Scourge of healthy meals

2010-11-29 00:00

“WHEN I’m eating,” five-year-old Joah explained to me, “I don’t think so much about health, but about taste.” He spooned in a few mouthfuls of sugary, milky oats, while I digested his point.

“Do you mean that you don’t like food to be healthy, but you do like food to be tasty?”

“No, I mean it doesn’t matter if it’s healthy. That’s okay. But I do like it to be tasty. Like this,” he drained the rest of his bowl, “is healthy and tasty.”

From a young age, our children have clearly divided the world of food into healthy and unhealthy. Bran is healthy, Cornflakes are not; whole wheat bread is healthy and white bread is not; fruit juice is healthy and Coke is not — as my niece explained, it makes your teeth fall out, all in one go. But in our home another division had developed: what was healthy was also not tasty.

“What he’s trying to tell you,” my husband explained later in the kitchen, “is that he’d like his healthy food also to taste good. When you put a meal in front of him that he doesn’t like, like broccoli soup, you tell him to eat it because it’s healthy. Now he’s realising that some healthy food can taste nice and could you rather serve him that.”

“Oh,” I said. It wasn’t a bad point. The previous night we had all wept our way through a tasteless, but healthy stew. Some of our children had stirred their bowls endlessly, hoping it would disappear, and some had clutch- ed their throats in choking fits, but I had mercilessly spoon-fed them through their tears. Why? I suspect it had less to do with health and more to do with a long-held view that everyone should suffer through a meal at least once a week. Tasteless stew was good for your health, but even more importantly suffering was good for your character.

But now, Joah’s diplomatic plea on behalf of tasty food was making me reconsider.

“Is there not a place, though, Sam,” I asked, “for serving up untasty meals at home so that your children learn to eat untasty meals elsewhere, without complaining?” Sam was not so sure that there was a place for that theory in our home.

A few days later we found Joah in tears. He did not want to visit a friend’s house in case they forced him to eat food he didn’t like — to be more specific, food that was classified as healthy. I looked at Sam — clearly this was a clincher to my point. We must make him suffer at home through unpleasant healthy meals, because then he will know how to suffer politely in other people’s homes.

But before I could let out a loud: “Aha, I told you so.” Sam said, “all you do Joah, when they give you food you don’t like, is you pretend you’re eating it and then you quickly chuck it into the bushes like this.” Sam made an exaggerated sweep past his head into the pretend bushes behind him.

Joah picked up his bag to go and bravely said: “I’ll try that.”

Someone had to begin the fight against the scourge of tasteless meals; it may as well be him. • Sarah Groves is a freelance writer living in Pietermaritzburg.

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