If Facebook documented my relationship with food instead of my husband it would say “It’s Complicated.”
I used to like food. I grew up helping my mom cook, sitting on the counter while my Mamaw made biscuits, and perusing the aisles of the grocery store during our weekly visits.
Cooking dwindled during college except for the rare occasion in a dark dorm basement with rusty pots. But my love for feeding myself and the people I cared about revived when I got married and we moved into our first small apartment.
The kitchen and living room were just one open end of the apartment with the stove tucked next to the sink. There was no counter space beside the stove, that was on the other side of the table around a wall beside the refrigerator but that didn’t bother me. I told myself it had atmosphere.
We ate taco salad every Friday night as newlyweds. We came home from work and school to season meat and chop lettuce while we talked. We piled our plates full and settled on the couch to watch television until we finally went to bed late into the night.
I cooked meals for college friends who were surviving on cafeteria food and the dim basement kitchens. We had cookouts on the carport followed by hikes on summer holidays and we hosted both of our families for turkey and rolls and all the trimmings on Thanksgiving. Food was a major part of how we lived.
Then we had our first baby. Micah has a rare metabolic disorder that requires him to be on a low-protein diet. He spent a month in the hospital after his metabolic crisis and what I remember most besides the stress headaches are the jalapeño chips I ate every day in the hospital cafeteria. Green bag, green flaked chips, heat that required water- which I needed to be drinking more of anyway- all for less than two dollars. I still love those chips. You’d think I would hate them.
We learned to make adjustments for Micah’s diet. We tasted chicken nugget substitutes- actually my husband did, I couldn’t get past the smell. They were a no. I decided then that we would just feed him all the real food that we could and not pretend to make meat just to fit in. I learned to count protein and figured out which restaurants could accommodate his restrictions. We save the other restaurants for the rare occasions when we go out alone.
We had our second son two years later. When he was ten months old my husband gave him a bite of ice cream and his face swelled with welts. We avoided giving him straight dairy for several years because he immediately broke out but he still ate dairy in baked items and snacks and waffles.
A few months ago he kept complaining that his stomach hurt. The first stop? An allergist. He was so brave while they tested him for allergies to the fifteen most common allergens and we watched his back swell up at two spots: eggs and milk.
The allergist proclaimed his milk allergy excessive for a child his age and recommended we cut dairy out completely in an attempt to cure his tummy troubles.
Now he can’t have donuts from the local shop by the interstate or chocolate chip cookies from McDonalds while I’m at piano lessons or the pancakes from Cracker Barrel when we go with the grandparents. It seems the things that Micah could share with him have dairy in them so we’re back to separate snacks for everyone. Or the three dollar boxes of Teddy Graham’s.
We have a third son now. I keep waiting on him to develop a gluten intolerance so that we can round out our meal planning problems but so far he’s good, although we are cautious of giving him new foods. We can all eat fruit. And salad. Then I fill in the gaps for each individual person. No meat for Micah but carbs to fill up the rest of his plate. Then skip the carbs, or use a butter substitute, and add meat to Kevin’s. The rest of us just pile everything on our plates.
The older two both wear medic alert bands to inform strangers of their health concerns in case of an accident or tragedy. Under normal circumstances we just bring it up when necessary. “No cheese on anything” is a phrase the waiter at our favorite Mexican restaurant knows as well as we do.
Right now I’m trying to master a whole new way of cooking. Piece of cake since I’ve cooked for so long, right? That’s what I keep telling myself. Momentarily my plan is repeating the same four or five meals with the necessary substitutions for all the dietary needs at our table.
The meat will be on the side.