as pork chops and mashed potatoes that I think I’d have preferred Iron Mike put me on the canvas.
(At least then I’d get some rest.)
Now, yes. Theoretically, it is possible to have a child who is a good eater.
Statistically speaking, in fact, it’s a near-certainty that you will personally know one person with such a child, and they will be someone who posts frequently about it in your social media feeds. Their child—and to be clear, they only have the one—happily eats everything put in front of them. They devour bowls of spinach, think that carrots are candy and eat bell peppers with the flair of Chairman Kaga. They dressed up as an avocado for Halloween, but did not Trick or Treat, because they don’t care for sweets.
If this child is yours, congratulations!
I am happy for you and definitely have not cursed at my phone while viewing your updates over the past several years.
For the rest of us, though? We’re just trying to survive dinnertime, and we’ve got limited options in our arsenal. Here is a short and completely-exhaustive list of dinnertime foods that I can serve my children without a fight:
Macaroni and Cheese (not homemade)
I made macaroni and cheese from scratch once. Every single time I have offered my children macaroni and cheese since—and mind you, that’s a lot of times, as we go through a considerable amount of mac and cheese in this household—my daughter will ask, sweetly and earnestly, if what I am about to serve is “homemade”.
The answer she is looking for is “no”, and that answer will always be “no”. I don’t always learn lessons, but I learned my lesson on that one. (It was good, I swear, no matter what they say.)
I cannot understand why my kids insist on their hot dogs being served on buns. They have never once consumed a bun. I’m starting to believe that they believe the buns are some kind of inedible serving vessel, like a plastic batting helmet meant to be filled with soft-serve ice cream at a baseball game.
And yet, if I serve them a hot dog on a piece of bread, they’ll look at me like I’m crazy. Because of this, I now take pains to buy only the absolute cheapest, sub-store-brand buns each time, so that I can throw out the smallest amount of money.
Don’t be a hero. Butter and green-plastic-jar “parmesan” cheese and no one gets hurt.
“Oh, maybe they’ll eat some peas if I just hide them in the sauce—”
Nope. They found them. Run.
Eggs and Bacon
I have literally never made the right amount of eggs or bacon for them. If I make more eggs, they’ll want more bacon. If I make more bacon, they’ll want more eggs. If I make more of both, they won’t be hungry.
This still goes better than 90% of meals.
And then, there’s pizza.
Now, I love pizza myself.
I love eating pizza, I love making pizza, I love simply thinking about pizza. I follow pizza places on Instagram that aren’t anywhere near where I live—I’m just happy to see them doing what they do.
I’ve even gotten pretty good at making pizza!
This should be a win-win scenario, right?
It is not.
Much like the “homemade” issue with macaroni and cheese, my children’s appreciation is inversely proportional to the objective quality of said pizza.
Here, I made a handy little graphic illustrating the phenomenon, with WWE chairman Vince McMahon standing in for my children:
Now, sure. Every once in a while, I sneak something past the goalie.
They’re slowly warming up to baked salmon, we’ve constructed some healthy-ish tacos with lean ground turkey that they haven’t rejected wholesale, and my five-year-old daughter gave me the shock of a lifetime several months ago by requesting—and eating—a salad for dinner.
(We were unable to replicate that result upon further attempts.)
There are no lessons to be taken from these victories, though; they are as capricious as they are meaningless, statistical noise with no clear pattern. Even the 2003 Detroit Tigers, the worst baseball team in modern memory, won 43 games. Much like those ill-fated Detroiters, I still show up to compete each day, and put up the good fight when it feels right.
I’ve learned to accept that my failures in nutrition aren’t failures in parenting, though.
Being a kid is hard. Somewhere along the line, we forget this. As adults, we pine for an idealized vision of carefree youth, a time where we were unburdened by any responsibilities—no jobs, no bills, no obligations and no concept of all the things that are going wrong in the world. We remember only the good parts, the times running barefoot in the grass chasing butterflies, blowing bubbles or flying kites.
In reality—even for the most fortunate of children—being a kid can be a real drag some days.
Childhood is a time of wonder, but it’s also a time of constant confusion, overwhelming emotion and lack of control over one’s life. This tweet came across my feed a couple months ago, and I swear I’ve thought of it nearly every day since, as it perfectly encapsulates my children’s current reality, right down to the tooth I have to remember to fish out from under a pillow after I finish writing tonight:
When I arrive home from a long day at the office, I’m often fried mentally. I’m worn down from sitting through meetings and chasing deadlines, negotiating multiple bosses and juggling competing deliverables. I just want to decompress.
For kids, it’s much the same—except that instead of workplace drudgery, they’re fried from absorbing brand-new concepts from math to language to society, from building friendships and managing heartbreaks, from struggling to define their own place in a world they barely understand. Those tears at the dinner table that can seem like so much unnecessary stubbornness to me might just be a plea for something to go their way today, for a shred of predictability and personal agency.
Think about your warmest childhood memories of food.
Perhaps there’s some truly good food in there—something fresh from the garden or a cherished family recipe, things you’d be proud to serve to anyone now.
Chances are, though, there’s also some microwave pizza or buttered noodles in there, things that the people caring for you weren’t necessarily proud of serving you, but things that felt perfect at the end of a long day of negotiating a brand-new world. Things that told you that you were safe, you were loved, and you were home.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
Also re: children needing some downtime by dinner: by the time our kids were in middle school / early high school we had to have a parenting conference because my wife was sad that they no longer were enthusiastic about a loaded schedule of family things at the weekend and I had to reframe it as “they basically have 2 shifts at work 5 days a week plus weekend homework, they have activities, they need some downtime.” It’s easy to forget that just because their brains are more elastic and they have more energy, those kids need some rest from the constant improvement.
folks he’s done it again!