‘Elegante’ and other lies:Family suffers through mom’s attempts to serve healthy meals on a budget

Voices Of The Clarion

Posted: Sunday, January 29, 2006

When my husband and I were first married he was up front about several facts — he would not eat leftovers and no matter how poor we got and he would never under any circumstances eat tater tot pie.

Tater tot pie is a dish that, according to my husband, was foisted upon him every other day while growing up. It consists of cooked hamburger meat, onions and green beans with mushroom soup mixed in and then topped with tater tots. Bake the whole thing in the oven and viola, instant dinner with all the food groups included.

Personally, I liked it the 60 times I had it at my in-laws’ and vowed to find a way get it onto my table.

However, I knew it would take some time and I was going to have to earn my husband’s trust before sneaking it in.

Coming up with a new meal everyday was not a big deal. Time consuming, but no a big deal. However, working full time and trying to be a wife and mother is not all it’s cracked up to be. Throw cooking into the mixture and what it gives you is a harried woman and a bad case of indigestion.

Getting one’s family to eat generic brands, health food and veggies takes a creative (OK, a lying, low-down, two-faced) cook. To make sure the grocery money is not wasted, one must have a keen eye for a bargain.

Both of my husband’s “requests” led me to take a brand name cereal box and fill it (under the cover of darkness) with generic brands and mix whole milk and skim milk half and half (the skim under the guise of being mine) when they were asleep. I learned to expertly blend silken tofu into gravy to make it stretch further and be healthy.

I also could chop veggies so small no one would know they were eating them and use liquid and powdered vitamins as interchangeably as salt and pepper. We ate red meat so little at home that my sister once gave my oldest son steak for his birthday because she felt sorry for him. My husband would hide his illicit hamburger wrappers in his brief case.

Being sneaky — I mean “creative” — led to some wonderful recipes. I am a good cook and none of my children are picky eaters. But it also led to some colossal mistakes.

When my husband would travel overseas I would try new dishes on the kids, because I had discovered if I could get the kids on my side then Scott was doomed to eat whatever I put in front of him.

While he traveled I left the e-mail open in the evening so the kids could write him notes when he got up to start his day. Due to the time differences his day began as ours was winding down.

One evening, after whipping up a green, cold soup — tofu something — our youngest left the table. He said he had to go to the bathroom. About 20 minutes later I got a long-distance call from my husband, laughing hysterically. It seems our son’s trip to the bathroom was really a global cry for help.

He had sent this e-mail message: “Dad, help. Tell Mom to quit feeding us poop food. Come home soon. It’s awful.”

I learned then that “sneaky” wasn’t going to work and it set me back years of getting tater tot pie on my table. So I resorted to slight of hand and my home economics class training of presentation — candles (so they can’t see the veggies) and cloth napkins (so they can’t spit it out and then throw them away) — and of course good old-fashioned mom threats: “Eat it or else,” “There are starving children in China,” and my personal favorite, “Eat it now or for breakfast — it’s up to you!”

I knew I would have to feed my husband in the dark before he would eat tater tot pie, so I pulled out all the stops: clean house, happy kids and a dressed up recipe with all the flourish I could muster. I set it before him and waited.

It didn’t take long.

“No way. I am not eating this (cleaned up version)!” he said.

“What is the matter?”

“Tater tot pie is putrid!”

It was time for the last trick in the book — deny everything!

In my best French accent I waved my hands with the skill of a top-rate magician and declared,

“No EET is not, EET is ‘Elegante.’”

Don’t laugh. We eat it often and the upside is he can’t compare it to his mom’s or he would have to admit I won.

Nancianna Misner is the newsroom assistant for the Clarion.

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