Back AWAY from the produce!

Growing up my family had very little money. Food was served to us in portions, not to teach us the nutritional value, but because with 6 mouths to feed, mom cooked the best she could and portioned out what she had prepared. There were no serving dishes, no seconds. There was also no joy in her cooking or in the eating. I remember that salads were something the diner (about a once a month or two outing?) served before dinner. It was iceberg lettuce and a wedge or two of tomato. Vegetables and fruits came from a can. I didn’t even think about where they REALLY came from.

Didn’t I have school lunch, you ask? Nope. I lived literally around the block from an elementary school that didn’t even serve lunch. I went home and had my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and 4 cookies. (Yes, mom counted those out too.) No apples? No. Apples were mashed and in a jar. The highlight of the year was the January Can-Can sale at the grocery store of choice. Every canned vegetable was prepared the same way. Boiled, salted, and served. BLECH!

There is a new commercial where a little boy sits down to dinner and his mother says, “And you’ll sit there until you eat those.” With cinematic magic he becomes an old man. I feel that. I hated peas so badly I would be the one who sat at the table until my mother realized she really wasn’t going to win, I wasn’t going to eat those disgusting mushy little things, and I would be sent to bed early. (And I wonder where the girls get their stubbornness.) Relief!

So, what were these mysterious things called fruits and vegetables? During my pregnancy with Tammy I craved two things: M&Ms and watermelon. I would guess that I ate 25 or 30 watermelons during those 9 months. No really. I ate about one a week. Barry wouldn’t eat them because I might bite off a finger. There is no sharing when you are pregnant. And you can only imagine how hard it was for him to find watermelon in the winter. What a guy!

When my first was born and I was proudly nursing her so she would be healthier than me, the pediatrician said, ‘Now we can begin to introduce the little one to fruits and vegetables.” Uh oh. It was like asking me to introduce my perfect little baby to the weird old uncle. Come on, every family has a weird old uncle. I would have sooner taken her to eat fast food French fries.

You know what I discovered with my first baby? I like fruit. In fact, I LOVE blueberries. Where were you my whole life you juicy little morsels? So instead of buying real fruit, you know, going to the store’s produce aisle and picking up a little basket, I started eating baby food with my little girl. This was a sad thing because the baby food I was buying was back in the day when there was still sugar added and no one complained.

Now you might be asking yourself why I didn’t go buy fruit. I was terrified of the produce department. I am not kidding. I didn’t have any experience with shopping when I was growing up. I had no idea what to buy. Even when I went to WV after college and had my first teaching job, I was fortunate to work with the most amazing cafeteria ladies. I would sneak in at the end of the day and they would send me home with leftovers from the amazing lunch I had loved so I had a decent dinner.

My idea of shopping to this point was canned fruits and vegetables, or frozen meals. I was terrified of the fresh produce, did I tell you that? So I decided it was time to conquer the fear of the produce! No more backing away from it. I would dig in and embrace the strange items before me. I decided to start with what seemed to me to be common produce, weird right? I bought apples … just one or two. They were pretty good.

So I decided to expand my horizons and try salad. That was iceberg lettuce and tomatoes, right? And the right dressing actually made it palatable. Hmm. Barry’s dad decided in a rare moment of compassion to share a recipe with me for the most delicious Waldorf type salad. I made it a lot. If poor Barry was sick of it, he never said so. It even had grapes in it so it forced me to try another fruit.

I should mention at this point that Barry grew up modestly too and his palate was as limited as mine, dare I say maybe even more. So I watched his mom for ideas to make anything that had flavor. His favorite is green beans so I started buying those. Don’t get too excited, because I bought them canned, as did she. She put them in a pot, salty water and all, added ham and cooked them. She cooked them all day. Then she put butter on them. Are you shaking your heads? You should be. At that point they had more flavor than I had learned growing up, but no nutritional value left by the time I had cooked them to death.

So I started slow and began to buy some strange fruits and vegetables. My other friend was the buffet. I know crazy, right? There was a steak house we would go to when Tammy was a baby and there I had the chance to try a plethora of new and strange items. If I didn’t like them, it didn’t ruin my budget for the week.

And so the journey began. As the girls grew I made sure to bring them to the grocery store, engage them in something called CHOICES and well, there is a family rule of tasting, but that is for next time. My horrid experience with sitting for hours at the table waiting to be allowed to go to bed made me decide that would not happen to my girls so there were choices on the table too.

Just a note: While I am sitting in the kitchen (my favorite room) and typing this, I am cooking up some edamame (HUH!?) and noshing on almonds. I know. It has been quite a journey.

Next time …

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