My offspring have converted peaceful mealtimes into seismic battlegrounds

Alex is a mother of two under four, originally from Kildare but living in Barcelona


"Is this chicken?" my 4 year old asks me, her fork poised in the precarious position between her plate and her mouth. I am at an impasse. Does she want it to be chicken? If I say yes, I enter the danger-zone of having to answer potentially traumatic questions. If I say no, I run the risk of entering into a dinner time duel in which no prisoners are taken and entire meals are laid to waste.

Cautiously I walk the halfway line between truth and truce, "It's a soy "chicken" nugget. It's a soy nugget. It's not really chicken (it is 100% not chicken). Do you like it?" I wait with baited breathe as she slowly leverages a minuscule portion into her mouth and chews it slowly. "Ok. It's good". Thank goodness. Services can now resume as normal.

Mealtimes have become shall we say, interesting, since the lockdown started some 70 something days ago. I both relish the familiarity and routine of sitting down to eat, and yet simultaneously loathe the thought of thinking about what is for dinner. And in true genius of childhood, my offspring have converted our once peaceful mealtimes into seismic battlegrounds where they pit their explosively formidable willpowers against our feeble menu choices.

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Mutinous mealtimes

Approximately 40 minutes after the consumption of said "honey cereal" my children start vibrating and buzzing like supersonic bees

Breakfast is still a comparatively easy affair. We keep the options minimal - oats, pancakes - and the fact that the girls have only recently risen and are not yet in finest fettle means the advantage usually goes to us. By lunchtime, they have scaled up to a mutinous mutter, and often bits of lunch are accidentally dropped on the floor in strategic "step upon me" places. A sticky warning to the chef that there is trouble on the horizon.  Dinnertime heralds a full-on coup, complete with rioting, food throwing, and looting of the (at that time) forbidden fruit basket. The fact that we have been incorporating more vegetables and legumes into our meals only means that the rioting packs an earthier punch too.

Happily, amidst the chaos of our food battles some learnings have appeared.  Previously guilty of succumbing to pleas for "honey cereal" grandly purchased from the health food store for breakfast on school days, homeschooling has revealed some shocking truths. Approximately 40 minutes after the consumption of said "honey cereal" my children start vibrating and buzzing like supersonic bees, darting from activity to activity and turning my carefully constructed Montessori environment into a post-apocalyptic hellscape.

A quick and thorough scan of the cereal ingredients revealed that the innocuous "honey" label was merely a cheap ruse for a sip of honey and a staggering amount of sugar. I have learned my lesson. We now stick to the less sexy staples of oats and pancakes. I will not be so easily fooled by health labels or even health food stores again. Given that the current health situation dictates we preserve our health and guard our gut, it seems particularly heinous that food corporations are allowed to brandish the word "healthy" or the likes of it on such sugar-filled muck.

Small pleasures

food should be a joy, in every aspect, from purchase to plate.

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I used to purchase all the majority of our fruit from the supermarket franchise around the corner. It is quick, convenient, and has the staple products. Since lockdown, I have started relishing the slow trips to the family-owned fruit and vegetable grocer I discovered a few streets further along than the super-store. The owner and I have become, if not friends, at least comedic comrades. She laughs at my Spanish pronunciation and I laugh at her insistence in giving me bushels of parsley with every purchase.

Her fruit is oddly shaped and withers faster than that of the generic superstore but tastes sweeter. It is undoubtedly cleaner.  She examines every piece before she places it in my basket and gives me a discount every time my total comes to an odd number. It is the sum of the small things that make the experience of shopping with her worth the extra effort. It becomes a pleasure. Better quality, better service, better experience. And food should be a joy, in every aspect, from purchase to plate.

I am, undoubtedly, late to the table regarding the "shop local" movement, but from my own experience being more aware of what we eat should first be prefaced by a great curiosity about why we even buy it in the first place. What is our experience and engagement with the food we buy? Do we buy it solely to have a fully stocked fridge and ease our anxious minds? Were we beguiled by a new health food trend? Or were we perhaps, as I previously was, a bit oblivious to much of what we were consuming.

Regardless of the reasoning, I for one will be trying to be a bit more thoughtful in what I buy and a bit more thorough in understanding why I buy it. Less labels, less mindless bulk buying, more brain food. And oats. Lots of oats.


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