Sunday, May 31, 2009

What’s In a Name?

(Or: A Chicken Nugget by Any Other Name).

There was a period of time when my son had a list of only six dishes he would eat. It went a little something like this:

1) Pizza (cheese only, no chunks of anything in the sauce)
2) Cheeseburger (no crunchy bits, no garnish)
3) Hot dogs (boiled only, no grill marks, no bun, ends cut off because they look “yucky”).
4) Chicken nuggets
5) PB & J (1/3 pb, 2/3 strawberry jam, no fruit chunks, crust cut off).
6) Grilled Cheese (American cheese only, no visible butter, no crust).

He was four years old at the time. We thought this was acceptable. When we dined out (not often), it was usually a family friendly restaurant that had a kid’s menu. Since our son would eat several items on the kid’s menu, we told ourselves all was okay.

In case you are wondering, no – I am not a finicky eater. Neither is my husband. Quite the opposite. My husband is fascinated by those shows on Food TV where they travel around the world eating all manner of slimy live creatures and fruit that smells like poop. I am a slight step down from that, but still quite adventurous, with the exception of bugs, things that are still moving, and sea urchin. So as you can imagine, as parents, we were prone to giving each other “the look” before throwing our hands up in despair, wondering if there was a “switched at birth” possibility we needed to look into.

At restaurants that did not feature a menu for the little ones, our son usually ate bread. Or tortilla chips. Or we brought snacks for him, claiming he had food allergies (which later turned out to be true). Occasionally, we offered a Happy Meal reward if he sat nicely while we enjoyed our curry/sushi/kimchi. Don’t worry, we only had to deliver the promised reward once. Turns out, he is not only picky about what he will eat, but smell was an issue as well. More on that another day.

So one day, we’re at a Chinese restaurant and I decided my boy needed to eat something other than the crunchy noodles that are meant for the soup. I ordered an egg roll. Realizing he would not eat anything with the word “egg” in it, I told him it was a “Chinese Roller”. No, I couldn’t come up with anything better. Anyway, I acted like I didn’t really care whether or not he tried it. Against his nature, he took a hesitant bite. He declared it edible! Inwardly, I was doing a happy dance, but told myself to act cool. I asked if he would like to try the “Chinese Ketchup” (duck sauce). He dipped. He ate. He kept it down. He ate the entire egg roll. I told him the restaurant had Chinese chicken nuggets. He ate half of a dinner sized portion, WITH the sauce. We remained very calm and collected until after the boy went to bed that night. We then may or may not have exchanged numerous high fives, shrill girly giggles, and Lord of the Dance routines.

The following became our food glossary. This served us well from age four to six. I’d like to pass it on to you, should you choose to accept.

Sweet & sour chicken = chicken nuggets
Sweet & sour pork = chicken nuggets
Chicken sandwich = giant chicken nugget on a bun
Chicken tempura = chicken nuggets
Chicken parmigiana = chicken nugget pizza
Fish sticks = chicken nuggets
Calamari = like onion rings
Ham = special bacon
Popcorn shrimp = chicken nuggets

In hindsight, I suppose this may considered “sneaking” foods, but it seemed somehow different in my mind. Don’t judge! Little by little, we transitioned to the proper names, so it’s all okay now. The point is, we can eat almost anywhere together and find something for everyone. Our experience is still a work in progress and many days seem like a half step forward and a dozen back, but we’ll get there one bite at a time.

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