We have a dreamy eater in our house. He’s not a picky eater. He will try new things – last week he rejected oysters, but declared that mushrooms and olives were great. He just eats so slowly that it feels like he’s never going to finish. At the other end of the table, we have No1 who is growing and eating furiously. “Slow down, taste it, don’t just shovel it in,” we direct to his corner. And then to dreamy No3, “Come on, eat something. Stop talking and take a bite. You won’t get big by thinking about it.”
Being a parent can be like clinging to an out-of-control carousel. You have to keep holding on in the moment, while worrying about the future and whether the whole thing will fly apart. You’ve been given this responsibility to grow and develop a person. It’s a continual stress about how each decision is going to impact on the way this person turns out. The madness of this worry is that the worry compounds and operates in circles. Should I worry that this child is going to get bad eating habits from an early age. Am I going to create poor habits from my repetitive words? But what if I say nothing and he doesn’t grow because he isn’t getting enough nutrients. I worry about getting the balance right.
Food is such a difficult topic for our society. We have an abundance of choice, and yet most of us are stuck in bad habits, eating processed foods full of sugar and salt. We justify our choices to ourselves and continue to eat as we did when we were children. A recent (long) article talked about how to relearn eating. It says “Many of the joys and pitfalls of children’s eating are still there for adults. As grown-ups, we may still reward ourselves with treats, just as our parents did, and continue to “clean our plates”, though they are no longer there to watch us. We still avoid what disgusts us, though we probably know better than to throw it under the table when no one is looking.”
I don’t want No3 to learn that he has to finish everything on his plate. I just want him to try everything that he is offered and to eat enough to sustain his skinny body into growing. “I’ll be so big when I’m grown up. Bigger than Dad!” Maybe, I think, if you’ll just eat some dinner. By the time he is 18, he will have sat through 6,570 dinners, picking away at his food. Telling some story about the 100 story bus he’s going to invent. “Two more bites,” I say. “Just focus on dinner and then you can wonder about how that bus is going to fit under bridges and inside tunnels.”
At least he eats his vegetables without fuss. It’s something we have never had a problem with in our house. Probably because we model eating vegetables – we’ve always eaten them, so the kids do as well. By making no drama about them, vegetables are normal. Recipes for children that hide vegetables make no sense to me. They are just teaching people that vegetables aren’t palatable and you need to be tricked into eating them.
So I wonder – if eating vegetables is normal in our house because we make no drama about it – am I causing problems by making noise about getting No3 to eat faster. Maybe when he’s ten, like No1, we will be telling him to slow down and enjoy his food. Or perhaps he’s going to be one of those creative, mad scientists like JJ Thomson who had to be reminded to eat. So caught up in his own thoughts that the practicalities of life are overlooked. Time will tell.
In the short term, I’m sticking with “You have to eat if you want to grow.” This recipe, an Australian classic made into a salad, is one that No3 loved. It’s basically a salad version of shrimps on a Barbie. A perfect meal for a hot summer day and goes down nicely with a cold beer, or a crisp white wine.
Prawn salad with mango salsa
- Prawns (a few per person)
- Mixed salad leaves
- 1/3 cup Olive Oil
- 2/3 cup White Vinegar
- Cumin seeds
Peel the prawns. I left the heads on, as it looks nicer on the plate and retains more flavour and juiciness when they cook.
To make the salsa, peel the mango and cut out the stone. Chop the flesh into small pieces. Finely chop a red chili. The choice of chili is a personal taste, the smaller the chili variety, the hotter they are (generally). Mix the chopped mango and chili together and crack some pepper over the salsa.
To make the dressing, place the olive oil and vinegar into a bottle. Add cumin seeds, cracked pepper and a pinch of salt. Shake it together to make a vinaigrette.
BBQ the prawns quickly on a high heat until they are just pink.
Place the mixed salad leaves on a plate and scatter the prawns over the top. Sprinkle some of the salsa over the prawns and splash on the vinaigrette. If you want, you can also add some fresh lime juice to the vinaigrette to give it a fruitier tang. Just replace the equivalent amount of vinegar, so the balance of acid to oil remains the same.