Suspicious sniffers ensure food security at home and school

HAPPY EATER

June 13, 1993|By ROB KASPER

The other night I put supper on the table and the kids sniffed it.

Theirs was not an appreciative sniff, the joyful inhaling of eaters savoring the aroma of the freshly prepared cuisine.

Theirs was a suspicious sniff, a what-could-possibly-be-in-this-stuff inhalation. It was the kind of sniff police bloodhounds and tasters for heads of state employ when trying to detect drugs or poison.

Moreover, the food they smelled did not have a history of questionable ingredients. These were not souffles or mousses or multilayer casseroles, dishes that parents sometimes try to hide vegetables in.

This was ground chuck. Part of it was stuffing for tacos. The rest of it was shaped into hamburger patties.

For a moment I thought that since the kids were so familiar with hamburger they might have let it pass unsniffed. But no. Like a security guard who checks every briefcase, the kids took a whiff of each form of ground beef.

When questioned about their activities, the sniffers told me they were "just checking" to make sure nothing had changed. A normality sniff.

I was not insulted. Once I would have been. But after several years of serving kids food, I have grown accustomed to suspicious noses.

I have also learned not to become ego-involved in styles of sandwich assembly or disassembly.

The other night, for instance, the hamburger I served to the 12-year-old was artfully presented. On one side of the sandwich was the sizzling brown burger. On the other was a crisp, bright-green piece of lettuce. That sandwich could have posed for one of those glossy food magazines.

But then the lettuce took flight. The kid not only tossed the lettuce leaf off his sandwich, he wouldn't even allow it to sit on his plate. Its very presence was an affront.

I picked up the piece of lettuce and ate it. Emily Post might not approve, but supper at our house is often a low-etiquette affair.

Similarly, the lettuce I had set in front of the taco eaters, the 8-year-old and one of his buddies, was untouched. The kids didn't even acknowledge its presence. Instead they devoted their total attention to the ground meat and the salsa.

The next morning, however, when I was making the kids lunches to take to school, I got a request for lettuce. The 8-year-old wanted a piece of lettuce on his bologna sandwich. I was stunned.

I was the substitute sandwich-maker of the household. The first string, my wife, was out of town. The kids, sensing that their lunches might be in the hands of an amateur, quickly began to give me step-by-step instructions on how to assemble their sandwiches.

One sandwich, I was told, should consist of two pieces of bread, each dabbed with two dots of mustard. Then one slice of bologna was to be placed between the bread, and the sandwich was to be closed. No lettuce. Nothing sliced.

The other sandwich was to be made with mayonnaise, a healthy swipe applied to each piece of bread. Next the bologna was to be placed between the bread. Then came the surprising piece of lettuce. Finally, the sandwich was to be sliced into two parts, on the diagonal, "just like Mom does."

I was grateful for the supervision. The kids also helped me find the "hidden" bags of corn chips. Since each kid eats a different type of corn chip, I knew that somewhere in the kitchen were two big bags of chips. As part of my lunch-making duties I was supposed to take a handful of chips from each bag, stuff it into a smaller plastic bag, and put the favored chips in the corresponding lunch.

I couldn't find the chips. I looked for 10 minutes. The kids found the treasure in a few seconds. They knew the chips' hide-out was the broom closet.

Later I thought about who these chips were being hidden from. The kids knew where they were. So did my wife. I was the only remaining suspect.

When the kids were younger, the news that they regarded me as a threat to chips might have hurt my feelings.

But now I regard the cloistering of the chips and suspicious sniffing of the food as part of the household routine.

I tell myself that someday the nature of that ardent sniffing might change.

Someday they might sniff supper put before them and exclaim, "My, that smells wonderful!"

But not someday soon.

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