My four year old had a play date recently that involved serving dinner to his three year old friend. Though every bone in my body knew our young guest wouldn’t touch the baby greens I set on his plate, I felt obligated to put on a good show in case his mother asked him what we ate.
It’s not like either of my kids eat a balanced meal more than once every three days. If his mom were a fly on the wall at our house that night, she would’ve seen my children eat a giant bowl of popcorn in front of Scooby Doo reruns with sippy cups of orange juice to wash it down. Before you call Social Services, remember that popcorn is a whole grain and a glass of OJ has 120 percent of the US recommended daily allowance of vitamin C.
My children’s questionable diet is usually not for lack of trying. All the modern parenting manuals say you only need to provide good food choices, which I’ve done (and still do) on many occasions. But sometimes I just don’t have the energy to face full-blown temper tantrums filled with slobber and snot bubbles. So then I ask myself, “have they had a balanced diet over the course of the week, rather than just today?” This allows me to deal with the shame I feel when my kids’ dinner is a half cup of ketchup blatantly used to get them to eat hot dogs (not the organic, nitrate-free ones) and crispy crowns (my supermarket’s store brand of Tater Tots).
Some moms feel bad about serving pancakes for dinner, but then I tell them about the time we were on vacation at the Cape. We’d just wrapped up a very expensive and disappointing trip to the local funplex. The kids were gloomy after leaving so we stopped for ice cream as a sort of do-over even though it was dinner time. They served us hot fudge sundaes as big as their heads — they were barely down from their sugar high at bedtime three hours later.
I don’t need a masters degree in nutrition to know that these are not ideal meals. But when it’s 5pm and we’ve all been up since 5am thanks to my squirrely four year old, not making an elaborate dinner can mean the difference between a decent evening and a virtual mad house. Here enters the humongous plate of corn chips smothered in melted cheese. If we all share from the same plate, then there’s literally only one dish to wash, which I might add is good for the environment.
Maybe a few nutrition classes would be useful — it’d be good to know if pepperoni and saltines form a complete protein.
Olivia DeWolfe is a freelance writer, natural foods chef, and mother of two living in Brattleboro, Vermont. Olivia also guest posts for an online education blog where you can find insider facts and resources regarding online elementary schools, middle schools, and colleges for your kids.