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Wednesday, 01 March 2006 00:00

No loaves, just fish ... sticks

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I pride myself on being a good cook. After 10 years of effort, I have finally mastered homemade cinnamon rolls. Entire batches have been known to disappear in seconds. I can cook suppers dripping with cheeses and overflowing with tangy marinaras. I can do Southern meals with fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy and lots of garden vegetables. I cooked for a local inn and heard guests say that the main reason they returned was the food. I don’t consider myself a gourmet by any means, but I do figure that I have learned some things about food and making it taste good.

But, of course, I had to have kids.

My sister had kids, and they eat all sorts of things: tofu, mangos, peaches, grapes, bananas, meats, pastas, vegetables. You name it, they eat it (or so she says). She seriously looked into importing and selling special do-it-yourself baby food devices from France.

My son turned orange because the only baby foods he would eat were sweet potatoes and carrots.

The pediatrician walked in and took one look: “He likes his carrots, does he?”

Since one baby had turned out to be so easy, I went ahead and got pregnant again. And that’s when it all hit the proverbial fan. I was tired, really tired, not really sick, but very, very tired. I didn’t have the energy to mash up tofu for a unwilling eater or search the health-food markets for likable foods. I tried every healthy food that I could access easily, but after my son tired of carrots and sweet potatoes, there was nothing else. No bread, no mashed potatoes, and no meats. Heaven forbid that a vegetable should get anywhere close to his tray. I tried tiny pieces of table foods, no good. Then I tried every kid food that I remembered. I tried hot dogs (yes, cut up), peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without the crusts. I even tried fried bologna. I was desperate, and nothing was working. Until I remembered babysitting for a family that ate fishsticks. Those kids loved fishsticks. Maybe mine would too.

Yes!!!! He liked them!!! Mikey liked them!!! And I was proud and happy and everything that a pleased parent can possibly be. Fish sticks supposedly have fish in them, so that gets protein and the omega 3 fatty acids. They have the breading, so there’s a starch. And I baked them, so they were warm and comforting, and they didn’t technically count as a fried food.

I was walking on air, as much as a very pregnant woman can walk on air, until my son decided that he only liked fishsticks cold. No, not cold. Frozen. Yes, that’s right, frozen. Straight out of the box. I plummeted to the ground with a pregnant crash.

Imagine telling your mother-in-law who has come to babysit, “Yes, and for lunch, he’ll be having fish sticks. They’re in the freezer, and the plates are here in the cabinet.”

“What? Bake them? Oh no, you don’t have to do anything to them. Just put them on the plate. No ketchup.”

So, there we were for a very long time. We gradually expanded the repertoire to include frozen chicken nuggets and frozen shrimp nuggets (popcorn shrimp). My second child was something of an improvement. His main food was stir-fried okra, which is at least a vegetable. But recently my boys started eating lunch at preschool, and things have changed for the better. We’ve added in pretzels, spaghetti, and possibly canned peaches.

I have even started cooking more at nighttime. For a while, it seemed a hopeless cause. My first child ate only fishsticks, my second child ate only okra, and my husband was on a low-carb diet. What was the point? But now everyone seems to have relaxed a bit, so the other day I splurged and spent an entire afternoon cooking dinner. I made chicken tetrazzini, fresh green beans, yeast rolls, a big salad, and a chocolate cream pie. My first son ate two bowls of chicken tetrazzini. My second son ate rolls and green beans. My husband ate some of all of it. They did so well with their supper that I rewarded them with dessert. My husband ate half the chocolate pie, and the boys each had a bowl of Jello that I had discovered in the back of the refrigerator.

My husband said to the kids, “Boys, you need to realize how lucky you are to have a mommy who is such a good cook.”

My oldest nodded in agreement and looked at me earnestly. “Mommy,” he said, “you sure did a good job with that Jello.”

Yes, there are miracles. Maybe not the loaves, but certainly the fishsticks.

(Stephanie Wampler lives in Haywood County and may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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