Last month, I not only married my wonderful husband, I also inherited two beautiful stepdaughters. Over the past couple of years getting to know each other, we've only encountered one real issue -- overcoming our nine-year-old's favorite diet of Gatorade, Cheetos, mozzarella sticks and various Little Debbie creations.
Me: "No, you can't have another Star Crunch."
Her: "Why not?"
Me: "Because you've had five."
Her: "Oh. Daddy! Can I have a Star Crunch?"
Grrr...it's not that I don't want this beautiful child to have everything her little heart desires. It's just that I don't want her little heart to shut down. I mean really, I was struggling. And let me tell you, a nine-year-old gives it to you straight.
Me: "Why aren't you eating?"
Her: "Because I don't like it. No offense."
Me: "Oh." (Ouch!)
Her: "Can I have a Star Crunch?"
I understand that sometimes svelte cooking isn't all that kid friendly. Not much grease, little butter. But it's not THAT bad. Or maybe it was, to her. Couple that with the gourmet and/or unfamiliar ingredients I like to use and we have a bigger problem.
Her: "What is that?!"
Me: "Goat cheese."
Her: "Ew. Can I have a Star Crunch?"
I didn't know what to do. I am not a chef, I have no actual training, and my recipes can be hit or miss. But I LOVE this. It is my passion. I have a hundred cookbooks and subscriptions to three cooking magazines. So what do I do? I tried cutting out all unfamiliar flavors and spices. The food got worse and worse and the reactions were still the same.
Then one day I passed a restaurant supply store and my heart skipped a beat. FUN! I went in, and I went a little crazy. I was going to conquer this problem if it killed me! I was no longer going to cook for the family -- we were going to start a restaurant right there in the kitchen. "Chez Fox!" Or whatever. Everyone was going to cook.
The first night, we made spaghetti. Now what kid doesn't like spaghetti? Well, svelte spaghetti is made with lots of onions and mushrooms, ground chicken instead of beef and sausage, and whole grain pasta. The old me would have tried to hide those facts and pass it off as normal spaghetti. But no more! Luckily, I have some kid-friendly, safe kitchen gadgets. So she chopped onions, added the mushrooms, and picked fresh basil and oregano from the garden. She HATES those things. She simmered and stirred and beamed with pride as her daddy had a taste of her spaghetti sauce. She ate her dinner that night, as I sat there with tears in my eyes. I don't know if it was having her as my special guest chef or the funky chef's hats and aprons I got for all of us, but whatever it was, it worked. And she ate that spaghetti for three days.
Since then, we've done make-your-own pizza night (watching the dough rise is part of the fun!), recreated the Japanese hibachi menu (complete with homemade white sauce for the shrimp and chopsticks!) and had a fondue feast (our 15-year-old and I made five different dipping sauces!) I am in my glory. The kids are getting nutritious meals. We're having a blast and bonding at the same time. And the hats are really cute. I wear mine even when they're not here...shhhh.
I realized, throughout this process, that I needed to make some compromises, too. I still maintain that Cheeze Whiz with a little bit of broccoli is NOT a vegetable, but as long as it's coupled with something healthful, that's what counts. And yes, you can have a Star Crunch now.