Because I am a writer and I work from home, I’m afforded some great luxuries. Chief among these is that I get to define my hours to a certain extent, and lately, because I’m 32 weeks pregnant with our first child and have no reason not to, I’ve taken to eating breakfast in a warm bath with Morning Edition in the background, a cup of tea, and a good book at my side.
If you want to really hate me, I’ll elaborate that I’ve been eating fresh berries with croissants made by my mother, and I have two every morning — chocolate and almond. I figure this is going to be the last time in my life where I have some peace of mind in the morning, and I’m going to make the most of it.
(Since we’re friends, I’ll admit: my work schedule does make un-luxurious demands in other, cruel ways. I just don’t like to think about them when things are still peachy-keen in the morning.)
But for the last few days, this sleepy little ritual has been interrupted by the high-pitched sound of snorting. A very unladylike, ungracious snort, and one or two times there has even been some tea coming out of my nose while I erupt in hyena-like laughter. I can’t help it. I’m reading Hungry Monkey.
Given to me by my stepmother (my sole inspiration and role-model when it comes to all things food and whose great wedding present of a curated cookbook collection you read about here) this past weekend at my baby shower, Hungry Monkey is sub-titled “A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater.” I accepted the present greedily, like a recovering addict would take to their formerly beloved drug, because all through this pregnancy, I’ve eaten like a stereotypical four year old. I like things that are white and yellow. I want nothing to do with green. Chicken fingers and plain white cupcakes with plain white frosting (or Funfetti, if we’re feeling really adventurous) have constituted their own food groups.
As someone who has lived her whole adult life on spicy curry soups, brussels sprouts tossed with mustard and capers, and Ethiopian injera, this has been moderately terrifying on a good day and depression-making on the worst. Is this kid so picky I can’t even tolerate any decent food pregnant? Are we going to be resigned to dinners of plain cheese pizza and pasta-with-butter-no-sauce for the next 18 years and eight weeks?
Is it okay to start crying now?
Matthew Amster-Burton, Hungry Monkey‘s author and resident foodie dad, reacted the same way when he found out they were having a baby. Don’t get me wrong, I was elated. We want this baby more than I can ever remember wanting anything in my whole life. But the second most-wanted thing in my life is a really good salami sandwich made with some stinky salami and even more stinky unpasteurized cheese, and I’ve been craving it for 32 weeks. At this point, I’m going to be merely surviving the next eight weeks until I can have it. (We aren’t talking “push presents” in our house. We are talking “push sandwiches.”)
I got to tell my husband, Bill, about our little miracle one Sunday this fall via Skype. He was doing pre-deployment training out in Twentynine Palms, California, where there is miraculously a Starbucks and it miraculously had free Wi-Fi that was miraculously working and he miraculously had some time off to be able to Skype home. (See the miracles happening here?) He was enjoying something Venti Delicious when I relayed the good news, and as soon as we signed off, I found myself on the back porch, head in my hands and recovering from my first bout of morning sickness because my mother had just opened a bottle of V8 juice in the next room. And with that, food miracles in our house came to a screeching halt.
I have had to cook some during this pregnancy (including a very festive and very ambitious Thanksgiving-Christmas mashup with all of Bill’s favorite holiday foods made by me and feeding a crowd of 15), but the last time I attempted to cook anything ended with me calling my mom at work and begging her to come home and turn off the soup I started on the stove, because I didn’t think I could even make it back into the kitchen to turn off the burner without getting violently ill again. Our bun-in-the-oven son, Hunter, wanted nothing to do with soup. Especially with the previously delicious pasta e fagioli I was trying to make. He’s absolutely fine with Chic-Fil-A, white bread, and cream cheese though. And oatmeal, as long as there’s nothing too complicated or colorful in it.
Cue the hysteria of someone who writes about food for a living: How are we going to survive the next two decades? Let alone make a small human who also loves food like we do? Or maybe just loves food that isn’t white and yellow?
It’s this wisdom I’ve been peppering friends and family for over the last few months. My mother reminded me dinner didn’t come with choices, just forks. My stepmother said our only options were what was on our plates or a yogurt. My dad remembers giving us a big helping of Doritos on the sly, but driving a hard bargain when it came to the actual table: there were no bargains. (My dad’s approach to child-rearing, I should explain, is that all children are terrorists. And you do not negotiate with terrorists. Take from that what you will.) I don’t recall dinner being very dramatic, and I do recall having to taste almost everything. I remember falling in love with leg of lamb, broccolini, and steak tartare as a child. I regularly attribute my love of food today to the food put before me growing up. But the mystery remains: How do I do this for my own kid?
In the event I felt alone in this, it’s clear from the body of works available on Amazon that everybody has worried about feeding their brood at one point or another. I will be honest and tell you nearly all of these books intimidate me. But Hungry Monkey (and a few other notable exceptions) isn’t one of them. It makes me laugh. It makes me cry (out of laughter). It makes me snort my tea in my otherwise very ladylike morning bathtub routine. And most of all, it gives me hope.
His big secret? There are no big secrets. Kids are picky. Adults still want adult food. These things all happen and kids survive and become eaters all the same. (He was apparently among the pickiest eaters out there growing up and now writes about food for a living. Hope!) But he’s also pretty fearless with what he gives his daughter to try — everything from the Szechuan staple Ants on a Tree (a fairly spicy noodle dish) to Pad Thai to shrimp and grits with bacon. He keeps cooking, she keeps resisting or stops eating or stops resisting or starts eating, and the world continues to turn on its axis.
This foodie — the one who is thinking it’s chicken fingers for lunch, yet again — sighs with relief.
So I turn to you: You’ve been there, done that. What tricks do you have for getting your kids to eat? Or for at least staying sane while they didn’t?
And if you’re like me, and you need a laugh over how stressful all of that can be (or how stressful it seems to this newbie mama), pick up a copy of Hungry Monkey. You will laugh. You will cry. You will consider moving to Seattle just to go to his local pizza place (they make a pie with sliced pears, walnuts, and blue cheese). You might lose tea through your nose. And if nothing else, you will find camaraderie with the sheer knowledge that if you, too, are serving up another slice of cheese pizza for dinner, you’re not alone. And really, it’s not that bad after all.
Share your wisdom. And if nothing else, please, tell me: Will my kid ever eat brussels sprouts and love them like I do? (Maybe if I cut them into really cute shapes there’s some hope.)