If it's kids' choice, dish up patience as the appetizer

HAPPY EATER

January 13, 1993|By ROB KASPER

The other night I made a major parental mistake. I asked my kids what they wanted to eat for supper.

It was foolish. As a veteran parent I should have remembered that ancient supper-time axiom: "Give your children a choice and they will give you nothing but trouble."

But I was in a trusting mood. And I kept the choice simple. The question was essentially what form my two sons wanted their ground beef to assume. Did they want it as plain ol' hamburgers, or stuffed inside green peppers.

Normally I would not have bothered mentioning any competitors to the burger, especially one linked with a vegetable. But the kids had just wolfed down a couple of burgers as an after-school snack. And I thought two hamburgers in three hours might be considered a tad repetitive.

Maybe they would be willing to try something new, like green peppers.

They were curious about the green pepper dish. Mostly, they wanted to know about procedure. How, they asked, could meat cook inside green peppers.

I explained that the two were cooked separately, the peppers in boiling water and the meat in a frying pan. Then they were combined, covered with cracker crumbs baked in the oven and served.

My voice took the tone of a salesmen. Upbeat, positive. Eager to please.

But there was no sale. Stuffed green peppers sounded weird, the kids said. They wanted hamburgers. At least, that's what they said at first.

I formed the ground beef into patties. And despite a tricky winter wind, I cooked them outdoors on the grill. Two burgers for the kids, two more for my wife and me. I had flipped the burgers once when the kids changed their minds.

You're right, they told me. Eating hamburgers again would be boring. They said they didn't want burgers. They didn't want green peppers either.

They wanted "something else."

Calmly, cooly, fighting the urge to grab them by their shirts and shake them, I opened the refrigerator and spelled out the "else" options.

How about a turkey sandwich? I asked, eyeing something on the second shelf of the fridge that looked it might be sliced fowl. No dice, they said.

How about a bologna sandwich? I said, spotting a package of lunch meat, one of their favorite foods. Ugh, they said.

How about moving to another household, I said. Very funny, they said.

We were about to enter into that stage of parent-child communication known as "Dad shouting and pounding on the furniture" when I spotted some tortillas down in the bottom of the fridge.

How about tacos? I asked. "Yes, tacos!" they shouted. This time they were the ones pounding on the furniture.

I wasn't sure how many of the ingredients I had, but even if I had to use strawberry jelly as a substitute for sauce, they were going to get tacos.

I heated the tortillas in the microwave. I pulled a couple of hamburgers off the barbecue grill. Then I crumbled up hamburger meat and put it in the tortilla .

Next I diced up some cheese, the kids' taco topping of choice.

And, feeling vindictive, I tossed in some chopped lettuce. If the kids were going to make me run around in circles at supper time, I was going to sneak in some vegetables.

As for taco sauce, the only bottle I could find was a high-octane salsa from Arizona. This stuff had so much fire in it, just opening the bottle nearly set off the smoke detector. I was just about to water this fiery sauce down with ketchup when my wife arrived home.

She found a bottle of conventional, low-flame taco sauce, the kind the kids like.

So I served up the tacos. And after carefully picking out all the contraband lettuce, they polished the tacos off.

The kids ran out of the kitchen. I sank down in chair, feeling like I had pulled off a rescue operation.

The out-of-favor burgers had, at the last minute, been transformed into taco filling. And a pretty good taco filling it was.

Moreover, I had succeeded in getting the kids to eat something without even threatening them.

Finally, I had managed to simultaneously fix some "adult food," grilled hamburgers and carrots.

What's for supper?" my wife wanted to know.

"Please," I said. " Don't ask. Just sit down, eat what I put in front of you. And act like you are grateful."

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