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“How cool is it that we can get paczki [Polish jelly doughnuts; recipe is here if you’re feeling ambitious] in an Italian bakery? Only in America.” – Renaissance Girl
Alas, they were sold out. C’est la vie.
I was convinced that some of my relatives are the most stubborn human beings I know. I’m almost positive that stubbornness is the #1 export of my maternal grandmother’s birthplace, even if it’s not listed in the CIA World Factbook.
Then I met Mrs. K (not her real initial), my newest client. Given that she is a nonagenarian woman with a disability (Mrs. K has a hearing impairment), a healthy amount of tenacity is crucial, even admirable. She’s lived in her own house for a long time and was driving until a recent health scare. That said, because of said health scare, she’s under doctor’s orders to slow down a bit. She’s used to doing her own housekeeping, and she got very agitated the first time I washed the dishes for her. It took another day for her to let me take out the trash. I had to clean the refrigerator while she was asleep this morning, and when I vacuumed this afternoon, she reacted almost the way my cats do (although she did recover more quickly).
Now I know from stubborn. My Mom and I both inherited a rather generous amount of stubbornness, and some of my other clients have their moments, too. I’ve found that while sometimes I do have to be direct (i.e., “I’m being paid to help you out. Please let me help you.”), often a more subtle approach works better. For example, I made vegetable soup in the Crock-Pot yesterday, with the intention of bringing it for my lunch today. Instead, this morning, I had a brainwave and filled up a container with enough soup for both of us. When I arrived at Mrs. K’s, I stuck it in the fridge while she wasn’t looking. That was supper tonight, a change from her usual, which is either a sandwich, fast food or Applebee’s.
Now to figure out a subtle way to take her grocery shopping, since she won’t let me go without her . . .
Earlier this week, I accompanied my client Mrs. A (not her real initial) to lunch at the local senior center. The special of the day was roast chicken, which was pretty but turned out to be too dry for Mrs. A’s taste. I ended up boxing it up and taking it home. Mrs. A insisted that either her evening caregiver or I needed to take it home with us. Technically, we’re not allowed to eat a client’s food, but our boss has told us that we’re also not to argue with a client who requests that we take food, for example, if it’s something the client doesn’t like and is never going to eat.
Mrs. A asked me first. “RG, you’re taking the chicken home with you.”
Me: “Thank you for offering, Mrs. A, but I don’t eat meat.”
Mrs. A: [Gives me a look like I’ve just told her that I’m an alien writing my doctoral thesis on geriatric female humans]
My relief: “Well, some people don’t like meat . . .”
Mrs. A: [Still looking completely dumbfounded. ]
Mrs. A has turkey bacon every morning for breakfast (she prefers the real stuff but is under doctor’s orders to limit salt) and has a salad with lunch meat every day for either lunch or dinner. I knew explaining that I’m vegetarian was going to be an exhausting conversation.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m an ovo-lacto-vegetarian 90 percent of the time. My parents – particularly my father, a salt-of-the-earth, meat-and-potatoes man – willingly accommodate my desire not to eat red meat or poultry, so when they prepare fish, I eat it, in the interest of being a filial daughter and a good guest. I have on occasion flirted with being vegan, but I’m too fond of cheese and butter, and I have yet to master the art of baking without eggs.
Whatever my food choices on any given day, I am not militant about being vegetarian. I will happily educate people who ask why I don’t eat meat. I also offer friends, family, and acquaintances the chance to try good vegetarian food, whether my cooking or someone else’s. But generally, my thinking toward other people’s diets is “Live and let live.”
That said, I do wonder if my associates who hold the Western diet accountable for many of society’s ills might well be on to something. Case in point: I had three different fifth-grade classes in my room yesterday. Before lunch, they were challenging, but mostly exhibiting age-appropriate misbehavior – talking excessively, having trouble staying on task. After lunch – a turkey hot dog, baked beans, and apple slices – they were suddenly insane. One girl pushed a boy she said was annoying her. A boy accused one of his male classmates of calling another girl “a stripper.” (They’re in FIFTH grade. They don’t even know who a stripper IS, or they shouldn’t.) I began to wonder if maybe one of my close friends – a very outspoken vegan – might be right about eating meat.
School lunches often revolve around meat: hamburgers, sloppy Joes, hot dogs, chicken fingers or nuggets, pepperoni pizza, etc. Many schools offer a meatless option on Fridays, and some will offer one every day. Typically, those options are limited, though: peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese, cheese pizza, tomato soup, macaroni and cheese.
My thoughts, for what they’re worth:
- The reason many kids claim not to like vegetables is not because of the vegetables themselves but because of the preparation. If you offer a seven-year-old canned Veg-All that’s still floating in God-knows-what or mushy, overcooked broccoli that smells like dirty laundry, can you blame the child for turning up his or her nose? Offer the same child cut-up raw broccoli and cauliflower with a dip, or steamed baby carrots and sugar snap peas, and he or she just might polish it off and ask for more.
- Try breakfast for lunch. Many breakfast foods – eggs, French toast, yogurt, fruit – are healthy and kid-friendly.
- If a child had a role in picking or possibly even growing the vegetables, he or she will probably be more interested in eating them. When I took Big Sister, Little One, and a friend of theirs to my cousins’ farm this summer, they enjoyed helping pick the broccoli, kale, garlic, and other goodies we took home, and they were even willing to try them when I prepared them the next day. (This from kids who typically pass on vegetables prepared in the Western way.)
- Don’t get me wrong. I love cheese and peanut butter. Love, love, love them. But that’s only the start of eating vegetarian. Don’t overlook beans, whole grains, and even (gasp!) tofu. The girls enjoyed the bean tacos I prepared a few times during the summer. Messy, but delicious.
I realize that with limited budgets, institutional kitchens, and multiple 20-30 minute lunch shifts, these present challenges. But I think the cafeteria staffs I have encountered can rise to the occasion.