Tonight we’re having spaghetti bolognese, which we’ll have another night this week, unless I’m overcome with that great creative culinary urge mothers get, the urge to make lasagna, which in our house is a lot like spaghetti bolognese, only lying on its side trapped by cheese. I don’t bother with parmesan, because who’d notice if I did, but I do make béchamel sauce, despite a tip someone gave me to use ricotta because it’s easier. It is easier, but our son said it made him feel sick. Tomorrow, we might have steak, with mashed potato and broccoli, and the night after that, chicken, in a risotto of sorts, although not one any Italian would recognise, and then a green curry so mild you’d struggle to give it that name and Thai folk would giggle behind your back if you did. And then bean burritos before we go back to spag bol.
This is the impact one child has had on what I’ve always felt was the rather sophisticated and healthy diet I had in adult life. I wonder if it’s exponential, so that what you eat becomes increasingly bland and unhealthy with each additional child, and people with three or more are eating crumbed sausages or ham and pineapple pizza with chips or white rice/ pasta/ bread every night, all with tomato sauce. On the other hand, maybe it’s just me and I should force-feed more. Despite the many books I’ve bought to inspire me, the many recipes I’ve found on blogs, the many delightfully creative parents I’ve met and read about who (are surely lying when they say they) serve seaweed wraps and crunchy vegetables with saté chicken, or moussaka and salad, I – the mother who fed her baby boy blobs of blended spinach, sardines and blood oranges nine years ago – have been reduced to providing meat and potatoes and one piece of broccoli. One mother whose story I read ‘confessed’ she sometimes gave the children scrambled eggs for dinner – this was her worst mother story. Frankly, I’d put a star on the chart if I manage scrambled eggs.
If blandness does increase exponentially, I don’t know how parents of more than two children manage not to starve to death. A friend of mine with four told me she hadn’t enjoyed food in thirteen years, not since her first was old enough to say no. When she goes out, she said, the choice of café is dictated by the youngest common denominator. It’s burgers mostly, or fish and chips, the occasional adventure of Indian, Thai or Vietnamese usually ending in tears. On the rare occasions she and her husband go out on their own, she feels overwhelmed by choice, ordering something at the last minute she immediately regrets.
As a child, I ate bland food, as I do now, but I always thought it was because my parents preferred it. Other than sprinkling so much powdered pepper on his instant mashed potato that it turned gunmetal grey, my father seemed enamoured of stodgy beef stews with dumplings and other foods that swam in gravy. A big favourite was corned beef and spaghetti – an original creation of my mother’s – that had pieces of onion in it too large to conceal under a knife or fork that had to be thrust out the window when Mum turned away.
My mother couldn’t cook, I always thought, and now, I’m discovering, I can’t either. Perhaps it’s a life skill that deserts us as we get older. Or perhaps, like me, my mother was someone who once thought of herself as rather the gourmet, preparing lightly steamed asparagus tossed in olive oil and lemon juice, topped with shaved parmesan, followed by pasta with sautéed vegetables and chilli, accompanied by just the right pinot grigio, until we children arrived when she started eating corned beef and spaghetti.
I suppose we could eat separately but it’s as if children not only dominate the menu, they’re like the Borg in Star Trek, and “You will be assimilated.” They make you less desirous of food other than what they want, and resistance is indeed futile. Spaghetti bolognese tonight? I just can’t wait. “We are spag Borg!”