As usual I’m on a mission. This one is to get to school without spilling any of the two litres of steaming hot chocolate currently residing next to me in the footwell of my car. It’s in these scenarios you realise your car’s suspension is less than perfect for navigating the sleeping policeman outside the gate as the liquid slaps ominously against the side of the jug. A little further on it becomes apparent the council’s highway maintenance has been rather inadequate as the car dips into another pothole causing the hot fluid to become more agitated. My viscous companion doesn’t have long to wait before it’s wish for liberty is granted. The driver in front of me slams on the breaks. To avoid what? A small child? An errant hound? No, a squirrel. The lid on the jug finally yields and chocolate milk is spewed over the tea towels cushioning it inside a plastic box. Despite my fears most of the liquid remains in the jug although the tea towels will forever have a sepia hue about them despite a number of washes.
The hot chocolate is just one of the items I’ve prepared for a Mexican food tasting at my sons’ school for the children in year 2. I lived on the border of Mexico in El Paso, Texas for a year and feel adequately qualified to introduce the children to something more authentic than Doritos. I’ve included a Mole Poblano (turkey in a chilli and chocolate sauce) with plain tamales along with refried beans, guacamole and salsa to give the children a taste of traditional Mexican food. I had posted about the tasting session on Facebook. The feedback I received from other mothers at the school was largely “good luck but don’t be surprised if my child doesn’t like it!”
As a mother I’m completely aware of how finicky children can be not to mention inconsistent. I’m driven nuts by Charlie’s assertion that he doesn’t eat onions unless they are completely incognito in a tomato sauce or Alex’s refusal to eat mushrooms unless they are on a pizza. A friend told me once that her children had taken the pleasure out of cooking years ago because they are so difficult to feed. Frustration over our progeny’s eating habits is a recurrent theme among the mothers I know. Before you have children, family meal times are imagined to be a picture of utopian domestic bliss with everyone sitting down together to eat and enjoy the same nutritionally balanced food. Instead dinner often involves the child being bombarded (in their eyes at least) by an artillery of vegetables courtesy of an anxious parent. I have watched many mothers valiantly try to cajole her child to eat a carrot stick often to no avail. Fortunately, my children do like carrots but beyond cucumber and peas anything green and leafy is viewed as completely abhorrent.
Of course there are numerous experts, from Super Nanny, Jo Frost, to kiddy food guru, Annabel Karmel, on hand to offer us advice on how to deal with fussy eaters. The latest pearls of wisdom come from an American journalist, Pamela Druckerman. While living in Paris she observed that the French have a much more laid back attitude to their children’s eating habits. If broccoli is rejected at one meal time it’s not a problem. They will just try again in a few days time perhaps serving the vegetable in a different fashion. Crucially, she claims the French don’t get stressed about what their children do or don’t eat. The point Druckerman says isn’t “that every kid will like everything. It’s that he’ll give each food a chance”.
It’s all sound advice which makes perfect sense on paper. However, it’s hard to keep your cool and not reach for the nearest bottle of Chardonnay when your child refuses to eat the Bolognese sauce you prepared from scratch because he’s sussed that the “herbs” in it are actually courgette and celery. This frustration is multiplied when your child proceeds to eat a similarly prepared sauce at a friend’s house claiming to adore the “herbs” he’d rejected before!
Knowing how contrary children can be about food I entered the classroom on this March morning with some trepidation. The children had been primed and pumped by their teacher to have a positive attitude. Yes, there were frowns and even a few grimaces but there were also plenty of smiles and requests for seconds. Even the Mole Poblano which was an admittedly unappetising shade of caca disappeared within minutes. In fact one of the least popular items (after the guacamole, which let’s face it, in that shade of green was always going to struggle to win any friends) was the hot chocolate. Made with 70% dark chocolate and milk flavoured with cinnamon and vanilla it was a far cry away from the powdered chocolate drink you buy in supermarkets.
So I have reached the conclusion that children are also on a mission. Their’s is simply (even if unconsciously) to test the boundaries of their parents ire. Because we are so preoccupied with how and what our kids eat they work out early on that food is an emotive subject for even the most placid of parents. And so they push away at those buttons until we finally explode and declare outright war. However, if we are honest we were most likely no different at that age in terms of our food preferences. There are probably plenty of things you eat now that you despised as a child (I know I do). Children’s reticence to try new foods gradually fades over time. And you can take heart in the knowledge that they will go through the same frustrations at meal times when they have their own kids!
As it’s short and sweet I’ve posted the recipe for chocolate caliente on Facebook.