How to win over fast food-loving kids with your homecooking
In this week’s Chubby Hubby, Portly Papa column, Aun Koh finds out that the fight to keep the kids from getting addicted to fast food is real – just be careful about creating a little food snob.
Like every other kid in the country, my own tiny terrors have a thing for visiting certain fast food franchises. Which drives my wife and me nuts.
When our oldest was born, Su-Lyn and I would often talk about how we wanted to feed our kids. Given our own eating habits, we knew we could never not expose them to deliciously addictive foods like pizza, burgers or chicken nuggets. But we were determined to serve them healthy, homemade options that tasted so good that they would never be satisfied with mass market fast food versions. It helps, of course, that both Su-Lyn and I are obsessive home cooks.
The results, for the first few years, were good – although there was an embarrassing side effect, that in our naivete, we hadn’t counted on. In our quest to make the very best fill-in-the-blank fast food item, we inadvertently turned our son into a food snob.
We discovered this at the birthday party of one of my wife’s niece’s kids. The party was held at a small but well-equipped gymnastics school and was actually quite fun. The kids all enjoyed one hour of guided running around, tumbling, climbing, jumping, swinging and games, all led by an enthusiastic (but understandably tired-looking) staff member.
Because all kids love pizza, my wife’s relative ordered a whole bevy of pies from a local pizza delivery service. To their credit, the pies did smell pretty good. But they didn’t look all that appetising.
Our little foodie-in-training, naive little boy that he was back then, having been fed only on mama and papa’s handmade Roman pizzas with buffalo mozzarella and a homemade sauce made from cherry tomatoes (yes, I completely admit to spoiling him), stared at the slice of pizza deposited in front of him. He looked at the pizza. Then he looked up at us. Then he looked at the pizza again, without making any attempt to taste it.
“It’s pizza, honey,” said mama. “You like pizza. Have a bite.” He did (I wouldn’t have). Then he spat it out and declared, “This pizza’s not good!” in a very, very loud voice.
Looking around, I did notice that none of the other kids seemed to have a problem with the ’za and were digging in excitedly. Suffice it to say, we made a very quick, very sheepish exit.
At some point in the last couple years, T1 finally made his way into a McDonald’s. I forget who brought him first – I just know it wasn’t me or Su-Lyn. All I know is that ever since, MickyD’s has become one of his and, eventually, one of his sister’s favourite places.
This does drive me a little crazy, because I had thought I had done a good – no, a great – job at teaching the kids to appreciate a good burger. Of course, they have some interesting preferences. For my young tasters, a good burger cannot be too dense. So even if the meat is of the highest quality, if it’s too compact, they both find it too heavy and thus not enjoyable. The meat also can’t be too seasoned. No sauces, please, et cetera, et cetera.
To date, the burgers T1, who is a much bigger burger aficionado than his sister, has liked best have been the ones at Roadhouse (which has sadly closed down but the burgers are fortunately still available from The Green Door) and Black Tap. He also likes the burgers from Wolf and PS Cafe. Sadly, he wasn’t a fan of the ones at Luke’s, White Rabbit, Potato Head Folk, or Huber’s – all of which I enjoy and think are very well made. Flatterer that he is, T1 does like to say that mine are the best in town, outside of Black Tap and Roadhouse.
Of course, what I have never told T1 is that the burgers we make at home are chock full of what we call at home “secret vegetables”. Because my little monsters, like so many others, are averse to greens, I like to hide them in their foods.
I make a pretty wide variety of vegetable purees, usually by either slow-cooking them on the stove or steaming them until soft, then whizzing them until creamy. Similarly, if I know a dish will be a certain colour that renders the vegetables undetectable (like a soy-braised minced pork, for example), I’ll throw in any number of veggies. (I particularly like zucchini and mushrooms when making meat braises.)
For my burgers, I tend to fold in some carrot puree as well as some leek and garlic or onion puree. A few months ago, T2 was playing in the living room while I was prepping burger mix. In addition to the carrot and onion, I also added some zucchini. T2 noticed, ran over, and spoke to me in a rather loud and accusatory manner: “Papa, what are you doing?”
Fortunately, I was able to convince her that we could play a game and keep it a secret from her gor gor.
Sadly, T2, who loves chicken nuggets, does not like mine very much. I think she’s figured out that I’m doing the same thing to her beloved nuggets – adding in veggies to the minced chicken before shaping and breading them. She’s told me very matter-of-factly, right to my face, that mine are simply not as good as the ones from MickeyD’s.
Nonetheless, I am still working to influence and educate my rug rats. Just a few weeks ago, I announced that I was making our own version of Happy Meals. I arranged two trays, each with a boxed Ribena drink, a basket of fries, some nuggets and a burger. I even promised them ice cream after the meal.
They looked the trays up and down, and all around, and looked back at me. I could tell something was wrong. Yet, I was sure I made everything perfectly.
“Papa,” piped up T2, “But where are our toys?”
Chubby Hubby, Portly Papa is a regular column about adventures in fatherhood from Aun Koh.