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

4 comments on “What’s For Dinner?

  1. Francine Geller on

    I can relate to your sentiments! The good news is that when your oldest daughter reaches about 8 years old, she will actually enjoy your elaborate meals and ask for seconds! Nice post…

  2. Maggie Anton on

    Beautiful post. My 2-yr-old grandson is at the “NO” stage, so that even as he’s grabbing for the food he’s saying he doesn’t want it. And when he’s hungry, there’s no way you can ask him to wait until dinner is ready either.

  3. Katja Rowell on

    I feel for you, but it doesn’t have to be so hard! I was having feeding issues with my daughter, and as a doctor I thought I was supposed to have all the answers. I got clued in to Ellyn Satter, and it has saved me so much heart-ache. Check out CHild of Mine for inspiration. (No, I don’t get any money from Ellyn Satter…) I think if you can think of it in terms of your job and her job, the anxiety and frustration will go away. Your job is to put the food on the table (which it sounds like you are doing a great job with,) hers is to decide if she wants to eat it or not. Sounds simple, but it is hard work. Planning, feeding with structure, saying no to grazing, and sitting on your hands and not commenting when she eats only a few bites, or none, or alot at a meal or snack. Toddlers eat very erratically, and all our worry about controlling portions, or “getting veggies in,” our feeding with an agenda backfires. I know my personal anxiety was high (for goodness sake, you’re at the table 5 times a day with a toddler!) to almost nothing. I quit medicine and now lecture to parents and doctors, and coach families about feeding difficulties because it made MY life so much better. Check out Ellyn Satter’s stuff, I hope it helps! My daughter, now 3 1/2 eats most foods, and has left the pickiness behind. Trust that your child will grow up to eat like you do if you don’t pressure or cajole. Good luck!

  4. Jodi Groberg Hodrov on

    I raised two daughters on kibbutz, with a communal dining room and meals in the childrens’ houses. The pressure was low, because I just added in as “extras” the healthy food that I prefer and the kids ate it fairly naturally. The same story started with my next set of kids – boys…. and then, about 4 years ago, the dining room of the kibbutz closed and I was faced with the age-old task of cooking for a family of 4-6 mouths…. true, the boys weren’t infants and we’ve always been low-maintenance on the food pushing, but I do find myself pressured to balance full-time work with the need and desire to provide healthy, nutritious food that they will deign to eat. Their father will eat leftovers, but the kids want something different every day! Yo, where did that come from?
    In addition, I made the jump into organic veggies, much to the dismay of our budget. The up side is that my partner has planted an organic veggie garden to offset some of the high cost, and the kids help, a bit!

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