No Two Ways About It, That’s Strange. (Part 4)

The following facts about me are important pre-requisite knowledge for reading this particular blog. Most of you will know at least two out of three, so don’t get excited.

I was a vegetarian from birth until I was 18 years old.
I have always been strictly Kosher.
I am an infuriatingly and nonsensically bad eater.

So you can probably see where I am going with this. My attitudes to food are not exactly adventurous. I generally don’t order things in restaurants unless I know every ingredient inside it, and can see as few of them as possible. Even then, I bother waiters all around north west london on a regular basis with orders such as, “I’ll have the pesto and olive pasta, without the pesto, and with lots of cheese. And y’know what? No olives.”

Generally, my tastes haven’t changed since I was a kid, with a few notable exceptions. I now force myself to try new things once in a while, I now eat salad as long as it hasn’t seen a cut up tomato, (how hard is it to leave the cherry tomatoes whole?!) and I’m an unashamed carnivore, much to my mothers dismay.

But (and here comes my point) in absolutely no world, no matter how adventurous an eater I was, or however irreligious I became, or however little I thought of the animal kingdom, could I ever fathom people who trek to a specialist candy store to purchase the below.

Sour cream and onion Crickets. For those intrigued rather than repulsed, they also offer Chilli, and Sea Salt flavours.

These are basically the dare-devils answer to a bag of Revels. My advice is the same for both. I would recommend not munching through a box at the cinema. Nothing worse than chomping down on an orange treat and discovering its a sneaky coffee flavoured horror. I would imagine its similar when you think you’re getting a delicious beetle and accidentally begin chewing a centipede. Imagine how terrible that would be.

This one is by far the oddest. After all, I obviously don’t know what insects taste like, and for all I know they’re delicious. (But if you’re gonna tell me they’re ‘just like chicken’ my advice would be, eat chicken, it’s not nearly £4 a bite.)
But this isn’t even really eating an insect! It’s just a worm, inside an ordinary lollipop. So you basically are eating an extortionately expensive chupa chup, with a bug in the middle. Do you crunch down on the worm when u get near the end? Is the idea to try and keep it whole?

I don’t get it. I don’t even mean from a disgusting point of view, because I’m in the ‘animals are animals’ camp. There really is no difference in my mind between eating a cow or eating a ‘cute little rabbit’ if kosher wasn’t a factor for me. I was more shocked by the deceit than the ingredients of Tesco’s horse burgers for example.

I just don’t understand why anyone would spend a fortune to eat a bug. They can’t be filling, I don’t really believe that you can taste anything under all the chocolate or seasoning they apparently need to be palatable, and they cost about ten times the price of a regular, delicious, non creepy crawling twix bar.

So I suppose it must be a status thing. Much in the same way that men swig beer, or teenagers down tequila shots, if you have enough wasps maybe they go from horrible to bearable to quite nice really, with the added benefit that you can pat yourself on the back for being part of an elite few, part of the latest fad, part of the new sensation.

Must make you feel bad when you’re watching Pinocchio though. “Always let your conscience be your snack” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, after all.

Restaurant Etiquette: The “No-no’s”

Kids in restaurants. I witnessed a spirited debate on this topic recently, and as always, would love to get my two cents in. (By the by, do Americans say two pennies in?)

It is a sometimes unfortunate fact of life, that once you have children, you are never alone. They follow you to the bathroom, they share your breakfast, and can generally be found clinging to your legs as you attempt to continue with life as you vaguely remember it. So it makes sense, that unless you are surrendering completely to the whims of the tiny humans, they will sometimes need to be in an eating establishment with you. However, if you are there, chances are that the eatery in question is open. Which means that other people are there also. And therein lies the problem.

Because you know how adorable it is when your LO makes that high pitched squealing noise that he just learned this week, and you’re busy storing the exact words she is gabbling to a stranger at the next table so you can recount the episode to your other half that evening, and you’re definitely super proud of your kid for getting almost a whole spoonful of that macaroni cheese into their mouth and swallowed.. But everyone else? Here’s a secret. They want you to go home.

Unless the restaurant in question is one of those where your seat comes with crayons to draw on the tablecloth, and there is a mini play area in the corner, it is not child friendly enough. Even if it is cheap, or not particularly fancy, that does not equal “Oh, my kids can run free in here.”

Some people are blessed with the kind of children who will sit at a table, or be placated with food for long periods of time. This means that you can often squeeze a quick lunch with a friend into your day. Congratulations. You are in the minority. For those of us who dont, restaurants are simply not an option most of the time. When with our kids, we prefer to meet our friends at the library, or walking around a shopping mall, or at one of our own houses.

I’m going to give all the parents I see in restaurants with their kids the benefit of the doubt, and say that you must all be blessed with those former types of children. (You’re not.) But I know, that even the best behaved of children have off days, or days when they have ants in their pants. As a parent, this should not be a surprise to you. Theyre kids. Why would they want to sit and listen to you gossip and catch up with a friend? Why would they want to people watch from a highchair when there are so many new things to intefere with, only metres away?

In my opinion, as you obviously cannot pick and choose when your kid decides to throw a tantrum, you only have two choices when all hell breaks loose. You can either quickly pay, apologise to your friend and leave the restaurant, or you can excuse yourself with your kid for a few minutes, and take them on a walk outside the door, or for a run around in the mall play area, or whatever is nearby, and then try again in a while. Although it may seem obvious, here are just a few of the things you CANT do. (All of which I have seen so many times in public that it seems to have become the norm.)

  • Let them ‘cry it out.’
    Babies in restaurants are notoriously difficult. You thought they would sleep, you thought the bottle would tire them out, you thought they would fall asleep on the walk there.. Disaster, they are still awake, and don’t want to be lying in a pram while you stuff ravioli in your mouth as fast as you can. People around you are paying for the environment as well as the food. Unfortunately, whether it means your food gets cold or not, you should be rocking the pram keeping your baby quiet, or outside the shop, apologies once again to the friend, soothing them properly. Crying it out techniques are for home, where only your own ears are being assailed.
  • Let them ‘run off some steam’
    How how how can you sit there talking to your lunch date while your toddlers are running in between other peoples tables and chairs? I don’t care if it is a Michelin starred eatery or a Pizza Express, this is not appropriate restauraunt behaviour. If they need to move about, it is your responsibility to be with them at all times, and not ‘watching from across the room’ with them, but actually physically standing holding their hand or looking after them. After all, I’m pretty sure you would be the first to complain if there was an accident.
  • Let them ‘go chat to strangers’
    I’m sure your daughter is gorgeous, and very intelligent for her age. But if I’d come out to talk to a toddler, and hear her sing me twinkle twinkle little star, I would be scouting out the local playground, not ordering steak and chips. Obviously it is cute for a minute or two when a child smiles or waves or repeats something funny, but again, your kid = your responsibility, you should be removing her from my table ASAP. Apart from anything else, weirdo’s and child snatchers have to eat sometime too.
  • Let them come out to dinner
    If it is 9pm at night, of COURSE they are being little terrors. They are exhausted! Time and time again I see children who sometimes arent even old enough to know whats flying, sitting around a crowded and noisy restaurant table with their famillies, late into the evening, when they obviously should be asleep. Special occasion or otherwise, there are always babysitters available, and your child should be in bed right now.

There are many other problems which are certain to arise when taking kids out to eat, and we cant pre-empt them all. Even the most organised mum, who has brought extra snacks, crayons, entertainment, a sleepy kid, an extra bottle, or all of the above, can be caught out. That lack of freedom to just socialise when you want, just comes with the territory of motherhood. When looking across the room at a flustered parent, trying desperately to soothe an angry and bored toddler, I don’t blame her, it’s really hard!

Who I do blame however, is the parent who doesnt realise it is simply time to go. The one who is willfully ignoring her running or shouting progeny, or spouting one-liners such as “Oh, he’s just a kid, what do you expect?”

You’re right. He is just a kid. But contrary to your behaviour, you’re actually an adult.

I’d love to hear opinions on this one! Agree/Disagree? Any other inappropriate restaurant behaviour I’ve missed?

Genetically Hungry

R has a new morning routine. He finishes his milk, crawls (FYI babies, apparently much cooler than walking) into the kitchen, opens the cupboard, and passes me the box of croutons. Then he moans at me and points at it.

He isnt hungry, he’s just finished his milk. I havent shown him the croutons, not since about 3 days ago when I (Bad mum alert) gave him about 7 to keep him busy while I finished the washing up. And yet, the past few mornings, he has done exactly as listed above, and gets seriously annoyed when I refuse to accomodate his breakfast wishes.

I’ve said before, how my own lack of willpower when it comes to eating habits I’ve always blamed on my household growing up. I have so many unresolved issues about food and health because of things I was told growing up and choices I was allowed to make too young. This time, I can’t blame the upbringing. I’m not just saying that because it’s me doing it, I genuinely think I’ve been doing a good job. R has three meals a day, and normally a snack midmorning and after his nap. The snack is usually fruit, and sometimes cheerios, a baby cereal bar, a breadstick/cracker, or some cheese. And unless he eats whatever it is ravenously, I’m pretty sure he knows that one snack is all he is getting.

So why is a box of crackers being thrown at my kneecaps multiple times a day?

If I’ve been doing all the right things, surely he shouldnt be craving food for foods sake. Discussing it with C this morning, we agree that chances are, even right after a huge meal, there are certain snacks that R will always accept. Not only that, but an unlimited amount. I once found him delightedly surrounded by a fallen (or knocked over) box of breadsticks, merrily stuffing as many in his mouth as possible. He is often found trying to eat through various plastics and foil packets. Where did this gluttonous streak come from? Is it nothing to do with upbringing, and just the lot you draw from birth? And if that’s true, perhaps I’ve been blaming my upbringing all this time, when really my bad eating habits were inescapable.

There are obviously pros to having a baby who eats. I don’t have to worry about his weight, I dont have to sit coaxing him to take ‘Just one more bite’, I dont have to plan nutritious meals around the 5 items of food he will deign to swallow. I can even generally sit in a coffee shop or a restaurant with a friend for up to forty minutes while he enjoys the various courses I’ve brought for lunch.

But maybe I’ve also been enjoying it too much, and not looking at the cons. More than anything, I want him to have a sensible approach to eating. When boys suffer with weight and unhealthy eating, I think they do so even more than girls. And while most men are known for being able to shed excess weight effortlessly, we all know that there are some for whom the opposite is true. And with the amount that my son has clearly inherited from me, I don’t think I’ll relax until I see with my own eyes that his metabolism is his fathers.

[ Just as a side note, what IS it with most men and losing weight?
Sunday: Hm, my clothes are a bit tight, I think I’ll have to cut back.
Monday: No, I won’t finish this whole cake right now.
Tuesday: That’s better. ]

Maybe I’m worrying too much, and with a few nudges in the right direction, he will learn that we eat when we’re hungry, and never to excess, and that snacking is not a way to pass the time when bored, or just because you’ve seen something you like. Or maybe I’ll be blogging in a decade or so’s time about my teenage boy who still brings me seventeen fruit cups a day to open for him.

How many calories are in this asprin?

A little bit of everything in moderation. This time of year, with new years resolutions flying out of everyone’s mouths carelessly, it is easy to get carried away with goals and hopes for the year ahead. My new years resolution started in November, with my healthy eating and getting into better shape kick, and it’s actually going really well.

However, I started it because I felt very strongly that I didnt want my son growing up with the same bad habits as I have. Whatever the reasoning, my own mother didnt have those worries. She talks of how my grandmother had very little idea about calorie content or healthy choices, perhaps because she grew up in wartime, or after losing her family in the Holocaust, simply had more important things to worry about. A story my mum loves to tell is how her mother would cut a large slice of cake, and offer it to one of her family, Upon being told it contained far too many calories and was bound to make the eater put on copious weight if consumed, she would lift the cake in her hand, testing the physical weight, and announce “Light as a feather!”

Amusing. Two generations later, not so much. My own family cannot plead ignorance. We are beaten to death with statistics of obesity in this country and abroad, it is hammered into us how important getting your ‘5-a-day’ is, and we are all aware that if Calories > Exercise = Not fitting into that new dress.

We have the knowledge. My parents generation had it also, but somehow, in my case, it failed. I struggle with the same eating patterns as my mum does. When I grew up at home, it was perfectly acceptable to finish supper and then go decide what snack to munch on throughout the evening. A packet of biscuits was rarely left unfinished once opened, same with a stack of pringles or a box of chocolates. One was never enough.

And so my ‘healthy eating’ or weight loss kick, or whatever you want to dub it, is more complicated than everything in moderation. Because that very idea battles a lifetime of bad habits that are far harder to shift than my weighted hula hoop. Indulge in one doughnut on the first night of Chanukah, and I’ve found myself craving one each day. Open the snack cupboard which I’ve ignored for 6 weeks, and suddenly I find myself being gravitationally pulled in its direction each time I enter the kitchen. For me, going cold turkey is the only way to keep it up. And once I do that, it becomes easy.

I stop thinking about junk food and eating between meals, and focus my attention on what to have for breakfast lunch and dinner instead. If I know that food for the day stops at 9pm, I’m not even envious when I see C reach for the minstrels bag at 9.30. It’s about changing my mindset.

And with it, I think I’m changing the way I feed my son. I’m much more reluctant to reach for the cheerios because he’s being a pain. I don’t hand out treats every time I go in the kitchen with him. I focus on making sure he has what he needs at mealtimes, which include a mid morning and mid afternoon snack, and because he doesnt see me eating at other times, he doesnt want anything either.

Regimented? Yes. And I’m not saying it would work for everyone. Some people need to know they can have that 2 squares of chocolate at the end of the day, or make the exception because it’s a special occasion. But those people tend to have healthy eating habits ingrained already, and have just overdone it over the festive season, or had a change in situation which led to less activity or attention to meals. Not to belittle their efforts, but I think it’s a much easier battle, because it’s only against the food they eat, rather than the lifestyle and habits which theyve adopted.

I hope that because of what I’m trying to do, that when my own grandchildren start their ‘healthy eating kick’, new years resolution circa 2052, they are those type of people.

Ever eaten an entire packet of biscuits in one sitting?

Eat to live, or live to eat? A fun question that is posed regarding food. Do we eat simply to gain energy and get through the day, or do we love food so much that it becomes something to look forward to and revel in.

I love food. I love to cook, present, adapt and eat. I complain about the limited kinds (rather than amount) of kosher restaurants, I sigh with jealousy at the volume of hechshered american products.

I find myself so strongly on the ‘live to eat’ side of the argument, that I cant really see where the other side are even coming from. What, so you suddenly notice you’re hungry at random intervals in the day and find yourself a meal? You don’t use herbs or seasonings because it doesnt matter what things taste like? You dont have favourite meals that you get excited for?

I try and make sure that R has a varied and fun (as well as healthier than mine has ever been in my life) mix of foods. He has three big meals a day, and up to two snacks, and from what I can tell so far, with a few exceptions, he has joined his parents in the ‘live to eat’ camp. Perhaps more so than us, as I don’t remember a time that I needed tears to express just how much a fruit cup meant to me.

But I want him not just to have a healthy diet, but also a healthy attitude to food. And this I find harder to teach. As much as I’m so glad he enjoys to eat, and want to encourage his wide variety of tastes, I want to make sure that when he is ready to choose his own food, he makes sensible choices. Because really, neither ‘eat to live’ or ‘live to eat’ could be called a sensible choice. And one of the struggles I’ve inherited from my own gene pool, is maintaining a balance of not loving food too much.

There were many things that C and I discussed while I was pregnant, things we wanted to teach our son, things we wanted to begin or stop before he was born, so that he would never know any different. Having a child forces you not just to look at what you want from your marriage, but what you want from your family, and more importantly, what you want your own kids to want from their family. Making sure that your important values are imbibed in them from a young age, makes it so much more likely that what you care about is a no-brainer for them one day, and especially that your struggles are not the same for your children.

So I’m surprised it took me this long to realise that our unhealthy attitude to mealtimes and eating would one day rub off on him. It’s natural. If we are constantly grazing and snacking, and we cant watch a TV program without a bowl of something to nibble on, how can we expect him to keep his eating to breakfast, lunch and dinner. If we dont have the patience for cooking, and so grab a chunk of cake to tide us over, that will only be seen as normal for him when he is able to make his own choices about food. Putting a healthy mix of foods on his highchair every day is not enough, it’s learning by example that matters in the long run.

And so, a new eating plan commences. Food? Yes. And lots of delicious things included. But at mealtimes, and not late at night.. Healthy for us, Healthy for R, and Healthy for our future.

Wish me luck!