Food Buzz

Because maybe you do care what I had for lunch...

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Chicken nuggets will find you

It probably wouldn't surprise you that I hold frozen chicken nuggets in low regard. I think children should recognize that their meat comes from animals as early as possible -- and, of course, I try to avoid processed foods in general. (Yeah, I know, last week's potato chips and yes, I've boiled plenty of Annie's mac & cheese. Shush.) Chicken nuggets fail on both points. Plus there's the aesthetic issue. Chicken nuggets -- ewww! They're a total violation of the romantic fancy-pants-gourmet-lady lifestyle I struggle daily to construct.

As you parents know, nothing will knock down that romantic fancy-pants-gourmet-lady construct like having children -- especially if you don't have piles of money and plenty of domestic help. I get my come-uppance daily.

Nevertheless, I'd managed to avoid pebian chicken nuggets for four long, glorious years. Then I enrolled Jasper in a preschool that does cooking lessons. Guess what they make every few weeks? Chicken frickin' nuggets. I decided not to reveal what an obnoxious food snob I can be and kept silent. But then Jasper started asking for chicken nuggets at home. I kept putting him off (honey, we eat lovely organic chicken cooked fresh in many delicious ways at home -- nuggets are just for school.), but he was relentless, and last night Lane called to say he would be working late at the studio.

So I bought some frozen chicken nuggets.

I won't tell you what brand because I don't recommend them. At least the meat is hormone-free, and the breading is made from whole-wheat bread crumbs. But they still included a bunch of weird, seemingly unnecessary "flavorings" that seemed to have nothing to do with flavor. I wish I could say I had a chicken nugget revelation, but while the exterior was pleasantly crisp and the meat moist and tender, I thought they tasted funky. What is with this nation-wide aversion to dark meat? If they made these nuggets with dark meat they would be flavorful enough on their own. Jasper loved the nuggets, of course.

If I were ambitious I would make our own homemade chicken nuggets, sans funky flavorings, flavored with fresh herbs instead. Wouldn't that be nifty? But I'm not going to. One of the great pleasures of my childhood was the occasional TV dinner. Most of the time my mom fed us home-cooked, wholesome meals for dinner. We had our choice of apples, bananas, and oranges for snacks, and drank only milk and water. But everyone once in a while my parents would go out for dinner and leave us with a sitter and some frozen dinners. I loved how crummy these dinners tasted, how everything was divided in its own little compartment, the ritual of baking the individual plates and removing the foil to reveal... mushy peas! Unidentifiable meat with salty gravy! Reconstituted mashed potatoes!

Slumming as a special treat: that's how I was raised. The lessons I learned are that we shouldn't eat that way all the time, only occasionally, and that we should know the difference between food cooked fresh with care and food prepared by a factory. But a third, less obvious lesson I learned was to say yes to everything -- at least once. Know the high and the low. I remembered this last night at dinner as I crunched into my chicken nuggets and nodded. "Hmm, interesting. What do you think, Jasper?" "Great!" He helped himself to more green beans.


Anonymous said...

Our special parents-going-out dinners were sometimes frozen pot pies and sometimes cheapie frozen pizzas, and other times easy "homemade" fare like beans and wienies. Kraft Mac & Cheese appeared when we were old enough to "cook" for ourselves.

Now when we go out, I almost invariably feed my boys some kind of pasta dish, usually either homemade mac & cheese or fresh/frozen ravioli (these are easy to keep on hand in the freezer--right now we've got three cheese, chicken sausage and butternut squash).

MissGinsu said...

This is hilarious. :)

I agree with the experimentation angle, and I wouldn't worry about your budding food snob turning to the dark side.

I grew up on a diet that consisted of farm chickens, foraged wild foods and organic garden produce interspersed with countless fastfood trips and guilty-pleasure Totino's Frozen Pizzas. I grew up knowing the difference and ended up loving the process of growing, cooking and eating real food. Exposure is really key. Thanks, mom and dad!

Swizzies said...

A, that is like the perfect little essay. Great writing.

I do crave crappy white trash food sometimes. But that could be a scarcity thing too.

Co said...

I wouldn't say I was raised on the best fare. My mom was definitely a mom of the 1950s era. But I learned healthy eating habits, despite being an insanely picky eater (although kids with bad allergies often are, so maybe it wasn't just a temperamental thing).

In general, we ate the same meals on a rotation. I hated roast pork night and looked forward to macaroni and meatballs night with my mom's homemade sauce. My mom wasn't anti-processed foods at all... we had shake'n'bake pork chop night... but most of the time, my mom prepared most of the food we ate. She also would let us choose a vegetable of our choice. I had green beans EVERY NIGHT. But then whatever she made as the second vegetable, we had to eat some of that, too. We had to eat some of the main dish as well and if we had a starch, some of that. In general, I learned that you have to eat what's on your plate and you won't always get food that you really like (roast pork night), but that sometimes you will and it's good to have variety.

McDonald's and this local Italian mom-and-pop-run restaurant were the treats for us. My mom raised me to understand that eating out is expensive and it's a special treat. So, in my childhood, it was stressed as a financial, not a health, thing. But I do think it's helpful to kids if these things are stressed as a special treat, for whatever reasons... I'll probably stress both the financial and the health reasons with my own son. When I was a teacher, I knew kids who ate Lunchables every single day (sometimes not even the Lunchables that pretend to be food, the ones that are just nachos and cheese and salsa and a candy bar). I also knew kids who ate fast food every single day. And that just isn't good. I actually team-taught a health class with our P.E. teacher in part because my students really needed some nutrition lessons. We did an activity involving cutting out foods from magazines. We traced two of the kids in the class on butcher paper and named one Carl Carrot and the other Danny Donut and then put all the healthy foods we cut out in Carl and the unhealthy foods in Danny. It was kind of amazing to me the foods that my kids though belonged in Carl... pepperoni sticks, apple pie (it has apples in it!)...

Okay, so this is a freaking long comment. But I think that it's good that you are finding a balance, and that you are learning to let go of some of the stuff that happens at Jasper's school. I went to pick up Jo from daycare and saw that the t.v. was on. It was one of 2 Sesame Street DVDs the day care has and they put it on for 30 minutes as part of a pre-nap-time ritual. But I couldn't help but think, "Oh, Lord, what am I doing bringing Jo here?" I am not anti-t.v., but we are careful not to have it on when Jo is awake, at least for now. But ya know what? The day care is awesome in so many ways... it's at Lo's school so she can stop in and see him, it's affordable (b/c it's a staff day care and they aren't trying to make a profit), and the current ratio is 2 adults: 3 children. So am I going to make a fuss about two Sesame Street DVDs? (That's not analagous to your sitch exactly, but I'm trying to learn the "let go" philosophy when it comes to leaving my child in someone else's care.)

Okay, longest comment ever. (And they make chicken nuggets all white meat because then people can pretend it's somehow healthy. Ha!)

Luisa Perkins said...

We had TV dinners with exactly the regularity you did. I didn't figure out why the mashed potatoes tasted different from the ones my mom made until I was 21, when I witnessed someone cooking up a batch of potato flakes. It was quite the revelation.

The Bindrup Family said...

My food habits are of an extreme- We used to eat lobster to the point we would leave hunks left over on the plate, yet we ate MickyD fries like no tomorrow. And my kids are not too different! They request shrimp and chocolate dipped strawberries and brie for their birthday parties and happily suck down KrispieKremes. Variety of this sort hasn't killed us yet!
May I say that since I haven't seen Adriana since oh, 1990, I think, I had no idea she could cook! Glad you are still a writer!

Adriana Velez said...

I loved hearing everyone's stories -- even the long ones, Co!

Bindrup Family, I'm doing the math and some guesswork -- are you Suzy of Cheers???

The Bindrup Family said...

Yes, Suzy from Cheers- that would be me! Email me, lady, I would love to know more about the present day you!

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

Chicken nuggets. Yum! Green beans. Yum!

Like your other commenters, I ate fairly respectably as a kid. My mother cooked every night and we rarely had processed foods. The exceptions were mac-n-cheese, canned soups, and the occasional t.v. dinner as a treat.

Oddly, though, I'm finding that the fare of my childhood--and still the standard fare at my parents when I go over for dinner--is less to my taste now than it was growing up. I enjoy it as comfort food, but as a sustained, consistent diet it's way too heavy in red meats, gravies, and starches. Moving to California and living there for almost eight years really expanded my palette and taught me what's possible with meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, breads, dairy, etc.

Nothing better than a good piece of fish with a bright green, lightly sauteed or steamed veg or two or three, a good salad, and a bit of bread and cheese afterward. That said, though, I still love me some artery clogging, heart attack inducing family favorites like beef roladen with mashed potatoes and gravy, buttered cabbage, onions, and carrots, homemade crescent rolls, and Black Forest Cherry cake to top it all off. Gastronomic heaven and hell all wrapped up in one glorious meal!