What Cooking Dinner For Your Kids Is Like: Expectations Vs. Reality

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In writing about being a person who has kids, I end up delving into all about the different ways I failed to live up to my own high expectations (and how my kids have failed to live up to the high expectations I unfairly set for them before they existed, and my partner, annnnd family life in general, annnnnnd life in general), but right now, I’m here to talk about a big one: food. Because let me tell you, what I imagined cooking dinner for kids would be like is not at all what the reality is in my house. Maybe it's idealistic and wonderful and perfect in other families' houses. When I hear about people serving their children and everyone else in the family just one meal, I cry a little. OK, I cry a lot. I like to believe that's an urban dinnertime myth.

I will fully admit to being one of those moms with the highest of hopes about what type of parent I would be when I first became pregnant: Wooden toys, cloth diapers, only organic food served, no sugar ever, and so on. I was going to eliminate all sorts of variables that could potentially negatively impact my child and cause problems for her down the line.

Well, the road to hell is paved with macrobiotic intentions, as the saying goes.

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There was a short period when my daughter and son ate what I fed them. We call that “The Golden Age” in our house — now, there is none of that happening. Not without bribing, cajoling, pleading, and yelling. Dinner time is fun. At least, that’s what I tell myself as I’m rocking back and forth in the corner of the kitchen, with my wine in hand. And while I'm sipping that wine to bring me back to sanity (I don't need your judgment), I often think about the differences between what my pre-baby self thought family dinnertimes would be like once I got to that stage of my life, and what they are actually like now that they're here...

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What Everyone Eats

Expectation

I had visions of sitting down with my family and serving out a wonderful meal of delicious and healthy food, because that’s what families do, right?

Reality

OK, I will say that I try to serve one meal all the time. I always offer and coerce my kids into trying at least a bite of the meal I made, but beyond that? A hardboiled egg, a few cucumber slices, and some crackers is likely what they’ll be willing to eat. And at this point, even that is a win.

Balanced Meals

Expectation

I adore vegetables, I love all kinds of grains, I've tried a wide variety of meats; I'm pretty easy to please, I like to think. So I thought to myself, as long as I’m offering a diverse choice of foods, the kids will get a taste for them and happily eat All The Things. That’s how it works, obviously.

Reality

Let’s see, plain pasta, plain chicken and, if I’m lucky, cucumber. But no skin, Mommy!! Beige food, all the way.

Eating Vegetables

Expectation

OK, to be fair, I can actually get several vegetables into my children. "Several" is currently higher than the number of veggies going into the bodies of some of my friends’ kids. But I truly thought I’d be able to serve more than just carrots and cucumbers.

Reality

There are some days when I actually try to convince myself that a tablespoon of tomato sauce is equal to a serving of vegetables. And then I cry a little more.

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A Wide Variety Of Foods

Expectation

I eat a diverse diet. Like I said, I love my vegetables. Romanesco, spaghetti squash, bison, chia... You name it, I’ll try to incorporate it into a meal. I kind of assumed that exposing my children early on to this diversity would equal a willingness to try different foods, and hopefully more enjoyment of those foods.

Reality

*Sad, desperate, resigned laughter* Yeah, no. And if, for some bizarre reason, there’s a time when one of my kids actually likes something outside their normal taste in food? They will vehemently deny it ever happened, the next time I try and serve it.

Homemade, Healthy Treats

Expectation

Coconut flour muffins, delicious green smoothies, homemade granola bars. They’re all so much better for my kids, and so much less expensive in the long run. I would, of course, constantly have snacks like that on hand.

Reality

My children hated all of the snacks I just mentioned, when I made them for the family. Hell, my daughter hated my homemade baby food. Goldfish, animal cookies, and popcorn are about as healthy as treats get around here.

Eating Together As A Family

Expectation

This is family time, and we will all sit together at the table, talking about our day. It's when we bond!

Reality

I can count the number of times we've all sat together for more than three minutes on one hand. Generally, dinner involves both kids running around the house, playing, screaming, avoiding the table and the food on it. My husband and I each pick a kid and chase them down with forkfuls of whatever they don't gag on, and if we're lucky, there's enough time to grab a few forkfuls of our own (likely burned) dinner, before putting the kids to bed.

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Cooking Time

Expectation

I am a cooking goddess, and need the kitchen to myself in order to prepare the lavish meal I have in mind, so that I can show my family how much I love them. My partner and kids will leave me alone and take care of themselves, while I create tonight's masterpiece.

Reality

HA. Yeah, right. It's basically a game of "how many times can we run around mom's feet while she's cooking before she falls into a hot pot of sauce and/or gets overwhelmed by the chaos and throws a feminist rant at her partner about how she shouldn't have to cook dinner just because she's a woman (even though he totally offers to cook and she really just wants to do it)." It's a fun game.

Cleaning Up

Expectation

I will "clean as I cook" and my partner will promptly do the remaining dishes after we finish eating, at which point we will both collapse, full-bellied and content, with the dishwasher humming in the background and the kitchen sparkling clean.

Reality

Neither of us will end up cleaning anything. We will both pretend the giant mess in the kitchen does not exist until the morning, when we wake to find a cat licking last night's meal off a dish on the counter. We will use all of this as an excuse to order pizza tonight.

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