Doesn’t Mean Neurotic
your children to eat sensibly, then don’t fret over the occasional
Fribble or fry By Laura Leon
I have older sisters who, to this day, refer bitterly to the
fact that our mother didn’t “make me” eat whatever everybody
else was having. It doesn’t matter that by the time I came
along, the tail end of a huge family, my mother had either
wised up to the futility of such a struggle, especially with
such a headstrong sort as myself, or just plain wearied of
the time-consuming prospect of coaxing lima beans and egg
noodles into an unreceptive mouth. These sisters were known
to make statements like “My kids will learn to eat everything
that’s given them, and not be spoiled like some people!”
One such sibling, the organics and natural foods queen, Pamela,
absolutely shocked my husband and I about 12 years ago when,
visiting her family in San Francisco, we took a side trip
from a vineyard tour in order to get her then-2-year-old French
fries from McDonald’s. At the time, we tsk-tsk’d at her folly;
surely, she was being a lazy parent, and besides, hadn’t I,
in my childless wisdom, always warned her that she wouldn’t
be able to forever keep things like processed cookies and
Cheese Doodles from her offspring?
We’re bombarded these days not only with mass advertising
for a plethora of “quick” and “convenience” foods, but also,
increasingly, with news features about an epidemic of obesity
among our children. Concerned-yet-busy parents may try to
juggle the demands of family and work with nutritious and
expeditious meals, but the general feeling among moms and
dads is one of guilt. “We got takeout chicken at Popeye’s,”
nervously admits one friend, while another confides, “I haven’t
cooked in well over a year.” My own sons were thrilled that
at a baseball picnic last summer because they were actually
going to get to eat hot dogs and drink soda. I mentioned this
to a friend of mine, who laughingly replied that she serves
these same vittles just about every other night. (This friend,
and her family, are just about the most joyful, easygoing
people I know. Go figure.)
The idea that home cooking involves intensive labor and massive
time consumption is simply beyond me, but that’s fodder for
a separate discussion. Here, let’s talk about what we feed
our children, and our expectations thereof. My erstwhile colleague
B.A. Nilsson has been known to rant against the dread chicken
fingers that are so prevalent on restaurant menus. And he’s
got a point. Look under the kids’ section in nine out of 10
eateries, and you’ll see the deep-fried and breaded pantheon
of chicken fingers [or tenders], plain pizza, cheeseburger
and macaroni and cheese. Often, the mac and cheese is offered
as a side, a nice starchy complement to your starchy main
attraction. Then again, sometimes there is the option of pasta
with butter or sauce, or the classic PBJ.
Granted, we’re not talking epicurean: There’s a dreadful banality
to the salty breading and processed-cheese flavorings. Recently,
my son observed in amazement that the macaroni and cheese
he was eating at Houlihan’s tasted identical to that he had
had at Friendly’s. Chain restaurants, particularly, order
such products from the same vendors, and there’s a method
to the similarity, the aforementioned banality that, to many,
reassures and comforts. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing;
when you are craving a Friendly’s Fribble, you want
to know that it’s going to taste like you remembered it. The
downside is that it does nothing to lead the child’s palate
in any direction other than processed foods. How do we expect
our children, as they grow, to suddenly learn to eat good,
healthy foods, if we consistently give them this stuff?
a big believer in avoiding the whole children’s-menu thing,
no matter how attractively priced it is (“But, honey, the
dessert comes with the meal!”). Ordering your child something
off the “grown-up” menu will give you a much wider range of
potentially healthier options. Some restaurants can do half
portions, or, if you have more than one child and, miracle
of miracles, they can agree on an entrée, have them share
it. Even if this means paying a $1 plate-
sharing charge, it’s worth paying for the $14.95 grilled chicken
with two veggies on the side, if nutrition and quality are
Incidentally, Legal Sea Foods in Boston has the best children’s
menu going, an opinion that was recently backed up by Child
magazine, which named the chain tops in family-friendly
restaurants. (Interestingly, of the 125 menus that the magazine
analyzed, all offered soda but only two-thirds offered milk
as a beverage. Chicken nuggets, fingers or strips were on
87 percent of all menus, and salads appeared as a vegetable
option in only 19 percent of all menus.) Legal has banned
the use of trans fats in its kitchens, so even its fried seafood
isn’t really all that bad.
Ethnic restaurants are great training grounds for trying new
foods and flavorings, and, in the process, reinforcing healthy
patterns. There’s just something about trying tofu or seitan
within the context of a foreign menu that’s generally more
ingratiating with children, than, say, just serving it up
at home as a healthy alternative to animal protein.
But back to the dreaded chicken fingers. One thing that constantly
comes up, in the current food wars, is the concept that a
food is “bad.” There are a number of problems inherent to
the idea that food, or a single ingredient, is good or bad.
Remember back in the ’70s, when we were urged to ditch olive
oils and butters in favor of the magic bullet, margarine?
For every new dietary fad, there are an exponential number
of misguided pronouncements, deeming everything from eggs
to nuts to the carbs found in vegetables and fruit as “bad.”
When teaching children about food, it’s unwise to use such
terminology, if for any reason than giving them something
that you’re extolling as being “really, really good” for them
is bound to send them under the table. Seriously, in ascribing
such adjectives to things like ketchup, or French fries, or
what have you, you’re giving the food a sort of power that
your own child, and presumably you, don’t have over it. French
fries in and of themselves aren’t “bad,” reconstituted taters
out to lard your hips and pimple your face. But perhaps eating
French fries every day isn’t such a good idea.
As my sister Pamela so wisely figured out, upon becoming a
mother, it doesn’t matter in the long run if you occasionally
allow your kid to pig out on McDonald’s fries. The important
thing is exposing them to healthy, delicious choices on a
daily basis, so that those choices are the norm, and the occasional
pizza and soda night, or summer-shack fried-clam platter,
isn’t met with guilt, frustration or fear that Junior is going
to need Slim-Fast.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp, authors of The
Book Club Cookbook, will be at the Schenectady
County Public Library (Clinton and Liberty Streets,
Schenectady) from noon-5 PM Sunday, Oct. 17, to
discuss and sign their book. The event is a fund-raiser
for the Capital Campaign to expand the downtown
library to include a new children’s center, gallery
and performance space. Samples of food made by
area restaurants from The Book Club Cookbook
recipes will be offered for sale. Gelman and
Krupp interviewed book-club members all over the
country to see what they were reading and eating;
the result is a collection of 100 entries, each
focusing on a literary masterpiece. . . . The
Hudson Valley Council of Girl Scouts will
hold its third annual Cookie Cuisine event from
6-9 PM Tue, Oct. 26 at the Italian-American Community
Center (Washington Ave. Ext., Albany). Honorary
Chair Carmine Sprio, Ric Orlando and a host of
talented culinary teams take on the challenge
of preparing gourmet entrées and desserts using
Girl Scout cookies. This year’s participants include
the Arlington House, Aromi D’Italia, Capital District
EOC, Carmine’s, Crowne Plaza, Magnolia’s, New
World Home Cooking, Real Seafood, SUNY Cobleskill
and 333 Café. Tickets are $35; pony up $75 and
you’ll be part of the honorary committee. For
reservations, call Sharon Smith 489-8110, ext.
105. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland
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very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..