Last week, The Terror Tots unanimously declared that they prefer School’s meatballs to mine. Despite the fact that my own hand-rolled meatylicious balls, coated in hand-pressed super-six, hidden vegetable ragout, haven’t gone down so well of late, I hadn’t anticipated the need for a vote and I certainly hadn’t expected to fail so miserably. And what an epic Mum Fail this was. To make matters worse, upon further interrogation, it seems that the School’s meatballs, whose bland taste and dry texture make them all the more appealing, are not their only preferred meal choice. Apparently, the School’s baked bean pastie with a double carbohydrate hit of chips and pasta is also a firm favourite. Not to mention Dutch Roll in gravy with chipped potatoes – a subtle adaptation on the twice-per-week Deep Fried Chip, plus an extra side of Dutch Courage (because we all bloody need it). Now let’s be frank – it’s not hard to make a meal taste better than a School equivalent, but surely it is nigh on impossible to make a meal taste worse? And now, after years of denial, my worst fears had been confirmed. I had no choice other than to accept this deep and cutting personal insult. My Number One Mum Goal had been pared, minced, diced and sliced to within an inch of its life. There was little hope of The Terrors ever eating a proper meal again.
In truth, I had given up on School Dinners long before Jamie Oliver had declared war on them by condemning Turkey Twizzlers to the depths of Fried Food Hell. But, I had always been somewhat more optimistic surrounding the success of my own home-cooking. After all, in my Mother Earthly role as FTM, what else am I to do with my time, other than devote it to researching new recipes, planning, prepping and producing perfectly balanced, nutritious and wholesome home-cooked meals, for well-behaved children whose impeccable table manners and humble gratitude precede them? And what else am I to expect from said children, having weaned each one by the book, rearing them on a multi-coloured array of luminescent purées, from beetroot, to squash, to pea, replacing evil sugary snacks and teeth-rotting juice, with softly steamed vegetable batons and cooled boiled water? By the age of two, it was presumed that The Terrors would have a diverse and mature taste palate, comfortable with korma, sold on sweet and sour, even excited by edamame. And by School age, with a carefully balanced, rotating meal-plan in operation, serving up home-made BBQ meatballs and rice on Mondays, Thai salmon stir-fry and noodles on Tuesdays, warming country vegetable soup topped with melted cheese and crusty roll on Wednesdays, tasty tuna pasta bake and raw veggie sticks on Thursdays, roast chicken with all the trimmings on Fridays and fresh fruit faces for pudding, what could possibly go wrong? It seems I had a lot to learn about children and their eating habits.
Make food fun, they said! Make it interesting, colourful, vary it in texture and taste, they all proclaimed! Sod that. Apparently the only thing fun and interesting about my cooking is playing dodgeball with my meatballs, Jenga with my veggie sticks and five aside with my Five-a-Day. Who cares about colour, when instead of a brightly coloured display of freshly steamed julienne vegetables, you can have a plateful of deep-fried yellow shapes, in the form of smiles, nuggets and fingers? And which child appreciates texture and taste, when instead of topping their shepherds pie with fluffy, creamed mounds of melt-in-the-mouth mash, they prefer to deconstruct it and douse their meat in a rich concentrate of tomato, distilled vinegar and fructose, AKA tomato ketchup? Even Mummy-Made adaptations of frozen favourites don’t get past these clever little buggers. Surely no-one can resist a hand-minced double steak burger, with sun-ripened tomato relish, 3-week pickled gherkins, hand-cut, triple-cooked chunky chips and a home-made brioche bun? Or how about bite-size chunks of succulent chicken breast, coated and baked in fresh seasoned breadcrumbs, served with sweet potato wedges and a side of shredded carrot in a light home-made mayonnaise? And don’t tell me that a replica of Ronald Mcdonald’s Fillet-o-Fish with skinny fries and a tangy twist on tartar, wouldn’t go amiss? Apparently NOT.
Well let me tell you, do not spend another second searing your beef and do not waste another minute mincing your meat. In fact, you may as well chuck all your Annabel Karmels in the bin, because it’s not worth the sodding effort. To see your children dissecting a piece of the Butcher’s finest rump steak as if it’s a dead rat, is just criminal. To watch as they choke on your chunky chips and gag on your seasonal greens, is simply soul-destroying. And to stand by as they pick every grain of rice and every finely chopped mushroom out of your stroganoff is, quite frankly, torture. It is one more sprinkling of salt in the wound and one more push towards the edge of the cliff, that even Mums of sound mind regularly find themselves on the brink of diving off.
So how do we become victorious against our children in the battle of their daily bread? Firstly, do not, under any circumstances, empower The Terrors with the choice over what’s for tea. For what may seem like a relatively simple and timely negotiation at seven o’clock in the morning, will undoubtedly descend into tears, tempers and tantrums at five o’clock in the afternoon, when they decide to change their minds. Secondly, what one child desires, the other is sure to despise. So, do not be bullied into creating a separate culinary masterpiece for every Tom Dick and Harry in the family – and that includes Dad. Fall into this habit and you may as well give up any chance of that dream, part-time day job, and instead resign yourself to Personal Chef and General Household Skivvy until the bitter end. Finally, there is always the option of bribery, threats and starvation (as a last resort). But we all know that neither chocolate nor malnutrition can be classed as “winning” in this particular battle.
These days, or rather, since last week, I’ve decided not to beat myself up with the turkey baster any longer. I’ve thrown down my oven gloves and cast off my apron. I refuse to spend most of each day weeping into a wet tea towel, as I work myself up into a quaking, shaking jelly over what to feed the Ferals. Instead, at five to five, after a brief moment of frenzied panic, I pretend that Mum has everything under control, by casually turning to the fridge, freezer or dry ingredients cupboard for inspiration. This usually comes in the form of pasta with a knob of butter, a sprinkling of cheese and a side of cucumber. All served with a SMILE. What is there NOT to LOVE about pasta every sodding day? Fusilli, tagliatelle, macaroni, fettuccine, linguine, spaghetti – the varieties are endless! Surely this is the stuff kids’ dreams are made of?
“Pasta?” They wail. “Not a-bloody-gain Mum.”
This is clearly a battle I cannot win. Perhaps I should get to work on the swearing instead.