Meals at our house are interesting affairs. Henry eats more than your average 11-year-old person. I’m convinced of this fact, even though he is the first pre-teen boy I’ve ever fed. From the moment he gets up in the morning until the moment his head hits the pillow at night, Henry is either eating or starving. There doesn’t seem to be any in-between emotions.
Georgia, on the other hand, eats next to nothing. She would happily eat potato chips and cookies all day but since Mean Mommy does not allow non-stop junk-food consumption, Georgia chooses to go without food entirely.
The dance between keeping Henry from eating too much and getting Georgia to eat at all can be exhausting and time consuming.
Henry has always been a good eater. I had an old-fashioned pediatrician when Henry was born and she told me not to feed Henry solid food until he was 6 months old. I was a first-time mother and as all first-time mothers before me, I interpreted the pediatrician’s word as law. On his sixth month birthday, I strapped Henry into his chair and fed him his first food: carrots. It was perhaps the first time in a very sad and cranky six-month existence that Henry smiled, although the word “smiling“ does not really do the moment justice. Perhaps “joyful beaming” describes the facial expression more accurately. Until that first meal, I had thought that Henry needed Prozac desperately. It ends up he was just hungry for real food.
After the carrots, Henry tried a host of other baby food purees. He loved them all. His little feet would kick in happy anticipation of whatever flavor was going to enter his mouth and he would squeal with joy whenever put into his highchair. I remember calling my sister to ask what foods I was allowed to give Henry: after a few short weeks, I had basically run out of new options.
We moved away from baby food pretty quickly. Henry did not require bland or plain foods. The more intense the flavor, the happier Henry was. He ate a bowl of the hottest gazpacho I’d ever eaten when he was one and was delighted to try every dish at a Thai restaurant when he was 18 months old. Fruits, vegetables, meat… Henry didn’t care. It was all good to him.
He was, and is, an adventurous eater. Henry will gladly try any dish put in front of him and is only slowed down by his nut allergy and his dislike of chocolate. (weird, right?)
Georgia, on the other hand, is not as easy to please. Her palate seems to have formed during the puree months and stopped developing completely once she had sampled her favorite dish – chicken pot pie – around 7 months old. With the exception of the Cesar salad, Georgia prefers her food to be cream-colored and she abhors meat of all types. Georgia, it should be noted, is not an ideological vegetarian, she just doesn’t like the taste of meat…or the taste / consistency of most vegetables, or cheese other than mild cheddar, or tomatoes in any form. Georgia will eat plain pasta but she will not eat rice, potatoes or polenta. She can not stand beans, peas or legumes of any type. If it was possible to skip meals altogether and instead concentrate on desserts, Georgia would be a very happy person.
Cooking is not my favorite activity, although like Henry, I love to eat. If I had all the money in the world, I would hire a chef in an instant. Alas. When the children were little, I considered my main job to be childcare and I split the household tasks with Gordy. I would gladly do the nightly bathing, reading and putting to bed of the children, if Gordy would food shop and make us a dinner to eat once the nightly routine was through. Now that the children are in school for a large hunk of the day, my job description has changed. I now consider household tasks to be my primary job and when Gordy has time to help, I really prefer assistance with the childcare tasks of homework, school projects and carpooling. Cooking, whether I enjoy it or not, has become my responsibility, even if planning dinners, shopping for food and cooking meals are my least favorite aspects of my job. To put cooking into a work perspective, you could say that to me, cooking and meal planning is akin to filing or making photo copies: I have to do it but it is a chore I happily put off for as long as possible.
You would think that feeding a gourmet like Henry would be a dream. There is basically no food that I could put in front of him that he would reject – that’s amazing, right? If I was a gourmet chef, I would be in heaven. But a gourmet chef I am not. In fact, the pressure to prepare amazing meals is more than I can stand. My cooking skills are geared more towards one-pot casseroles and pressed sandwiches than roast chicken in red wine reductions, with sides of fingerling potatoes and spicy brussel sprouts. I may feel up to making a fancy meatloaf on occasion, but forget about any side dishes. Who has the time or the skill to balance so many different things? Certainly not me.
I get a lot of complaints from both children when they see the dinner placed before them. Georgia hates everything and isn’t afraid to express her disappointment when she sees actual nutrients on her plate. Henry is vociferous in his disapproval of a hum-drum, basic, Martha meal. “Pasta again?” he’ll whine, his voice expressing all the angst and horror he had when served his 1000th bottle of formula when he was five months old. And when the meal is over, he will turn into my very own Woodie Allen and complain that it was a terrible meal and there was so little of it.
Does anyone know of some long-lost aunt who left me an inheritance that I’m not aware of? I’m in desperate need of professional cooking help and I’d love to be able to outsource this aspect of my job. All I need is someone who can cook meals for our family that are at the same time tasty and bland, complex yet simple, full of protein but with no meat, beans or tofu, gourmet but 1950's-focused. That shouldn't be so hard, right?