I understood Joey Tribbiani. When I was single, I wouldn’t have liked a date who took my french fries either.
I’ve always been particular about my food. But my understanding of food–its meaning and purpose–has also evolved somewhat over time.
At every stage in my life, there’s been a loved one who loved my food and wanted to share. In my earlier years, it was little sister, Nina. Regardless of what we were eating–say, homemade vegetarian pasta–Nina always thought it looked tastier on my plate. So, she’d ask for some. If I said no, she’d gaze hungrily at my food, while I noted that we were eating the same meal.
At restaurants, Nina began ordering second, so that she could guarantee she’d eat the best item on the menu (a.k.a., whatever I was having). Still, there were times when our grilled vegetable sandwiches arrived, and Nina wanted to trade plates because mine looked more enticing. Sometimes we even switched plates twice. I didn’t mind; the sandwiches always looked interchangeable to me.
This food dance continued, albeit at a new tempo, when I met Todd. On our dates, I always wanted dessert. Todd always declined… until my chocolate cake arrived.
One night, after our two spoons arrived, this slow eater proposed a pause. I sliced the piece of cake I wanted–and Todd allegedly didn’t–in half. Todd was amenable to this solution, and it became our standard practice.
That one tweak kept our little family at food equilibrium until Lila began eating solid foods in earnest. My dinner was suddenly no longer mine alone. Lila would clamor to try my Palaak Paneer, as Todd chuckled and I looked back longingly, hoping she would decide she hated spinach, in spite of my eating it constantly while pregnant. I wasn’t proud of myself. Of course, I always shared, but I also would’ve been happy not to.
As we now near Lila’s two-year mark, we’ve all adapted to life as a solid-food-eating trio. Lila has also developed her own food preferences over time, like her rather insistent request for apple cheese, which recently stumped me. Yet, she still primarily prefers Mommy and Daddy’s food. That’s made me more conscious about what I eat, since I’d rather serve Lila Peanut Butter Cheerios than Cinnamon Toast Crunch. (I just can’t bring myself to eat plain Cheerios.)
This shift has also changed how I shop, cook, and prepare meals. I now buy fewer single serving size containers and more tubs of yogurt and cottage cheese, so that I can adjust servings according to everyone’s appetite. When I cook pasta, I purposely make extra elbow pasta (Lila’s favorite) and tomato sauce. In general, I build in more wiggle room, and that’s made me better at sharing whatever favorite food is on my plate.
Perhaps more importantly, our meals are no longer only about refueling. They’ve also become an opportunity for me to slow down and nourish Lila, and to let Lila know that I love her and I’m caring for her. Because that’s part of what parents do: we demonstrate care by cooking.
It’s true that historically, I haven’t been so into cooking, but I hope to start changing that this year. I’d like to expand my culinary repertoire as Lila grows. And in the short run, the best news is that I’m already a five-star chef when it comes to making Lila’s new favorite dish, apple cheese.
Recipe for Lila’s Apple Cheese
1 scoop full-fat cottage cheese
1 scoop plain, unsweetened apple sauce
Allow toddler to mix as she wishes (or doesn’t)
For fancy apple cheese, add slices of fresh mozzarella on the side.