I don’t know how it is for you, but dinner hour at our house can be quite hectic. Ed Asner says that raising kids is part joy and part guerilla warfare. I suppose cooking for kids falls under that category as well.
What’s a cook to do when the taste buds are as varied as the children? In my house, the vote is an even 4-4 for margarine or mayonnaise on sandwiches. On hamburgers, we have choices of mayonnaise, ketchup, pickles, onions, and mustard. You can imagine the opinions on what needs to be put on the table. You just hope it’s your turn to set the table that night, or someone might miss your condiment!
The other evening over spaghetti, cold reviews dispelled any myth that mom’s the best cook in the country.
“Not enough hamburger.”
“Too much pepper.”
“Don’t tell me you put mushrooms in this!”
“I hope you’ve got enough Parmesan cheese.”
As for casseroles, the taste buds are picky here, too. One of us doesn’t do casseroles. Some of us like them only with lots of creamy sauce and mushrooms. Most of us won’t touch a mushroom. A few of us think a casserole’s incomplete without onions while most of us won’t eat the likes of one. Whatever I do, I’m not supposed to add peas to a casserole. They’re okay on the side, but not in a casserole. Yet, putting them in a casserole is the only way to get some of them to eat ’em! So what’s a cook to do?
Once, I planned a “you-won’t-like-this-menu.” As the cook, I thought it was time to deal with complaining. It worked, for a while. The other week, I realized the procedure was long overdue. Choosing a menu is simple. I choose one item each individual in the family does not like – and pronto, I’ve got a full course meal.
The kids got to watch their father eat sliced tomatoes. Bless him, he took more than his share without complaining. There was the usual rule: each person must take some of everything. Any complaints, I told them, would bring a duplicate menu the next evening. I figured it would make my life simple enough: no decisions on what to fix. After all, what’s a cook to do?
There was only one hitch. I liked everything on the table. The way I saw it, no one would want to add brussel sprouts to the menu. Sure, I got off easy. But then, what’s a cook to do?
I’ve come to recognize that I’ll be a failure if I try to be all things to all people. Eating at my table prepares my kids for life.
“Someday,” we tell them, “you will be in a situation where you must eat what you don’t like. You need to practice now.”
“Right,” they’ll say, “I guess I’m supposed to say, ‘this is soooo delicious! Can I please have the recipe.’ ”’
“You can say something nice without being dishonest,” I’ve said.
“Right,” they’ll respond. “Like how am I supposed to do that?”
“How about, ‘What an interesting dish. I’m sure my mom would love to have this recipe.”
And why did I fix something one child likes when I knew another one didn’t like it? Because he’s the favorite child, today. Sorry, kid. Your turn comes next week. After all, what’s a cook to do?!
Don’t think I’m always tough. I’ve been known to bake an apple pie for the toddler who promised he’d quit fussing.
I’ve been known to stop what I’m doing to mix up a batch of cookies or make fresh rolls “just because.”
I’ve even added a special dessert or fresh bread when I knew leftovers were not kid-friendly.
I’m sure the day will come when one of them will come home for a weekend and ask for his favorite food fixed the way he likes it. He’ll get it. Lucky him, he’ll be the favorite child, that day.
After all, what’s a cook to do?!
This was written in 2000 and is published in the book Southside Glimmers. A lot of meals have been served in our house since that time. For most of the year, we’re empty nesters. This weekend, three of our kids are coming home. The dilemma? Which kid is going to be the favorite kid this weekend?! If I tell you what’s on the menu, my kids will be able to tell you which kid is the favorite one this time. After all, what’s a cook to do?!