Friday, 23 May 2014

The reluctant cook

My first attempt at Spanokopita today involved random ingredients in random quantities and a very determined sidekick in a Postman Pat apron that has seen better days. After two broken eggs, a pastry brush rammed through my last crucial sheets of delicate filo, much wailing and gnashing of teeth on both our parts, I was just about still talking to him when the pie made it into the oven. Phew!

Remembered it was in the oven on the cusp of brown to burnt. WIN.  The boy then ripped the top off when my back was turned.  LOSE.
This, I have to admit, was a relatively rare foray into unchartered cuisine. I really like Greek food but gone are the days of experimenting in the kitchen...firstly because someone small usually has an apron on and wants to help "mix mix" before I've even decided what to make. And then said small person and their sibling is very likely to refuse to eat whatever we have jointly managed to scramble together amidst a chaos of egg shells, flour and someone eating the butter, because they have remembered what is in it. Can you hear me screaming inside?? 

Once upon a time I quite liked cooking. I'm not a foodie, don't get me wrong. I don't know anything about chickpea flour or the right kind of asparagus. But I liked crafting some vaguely mediterranean cuisine and indulging in a spot of baking on a Saturday afternoon. More for fun, you know, a leisure activity. But give me an evening when I'm tired then I'm happy with tea and toast on the sofa. 

But with kids you have to FEED them something proper, THREE TIMES A DAY PLUS SNACKS. And I'm sure in some houses, it's all very easy. If you are French or were smart enough to embrace baby-led weaning from the get-go, then rumour has it fussy eating doesn't exist for you. Hurray. 

But for me, fussy eating is the bloody bane of my life. At some point in the distant past I spent time making lentil stews and mini quiches for my first darling infant...but after countless rejections, my brief role as mother cook extraordinaire has come to a standstill. Hours of negotiation over a vegetable in the wrong place has killed any spark or zest for cooking something interesting. 

Separation is key.  No hotpots, no lasagnes, no soups. It appears that my kids trust me about as much as they would trust a shark! If they can't see every single item on the plate in it's own little demarcated zone, forget it. Hence the old trusty English favourites. Bangers, mash and peas. 

My other half, in contrast, is a proper foodie and actually spends time thinking about nice things to eat and looking at recipes and food magazines. Whipping up delicious dips for barbecues or three course dinners on the weekend. Idiotically, this makes me feel massively inadequate. On the pedestal of motherhood, isn't the woman supposed to be the nurturer, the provider? Beyond breastfeeding, my children seem to steadfastly fight off this nurturing unless they want malted milks to dip in my cup of tea. 

I know I am not alone. Many parents end up cooking several different meals - for the parents, for the children, for the one that has allergies or the one who only eats things that are white. In my house we have so many different ethical standpoints, intolerances, likes and dislikes between the four of us that it is getting to the point where there is hardly anything everyone will eat. Can't help thinking it wouldn't be like this in the old days. Eat what you're given or starve.

There must be hope out there. Jack Monroe's book arrived in the post yesterday. I haven't cooked anything from it yet but it looks great, mainly because all the recipes are quick and easy, seem to have about 5 or 6 cheap ingredients and are designed for her to eat with her young son. There is nothing worse to me than an exciting recipe that turns out to require 37 ingredients and a rare array of equipment, most of which are only available if you travel personally to a market in the country of origin. Jack Monroe's main tenet is that you can cook creatively on very little money, especially if you're prepared to bung in a tin of baked beans. Which I am.

Food is always an emotional issue and turning mealtimes into a battleground is probably storing up long term issues for the future. Holding guilt about not cooking well enough or not nourishing reluctant diners well enough is probably not going to do any of us any favours either. So, all I can say is, if your life is like this, keep trying. Good luck to you. And good luck to me. 


  1. I loved this article, Francesca, for its humour, insight and acknowledgement of some families' realities. I had been feeling somewhat aggrieved after the discussion the other evening so was gratified to read your blog! I chose not to follow the 'eat or starve' method that I was brought up with and I'm glad I have. It may take more time to allow for and respect children's choices over meals while also cooking different food for adults. But it means food is no longer a battleground. Ditto for us the 'separation ' of food items. I do complain about the drudgery side of cooking but it is just a fact of life and best accepted as such, which I mostly do. I've made my choices about how it works best within my family and don't like to be judged for it. I believe that bullying children over what and when to eat will cause more damage than compromising and doing it their way within reason. But I am allowed to moan about it, aren't I?

  2. Yes! I think it's always easier to judge from the outside looking in. All kids are different and sometimes you just have to pick your battles be it telly, ipads, food or whatever. Otherwise life would be constant nagging and bickering! We are doing a lot of "mezze" style eating at the moment - piling up the table with an array of bits, felafal, houmous, pitta, cucumber, sausages, fruit or whatever and everyone eats just what they fancy. Even if the kids end up just choosing sausage and bread at least they can see us eating other things and might occasionally give it a go!

    1. Love the sound of your 'mezze' - easy to prepare and nice and communal, will def give that a try. Anything to take the heat out of the kitchen, ha ha! Thanks again.