Chart Number 203

January 29, 2016

By Ekta R. Garg

Deception. Manipulation. Flat out lies. I’m happy to employ any and all of them when necessary.

I spend quite a bit of time planning and cooking meals. Dinner is the only meal of the day during the week that our family eats together, and I try to make it a pleasant experience by coming up with different menus. Given that we have five people in our family, inevitably I end up making something that someone doesn’t fully enjoy. I do my best to rotate through meals that I know receive the most enthusiasm, but sometimes I end up cooking a meal that someone eats with a little bit of reluctance.

When it comes to the kids, I’ve made it clear that what they get on the table is what they get. I won’t make separate meals for everyone just because someone doesn’t happen to like what I chose for dinner that night. I have no problem offering leftovers if they’re in the fridge and more desirable, but I won’t make a single-serving dinner.

I’m not running a restaurant, I’ve explained to the kids, and we eat dinner as a family. That togetherness includes what goes in everyone’s plates. If a child decides she doesn’t like what’s being served, she can opt out of eating.

Of course, that last piece of it is more in theory in practice. In no way do I enjoy or look forward to the thought of either of my children going to sleep hungry. We have plenty of food in the house, and I’m all too aware of the fact that in our community and other communities live families who don’t have enough to eat. We’re truly blessed to be able to open the fridge or the pantry and have a choice.

It’s a hard balance to strike sometimes between that awareness and reinforcing rules, and when one of my children decides she’s going to dig in her heels I have to dig in just a little harder.

I love cooking big pots of soup in the winter time. To me there’s nothing more comforting or warming, from the inside out, than a big bowl of soup with a healthy chunk of garlic bread to go with it. Nine thoroughly enjoys soups. When she was born we were living in Portland, Oregon, and winter time meant soups every single weekend for at least one and sometimes more than one meal.

Seven was born in Texas during a scorching summer. The heat in the Lone Star State sears a person’s skin and burrows itself into a person’s bones. Just thinking about a bowl of soup could make a person break out in a sweat. So I didn’t make much, if any, soup at all during our three years there.

Does that have anything to do with the fact that my younger daughter just doesn’t enjoy a warm bowl of homemade soup the same way the rest of us do? I don’t know. But when it comes to homemade meals, Seven just doesn’t like anything broth-based with vegetables, meat, and pasta in it.

At the beginning of the week, the temperatures here in Central Illinois plummeted. I had some veggies in the fridge that I needed to use or else lose to spoilage, and I had some chicken broth in the pantry. So I made soup, knowing full well that I would have a fight with Seven in the evening.

Sure enough, close to dinnertime when I asked the girls to set the table, Seven came skipping to me.

“I’m not hungry,” she said.

“Really?” I asked. “Why, what happened?”

I already knew she’d passed the stove in the kitchen and seen the huge pot on the stove, and I asked her if she wasn’t hungry because she knew we were having soup for dinner. She insisted that it had nothing to do with the soup; she just wasn’t hungry.

I told her that was fine, she didn’t have to have anything for dinner, but she did have to join us on the table. She kind of shrugged and said okay. The girls set the table, and we all sat down.

After serving everyone except for Seven with steaming bowls of soup, I went back to the toaster oven and grabbed the little tray of garlic bread I’d made. I placed the tray on a trivet on the dining table and watched my younger daughter. She eyed the tray as it came down almost right in front of her.

If there’s one thing Seven loves, it’s bread. I knew this but didn’t say anything to her. I just passed it to my left and right as I watched her reactions from my place directly across from her.

After a few minutes, I asked, “[Seven], would you like some bread?”

She bobbed her head right away, and I knew my little girl was hungry. I told her calmly that she couldn’t have bread without having soup with it, because that was the complete meal. She agreed immediately to some soup, and I jogged to the kitchen, grabbed a kid-sized bowl, and ladled some soup into it.

I brought it back to the table and set it in front of her, and then I gave her the piece of garlic bread she’d selected for herself. Within minutes she was enjoying the bread and, to a lesser degree, the soup. She’d been pretty quiet before she started eating, but the minute she got a few mouthfuls of dinner inside of her belly she went back to her sunny, chatty self.

I looked at my husband and said, “I deserve a PhD. in psychology.”

Did I deliberately massage the situation to get my daughter to have soup for her dinner? Yes. She’s my child, and I don’t ever want her to go to bed hungry. I also don’t want to have to go toe to toe with her on a daily or even a weekly basis. So, when the situation demands it, yes, I will use every underhanded trick I can employ to take care of my kids. It’s always in their best interest, and sometimes it’s what they wanted anyway. They just need a nudge to find that out.