One of the (seemingly limitless) anxieties of bringing up children is worrying about what they are eating, or, rather, not eating. I have two children, seven and nine, ages that might be expected to mark a period of transition out of the constricted range of the all-beige diet (fries, nuggets, cheesy pizza) and into fresh vistas of vivid reds and greens (that is, food with vegetables). Or maybe not.
For Eat This!, I included a chapter called "Why There Isn't a Kids' Food Chapter" which details the work of Robert Surles, universally known as Chef Bobo, executive chef at the Calhoun School in New York City. Believing that young palates can appreciate good food, Chef Bobo cooks very grown-up meals for children at the school from the second grade and up. Essentially, he rejects the idea of the kids' menu. It follows that we shouldn't be line cooks for our children. Nor should we eat what they're having just because we're too tired to make three different dinners. No, the kids should eat what we're having.
Meanwhile, at my house, we're often likely to take the line of least resistance. We will make a second dinner. We will sometimes make a third dinner too. We do also patronize on occasion restaurants of the "fast food" persuasion, including the one with the golden arches and the famous fries. At the same time, proceeding with caution, we try to introduce new and different foods knowing that we may have to bring them to the table ten or fifteen or twenty times before they'll be tasted. Thus did my son become a devoted fan of peas (it's peas with everything at our house). And somewhere along the line, our daughter took a shine to smoked salmon (Scottish). A pricey predilection to be sure. She also relishes a good plate of fried calamari. We try to expand culinary horizons in good humor, avoiding coercion and phrases like, "You'll eat it, that's all there is." Any parenting that involves straining the tendons in the neck is unlikely to be successful.
Nowadays, when my family goes out to dinner, our son (the older one) orders from the grown-up menu. Pulled pork and roasted chicken are the proteins of the moment. Usually we're eating at diners and family restaurants so the financial consequences are relatively limited. On a recent vacation, for dinner at a very attractive and well-liked Italian restaurant in Southern California, for a special treat, both of them took Ã la carte entrees and the check was elevated into the hundred-and-something territory usually reserved for Mom and Dad's date nights. The portions were immense. The two of them ate and ate and barely made a dent but still, it felt like progress from eating off the kid's menu.
The greatest joy I had working on my book was going on what came to be known in the family as "eating trips." Sometimes the four of us would make a foray but often it was me and my son. We visited some of the great New York City pizza joints: Grimaldi's and Totonno's in Brooklyn; Patsy's and Lombardi's in Manhattan. Last week, when Mom was out of town, we three went to Patsy's in East Harlem. My son and I enjoyed our first eating trip here and I've been wanting to take his sister to share the experience.
In the restaurant at Patsy's, a whole thin-crust pie straight out of the super-hot coal-fired oven is $11.00. What a deal! Turn the pie over and check for the charring on the crust. Sam wanted extra mozzarella on the pie the kids were sharing, and I ordered anchovies and basil on mine. We made pretty short work of the pizzas and then a piece of the lovely Italian cheesecake. How was the pizza? "Tastes beautiful," said Sam. Just so. I am looking forward to years of exploring food with my kids, confident that in spite of everything, they will develop a discerning palate, one that appreciates Serrano ham as well as bologna. Not that I want to rush the two of them through these years of childhood and their odd array of favored tastes. A couple of days after our pizza run Lindsay asked me, "Dad, do you ever go on eating trips for ice cream?" Oh, you bet.
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Ian Jackman has written and co-written numerous books, including the New York Times bestseller Stickin' by James Carville. Jackman worked at a major New York publishing house and was Managing Director of the Modern Library.