Fretting over food doesn't make you healthier

Tue, Feb 21, 2012, 00:00

A DAD'S LIFE:FOOD MATTERS. I keep being told this. I thought it just fuelled you, kept you moving throughout the day, but it seems I am way out of touch. What goes in the brats’ mouths is of paramount importance.

Breakfast is a parade. Not for the parents, of course. We don’t for a moment think that we should look after ourselves in the mornings. But les petites mademoiselles have to be presented with their options, allowed time to assess their palates’ desire and wave us off into preparation.

It would be nice, time saving also, if occasionally their desires were similar. But no, a standard order would be a bucket of Weetabix for one girl, peanut butter on wholegrain for the other, with just a razor-thin veneer of butter over the bread. Razor thin, mind, or it’ll come back.

As I shuttle around, the missus launches into pitta preparation for school lunches.

The menu is once again presented and the chosen ones allowed pick two separate fillings each. This they do, carefully avoiding anything the other might have opted for, their lunchboxes filled with fruit, cheese, smoothies and water.

On the mornings I’m in charge, they get ham in the sarnies and count themselves lucky.

You see, I am of the opinion that fretting 23 hours of the day about what you eat doesn’t make you healthier. The daughters don’t mind the lack of choice; they know they can harangue me into hitting the sweet counter later in the day.

Later, they make it home after surviving a day at the chalkface. Here, once again, parental opinions are divided as to how they should be treated.

I chuck an apple and a slice of bread at them, allied with warnings to shut up till dinner. The missus peels grapes, chops cucumber, slices more cheese and lays out crackers and drinks to tide them over until dinner, as their little bones need constant maintenance.

Dinner itself can be a throwback to Roman times, if you were parent to a Caesar rather than a starving street urchin.

Their mother feeds them a selection of steamed vegetables, grains, rice, pasta and the occasional sliver of meat for protein without clogging up those precious arteries. Then she cooks for herself and I ransack whatever’s on the stove.

This is not what captains of industry would call a streamlined or time-effective production process. But at least two days a week I’m launched on the dinner front, and while the cat’s away we’ll pig out in front of the telly.

We wolf enchiladas with extra cheese and extra nuclear-coloured sauce. We scoff three-in-one boxes from the Sea Palace with added satay sauce and chicken balls.

We gorge on pizzas with kebab meat. I need the missus and her steamed veg as a culinary ying to my obesity-headed yang.

She’s black, I’m white, she’s good, I’m bad, she’s right, I’m wrong. Right? Wrong. Close, but not fully right.

I don’t remember tasting, actually experiencing a conscious awareness of the taste of food, until I got a cooked school lunch and wondered what I was being punished for.

Until then, I ate what was put in front of me, or near me, or on my sister’s plate, or in the dog’s bowl, and ran it off. I didn’t care if it was Spam stew or lobster bisque.

Now, I love good food. I love sitting in a decent restaurant, having flavours and textures excite me.

More than that, I love being handed a plate at home that has been prepared specifically for me, knowing my likes and dislikes.

I also appreciate the fact that the kids regularly receive this love and attention in the way they are fed.

But what I hope my tolerance for slop and sugar and salt provides them is the knowledge that food doesn’t have to be an altar at which we must quiver.

Organic is an overhyped adjective, not an instruction. Sometimes nothing will do except a full Irish, dripping in grease, with real fried bread (sliced white pan obviously) on the side for extra artery-hardening goodness.

Yeah, food’s important. Of course, your diet has massive implications on your health and longevity but surely food is what we put into our bodies to keep us alive, not what we stay alive for.

What worries me most, particularly with daughters, is that what goes into their mouths at mealtime may become fraught with concern, whether it be too much, too little or of a particular provenance.

They get fed well here. But sometimes they get fed really badly too. So bad it’s good.