If you’re a foodie like me, you spend a huge amount of time planning your next meal. Especially when you’re on vacation! As soon as I had booked my tickets to Singapore, I started researching the best places to get “Xiao Long Bao,” a magical pork-dumpling I had first eaten in Hong Kong years ago, and had never managed to find in India.
But what would the 4.5-year-old eat?
No problem. Every restaurant today has a special kids’ menu, and almost everyone everywhere serves French Fries. If all else failed, we could fall back on good-old buttered bread.
Except, my son had different plans.
“Mama, what is xiao long bao? Even I want to taste some”
“Mama, that xiao long bao was so tasty. I definitely want to eat it again”
“Mama, is that baby octopus on the menu? I want to eat some”
That’s when it hit me. All these easily accessible packaged foods and kids’ meals had completely taken the adventure out of eating. Where was the fun if each meal looked like a variation of the same old bland chicken nuggets and fries? While ‘kids’ menus’ can definitely help with picky eaters, doesn’t our over-reliance on them keep our children from truly exploring different cultures and cuisines?
A little disclosure here – I don’t eat octopus and was positively squeamish at the thought. But parenting isn’t about raising a clone … it’s about helping a little person follow his thoughts and live his own adventures.
Would my son discover that he loves pork dumplings but not so much the taste of octopus, if all he had access to were French Fries? He wouldn’t know because he would never have tried.
And isn’t that a key learning we give our children – to try everything without inhibitions before they decide what they do or do not like.
I’m all for kids’ meals if all it means is a smaller portion of an adult meal. That cuts out wastage. But I’m yet to understand why factory-produced frozen chicken nuggets are seen as a more acceptable kids’ meal than real wholesome food. Not surprisingly, my son, who is learning to enjoy the difference between salmon and king fish, lobsters and prawns, did not like the fish and chips served to him. He found it too bland.
Also, a point we seem to have missed is that chicken nuggets, mac & cheese and French fries are not traditionally Indian comfort foods. But somehow these are all we see on kids’ menus in restaurant after restaurant, even if they serve Italian or Korean cuisine.
Comfort-food for my son turned out to be ‘parantha’, and that’s what he started craving smack in the middle of Chinatown. Luckily for us, he settled for a plate of chicken fried rice (Phew).
Luckily for me, there was no McDonald’s around that I could dash into, to get him what I ‘thought’ his comfort food was. Epiphany number 2 – our children learn to eat what we teach them to.
When we were children we had no concept of a special kids’ menu. We ate what our parents did. As a special concession, a less spicy version would be ordered, but that’s all.
I think it made us less-fussy eaters.
In today’s messed-up times, I think it serves a larger function. In an age where food has such political overtones, opening up and accepting all food – real food, local food – might help us raise better adjusted and more empathic children.
When not answering the incessant question of her 4-year-old, Priyanka Bhattacharya Dutt is a journalist and co-founder of Tura Turi, an art-inspired children’s merchandise brand