Garden Gnomes and Stuffed Peppers

“Worshipping Nature and eating health food an’ that. So I don’t see why we shouldn’t have one round here. They were floodin’ the country with a Wave of Mindless Evil, it said.”

“What, by worshipin’ Nature and eatin’ health food?” said Wensleydale.

“That’s what is said.”

— Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch
by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

For about 15 years, I was a semi-vegetarian who occasionally ate hotdogs. As my kids grow up, I can match their developmental milestones to my own experiences with food: one needs molars to chew meat well, curiosity in new foods switches to comfort or suspicion, understanding death and making the connection between that and ones dinner plate.

I don’t like chewy meat. Me at age 7: One forkful after another of pork-chop turns into gum and ends up tucked away in a white paper napkin, secretly deposited in the bathroom trash can. I don’t think my mom ever knew about it until I told her decades later. Both my toddler kiddos did this with carrots. The youngest’s teeth were on the late side and he really struggled with eating. Turns out his favorite foods are crunchy and textured, and he loves meat. You can’t get very far on those with gums. We composted a lot of licked ABC salami. (Non 90s kids, ABC = already been chewed)

Those early years were STRESSFUL. He was 1.5 and nearly exclusively breastfed. The same relaxed attitude I’d taken with his 3 years older brother just didn’t fly.

Before I go on, I wholeheartedly subscribe to the ‘no food is bad’ attitude. Food is food. No judgements, no comments on weight (big or little), no force-feeding. I explain it this way to the kids: food is fuel & our bodies need all kinds of nutrients, together let’s find a way to get the complete set. Some nutrients ‘work better’ with complementary foods. And if you’ve got a body with special needs (diabetes), sometimes it really matters what you eat with what.

So I went to the store with my new hungry toddler and purchased all kinds of other foods I didn’t prefer to eat as an adult: versions of everything with a ton more sugar like coffee cake, fruits, Fruit Loops (which is actually less sweet than say Honey Nut Cheerios). He devoured the breads, but still got substantial calories from breastmilk. When he was around age 2.5, my body’d had enough eating 2 of each breakfast, lunch and dinner. As much as the pediatricians office pushed switching him to cows milk for nearly 2 years, I’d felt it was silly. Why switch when my body made milk specifically for him? He was gaining weight and healthy. After they messed some paperwork up as well, we switched to a family practice that matched my practical approach and supported our needs. When he stopped gaining weight around age 3, we added Pediasure. Thank goodness I could find -something- he’d eat.

A friend mentioned Division of Responsibility (see Mealtime Hostage) as his calorie intake crashed. Apparently there are children who will simply NOT eat when hungry. And they’re everywhere, in every country and type of household. My method of weekly food planning was not going to work. With my older son, we’d plod through the week with three meals he liked, and the other meals would be the adults choice. For the 3 year old, I could barely figure out 5 things he’d consistently eat. In switching to DoR, I’d provide buffet meals with one or two items I know my son would devour. New foods could be tried or not, no pressure. New traditions are made, there’s no ‘breakfast only’ foods or dessert after you eat dinner. Sometimes it’s served on the side. (I rarely plan dessert, I just don’t think of it. Ice cream has become breakfast some days, and I’m OK with that.)

There was no overnight change. Getting enough calories is still a struggle for both kids. They’re growing and healthy, but have stretches when they’re so hangry we’re all frustrated. I simply don’t know what their ‘safe’ food has changed to. I’m also into independence, so DoR with it’s method of parents always providing the food & snacks at fixed times, doesn’t always sit well with me. Some days & times the kid’s more hungry, and sometimes I want my 5 year old to know how to make a bowl of cereal on his own. He’s learned a lot in just a couple jam packed years. On cloudy days, he even pours a glass of milk to offer all of us with a side of Vitamin D. Ultimately, my minimal food rules are: (1) don’t hide food (bugs!) cause if it’s in the house, I bought it to eat and it’s OK and (2) if I’m cooking a meal, wait to eat that snack you’ve pulled out with the dinner. Funny thing is, I used to hide food so my brothers and their friends wouldn’t eat it all in one sitting. Slow eater problems.

The eldest is mostly a vegetarian at age 8. It is hard to find food for him on the go. There are no rice and bean burrito fast-food shops in Germany. I remember the same frustrating feeling as a kid on family road trips, squished between my brothers in the back seat, wondering how long I could hold out. That’s the funny thing, being the beanpole, I didn’t eat much at meals, but -needed- those snacks. A lot of foods don’t sit well in my stomach or on my skin, so I probably developed specific aversions early on like my eldest. I’m lucky my mom made me specific veggie pasta meals growing up, and never forced us to eat. Her childhood dinner table was not always peaceful, and she learned a few good lessons from hiding her own food behind the radiator. (Though from what she tells me, chewy, fatty meat was much preferred.)

As for myself, I’m not a huge fan of the environmental costs of meat production, but do on occasion enjoy properly cooked, tender meats. Humans as omnivores and all such stuff. And somewhere in southern France, a broken garden gnome was gifted an extra serving of stuffed peppers that a vegetarian’s traveling companions could not possibly finish before the temporarily indisposed hostess returned and guilted them into eating till they popped.

So, what’s for dinner?

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