Friday, 16 March 2007

Sugar and Honey for Breakfast

My kids are never satisfied with what they've got. Buy them the rubbish breakfast cereal they've been clamoring for and they only want more. Donuts. Candy. Packaged cakes. If it's got E-numbers, saturated fats and practically no nutrition in it, they just know they're going to like it.

Like all kids, all of their friends have it better than they do. According to them, their friends' parents buy them anything they want, any old time. I point out that I bake my own bread and cookies and other mothers don't necessarily do this, but they won't go along with that. They can't see that it's an advantage to have a Mom who cooks and bakes from scratch; they can only see that I am one of those tiresome Moms who refuses to buy them Kit-kats on demand. Who actually reads the ingredients on cartons and packages. In the supermarket, I fumble around for my glasses to read the fine print on a box of cereal and they die a thousand deaths. 'Oh, Mom!' they mutter anxiously, glancing around on the off chance that one of their friends is going to find out their horrible secret -- that Mom is a Stickler.

If they had their own way, my kids would have nothing but sugar and honey for breakfast. In a bowl, mixed together, perhaps with a little butter in it.

Part of me feels for them. My parents used to embarrass me, too. I grew up in California in the sixties. Nowadays, you can't turn the corner without finding another vegetarian, especially in California, but back when I was a kid we were just about the only vegetarian family around, and we were absolutely the only non-drinking vegetarians I'd ever heard of. I used to go to friends' houses and see the pork chops in their refrigerators, the hot-dogs and rump steaks and bottles of wine and beer -- and the thought of our own spare cupboards and our refrigerator with its meager selection of cabbage and carrots shamed me to death. I wanted my parents to be the sort of parents who had gin and tonics, who grilled hamburgers on their barbecues and knew the difference between burgundy and chablis.

My father was what was called a health nut back then. The sort of person who sprinkled wheat germ on everything, made sure we had plenty of produce to eat, watched the saturated fats he consumed, and chose to buy nuts and fruit instead of candy. All of my friends brought things to school that my parents would not have dreamt of having in the house, let alone allowing us to eat. I opened my packed lunch and just knew that the world could see that I had a sandwich made with wholemeal bread and cheese when they were proudly taking out white bread and bologna. And I was so ashamed.

A few years back, my best friend and I were talking about our childhood. Her mother and father were way up on my wish-list of parent perfection, the sort of parents that in my heart of hearts I wished I'd been given. "Your family were such trend-setters," she said, "vegetarians back when almost no one was a vegetarian. And your mother tried different things, too -- the first place I ever had Chinese food was at your house. I used to love eating with your family."

I was gob-smacked by this revelation. Maybe in years to come, my kids will be born again healthy eaters. Maybe their friends will comment approvingly on my broccoli soups and low-fat stir fries. Maybe, in time, they'll even forgive me for not letting them eat their weight in candy. For nixing sugar and honey for breakfast.


Brian said...

Food , glorious food !

I have been a fatty all my life . My father was a coal miner , and after filling his 20 tons per day with his mate , he came home to eat not sparingly, and we ate along with him . The food was good staple stuff but there was a lot of sugar . Diabetes caught up with both him and me. Since my by-pass( a fairly minor one ) I have been much more careful with my diet -- with a nurse wife monitoring excesses .

You have caught the kid and food thing with a lovely precision , from their overdoing it to their embarrassment at mother being a stickler .

Nevertheless -- stickle away I say !

Kim Ayres said...

YOu've probably added 20 years ro their lives by giving them a firm foundation in childhood.

My parents never ate greens and my mum would put a large spoon of sugar a large knob of butter in just about everything she cooked.

My wife was shocked when I expressed my surprise at the lack of sugar and butter in the food she cooked when we first started going out with each other.

Mary Witzl said...

Some of my ancestors were coal miners too, Brian, and it definitely gave them appetites!

My mother grew up in Kentucky; her family all followed the southern fashion of 'cooking food to death' and they tended to fry everything in lard and add salt with a heavy hand. Many of the relatives on my mother's side suffered from obesity and diabetes from an early age. Perhaps that is why my mother decided that she would be different. First she stopped collecting 'drippings' or lard, then she cut down on salt, and finally she stopped serving meat. Her family were scandalized. My sisters went along with it, but I rebelled.

I would have loved your mother's style of cooking, Kim. My mother was famous (or infamous, I suppose) for her collard greens, and I yearned for my mother to cook with more butter and sugar.

Now I am glad she didn't, but my kids feel just the way I did. A trip to the supermarket with them can be one headache after another. I get a lot of practice saying NO. All I can do is hope that when they grow up they go back to the good healthy foodstuffs I try and promote.

Carolie said...

Have faith, Mary! My mother went through multiple food phases, though refined sugar, bologna and Sunbeam bread were forever banned from our house.

We were vegetarians for a couple of years (after she and Dad divorced, of course!), picking our way through bean-and-rice meals or huge salads filled with seeds and twigs.

She had her Earth Mother phase where she baked delicious sourdough bread, put wheat germ on everything, even ice cream (we'd cry when she ruined ice cream that way, much to her dismay!) and made her own yogurt from scratch. We got meat during this phase, but only hormone-free from local farms (WAY before the current local food movement!)

She went through a Malaysian phase where everything was insanely spicy. We had lots of meat, but it and whatever vegetables she used were cooked into unrecognizeable and highly fragrant pastes and put over super-spicy sesame-seed-studded rice, etc. Banana raita disappointed me badly -- cold and creamy, pudding-like and smelling of ripe bananas, it just seemed WRONG to my tongue that it was spicy and not sweet!

At the time, I was embarrassed by her food phases, and was sure all my friends laughed at me behind my back at school for my bizarre lunches of hummus and carrots and raw green beans, or the strong aromas wafting from my thermoses of rogan josh and korma curry.

As an adult however, I brag about Mom and her "cool" food phases back when all my friends were eating nitrate-laden bologna and cottony white bread. My brothers and I talk wistfully of freshly buttered, hot-from-the-oven sourdough bread heels and warm homemade yogurt with local honey.

Bet the day will come when both of your girls will be bragging about their "cool" mother who had such high standards for them!

Mary Witzl said...

I'm impressed with your mother, though I will admit that my raita is always savory, not sweet, and I have never put wheat germ on ice cream. What DOES work, however, is wheat germ mixed with brown sugar and chopped nuts, lightly toasted. That is GREAT on ice cream! Maybe I could have gotten used to wheat germ on ice cream if I were used to that from a very early age. In a way, I am probably just as finicky about certain things as my kids are, though I am better at covering it...

Oddly enough, our kids have finally started to appreciate the fact that I am fussy about what we eat. Both of them have friends who are allowed to eat any sort of junk, and they have come to see that this isn't a good thing. My hope is that by the time they go off to college, they'll have a good enough foundation to carry on making good food choices. How nice to think that they would actually brag about my high standards some day, but I won't hold my breath.