Kids and veggies don't always mix

As I mentioned last week, my wife has recently gone back to work after staying home for 19 years. This means I've had to do more for myself, such as matching my own socks and picking up my own underwear.

I've also had to do more for the family, including taking my turn preparing meals. Often that means more than just picking up takeout or keeping a supply of microwave pizza in the freezer (although no one disputes the wisdom of that, especially during football, basketball and baseball seasons).

Turns out there are rules you have to follow, which I've taken the liberty of summarizing below.

Rule No. 1: Eat something green. Lime jello doesn't count. Neither does anything that wasn't green before you put it in the refrigerator.

Green food comes in two basic types: dead and alive. Dead green food includes green beans, okra, spinach - all those slimy substances that stimulated your gag reflex as a child but which you have now learned to tolerate. This makes dead green food an excellent choice for your children, who will no doubt find it as disgusting as you did. Nutritional value is an added benefit.

Live green food includes lettuce and fresh cucumbers, which aren't bad as long as they're covered in ranch dressing or similar arterial-clogging compound. For this reason, live green food - aka salad - is the green food of choice for those who can't stand to see a good meal ruined by something resembling raw sewage.

Rule No. 2: Use at least three food groups. Most men recognize only two food groups: sweet and salty. But remember what you learned in eighth-grade health class. No, not that. I'm talking about the food pyramid: meats, grains, fruits and vegetables, poultry, and dairy.

As a conscientious father, you should try to include at least three of these in every meal, so as to provide balance in your children's diets. Otherwise, they might fall over.

Of course, you can be creative in the way you present these food groups.

Ice cream, for example, is made from milk, a dairy product. Chocolate ice cream contains cocoa beans, which are vegetables. A cone is baked from a flour base. Thus a chocolate ice cream cone can be viewed as a balanced meal in itself.

And what about pizza? A single take-out supreme has all five known food groups plus at least three others.

Rule No. 3: Provide alternatives. If possible, prepare a menu with alternative choices to potentially unpopular items. For example, if spinach makes your children hurl, you should still insist they eat a few bites. However, once the fun is over, you may want to offer a suitable alternative, such as collard greens.

One last note: Cap'n Crunch is not a suitable alternative in this instance. It's for you to eat after the kids go to bed.

Lawrenceville resident Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English and director of the Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.