Today at lunch, I stopped by a Whole Foods that just recently opened up down the street from my office. I was thrilled to see it finally open after more than two years of planning on their part. The Whole Foods near my house is a bit small, and I’m always having to run to Safeway afterwards. This is more convenient.
I ran in intending to pick up milk and something for lunch and walked out with a huuuuuuge veggie burrito from the burrito bar, a bottle of iced tea, a big honkin’ soft pretzel from the bakery (smothered in pesto and Parmesan cheese; mmmm, healthy), licorice, a tin of Rescue Remedy Pastilles and some gum. And $30 poorer.
The store itself is enormous! I have mentioned before that my 7-year-old son has ADHD and that I think I might have it too. I wasted so much time in the store just staring, slack-jawed, at all the shiny new displays and the long, wide aisles that I had to get back to work quickly before locating the much-needed milk.
As I devoured my super burrito, I began to think about nutrition and my deficiencies in this area. My actual knowledge of healthy eating isn’t bad (I believe), but my execution of that knowledge, well, sucks. Blame it on long hours at work – I always seem to get home just after my husband has fed everyone – or on simple lack of cooking practice, but I frequently peer into my fridge, freezer or the bottom of an empty cereal box and mentally shut down.
I suspect my upbringing may be the true culprit here. When I was a kid, my mom worked the graveyard shift, running the intensive care unit at the local hospital, and my dad often prepared the meals. Which, unfortunately for my younger brother and me, meant dry peanut butter sandwiches with no jelly, buttermilk drunk straight, pork chops that could pound nails, overcooked spaghetti with mushy boiled carrots in the sauce and/or Shit on a Shingle most nights and weekends.
Do I denigrate my dad for his seeming lack of cooking skills? Not really. He was just a guy from Waco, TX who grew up in the 50s and for whom this was decent cuisine. He was brought up in an era in which men frequently did not cook for their families and was a bachelor for a while before he and my mom met. He is also almost completely unaware of any kind differing food preferences among his relatives.
The story goes that, when I was a toddler, my word for a soft boiled egg was “cocobono” (I could swear my mom told me once it was a Cherokee word but I could be remembering it wrong). One day while my dad was home with me and my mom was at work, I asked for “cocobono”. My mom had told him ahead of time what this meant, and he’d said something like “Yeah, yeah, I know” but on this particular day he could not figure out what the hell I wanted, and proceeded to offer hot cocoa, Cocoa Crispies, chocolate chip cookies and various other chocolately foods before having my mom paged at work to ask, frantically, “What does this kid want??” My mom straightened things out, the egg was made and all was right in the world.
I also suspect that the food of my upbringing may have had something to do with my eventually becoming vegetarian. To my parents, when they both were eating meat as well, a good steak was always well-done. No pink whatsoever in any part of the meat, and if there was a coating of black all around, well, we are all carbon-based life forms and a little charring never killed anyone. Chicken and any kind of pork were also cooked similarly.
By the time I was in high school, I not only was into animal rights – I used to send $20 to the ASPCA every month or so – but I was just starting to get a little grossed out by meat. Vainly, I also thought giving up red meat, with all the gristle and fat drippings, would help me lose weight, which I’d been trying to do almost constantly since I was 11.
I announced to my parents when I was 16 that I was no longer eating red meat. They were appalled. My then-boyfriend’s mom kept trying to get me to “just have one little bite” of her hamburger casserole but I held my ground. Then, I gave up pork. And most kinds of fish. When I got pregnant, I gave up shellfish. Then, five years ago when I was reading about poultry farming and the more disgusting aspects of cattle raising practices for a class I was taking at the time, I gave up eating anything with eyes at all.
So I now have a second-grader who – as far as I know – has never tasted a chicken nugget (though he has had fish sticks) and who does not usually care for mac ‘n’ cheese or grilled cheese sandwiches but who absolutely loves tofu and who has had a salad with dinner several times. Like other kids though, he loves candy and cookies, and he has gone from being a somewhat adventurous eater when he was a baby to an extremely picky kid. He and I are always negotiating how many bites of “real food” he has to have before he can have any dessert. When he’s at school, he rarely eats more than just a few nibbles of his lunch and the list of things he won’t eat while at school seems to grow by the day: pb&j, pizza, pasta of any kind (though he will eat the last two while at home; pb&j only occasionally).
On the nights that I do actually have to come up with something for dinner for him and myself, I often end up falling back on something I know he’ll eat, which currently includes pad thai, cereal (certain kinds; usually Honey Nut Cheerios or Gorilla Munch), yogurt, certain kinds of soup, plain rice, rice cakes, bagels and cream cheese, mushrooms, corn on the cob, popcorn, broccoli or cauliflower (raw only), baby carrots (raw only), lettuce, fresh baby spinach, pickles, Snap Pea Crisps, edamame, hummus, certain brands of veggie burgers or veggie dogs, cheese quesadillas from Taco Bell only, bean burritos with no cheese, rice, guacamole or salsa, toast, cheese and crackers, Goldfish, plain cheese or mushroom pizza, certain kinds of pasta and, of course, tofu. On his no-no list are tomatoes and eggs among other foods.
Keeping those restrictions in mind, once again I find myself peering into that fridge, freezer or empty cereal box and audibly sighing just before my head explodes.