Cooking for your Preciousss
Sam Wilson explores the childhood dark art of non-eating, and a few nifty ways to trip up evil children.
(Tammy Gardner)
Andreas and I are greedy folk, so imagine our surprise when we found we had sprogged two non-eaters.

Joe and Ben are not just picky eaters, they have gone one step beyond that… all the way to active non-eating. Their personal energy equations are astounding: they run and jump and shriek and bounce all day, on the energy intake which one feels would leave a small bird too lethargic to get out of its nest. I am assuming this is some kind of karmic balance to our parental excesses, but even with the broader cosmic energies in mind, it still sucks.

It has always been this way. They were poor breast feeders. They were lacklustre bottlers. As little babychair people, they arched their eyebrows at me every time I presented yet another vibrant kiddy bowl of lovingly homemade sweet potato, carrot or butternut. I even went so far as to buy shelves of baby cookbooks, frantically whipping up all manner of mush with artful names: "Fisherman’s pie” or “Mediterranean medley”… all to no avail.

Baby cookbooks are hysterical, don’t you think? I love them. My favourites are those highly glossy ones with photos meant to rival those of zooty cookbooks – chockfull of highly-styled smug spreads of, essentially, endless bowls of greyish mush, with very little other than a title or designer spoon to differentiate them.

Toddler cookbooks go one better… all their pics are of meals made to resemble some tempting tableau. A fish paste sandwich snail, earnestly working its way across a carpet of watercress. A chubby French toast butterfly, with Marmite strips and carrot feelers. Or my personal favourite… the ubiquitous sausage, egg and baby tomato-nosed smiley face. I am told children do eat better when confronted with friendly food of this nature… just not MY children, it seems. No matter how many cucumber whiskers I might fashion.

These days, mealtime in our house goes something like this:

“Ta-dah! Look what Mommy has made!” I’ll trill, nervously banging down a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise.

Ben and Joe will peer at it in derision, conjuring up images of gymnastic judges confronted with a chubby kid on the floor work mat.

“You put something on top of the spaghetti,” Joey will remark sadly. “We don’t like it when you put something on top of the spaghetti.”

“But it’s lovely meat sauce!” Andreas will chime in. “Nummy, nummy! Doesn’t it smell delicious?”

All the sons can smell at this point is our fear. Ben is always quick to pick up on parental angst, and never fails to take the evening to the next level.

“Joey, don’t you think it looks just like a bowl full of worms in blood and guts?” he’ll suggest, wickedly. Joe doesn’t waste anytime in picking up on the idea.

“Ick! Worms and guts! Worms in blood! They are trying to kill us!”

At this point, both start using their rather eerily accurate Gollum/Smeagol voices.

“Childrenses don’t like nasty worms and guts, do they, my Precious? Nasty worms and guts… <gollum, gollum>” Then they collapse in to laughter, before each pulling out a thread of spaghetti to try and thread into their sinuses. (“It’s eating my brain! Aargh!”)

It’s all very amusing; I laugh my way bitterly to the dog’s bowl night after night. (Okay, who am I kidding? I cook great. The leftovers never make it to the dog’s bowl; Andreas and I simply eat for four.)

Luckily, there does seem to be a guttering light in the family oven. We’ve started doing two things differently, both of which are yielding, if not results, then at least limited nibbling.

First, we have started ordering organic vegetable boxes, which arrive packed with all sorts of vegetables we have never seen up close before. This makes for an interesting Wednesday evening, I can tell you.

“What’s that?” Joe will ask, holding aloft a Jerusalem artichoke, after frootling around in the Box of Goodness.

“A very tricky thing to cook,” Andreas will respond. “Try again.”

“I know what these are!” Ben will exclaim, plucking some veggie from the depths. “Sweet potato! I win! Daddy bakes them in the oven and they taste a bit like chips! Can we cook them?”

For some reason, being the first person to identify a foodstuff makes a small child more likely to eat it. Who knew?

The second breakthrough has been allowing the boys to cook themselves. We’ve stirred and mashed before, but now we let them choose a meal from the shiniest cookbook they can find and take it through step by step… and its working.  Just last week, we managed Jamie Oliver pancetta-wrapped salmon on a bed of mushy leeks and peas.

Finally, the boys are eating. Food that is so expensive Andreas and I are having to cut back significantly, but at least they are eating.

This article first appeared in Cape Town’s Child magazine.

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