“The table is very important,” Mr. Marzovilla explained as we sat around one at his restaurant early Sunday evening with our five collective children. “It’s about nutrition, it’s about family; you go right down the line. And the children’s menu is about the opposite — it’s about making it quick, making it easy, and moving on.”
Every day, I find a new reason to be grateful for my upbringing, particularly in matters of the table. While both of my parents worked full-time, my sister and I spent our after-school hours (and countless others) at my grandparents' house. There, the kitchen was the center of all activity; literally, it was the center of their first-floor apartment in the double-decker house they shared with my great-aunt, and before they passed, my great-grandparents. The entire day was more or less coordinated around all the phases of meal preparation, and when we were afoot, my grandma and aunt would be sure to put us to work in some capacity, peeling veggies, making salads, or mixing doughs. By being involved in the cooking process, we were already connected to what we were going to eat, so "no" wasn't even really an answer when it came to what was put in front of us.
"No" wasn't really an option, either, for that matter. Much like Marzovilla's own mealtime principles, we had to try everything at least once before we were allowed (barely, if ever) to refuse anything. If we snubbed our noses at something, there was no back-up plan, no mini-pizzas in the freezer to be "kid-friendly". Every night, we were lucky enough to sit down as a family for dinner, which my mom prepped after a long day at work, uncompromisingly. We ate simply and nutritiously, squarely balanced meals that always included salad and dessert. And we all ate the same thing; there were no special preparations: "You'll eat it and you'll like it" was the rule and the philosophy. Were there nights when one of us would be left alone at the table, contemplating our chewy steak, long after the kitchen had been cleaned and everyone was relaxing? Oh yes there were. But we eventually ate it, we liked it (ok, well, maybe we just ate it) and we moved on.
Sometimes I feel that I may be stepping out of bounds making any manner of commentary on child-rearing, not yet being a parent myself. I've witnessed plenty of dinner table meltdowns though, and occasionally there comes a point where in order to simply make sure your child has actually consumed something of some nutritional value, you have to give in and break out the chicken fingers. It happens. But chicken fingers should be the end of the line, rather than the beginning. When was it decided that children will only voluntarily consume "meat" cut into dinosaur shapes or neon-pink yogurt in a tube? I'm concerned that focusing on so-called "kid-friendliness" enables future refusals to eat non-dinosaur-shaped foods and ultimately kicks off a lifetime of pickyness, or worse, a lack of an adventurous palate. Take advantage of kids' blank-slatedness in matters of taste. Their palate is pure and their mind is free of those blocks of experience that say "I'm never eating mussels again after that horrible experience in Brussels".
I'm not saying everyone (especially a six-year old) will or should love briny sea urchin or succulent blood sausage, but how will you ever know unless you try?
(Thanks to @rsalema for the link)