Feeding the Beast

A quick acknowledgement that my child is a wonderful and robust eater, with the caveat that she may become an insufferable picky nightmare at any moment. I can afford healthful and abundant food for her. These two things are of utmost importance, but I’m still going to whine. 

Currently, I’m having a hard time getting a grip on food. Our 15-month-old eats three full meals a day and two hearty snacks that might as well be meals. Long gone are the days of adorable little baby purees that get frozen in teeny tiny ice trays. Instead, I’m hauling racks of enchiladas out of the oven, stirring massive pots of black beans, and slicing hearty chunks of avocados/pineapple/apples/carrots/potatoes until my hands fall off. And that’s just for lunch. I’m at home full-time with her, which for us means that I shop for and prepare all this food with the urgency of a short-order cook.

“Muppets Take Manhattan” hitting a little too close to home.

If the meal isn’t ready within the 15-second window that my daughter deems acceptable, I get yelled at. Aggressively. My child doesn’t make delicate baby sign language for “more” or “food, please.” She makes baby scream language for “HEY, SHITHEAD!” and “YEA, YOU, THE GUY WITH THE GREASY PONYTAIL.” (This is, of course, the same kid from the changing table.) I shovel all the food down her pie hole as fast as I can while she brazenly feeds any leftover scraps to the dog. As if I weren’t frenzied enough, when I bend down to clean up the disgusting floor (which the dog refuses to lick himself because he’s a prince), she delightfully kicks the back of my head and yanks my (greasy) ponytail.

But a little bit of background: I’m not exactly a natural in the kitchen. My trips to the grocery store have a history of being expensive and wildly inefficient. The first time we shopped as a couple, Nate and I bought Magic Shell chocolate sauce and an UTZ-sponsored plastic basketball hoop from a killer display in the chip aisle. Currently, our kitchen contains more boxes of powdered sugar than eggs and seven bottles of rice vinegar.

Cooking for other people is a whole other level of hell for me. Last summer, we had a couple come over to meet the baby and catch up. It was a 3-4:30pm kind of thing on a Saturday. A time when a few snacks and beer would be appropriate. Instead, I spent ALL morning at the grocery and liquor stores, buying supplies for what could have been a Downton Abbey Christmas feast. I was a disaster all day – projecting my stress onto Nate and fretting over the clock from the moment I woke up. Despite all the effort and money, when 3pm rolled around, the only things I had to show for my maniacal morning were a bag of Tostitos (no salsa), a handful of clementines, and a plate of stale office cookies that a friend had dropped off the day before. No beer. I forgot the beer.

Still to this day, I have no idea what the hell I was doing at the grocery store that morning or where all that money went. (In retrospect, my first problem was that I went to a Normie grocery store and not Trader Joe’s, where there’s a designated section of dips, crackers, and cheeses that says, in a whimsical old-timey voice, “feed these to your guests, ya shithead.”)

If, in a pinch, someone asked me to cater a very small wedding, I would buy 500 hot dogs, put them in a bathtub of lukewarm water, and then set myself on fire. I truly cannot think of any other way to manage that assignment.

It’s a shame because I’m a very social person with loving, wonderful friends. As a parent, it’s nice to have people come over to the house, thereby eliminating baby travel obstacles and babysitter fees.  I really wish I could be the person who can say to a group of friends “hey, why don’t you all stay for dinner?!” and then whip up an effortless yet delicious rice vinegar and powdered sugar chicken dish. Everyone would have a blast and say “how does she do it?!” and “glad it’s not hot dogs again!”

So, you can imagine my horror when I realized that I’m faced with preparing a dinner party five times a day for the most demanding and judgemental guest in town. And I’m on a budget that requires me to be very frugal and creative with my choices. I can’t feed her novelty basketball hoops, unfortunately. But I’m getting better, thanks to a few pieces of advice I’ve picked up:

  1. Surrender yourself to friends/acquaintances who are parents and/or who love to cook. I have Adelaide and Jordan, who told me early on to skip the rice cereal and feed the baby whatever you and your spouse are eating (in pureed form). This took the edge out of my decisions and made me feel like I was instilling good eating habits instead of enduring a never ending chore.
  2. Stone Soup. This site has 5-ingredient recipes and is immensely helpful for uninspired souls on a budget. Also the book Little Foodie.
  3. Frozen vegetables and berries do wonders for the wallet.
  4. Keep shoveling the food, even if the baby doesn’t like it. It took Valerie 10 tries to enjoy eggs, and now she loves them. And eggs are the easiest. Can’t imagine life without them.
  5. Grow your own herbs. (Full disclaimer, this is great in theory. Last summer, I bought two big pots, filled them with soil, put in basil and dill seeds, stuck them in the sun on our balcony, and then spent the next three months patting myself on the back and telling people how I grew my own herbs. Of course, amid all the self-praise, I forgot to water the pots and never checked on them once. I didn’t even remember they were out there until the dog toppled them over and buried a toy in the massive pile of bone-dry dirt. So, $3 Sage continues to rot in my fridge. But that doesn’t have to be the case for you!)
  6. Freeze all leftovers. We all know what happens to leftovers in the fridge.

Any other tips out there? Anyone need a caterer for a small wedding?

 

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