At 0800h on Monday it occurred to me that my family might benefit from a quick lesson in breakfast cereal portion control.
I confess that in an effort to dodge the misery of sullen breakfasting (or worse; hunger strike) I sling a packet usually decorated with squirrels, monkeys, tigers or alligators into my weekly shopping trolley. But within a couple of days the empty box perches forlornly by the back door waiting for its final journey to the blue bin.
So, feeling helpful, I pulled out the little kitchen scales and weighed the recommended serving suggestion of ‘choco-pops’ in order to demonstrate the significant difference between 40g and 4 tonnes.
It didn’t go down well.
Shortly afterwards I was told by my husband to stop ‘wittering’. It felt like a slap in the face, and had the desired effect.
Having brooded in silence over this, for many hours, I concluded that ‘wittering’ is a reaction to the way a mother’s opinions about things that matter to her are brushed aside with an air of lofty dismissal by persons far less qualified than she is, on the grounds that she is just a ‘silly old woman’. If you are a mum who doesn’t Go Out to work, it is when the ‘wittering’ begins that you start thinking about getting a proper job where you feel valued, and get PAID. Unhelpfully this is also the same time that Menopause likes to poke it’s nose into your affairs.
Anyway, back to the way I punish my family through food: Despite failed attempts to teach the children a few basic store-cupboard menus that they can cook whenever they fancy, I remain the sole provider of hot meals in this household. Danny is a dab-hand at reheating food, but needs explicit instructions. He’s also a whizz at bacon and eggs, spattering the hob with hot oil on a daily basis, sometimes for breakfast and lunch, but skillet skills aside, he places the whole weighty burden of food admin onto my sagging shoulders, with just a few conditions:
- no fish bones
- no ginger
- no desiccated coconut
- no beetroot
- no flaked almonds
- not too much of the green stuff
- no chilli
- no whole spices
- no undercooked vegetables
- no cooked fruits
- no seedy fruits
- no dried fruits
- no stringy bits
- no pithy bits
- no wobbly bits
- and definitely no bits.
I know when I’ve accidentally disobeyed the rules. It’s when he momentarily stops chewing, and with a glazed expression he sorts the offending foodstuff into the front of his mouth, and then quietly ejects it to sit reproachfully on the edge of his plate. Sometimes it’s not an accident.
Recently I’ve noticed that, as the children grow bigger and more opinionated, (and husband just grows bigger), my arcane views on how many pork pies, bags of strawberry laces or pints of beer is Too Many, are met with increasing hostility . Likewise, my resistance to tomato sauce being served with lamb casserole, or my outright ban on fizzy drinks with dinner, brings about frequent teenage eye-rolling, huffing and, (he thinks I don’t see them), surreptitious conspiratorial nods from their father.
They all ganged up on me last week in a lively discussion about ‘Processed Food’. Admittedly I was being annoyingly sniffy about serving potato croquettes from the freezer with gammon steaks. It happens to be my husband’s favourite. If he was about to be executed it would probably be his last supper, (or Brain’s faggots, mash and mushy peas), so now and again I like to spoil him. They argued emphatically that Tina’s local borage honey or my root vegetable soup is no less ‘processed’ than the goop on their plates. I knew I was wasting my breath. Feeling very chuffed with themselves and concluding unanimously that, when it comes to food, Mummy is just mad, they tucked into their pink-meat-of-questionable-origin and deep-fried-starch-dollops with gusto (and lashings of ketchup). Infuriated, I seethed quietly over my plate and thought about making them eat roast butternut squash and quinoa the next day.
Weighing things up, (metaphorically this time), it occurred to me that perhaps with those painstakingly prepared and colourful little Annabel Karmel meals I fed the children when they were small, I was actually seeding in them a lust for Turkey Twizzlers and Iron Bru in later life. Maybe it is my fault that they have turned into Monster guzzling, Haribo hoarding sugar junkies. The reward for my maternal efforts is now to be branded a weirdo for making ‘hippie-dippy’ hummus and green smoothies, or accused of being a food snob for insisting that they at least try such abhorrences as banana bread (in place of shop-bought choccy biscuits), or my delicious home grown ratatouille.
Now that they are both out in the big wide world of secondary school, (with tuck shop) I can no longer police my children’s eating habits. Their monied friends, like drug-pushers, fuel the constant and feverish consumption of sweets, chocolate and 2 litre bottles of Lilt that teenagers appear to need for survival. Still, like a defunct Stasi officer I poke about in the contents of their waste paper baskets unearthing evidence of heinous crimes against the nanny state, such as giant Cadbury Dairy Milk Marvellous Smashables Jelly Popping Candy Bar wrappers, and weep.
Meanwhile, in a world far far away, I gaze longingly at the mouthwatering Instagram feed of family food guru @amandagrantcooks and wonder how her children will turn out. I recently discovered her recipe for Greek yoghurt pancakes which the children guzzled greedily until I explained they had yoghurt in them. I also love following the foraging exploits of endlessly inventive chef and patissier Roze Abbott @thymefortiffin (I was her babysitter many full moons ago) And on the rare occasion that I’m home alone at lunchtime, I prepare self-loving bowls of rainbow goodies in the style of Sara Kiyo Popowa at @shisodelicious. When the internet is slow there’s always Nigel, Hugh and Naughty Nigella to provide solace in the sensual pages of my well thumbed cookery books.
There are things in our fridge that the family don’t even recognise as food, which is evidenced by the fact that they are still there when I need them. Anything that comes under the category ‘fast food’ (i.e. cheese, bread, ham, crackers, biscuits, crisps, milk, breakfast cereal, peanuts, peanut butter, chocolate spread, juice or more cheese), vanishes the moment I’ve turned my back. Bananas blacken, lettuce wilts to slime, carrots go bendy and weevils nest in the cous-cous while the three of them skip with gay abandon towards obesity and diabetes, and all I can do is stand by and hope that my efforts up to now have given their bodies the stuff they need to face whatever comes their way.
In the latest episode in a series of mid-life ‘f*ck ’em’ epiphanies, I decided to go on strike. I loaded my shopping trolley yesterday with fish fingers, breaded chicken goujons, sliced ham, sliced cheese and sliced bread, wraps, crisps, cakes and pop, so when I later collected the little darlings from school and was met with the perpetual question, ‘What’s for dinner?’ I indulged their wildest culinary fantasies. It’s all there, help yourself, I’m off out. Arthur actually said, in a dream-like tone ‘Whoa! It’s like heaven!’ but Rose was a little unnerved, sparking a pang of guilt, that soon passed.
So that’s me, apron off, dusting my hands of the whole kitchen mullarkey, absolved of all catering responsibilities. Now it is over to the school dinner ladies to provide daily cooked sustenance (probably gammon and croquets) at midday. While Danny lights the stove for a fry-up, I will eat whatever outlandish hippie concoction my heart desires, and at night while the three of them swallow their processed pickings in front of the telly I will fast, drink fennel tea and read Tolstoy. Soon I will be fabulously bony and angular, clothes will look wonderful on me, as well as off, and evenings of scrubbing pots and pans will be a distant memory.
…Back in the real world; it will be interesting to see how long it takes for the constipated backlash. I’m anticipating that in a week or so they will be begging me to make them roasted vegetables, bulgar wheat salad and locally reared harissa lamb with a home made apple pie for pudding…just don’t hold your breath.
After just 24 hours a surprising backlash has already occurred. Danny, eschewing the contents of the groaning fridge, freezer and cupboards, called at Sainsbury’s for 24 sausages, and some tubs of microwaveable mash and microwaveable veg. Looking defiantly smug, he whipped up a porky food mountain, with gravy and the three of them scoffed the lot.
At bedtime my son told me diplomatically that it wasn’t very nice. I can’t tell if he was just saying that, but it made me feel a little bit warm and fuzzy inside.