Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Crazy Mess

Back when I was in fifth grade, there was this teacher that frightened everyone I knew. She had a reputation for being not only mean, but also a little crazy. You could see it in her eyes. She was the teacher that yelled so loud you could hear her if your class was walking down the hall to go to a special, and the one that you dreaded having recess duty, especially indoor recess duty. I distinctly remember having to play checkers really really quietly in her classroom.

However, the thing for which this teacher was most infamous was lunch duty. She was known to have a real problem with food waste, and positioned herself near the garbage cans to police what kids were throwing away. I often witnessed her salvaging whole apples from lunch trays before they got passed through the window to the dishwasher. There was even a rumor for a time that she had rescued a banana from a tray that a boy vomited on, and that it had been rinsed off and replaced on the lunch line. Who knows if this was true or not, but I was always glad that I usually packed my lunch, and could safely hide my leftovers in my Muppets lunch box and take them home.

I have no idea how it started, but at some point during that year, several of my friends started making "creations" with leftovers from their bought lunches. If there were extra of the limp green beans, they got mixed in with the uneaten portion of mashed potato. It turned into a bit of a competition to see who could find just the right texture and color combination, adding dashes of crushed cookie or splashes of chocolate milk. I don't know why this was so fascinating to us, but we found it both hilarious and daring. At first, these creations were made right on the cafeteria tray, but as they became more elaborate, we had to find ways to hide them, lest they be commented on by Mrs. Crazyteacher. The used milk carton became the usual receptacle.

Until one day, Mrs. Crazyteacher noticed. And stood over our table, asking who was responsible. Crazy eyes rolling, she threatened that whoever thought it was SO funny to waste food could just drink that mess. Luckily, another teacher showed up and called Mrs. C away before any of us peed our pants or created another vomity urban legend. I know we were being ridiculous, but what fifth grader isn't? For a long long time after that, I was just appalled that someone would even think of threatening children over a few remains of food. Sure, wasting is not great, but forced feeding seems much more potentially harmful.

These days, I'm the one that has the issues with wasted food. And we waste A LOT of food. O. has never eaten much of anything, although I keep trying all the techniques I've read about, continuing to offer new foods, creating interesting ways to serve food, and just in general trying not to turn it into a power struggle. N. is a better eater, but lately has taken to only eating breakfast food and fruit. You can imagine the results of that sort of diet, and I won't go into the gory details there, but it doesn't bother me nearly as much as pitching out all the other foods I serve her alongside her pears, peaches, apples and oranges.

She will ask for a third bowl of cereal in the morning, and while I'm loathe to pour it, she will sometimes eat it, so I usually do. And then dump most of it down the garbage disposal. Same goes for a waffle that she sees me making for O. and just HAS to have one of her own.

Sometimes I purposely leave the excess food on the table for a while, with the pretense that they'll come back and eat it later for a snack, but really because I know the dog will probably get it, and at least it won't be wasted.

I throw away halves of sandwiches, 3/4 full yogurt containers, slices of cheese with only a bite taken out, piles of 'macanoni', and bananas that have been completely unpeeled (b/c N. likes to pretend she's a monkey) but not eaten at all.

Today it was an entire can of tomato soup that O. promised he would like, even though I told him it would taste just like TOMATOES which he does not like. I'm so invested in them actually eating something that I will most often make them whatever it is they say they will eat at breakfast and lunch. Dinner, they usually have to endure what I've made for everyone or have nothing. Which means I usually ditch the portion I've measured out on their animal shaped plates (purchased because I hope they'll make food more appealing) at the end of the meal. It makes me nearly physically ill to throw all that food away.

Last night, I made meatballs and Rice-a-Roni with broccoli. This is a meal that each child likes at least a portion of: O. loves the rice, N. usually eats the meatballs, and O. likes to pretend that he's a dinosaur eating trees with the broccoli. However, on this night, neither wanted anything to do with the main parts of the dish, and N. ate broccoli, but nothing else. I offered each some applesauce and crackers to entice them to eat something. O. proceeded to mix the rice, applesauce and crushed up crackers in a small bowl. He called it a 'salad' but then refused to eat any of it.

And God help me, I found myself yelling at him and came this close to forcing him to eat it all.
I haven't checked in the mirror yet for the crazy eyes, but I'm pretty sure I have them.


Cynthia said...

We had a crazy eye lady in high school too...You aren't anything like her;)

mep said...

I. Feel. Your. Pain. While in general my kids are decent eaters, mealtimes are still the biggest struggle point of the day . . . figuring out what they might eat, justifying what makes it a "balanced" meal (in my mind, not according to any nutritional expert), trying to get them to eat it, cleaning up the pieces of food all over the floor and the ketchup/syrup in the hair . . . doing all of it three times a day every day is exhausting.

Tonight, for example, I made pancakes. One son ate about five small pieces (three of which I fed to him as if he were a baby--he's not). The other ate one teeny, tiny piece.

We waste plenty around here, and it is so frustrating.

Somedays I wonder, "Is there someone I could pay to come three times a day and deal with the meals, eating, and clean up of the kids?"

I've got no answers for you, only sympathy.

Anonymous said...

Oh! I just went back in time to fifth grade lunch. She was such a meanie. I used to think it was so terrible...if you hated children (and I was convinced she did), why on earth would you choose to be an elementary school teacher?? Between this post and the one about our Wok Through China incident, you've had me giggling like a fifth grader. BTW, we waste a lot of food here too. Some weeks are better than others, but I still find myself pitching quite a bit.

- Angi said...

And that? Is why I only make foods I know they will eat. Or that will reheat well. I don't throw food away and I FREAK OUT if they take an apple and eat half and throw it away!!! Slice it and save it!!


Microwaves are there for a reason. I see no problems with scraping their food back into a container for the fridge to hold for them for later. No problems at all.

Also, smaller servings mean less waste.

Good luck. I KNOW YOUR PAIN. All too well.

The Gregor Family said...

Hilarious Erin, our dog is a garbage disposal. when Jack gets done with dinner and anything is left, he just puts his plate on top of Moxie's bowl and she takes care of it :)