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What’s For Dinner?

The baby’s got a new trick. She can turn her hands into wind-shield wipers. When it’s time for breakfast, I drop her into her high-chair and dump some cheerios and a hunk of banana on the tray while I go get the yogurt, or oatmeal. Her older sister sits at the table eagerly, awaiting the show. I approach the high-chair with trepidation. The banana and cheerios are now glistening on the floor. Mmmmmm – yogurt! I say. Go go gadget wind-shield wiper hands, she squawks, and the spoon, dripping with blueberry goop, cannot, despite my athletic dexterity, approach the holy zone of the closed mouth. Her sister giggles in delight. I persevere, placing a beloved piece of strawberry on top of the yogurt. Look, I say, strawberry! But the hands go wild, swish swish swish swish, as if the light drizzle has become a torrential downpour.

How to get (healthy) foods into the mouths of babes? My parents tell me that I was a terror; they would put on a song and dance show, involving puppets and costumes, to get bites into my mouth; as the show and the meal progressed, my mouth would get fuller and fuller, and I would perform the finale, expelling from my cheeks the entire meal.

It doesn’t seem to get any easier as they get older. My three-year-old’s latest is: “I’m hungry for candy.” And my babysitter, whose two grand-daughters are eleven and thirteen, comes in worried each morning with new stories about the dinner-table tears, and the after-dinner fights that revolve around picky eating and body-image issues.

And all of that “getting food into them” assumes that the food is on the table, prepared, diverse, colorful, delicious, piping hot, and nutritious, exactly when they’re hungry.

I asked my three year old if she likes being a kid, or if she’d rather be a grown-up. She thought for a minute and said – I want to be a grown-up, because grown-ups cook all the time.

Who knew it was going to be so hard, and so all-consuming?

Apparently, lots of people. Everyone, from the New York Times to Michelle Obama to the Mommy Bloggers, like Chef Mom, Weelicious, and Meals for Moms, to name a few, is talking about how to get healthy food into kids (and all their relatives).

Now, I love to cook. But it’s exhausting to plan meal after meal after meal. It takes so much time, and constant creative energy. And, within minutes, it’s on the floor, or smudged into their hair, or is a stain on their clean pajamas. And then it’s messy dishes and pots and left-overs, which get lost in the cavernous fridge.

Feeding one’s family is part of that never-ending up-and-down cycle of parenting, a cycle expressed by T.S Eliot, in Little Gidding of his Four Quartets – “what we call the end is often the beginning, and to make a beginning is to make an end – the end is where we start from.” Even if, last night, you cooked the most incredible dinner in the universe, which your children ate neatly and with great appetite, you’ve got to cook another one for tonight. There is no arrival; there is, simply, the journey. The show must go on.

–Maya Bernstein