Small fry ask big questions on fat and nutrition


December 20, 1992|By ROB KASPER

Like many parents, I once encouraged my children to be curious. To explore the world. To ask questions.

Now I often wish I had taught them to put a lid on curiosity, especially at the dinner table. In addition to their usual "What's-for-supper" query, the kids subject me to a barrage of questions about my values.

The other night, for instance, before I could enjoy an especially luscious-looking pork chop, I first had to fend off a question from the 12-year-old. "Which do you like better," he asked. "Pork or beef?"

I tried to dust off the inquiry with a stock reply: "I like whichever one I have my fork in." But the kid persisted. He said he wanted "a real answer."

So before I could cut the pork chop, I had to rule on which tastes better, burnt pig or cooked cow?

Like most people faced with making a difficult choice, I waffled. I broke my answer into several parts -- skin, loin and ribs -- and I stalled. I turned the question around, asking my inquisitor and his associate what critter they preferred.

After a brief discussion of animal anatomy, the consensus was that the pig could claim superior skin, ribs and bacon. The cow had the superior loin, the stuff steaks were made of.

Gratitude was also expressed to the cow for giving us hamburger. In our house, hamburger still comes from a cow, and not, as in some modern households, from a turkey.

It was a good answer, but the trouble was it encouraged more questions about food habits.

My comments about the joy of steak prompted a prying question from the 7-year-old. "Dad," he asked me in the manner of a teacher grilling a student, "are you still eating fat?"

Earlier in the year he had come home from school and announced to the family that fat was bad for us. I did not take this admonition well.

"Good gravy!" I thought to myself. "What are they teaching the kids in school these days? Nutrition?"

I made a mental note that at next parent's night I would lobby the one member of the school staff I knew who hailed from Nebraska and see if she could get a teaching segment on the joy of marbled beef worked into the second-grade curriculum.

I didn't say any of this to the 7-year-old. I gave him the standard response that parents give when they are caught by their kids doing something forbidden: "Those rules are just for kids."

Again, my answer generated more questions. I felt like a candidate at a press conference. No sooner do you dispose of one query about your behavior than you get hit with two more.

After prolonged interrogation, I made my stand on the following family choices.

* Milk or cereal. When preparing bowls of cereal, I believe the cereal should go in the bowl first, then the milk. If you put the milk in first, you run the strong risk of cereal overrun.

* Milk or chocolate syrup. When preparing glasses of chocolate milk, I believe the milk should go in the glass first, then the syrup. This solution is exactly the opposite of the milk-cereal conundrum. But into each family some contradiction must fall. Besides, when the chocolate is on the top of the glass, the transformation of plain ol' milk to sinful chocolate is exciting to watch.

* Mashed or french fried potatoes. This is a dispute between the generations. Most kids want their spuds french fried. But they will eat mashed potatoes if there is gravy and therefore a chance to "build a dam." Like most adults I prefer mashed, especially when a little celery root is mixed in.

* Chicken or fish. Chicken has better skin and gravy, and somehow seems right on Sunday. Fillet of fish is faster, has a better body and is ideal for harried weeknights.

* Butter or margarine. Without getting into which of the two is a bigger artery clogger, I sided with butter. It tastes better. Besides, butter-eating could give our family a strong sense of identity. We could become like that other endangered tribe, the Mohicans. We could be the last butter-eating clan.

* Peanut butter or jelly. Call me unconventional, but I think the jelly goes on first when making a sandwich, then the peanut butter. It is aesthetically pleasing. And when you make a sandwich with jelly first, then the peanut butter, you use only one knife.

NB Michael Dresser is on vacation. His column will resume Jan. 3.

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