Kitchen is a jungle for foraging kids

The Happy Eater

April 17, 1996|By Rob Kasper

WHEN KIDS home from school they are starving. This, I think, is a common condition. It has little to do with whether the kids ate -- or traded away -- the bag lunch a parent labored to make that morning. This condition has little to do with the time of year, or the position of the stars, or with any logical explanations of hunger. It is enough to know that when kids come through the door, you don't want to be standing between them and the edibles.

I made this mistake recently. I found myself at home on a weekday afternoon as the kids arrived in the homestead. It was bad timing.

They greeted me with the usual warmth kids 11 and 15 years old display toward their parents. "What," they asked, "are you doing here?"

I was home because the dog had tried to eat the retainer. It wasn't our dog but the retainer belonged to one of our kids. Before it had been chewed on, the retainer was helping straighten the kid's teeth. I was there to fetch the kid and his mangled retainer and drive them to the orthodontist's office.

The kids didn't listen to my answer. They dumped their book bags on a bench, hurried past me, and proceeded to forage. One kid surveyed the kitchen counter top. The other opened the refrigerator door and stared at the contents.

As they rummaged for food, they had several spoken exchanges. To me, these exchanges sounded like an argument. But to the participants, this was simply "sibling conversation." This was their style of after-school communication.

I was an interloper. And like a wildlife photographer, who suddenly finds himself in the presence of a couple of lions feeding on the savanna, the best course of action seemed to be to wait quietly in the shadows.

Preparations had been made for the feeding session. An array of foods had been placed on various kitchen surfaces.

Mounds of apples, bananas, and oranges and loaves of homemade bread had been positioned in easy-to-spot locations on the kitchen counter. These were foods that my wife and I wanted the kids to eat. Boxes of cereal, the fallback snack, were also easy to find.

Stuff that the kids liked to eat -- cookies, Pop-Tarts, and the like -- had been hidden in drawers.

The subterfuge was the work of the kids. My sons regularly hide sweet stuff from each other.

Pop-Tart wars are a fixture in our household. They remind me of the land disputes in the Middle East. No matter what solution peacemakers come up with -- including giving each warring party its own property -- the dispute continues.

On this particular afternoon, there was no "good stuff" left. Moreover, there were no reheatable meal remnants, such as leftover Chinese food, in the refrigerator.

A howl of disapproval was heard. It was a cry familiar to many parents. It went something like this: "There is nothing to eat in this house!" The howl often has little to do with reality. Cans of food could be weighing down the pantry shelves. The fridge could be packed with sandwich-making material. The cry would still be uttered.

What the howlers really mean is, "There is no easily fixable food, sitting right smack in front of me."

This particular outcry was my cue to cut a deal. I told the howlers I would fix them something to eat if they would get cracking on the afternoon's errands. The dishwasher needed to be unloaded. The orthodontist needed to be visited. There was also a baseball practice and homework on the schedule. It was a typical springtime, after-school afternoon, when calendars are crowded and everybody is in a hurry.

As the troops got ready to charge around town, I made them my after-school special. I would like to report that this dish presented a culinary challenge, that I whipped up a souffle, or even an omelet.

In reality I made the guys macaroni and cheese, from a box.

I did, however, add a few touches. I added a pinch of salt to the water the macaroni boiled in. When I made the cheese sauce, I used butter and whole milk, not margarine and skim milk.

The kids lapped it up. Each ate two plates. No macaroni was left standing.

I once worried that such a late-afternoon snack would "spoil the appetites" of the kids. Such a worry is based on the assumption that the day is divided into three distinct eating opportunities, known as breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The kids and their appetites are bigger now. Rather than restricting themselves to breakfast, lunch and dinner, they nTC regard the entire day as an eating opportunity. Hunger can strike at any moment.

Rather than worrying about "spoiling" an appetite, I now try to quell a raging appetite, if only temporarily.

Pub Date: 4/17/96

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