Parenting Nugget

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    Last fall, my husband and I marked twenty years of wedded-ness and to celebrate we ate gator nuggets in Everglades City.

    No small feat, twenty years together, so we planned this trip to Florida for just the two of us and told everyone (okay, mostly our three teenaged children) loudly and repeatedly that we deserved it. We did.

    nuggetsThe concierge at our hotel in Naples had recommended a certain outfitter for our airboat tour of the Everglades. After we drove twenty minutes past that turn and Florida seemed to end abruptly, we pulled into a ramshackle diner for lunch, which was, in a word, awesome.

    Peggy, our combination hostess and waitress, was none too happy to offer us a  laminated menu to share (“It’s symbolic of our union!” I said aloud) and on it, the lunch choices included everything, fried: frog legs, calamari, pickles, green beans, and the special of the day: Gator nuggets…$10.99.

    Remember that look your older sister gave you when you told her you were going to make all your baby food from scratch? Picture that on me. I was a little skeptical about the gator nuggets. Was this really a thing? Chicken nuggets were on every menu in the world, of course, but gator? There was no asking Peggy, who had already disappeared into the kitchen, perhaps breading the gator meat with the line cook, whom I imagined was named Jeb. All I could think of was Zack’s Alligator, one of the girls’ favorite easy readers about a boy who received an alligator-shaped key chain as a gift from his uncle in Florida and when he soaked it in water, it turned into a real-live alligator.

    Before we ordered and had to surrender our symbolic anniversary menu, I took a picture of the gator nuggets and texted it to my oldest daughter who, not coincidentally, was working at Chick-fil-A, home of what is arguably the nation’s most popular non-gator nugget.

    Part of the reason I did this was to rub in the fact that we were in Florida. But I also harbor a certain resentment of the chicken nugget. I won’t say I blame everything that’s wrong with the way kids eat on the chicken nugget (that would be foolish, especially now that we have a nugget hawker in the family), but I do feel like it’s high time the nugget accepted at least some of the responsibility (along with its cohort in culinary crime, macaroni and cheese) for pushing many otherwise rational parents off the deep end.

    You want examples, don’t you? A friend of mine served her son nothing but chicken nuggets until he was ten. One of my nieces hasn’t pooped on her own in three years, due largely to her obsession with mac-and-cheese.

    Alas, after reading Eating Through the Ages, this month’s Parental Guidance from Suzanne Hanky, I realize that I can’t blame the chicken nugget or any processed food, for that matter. I can’t blame the dawn of the children’s menu or over-scheduling or too much homework. Heck, I can’t even blame the cell phone for the crummy state of our kids’ eating habits.

    “Your child’s attitude toward food has far less to do with food than it does with you,” says Suzanne on page 36. This veteran mom and parenting coach goes on to write that eating starts to get contentious when our kids figure out that we parents have become more focused on making them happy than keeping them well. Suzanne says it’s a parent’s job to govern a child’s wellness (think: healthful nutritious foods choices like whole foods and veggies), not his delight (read: chicken nuggets and mac-and-cheese). Which means that eating said chicken nuggets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is not an option.

    When my medium-size daughter was four, I put avocado slices on a plate in front of her for lunch one day. She looked at me and asked, “Is there some more better food at the store?” After I marveled at her brilliance, I informed her she was having avocado for lunch. She took several bites and said, “Can I have some more something else, please?”

    Several minutes passed, during which I did not offer her nuggets (chicken or gator) or mac-and-cheese. She was hooked on guacamole by the end of the month.

    I think Suzanne is onto something.

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    Karen Schwartzkopf
    Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family: husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director, and their daughters—Sam, Robin, and Lindsey. You can read Karen’s take on parenting in the Editor’s Voice.