My plan for the New Year was to introduce a wholesome influence into the family’s diet, but it’s impossible to provide healthy meals when one child thinks eating tofu is a Fear Factor challenge and another child only eats food that is covered in pizza sauce or stays crunchy even in milk. They rejected whole wheat bread like it was liver loaf, and the time I bought skim milk at the grocery store, I got voted off the kitchen island. Cooking healthy meals for the family shouldn’t be like an episode from Survivor: Spinach Casserole.
My kids are convinced that broiled chicken is a bird that stayed in the farmyard without SPF 30 and died from exposure. Their idea of fine dining is to supersize their fries. I can’t imagine where they got this attitude. Sure, I believe the road to down below is paved with exercise videos and sugar substitute, but that’s just geographical fact. I haven’t eaten a dessert in six months that wasn’t presorted into 100 calories packages.
“What’s for supper?” Son One strolled into the kitchen licking the icing off a cinnamon bun and tearing open the paper on a candy bar so sticky it looked like it was made of library paste. This kid’s idea of healthy eating is frosting a salad with honey-mustard dressing.
“I thought we’d combine two of your favorite food groups for something new.”
“We’re having Italian and Mexican? Cool!”
“Those aren’t food groups. They’re nationalities. We’re going to have a healthy meal.”
“Did somebody give you a bushel of cast off zucchini again?” Zucchini is the stray cat of the vegetable world. It always shows up on my doorstep at dinnertime.
“You’re so suspicious,” I said, nonchalantly raking chopped zucchini into the dog’s bowl. “I thought I’d make that baked chicken they had at church.”
“You mean Death Chicken? Count me out.” He peered into the freezer and extracted a pizza that had been in limbo so long the pepperoni was petrified and the cheese came in crystals instead of shreds.
“It’s not really death chicken. We just call it that because it’s so easy to make that a lot of times we’ll take it to someone who’s had a death in the family.”
“Yeah. Ever wonder what they died from?”
“Probably from eating zombie food that was in the freezer so long all the vitamins turned to dust.” I managed to sneak a few small zucchini out of the bag under cover of the answering snort.
He peeled off the wrapper and shoveled a layer of ice from the crust. My kids think perma frost is a basic building block of the food pyramid. “What do I set the oven on for undead?”
“Very funny. It wouldn’t hurt you to try something that’s good for you.” Just then the dog wandered through the kitchen to check his dish for food molecules left over from breakfast. He picked up a zucchini slice, chewed thoughtfully for a moment, then looked at me reproachfully and spit it out on the floor.
“See, even Bo hates vegetables.” Son One plopped the pizza down on the oven rack. It sounded like he’d launched a hubcap at the dumpster.
I put my hands on my hips. It was time for decisive action. “From now on we’re watching what we eat.”
“You’ll need to spring for something with a wide angle lens,” Son One mumbled, scraping up a shred of zombie cheese off the counter with a fingernail.
“I’ll start by cleaning out the refrigerator. We’re going to throw away everything that’s bad for us.” I held up a pack of withered bologna. To me, lunch meat is the gastronomic equivalent of an Elvis painting on velvet. Everyone thinks it will gain in value the longer they save it and their children end up using it as a gag gift at a holiday party and complaining about their inheritance.
Next came a cheese product that had so many additives it no longer qualified for any of the food groups. When I finished cleaning out the refrigerator, all that was left was a mushy, brown stalk of celery left over from Thanksgiving and a frozen diet dinner left over from the healthy eating binge I launched after the baby was born.
Just then the baby trotted through the kitchen jingling his car keys, and clutching a breakfast pastry made of simulated cookie dough and synthetic chocolate frosting. Eighteen years after his first bowl of sugar frosted cocoa bombs, artificial flavoring is still his favorite food group.
“I’m late for class. What’s for supper tonight?”
I smiled sweetly and chopped the remaining squash into miniscule green bits.
“Good. Last time I slipped mine to the dog. He had indigestion for a week.”
So I’ll cover it with fat free cheese. They’ll never recognize it.