Mum's the Word
In her first column for Velvet, Cambridge’s Emily Martin, mum of Girl, aged 5, and Boy, 1, navigates the minefield of family mealtimes
Choose any household at random and you will find just two types of people in charge of sorting out the dinner.
Either you’ll meet a meal-planner, who shops with a list, owns a slow-cooker and has a freezer full of well-labelled batch-bakes, spearheading a family who eats at the table. On Sunday evenings the planner will write things like “Thursday – chicken fajitas” up on the fridge.
Or you’ll discover a meal-winger, who just totally wings it from Monday to Friday. They eat different things at different times, they have the TV on, they spend £10 at the shop most days, having decided what to make just moments earlier, and generally they don’t cherish mealtimes in a way that might make The Waltons feel sad, uncomfortable and rudderless.
I am usually in charge of dinner in my house and my family is in the second group. We don’t eat together. There I said it.
But don’t get me wrong, we’re OK. We all eat dinner eventually and we do love and care about each other despite how it might look.
But as the children grow older, I have a feeling we could be missing out on something special by not making mealtimes more of a “thing”, so I have decided that in 2019 I will drag my family into group one, no matter how painful it is.
I don’t know how we’ve ended up so dysfunctional when it comes to eating dinner in my house. Well, I do really.
Boy is 1 year old. He refuses to drink from a bottle (always has, always will) and isn’t crazy about drinking anything at all unless it’s delivered via a boob. He often refuses to eat food altogether.
The textbooks suggest that babies can join in mealtimes from six months, and just feed themselves handfuls of whatever you’re having. It’s called baby-led weaning and I think we can agree on what a lovely idea that is. Why not let the baby take the lead for once? Stop treating him like a baby who would eat the garden fence if you didn’t stop him.
Truly, what could be nicer than all sitting down to the same meal and the baby feeding himself hearty little fistfuls of spaghetti bolognaise. But it doesn’t work very well, does it? Due to the baby having no idea what he’s doing, you might as well just wang yourself in the face with some sauce, push your fridge over onto the floor, and spend 40 minutes putting everything the bin. Not to mention the awful, terrifying gagging and choking, and that’s just from you.
Girl is aged 5 and likes: pizza with ketchup, omelette with ketchup, pasta-pesto, and sausages, but her favourite is what I (rather charmingly I think) call “a mummy oven dinner” which is usually a frozen chicken korma. And sometimes she has a “McMummy”, which is self-explanatory.
They’re both hungry by 5.30pm but I like to look forward to having dinner when they’ve gone to bed, otherwise what is there to look forward to (except for wine)? But mummy and daddy’s dinner usually ends up like this: “What are we having?” *glare at each other* *have nothing* *have crisps*.
Or sometimes we make “stuff with stuff” at 9pm before going to bed around 9.15pm.
But perhaps Boy would eat better if he could watch his sister eating. Maybe Girl would try different things if our mealtimes were more ceremonial.
The worst thing about it is we’re actually pretty good cooks. You know those people on TV who are amazed that chopping an onion and a few carrots can be the start of something you can eat? And they stare in amazement at a sizzling pan, going “Look at THIS!”? Well that’s not even us.
The baby goes to bed at 7pm, so I’ve calculated that to have a picture-perfect mealtime, we need to sit down to it at 6pm. I’ve Googled “chicken fajitas”, I’ve written Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday on the fridge. I’ve even bought some Tupperware and some labels. But I’m drawing the line at a slow-cooker for now. Who has time for a slow cooker? Or have I missed the point? Anyway, wish us luck.