There’s nothing like a consecutive month’s worth of “Thursdays” (erev yontif/erev Shabbos) to make me realize that I’ve done a great disservice to my kids and their palates.
It started out innocently enough. While I did try at times to broaden their culinary horizons as they began their foray into eating and developing their tastes for certain foods, somewhere along the way my kids decided that they had four foods on their repertoire, and that certainly didn’t include any of the foods I’d make, unless it involved heating up frozen pizza bagels or frying schnitzel.
It boggled my mind to watch my children survey a counter’s worth of various foods either at our house or at a friend’s home during this marathon yom tov season and seek me out to ask, “Where are the chicken nuggets?” or “What’s something I would eat?”
A question Jeremy likes to ask me often is, “Are you sure these kids are genetically yours?”
See, my kids and I don’t share the same excitement at trying new and different foods.
At experiencing a variety of flavor profiles or a mashup of textures.
Eating foods with color and visual interest.
If it’s not found in the freezer section at the grocery store, my kids don’t want it.
They love food coloring, preservatives, and food items that provide a shelf-stable life of several months.
Gone are the days from their toddlerhood when I’d slice open a ripe avocado and spoon feed them straight from the fruit with a sprinkle of sea salt.
They’ve never eaten a vegetable they liked (“Ma, we like tomato sauce, when it’s on pizza”), they won’t drink that clear liquid from the earth that comes out of our faucets (“It tastes like NOTHING”), and they’ve got a strange obsession with canned tuna (Kirkland white albacore) and fish sticks that they don’t realize has fish in it.
When slathered in ketchup (the way they eat everything) it could be a chicken nugget.
No sesame seeds, please. That’s grounds for a food strike.
When Dovid was a little kid, I’d pack him up for Shabbos sleepovers with an outfit, a pair of pajamas, and a Ziploc bag with his approved chicken fingers.
I’d usually receive a message from the host, clearly insulted that I sent food with him, but usually by the end of the day she’d realize that I was doing her a favor.
If I don’t have the right pasta shape or I buy a loaf of bread that’s a shade darker than the sliced white bread they’re used to, G-d help me.
That poor loaf of bread will remain uneaten or go where other things go when I can’t convince them to try something new—the freezer, where it dies a slow frostbitten death.
And if I dare get bagels with various toppings and a poppy seed finds its way near my son’s perfectly white bagel? No one is safe.
That’s right—my children are white (bread) enthusiasts.
Their cheese preference? American.
Super patriotic, I know.
The package actually corrects anyone thinking it’s real cheese. It’s called “processed cheese food.”
It can stay out in 100-degree heat and its shape will remain, in all its neon-orange-colored glory.
It’s processed and proud.
And when it comes to my attempts at broadening their horizons with grilled cheese that has Gouda or Gruyère or making a bechamel with sharp white cheddar?
“No thanks! We’ll take the American variety that tastes like plastic.”
I only realized that this whole “kid food” palate wasn’t a universal issue when I once had a family over on Shabbos day for lunch and their child asked me to pass her the salmon.
I recall looking at her and asking, “You eat salmon? How can I get my kids to eat salmon?”
The short answer?
Not even through bribery, my go-to method of parenting.
Not every kid tries a food to determine whether or not they’d like it. Sometimes even a misshapen frozen dino nugget goes uneaten.
My kids are ruthless frozen chicken nugget perfectionists.
The struggle is real.
I believe their food tastes are attributed to their paternal grandmother, whom I love dearly, but has truly bizarre tastes in food.
She hates coffee but loves iced coffee, chocolate, and coffee ice cream.
Just not the glorious brown goodness millions rely on daily to supply that much needed caffeine jolt in the shape of a steaming mug of happiness.
She’ll never eat any type of chocolate besides milk chocolate. But she doesn’t drink milk.
She starts each morning with a cold diet peach Snapple and travels with her own 12-pack of diet Coke in the trunk in case of an emergency where they serve Pepsi.
She loves p’tcha and bone marrow and all the gelatinous delicacies that today’s older generations grew up on, and she’s a lover of all heimish (brown and beige) food—cholent, kishka, kugel.
She eats pizza but only from two pizza stores in the tri-state area (Pizza Time and David’s) and travels to Boro Park sometimes for her favorite popcorn at the Nuttery.
She’s all about getting her favorite foods from wherever they may be.
She and my kids could easily rate their favorite French fries in New Jersey and what makes them superior to local French fries.
She won’t touch sushi unless it’s a cucumber roll, which we both know is what I lovingly refer to as “frum people sushi”—it’s essentially a salad with a side of rice.
I know one thing’s for sure—those kids that I’m raising are definitely her grandchildren.
And they’ve inherited her taste for food.
In an attempt to whet their appetites for nutritious food, I recently took them to an orchard. There, we assembled the cardboard boxes inside a wagon, and we walked through rows of the farm’s seasonal offerings—apples, berries, stone fruit, eggplant, and tomatoes.
I wanted to show them that on these vines, the food that G-d meant to have on earth grew.
Not the frozen foods that we’ve all become accustomed to grabbing when in a time crunch. The stuff with ingredients we definitely can’t pronounce or understand why it’s in the food hanging out in the freezer section, waiting for another desperate parent to feed their kids.
I’m a minimalist when it comes to cooking. I like recipes and dishes with simple ingredients and even easier methods of preparing.
I love baking bread and preparing colorful food and a lot of textures.
I love soups with herbs that are free to flavor instead of being stuck in a soup net, I love cheeses that comes in a wedge that you grate by hand, I love fish that looks like an actual fish, not coated in breadcrumbs and dredged in ketchup.
With all the ways my kids have expressed their disinterest in my natural food preferences, in teaching them about the flavor profiles and varieties they’re missing out on, I continue doing things my way in the hopes that one day they’ll understand that their mother was right all along. n
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.