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Dinnertime Blues

Chitra Parayath

I'm constantly dishing out free advice, (mostly unasked) to parents from all over the world, prompting profuse gratitude or acidic hate mail. It is indeed a thankless job, but one that gives me a great deal of joy to give advise to people who very clearly don't welcome it. I've decided to dispense some wisdom through lokvani, feel free to thank me anyway you like. Note: I hate flowers. One question that has plagued us desi moms for centuries is " How do I make Munna / Sweety/ the big creep, eat more?" Let's admit it, nothing thrills a mom more than watching her children and their papa stuff their faces. People visiting my abode often watch with fascination my kids and spouse wolf down everything on their plates with nary a whine or whimper. As a service to motherhood and wifehood, I have decided to share my secrets with you.

The first step is to stand back and look at the person you want to feed. Cannot Munna do without a triple chin? Does not Sweety enter a room tummy first? Isn't your significant (or insignificant) other a wee bit broad in the beam already? If you have answered yes to all the above queries and still want them to eat more, Congratulations .You are indeed a Desi Mom/wife. The next step is fairly easy, ask yourself the question" Am I a good cook?" Of course, you answered yes. No Desi has ever told me she is a bad cook and meant it.

Here is the crucial one. Are you in favor of corporal punishment? Have you ever considered the benefits of a smack, a sulk fest, a cold shoulder approach, a guilt inducing long face? If you answered yes to the above read on. Or else, butt out and let me talk.

When my brats were little, meal times were when we all sat together, yelled, argued, sulked, you know the usual family bonding stuff. We had a couple of rules though, none left the table until the meal was over and no plate was cleared until its contents were consumed. A wooden spoon in the vicinity helped.

Earlier experiments with this method were troubling. My two- year- old daughter would sit at the table for hours and finally go to sleep with her face in the rice and dal. She'd wake up, find the food still there and decide to eat it. The kids realized early that it was faster to eat whatever was put in front of them rather than want and wish for stuff that wasn't there. (Example: Mira's mom makes Pizza or Burgers everyday) One quick pointer. Contrary to popular belief, talking about the starving thousands in Africa has never made any kid want to eat. They never think" Oh those poor children in Africa are starving, I'll make the world a better place by eating some more of this stuff my mom calls Chinese noodles" Instead, they probably figure" I'd rather starve than eat these Noodles. If the Chinese had to eat my mom's Chinese noodles I bet they'd choose starvation"

I do not wish to offend all you PC guys out there with my flippant remarks about starvation. Hey this is just to make you smile, not reach for your pens and write me vitriolic mail.

Lay down some house rules, don't let the brats leave the table until you're full or until their little tummies are full. Make threats and follow them through. Keep embarrassing baby pics of them handy to show their pals, follow them around nagging, sing endlessly (a particularly effective way to make my family do what I wish them to, I wonder why because I think I can really carry a tune), the list is endless.

Ladies, nothing works better than the guilt trip approach with the husbands. If he chokes on the idlis you so lovingly and painstakingly molded or gags on your exotic Anchovy and lentil Pie one way to handle it is as follows. Rush out of the kitchen and sob "I'm a failure, of course your Mom is a better cook, she is perfect, she is not human but superÖ"you get my drift. With some imagination and subtle manipulation itís a wonder the things you can achieve with your naÔve spouse. Another time tested success guaranteed method is the crying -in- your -sleep routine. When he is awake and you are pretending to sleep, (a very common situation in my house) suddenly begin to flinch and move your arms as though to ward away blows. Words can be effective too " I'll learn to cook please don'tÖ" Most husbands are cured by this and eat uncomplainingly ever after but some tough ones might need more encouragement. Thatís where the wooden spoon comes handy. You can also try the old" Mrs. Patel from next door sent this over." Talk about Ghar ki Murgi dal barabar!

Used efficiently, Idlis (the ones I make at least) can double as lethal weapons. My husband limped for days after accidentally (or not) dropping one on his foot. He can't eat them fast enough since then. I also squeeze in a lesson or two in Geography for my kids when we try and identify what continents and countries my rotis and puris resemble. Nothing like a lesson in Geography to speed up mealtime.

I do not however recommend the remote control method of feeding. Many of my pals switch the tv on for the morsel to go into the mouth and then switch it off if the brat stops eating. This promotes the instant gratification sickness and no individual is healthy if prone to that problem. I also do not endorse the 'mom is a garbage can she can finish off the leftovers' school of thought. If you have enough blubber to keep an Eskimo warm for days and all around your waist and hips, you can do without that half eaten leftover kachori. Dump it .

My final advice Don't stuff your kids. Give them a healthy diet rich in nutrients their growing bodies need. Don't over do everything as we desi moms tend to. A fat kid is not a healthy kid. My pediatrician tells me that most kids know what resources in their body to tap into, they can listen to their body's needs and fulfill them. A chronic under eater whose weight and energy level decline steadily does need to checked by a physician.

The recipe for my ever-popular Tuna flavored chocolate cake in the next column.

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