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Mark’s Diet? Rice and Cheese, Like a True Chinese-French

Discovering Onion Rings, Ottawa, March 2015

“What do you want to eat?”

“Eat rice. Eat Cheese.”

Typical Mark, bridging French and Chinese cultures.

Still a North American kid, though—he won’t sit at the table, he’d rather “watch TV.”

Despite my occasionally tumultuous relationship with food and our respective cultural biases, our household is fairly straightforward with food. We have no known allergies, we don’t follow any specific diet and we cook most meals from scratch—nothing frozen but the occasional pizza. We each have our little quirks—Feng is partial to chewy cookies while I like them crunchy; I love runny eggs but Feng would rather eat dirt than touch a yolk that hasn’t been fried to death, and yesterday I caught Mark dipping a grape in ketchup.

Once upon a time, I may have entertained the thought of feeding precious snowflake organic, cruelty-free, 100% home-cooked meals, but then life happened and since he was eating sand and licking windows, I figured we could skip the Martha Steward moment.

I’m more (fucking) Gordon Ramsay, anyway.

Feeding a kid is not as easy as it seems. Most parents want to teach them good eating habits, but few can agree on the definition of “healthy eating habits.” Food is a touchy subject on which there is no consensus: tell anyone about a food choice you made and you will hear everything about it. Vegetarian? But how do you live without proteins? Organic food? Huh, must be nice to have money to spend on that crap. Convenience food? No wonder you are struggling with your weight with the one-and-half-store-bought cookie you’ve just eaten! Too much coffee is terrible for your health! Water should be filtered! No, water bottles give cancer! Whatever, paleo diet rules. Meh, no carbs is best. How can you let your kid eat fries? You know, you could totally bake your own bread. You gotta watch that sodium intake. Sugar is deadly too.

At one point, I decided we should all shut the fuck up and mind our own business, and eat whatever we like.

Oh, and also, everything and anything will kill us anyway.

So yes, Mark eats fast food once in a while. I give him store-bought cereal bars, I have never made fruit puree from scratch (unless handing him a ripe banana and having him open it alone counts—it certainly is pureed afterwards…). Wait, there is worse: Mark occasionally drank Coke (in China, when no drinkable water was available), he loves chocolate and candies, he snacks on peanuts and I let him lick the jam off the knife (double whammy, sugar + dangerous kitchen tool).

But he also loves broccoli and carrots, and tofu, eats fruits, is willing to taste anything (including stinky tofu, spicy food, etc.), eats when he is hungry and stops when he is full and he is active. He likes to cook with us (us, not so much…) and enjoys walking around the supermarket naming produce and familiar foods.

So all in all, I think we have it easy—I know some kids can be very picky. The main issue with Mark is having him sit at the table to eat. I like to contain the mess to the kitchen and it annoys me when he plays with food.

Mark’s new daycare (yes, I spared you the quest this time…) came with a much lower monthly fee, explained by the fact that this time, we had to provide snacks and lunch boxes.

I wasn’t too happy with the news (yay, more work and responsibilities!) but I took it in stride. After all, brown bagging is a North American tradition.

I bought a cute and easily washable lunch box, containers, a leak-proof cup with a straw, and toddler-friendly cutlery, and started crying as I set up the items on the kitchen counter. “He is too young to take his own lunch to school!” I wept. “Next thing you know, he will be asking me for change for the coffee machine and smuggling beer cans at home.”

Mark immediately loved “Mark’s box” and practised zipping it while I was deciding on the perfect lunch, knowing full well that he sometimes eats absolutely everything in front of him or refuses to have anything.

Yogurt, fruits, bread, cheese, a couple of cookies and a portion of whatever I feel like cooking—I have it figured out now. I think. Some days, he empties out the box, some days, he doesn’t eat much and it has nothing to do with the food, as I make sure to give him stuff he actually likes because I don’t want him to go hungry. I’m not that bad of a mother.

Now if Mark could just stop proudly telling people that he “eats McDonald’s” and “eats dogs,” that would be great… (Yes, he has McDonald’s at one point or another during any given month and no, he doesn’t eat dog meat—he means that he fakes biting as dogs do!)

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