Friday, 2 April 2010

Seven days with food (Or, make it last all month)

Fantastic! Next up in the Grit series, Living with elephants!

Now, assuming your four-year old does not stagger home from playgroup clutching a stomach injury due to the 15p the nursery spends on the nutritious midday offering, or does not need A&E treatment after the black eyes and plastic hammer dents around the head from the energetic playtime - and is still not effing and blinding so liberally about your late pick-up that you may have to put them on the naughty step for the next three years - your little kidlet might be in the right Spring holiday mood to enjoy a festschrift to food.

I recommend it. Lay aside all motherly pain-in-the-arse worries about 5-a-day, your guilt nutrition, and any fears about the food police inspecting Tinkertop's lunch box as an excuse to haul you off to parenting classes. With Grit's fantastic guide, kick your heels, ditch the diet, eat crap, and be free. All in the name of real life learning.

Word of caution: some things I take for granted, and it is only when people say Erm... that's not normal, Grit, that I wonder. Like, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger always serve themselves with food. I never serve them. If I do, it is a punishment for serious violation of rule, like RULE 1: Food is sharing and social. END of RULES.

So the time one of the little animals spat at the table? Quick and instant dismissal to another room with a plate of spaghetti. Judgement is swift and YOU DO NOT SPIT AT MY TABLE.

That said, the instances of rule violation are rare, and I have three fantastic, beautiful creatures who serve themselves sensibly, enjoy food, sit and talk over lunch, laugh, have a go at green, say thank you, and leave an empty plate. (I have failed in that they are not dragging themselves to shop at midnight, then next day preparing, cooking, waiting, clearing up, and serving me with chilled Pinot Noir, but I'm working on it.)

Now, take the benefit of Grit's experience. These are my guiding kid/food principles, and if they give you ideas, then I am happy.

1. Anything goes. We are vegetarian/wannabe vegan; those boundaries means pig's eyeballs and goat arse, out. Apart from dead animal and parts thereof, we try anything. Once. Really. Pineapple, peanut butter and mashed potato with accidental glitter? OK, sounds like lunch. Blame Heston Blumenthal.

2. Eat round the world. A favourite home educating project. For which read, find out about China, the beautiful countryside, the elegant writing, the poetic language, the sprightly fish, the dancing pandas ... do all that in a half-hearted manner so you can feel smug that evening when you send out for a takeaway.

They get leopards in China, don't they?

3. Make food shapes. Take every opportunity to make ships from pasta, trains from cabbage rolls stuffed with rice, clockfaces with vegetables, horses powered by sausages for legs. Once you start, you can't stop. Flowers, butterflies, trucks, space rockets... your toddler will join in! Elbow them out the way. Now it's serious, and you're competitive. I can rearrange your entire pantry to look like a map of Mexico City. Indeed, fruit and vegetable modelling is an art.

So crap it has to be labelled.

4. Model with mash. The alien offspring will soon know what it's eating and will scream after clapping eyes on the colour green. Or it will brain explode because it is all too horrible! LOOK! The tomato is TOUCHING the potato! So get this one in early and blind kids with colour. Mash up half a dozen piles of potato with the following: broccoli, red kidney bean, cheese, blueberries, beetroot, turmeric. Dollop it down in tempting mushy colour mouthfuls on the table to be scooped up and patted and belly stuffed. Truly disgusting and horribly pleasurable all at once. Make sure, while your kid is spreading goo all over their face, that you have a nice little salad and a half-bot of red from Waitrose.

5. How many colours? A favourite supper game. Pile white rice in mountainshape in middle of table. Put any colour food all around. Instructions are to paint a colour wheel. Does it matter if it comes from a tin? No. It won't kill them to eat tinned peaches (orange) red berries (red) blueberries (not blue) and green cabbage (yellow). You don't have to eat it. Put something of what you fancy round your whitericemountain. Black eyed beans with garlic dressing, roasted green peppers, baby tomatoes, rocket. That's more my taste.

6. Lie. I tell the children that the green bits in the stew are chopped herbs and they are delicious. When Squirrel gets suspicious, I throw in some real chopped herbs and lie some more. I am going to have some pissed off children when they read this. Really, I use chopped spinach in cubes from the freezer. But HA! I GOT AWAY WITH SPINACH FOR EIGHT YEARS, LADIES!

7. Serve it funny. Plates (paint them with tomato puree on the edges) napkins (fold them, add wiggly eyes and string, call them cats), napkin rings (curtain rings), home-made place settings (large cork tiles from the DIY shop and the kids paint them up), plus a home-made tablecloth (take an old one and get the kids to draw all over it with fabric pens). It all makes dinnertime a day long event. Round here, we call that fun. (Shut up and suffer it. These days pass too soon.)

8. Make shopping list books. Cut, fold and staple little notebooks to take to the shops. The kids can write shopping lists inside, or simply scribble all over them. Then you can interpret the scribble as onions or carrots or jam tarts. Whatever you want.

9. Make a food book. Add food words and pictures, let your offspring write in it alongside you, then take it shopping. To be honest, this is no help for your child but after two hours sleep I've found the food book quite a useful aide memoire. It stops me coming home from the weekly shop with three bottles of scotch and a bar of chocolate.

See? Handy, when you cannot remember why you are in Tesco in the first place

10. It's your turn. Let the kids take over the cooking, no matter what the age. Yes, I am still recovering from the fruit soup. Yet I still defend it! That's how far gone we are.

11. Let food be a celebration. I don't care whose celebration it is. Persian New Year? Let's celebrate that and lay the stuff on a tray. Next week? I'm sure there's a Hindi celebration. Yup. We could order a take away.

Suffering an education at Persian New Year

12. Go mad on what you fancy. Fruit salad. The gritlets consume vats of the stuff. They make their own. At age three, they went to the shops and I said Take whatever fruit you want! They did. I bit my knuckles and paid the £245 bill. The kids weighed it, butchered it, composed their own bowls of fruit salad, and scoffed it. We did that every week. After a few weeks of an overdraft, I suggested options to bring down the cost to £50. Now they are more responsive to seasons, airmiles, quality, selection. And still demand blueberries so let's burn up the atmosphere.

Cute, huh? Fruit salad at 35 quid a throw, what with the fresh raspberries and all

13. Fry it. Boil it. Bake it. Mash it. If you usually do something with your food, do the opposite. We fry fruit. Quite a lot. Fried bananas, fried pears, fried apples. Mandarin segments fresh from a tin. In butter with a little Satan's sugar, squeezed direct from his behind. Delicious.

14. Go childlike in John Lewis kitchen department. I discovered how the kitchen should look if you are aged four. That means wipe away the tears because I never had this stuff before, and now I own 150 food cutters, ring moulds, lolly sticks, ice cream maker, toasty machine, popcorn maker, jelly moulds, cake tins, heart-shaped muffin trays, sundae dishes and sixteen fruit salad bowls...

15. Don't stop until it crawls away. I am too mean to throw out food. Boiled potatoes are roast potatoes the next day. Lentil bake becomes sandwich spread. Stale bread is cut into cubes, sloshed over with olive oil, subjected to a twist of dried herbs, pepper and the salt of death, and shoved in the oven on high for 10 minutes. They are Tiger's crunchy favourite. Perhaps they remind her of the bones of small furry animals.

16. Make food a joint decision. Set the kids up browsing through a cook's blog and pick something. That way you can blog at the same time and pretend not to.

17. Be old fashioned. Leaf through cookbooks. We all have favourites? Mine are Mark Hix, Miriam Stoppard, (no, really!) the Australian Women's Weekly cookbooks and the old old cookbook we dragged from Northumberland.

18. Get the right Dahl. Shove off with the saucer eyes, Sophie. We want to eat the wallpaper.

19. Do all the rest. Visit a farm, grow your own, cook outside, eat at a restaurant. Do what you like, but don't make it guilty. Look, I can get to 20.

20. Craft it. Make food seasonal. Blow and decorate eggs. Stain them with tea, paint them, wrap them in string, how many ways with spring eggs are there? Unless you are vegan, obviously, and then you can look at pictures of battery hens and cry. If you are not vegan, not allergic to eggs, do not worship them, and cannot beat them, then you could join them and throw eggs at your four year old in a game of Catch! and see who cracks first: you or the egg.


A Modern Mother said...

I lie all the time. I grate carrot and say it is cheese! Great ideas grit, will try some of them.

Cathy at NurtureStore said...

A fabulous list Grit! Especially like No. 18. And of course we can tell it's a caterpillar. I'm all for the odd lie too. Mushroom-hating daughter ate 2 veggie burgers stuffed full of them last night.

Rachel M. said...

Can you get Plantains over there? They are awesome fried up; a favorite Cuban treat.

Playing by the book said...

A really super, happy, enthusiastic, inspiring list! I love it!

sharon said...

Genius ideas. Have tried quite a few of them over the ears. Word of caution about the making pictures from the food - my elder more 'artistic' son then refused point blank to eat any of it and insisted it was ART! However, the chopped spinach 'herbs' worked so well that now they both willingly eat the real fresh stuff in large quantities. We also had courgette and carrot fettuccini in a creamy cheese sauce.

Ceri said...

Holds hands up and admits to the spinach thang too!

LoopyNZ said...

I've just discovered your blog(s) and think you're quite insane and delightful and talented... I love your writing and your spirit, and I'm going to go to bed now with a big smile on my face :) Thank you!

deer baby said...

Fantastic! Just the inspiration I needed. Thanks for guiding me here!