Getting your kids to appreciate homecooking starts with Deliveroo
In this week’s Chubby Hubby, Portly Papa column, Aun Koh rediscovers the joy of cooking for the children.
Moving to a new home takes a toll on a household in so many ways. Firstly, it is a huge financial strain since movers don’t come cheap. Secondly, fitting your accumulated belongings into a new home is no easy feat even if you're moving to a bigger place. There is no guarantee that the old furniture will fit into your new home. And if you're moving into a smaller place, good luck. External storage means more money out the window.
Stress levels during a move can sky rocket. You and your spouse might not agree on furniture arrangements. Your kids might not be happy with their new sleeping arrangements. In our case, all the little things slowly piled up, turning multiple minor annoyances into a mountain of anxiety.
While we love the new place we just moved into, the stamp-sized kitchen is a sore point for my wife Su-Lyn and me. As avid cooks, a comfortable and smartly designed kitchen is highly prized. We'd also been completely spoiled by our old kitchen – which Su-Lyn co-designed with our architect. Not only was our old kitchen efficient in design, it was indulgently large. We could prep and cook side by side without ever bumping into each other. Our new kitchen, however, is so small that it already feels cramped when I'm in there with my four-year-old daughter.
In addition to being small, there's almost no built-in storage space in there. A kitchen filled with boxes containing culinary gear, flatware and other related stuff meant that we weren't able to cook. Deliveroo and Foodpanda became our daily nourishment. And because my kids are finicky eaters, we tended to order food we knew they'd eat – chicken rice, pizza, and burgers – which aren’t exactly nourishing.
To make matters worse, after we cleared out most of the boxes (thank you Ikea storage units), we discovered that the oven in our new rented home didn’t work. Within minutes of turning it on for the first time, it “died” – with a whole head of marinated cauliflower inside that I'd planned to roast for Su-Lyn and I to have with dinner that evening.
Before the move, I used to cook for my kids all the time and I tend to sneak secret vegetables into my kids' meals in order to introduce some semblance of healthy food and nutrition into their diets. Unfortunately, when you're ordering food, you surrender control of what goes into what you eat.
It was two weeks after the move before I made a proper dinner for the family. And when I did, the kids were so happy that I felt guilty for making them eat takeaway for weeks.
Don’t get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Deliveroo and its peers. Ordering in once in a while is great. The convenience that these food delivery apps has afforded busy people is amazing. But when you start to over-depend, making do with what's cheap and quick, you end up eating a lot of junk food. By week three of our mostly-delivery-diet, we were having constant tummy aches. Fortunately, T1 and T2 like fruit so we made sure that fruit (for dessert) became a daily option. That helped, but just a little.
Sometimes we forget just how important it is to eat food made from scratch. Not eating home cooked meals had a very noticeable toll on my family, something I hadn't even considered when Su-Lyn and I planned our move.
We've finally started cooking again. Our oven still doesn’t work so we borrowed a Miele steam oven from a friend. That allowed me to make one of the kids’ (and my) favourite dishes, steamed egg custard with minced pork, spinach and carrots. The Hong Kong-style steamed fish is another big winner with the kids and the kind of thing you just can't order from delivery.
We also had shabu shabu at the new place for the first time last week. T2, who was staying at my in-laws, was distraught when she heard that she'd missed out on what she declared to be her “favourite meal” and made mama promise that we'd have shabu shabu again as soon as possible.
For T1, that meal was something special. Not only did he get to pretend to be an only child again (poor T3 goes to bed when the rest of us have dinner), it is also very much his absolute favourite thing to eat, followed closely by yakiniku.
Two months ago, if you'd have asked T1 what his favourite foods were, after shabu shabu and yakiniku, he would have listed Peking Duck, chicken rice, char siew, burgers and pizza. But only a week ago, when we were looking for something to order, he very politely let me know that while he didn't know what he wanted, he did know he didn't want chicken rice, burgers or pizza. Poor guy. Obviously we'd been ordering these things way too often.
T2, on the other hand, doesn't seem to feel that way. Just last weekend, she asked for pizza for lunch and then when mama was firing up Deliveroo again in the evening, while the rest of us enjoyed dishes from Soup Restaurant, she had another pizza. I guess for her there's no such thing as too much of a good thing (that philosophy also extends towards sequins, rhinestones, costume jewellery, princess dresses, and hair accessories).
While we are cooking again, the kitchen is still nowhere close to what we're used to or how we'd like it to be. We still have three big boxes left to unpack. Some of its contents might end up being sold by my wife via Instagram stories – something she very successfully did pre-move to rehome beautiful things that we no longer have space for.
More importantly, though, is that we are cooking again, and feeding the kids food that they love and that's actually good for them. The hiatus from mama and papa's cooking has also made the little ones appreciate us a lot more than I had thought possible. It's heartwarming to see how grateful they are when we cook for them now. They now make it a point to always thank us unprompted when we do serve them something homemade.
Any (home) chef will tell you that the best reward for pouring his or her time and effort into making something for you is earnest gratitude. To see and hear our kids actively expressing theirs has been enormously rewarding. I think prior to the move they took it for granted that most days of the week mama or papa would ensure they'd have a home cooked meal served to them. Now they know better. And all it took to earn such thanks was the monotony of a month of food delivery along with a side of tummy aches.
Chubby Hubby, Portly Papa is a regular column about adventures in fatherhood from Aun Koh.