Wednesday, May 30, 2007

There’s More to Life Than Chicken Fingers

When I took my 8-year-old daughter – one of two of my uber-finicky juvenile eaters – to a Japanese restaurant last week during a mother-daughter shopping/dinner expedition, I anticipated the gnashing of teeth and complaints of utter, cruel starvation upon learning that there were no chicken fingers on the menu. Despite my propaganda about how eating food she’d never tasted would be a great adventure, I fully expected that my little culinary experiment would fail miserably, thereby putting a taint on the delectable scallops teriyaki dish I’d been craving.

Except it didn’t fail.

Not only did Abbey thoroughly enjoy her “kid-sized” teriyaki steak and steamed vegetables, she even ate, and liked, the California rolls I ordered. And she said she couldn’t wait to return, but next time wanted to sit at the sushi bar to watch the chef make sushi right in front of her.

By the time we arrived back home, Abbey was so jazzed about trying different foods (as long as I promised she could have cereal later if she didn’t like the offerings) that she said she wanted to spend summer vacation trying and cooking foods from all over the world. However her two brothers – ages 8 and 5 – didn’t buy into the idea. Jonah, 8, suggested we eat only food that hailed from America, while tears actually gathered in Casey’s eyes at the prospect of going to a restaurant that did not serve mac-n-cheese or chicken fingers.

After years of catering to the lowest common denominator of my children’s gastronomical desires, I’ve decided things need to change and that The Spouse and I need to re-claim our family’s menu, even if it means putting up with some whining and the prospect of three children eating cereal for dinner for weeks if they don’t like what The Spouse and I put on the table.

I, however, am not alone. Writer David Kamp, in today’s New York Times, says that while having a children’s menu that offered kid-friendly standbys (chicken fingers, mac-n-cheese, burgers and grilled cheese) was comforting when he first became a parent, it now seems downright depressing. “It pains me that many children now grow up eating little besides golden-brown logs of kid food, especially in a time when the quality, variety and availability is better than ever,” Kamp wrote. “We accept that it’s bad not to read to young children lest it affect their ‘wiring,’ and that it’s bad to let them slack off on exercise lest their muscles not develop, but we’re kind of lazy on the palate front. And really, discovering new foods and flavors is one of the most delightful experiences that childhood can offer.”

I’m with Kamp. I’m going to make it a point to try this summer to get the kiddos – especially the youngest who won’t eat a vegetable except under extreme duress (we’ve considered enlisting Jack Bauer’s help in making the kid to eat his broccoli) – to be cuisine adventurers. Key word here: Try. Either this whole endeavor will be a resounding success, or our family will single-handedly pay for the cereal producers’ Christmas bonuses.

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