28 January 2006

Mac & Cheese: Scourge upon nation's children

I don't think a lot about macaroni and cheese—or as I call it cheese noodles. Until I've prepared it three times in one week. Because kids adore pasta—preferably in the shape of cartoon characters—coated with cheese product.

I should know this; I used to be one of these kids, who probably consumed the dish along with a hot dog once a week. Hot dogs are another kid favorite. They used to be the only meat—er, meat-like product—my brother ate as a child. He didn't even like McDonald's hamburgers. (Or french fries, but he sure as hell still wanted a Happy Meal.)

I'm not completely blaming my parents for pumping us full of nitrates. Hot dogs and cheese noodles were a solution to children who dry heaved at the dinner table as the consequence of being forced to try asparagus. It's not like they dined on foie gras while we shoveled Kraft dinner in our mouths; they kinda liked the stuff. In fact, sometimes when I go home for dinner, cheese noodles are on the menu until I protest.

My parents are unlike those noted in a recent New York TImesarticle in which the author refers to parents who, themselves, revel in gourmet meals while giving their kids "syrupy shots of glucose masquerading as yogurt" and "an abomination called string cheese." (Hey, easy on the string cheese—I still dig that stuff.) My parents don't enjoy gourmet-type meals; I can't even get them to Aladdin's for lunch.

However, the author has a point. Why differentiate between adult and children's meals? Were there Happy Meals in 1900? Even in 1960? I think not. Just as kids are victims of food marketing, so are parents in thinking that their children do, in fact, need Trix instead of Cheerios. No one, I mean no one, needs technicolor cereal. Kids shouldn't inherently require sugar and Yellow #5 to amp up their meals.

So from where do children's food inclinations come? It does seem like kids have rather strident likes and dislikes. Veggies don't seem so popular. Despite my parents' making us try various vegetables, there were only a few I could really stand. Does it come from innate taste buds? What parents serve? What's aggressively marketed to them?

I suppose it's a combination of these factors. That's what it feels like for me, personally. I hope if/when I have children, I don't transmit my strong predilection for sugar and my antipathy for mingling fruits and grains. More importantly, I hope I don't resort to "kid foods" to placate them. Dry heave all you want, I'll tell them, but you are eating that hummos!

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