As is the case with everything else related to raising two children, I keep finding myself re-evaluating the way I’ve done things as I’ve fed L. to make them more appropriate for P. These boys are completely distinct individuals in every possible way, so naturally, the foods that appeal to them are almost completely different as well, and whereas I didn’t have to worry about things like “cute” food with L., I am discovering that a little kid appeal can be helpful with P.
Oh, don’t worry. I’m not going back entirely on my previous disdain for “cute” food. I’m still not going to spend lots of time making an omelette that looks like a smiley face, or piping elaborate pancake structures onto griddles, or anything of the sort (though those things do LOOK cool). I’ll still be limiting my artistic endeavors in the kitchen to the occasional use of cookie cutters and the once or twice a year decorated cake extravaganzas. But there’s another element of kid-friendly food that I’ve realized can’t be discounted with P.: size.
Yes, size does matter to some toddlers, and by that I mean both the size of the portions and the size of the food itself. This fact managed to elude me with L., because he has never been one to look at a portion of food and imagine that he needs to eat it all (though he frequently does). It’s never mattered to him how much of a specific item is on his plate; he just eats as much of it as he thinks he wants, and leaves the rest, with no fanfare. Also, L. is the type of child who may gag elaborately on one pea, but he can take down a whole burger in the style of a python taking down a field mouse. Little bitty food has not been an issue for him.
But P. is, well, different. Maybe he’s more typical, eating-wise, than L. was at this age — in fact, I’m relatively sure he is. And to P., more than a tablespoon or so of any one food on his plate is overwhelming. He’ll get distracted by it, won’t want to eat it, and will end up playing with it instead (soup painting, pea-throwing, and berry-smashing are Olympic events to him). With that in mind, I’ve realized that everything we eat must look positively gargantuan to him. I mean, he’s not very big to begin with — a typical meatball is bigger than his fist. Time to think about scaling down.
So when it came time to make pizzas last night for dinner, I enlisted L.’s help (he’s a crack pizza chef at this point). “Hey buddy,” I suggested enthusiastically, “let’s make a Mommy and Daddy-sized pizza, and two little kid-sized pizzas for you and P.”
He grinned. L. may not NEED kid-friendly food, but he’s as delighted by the concept as any other 4-year-old, especially if it implies to him that he doesn’t have to share with anyone. “OK, Mommy,” he said. “But I will choose the one that is for me.”
Fair enough. We made our pizzas and sat down to eat. The kid-sized pizza for L. was perfect; cut into four little wedges, it was exactly the right serving size for him, and he finished it easily. For P., I cut only two small wedges, then cut them in half again before putting them on his plate. He likes to eat his pizza the same way we do, which means no chopping it into finger-food bits, but I always have to scale it down a bit. Last night, he picked up one of the tiny pieces I’d cut for him…and it still looked too big in his hand.
Poor P. He must feel like he lives in Gulliver’s Travels, sometimes.
He heroically gnawed through two of the teeny little triangles before giving up. Later, as I went to put yet more leftovers into his lunchbox, I was struck by a thought. On the counter next to me was the leftover, uncooked pizza dough, along with a dish of sauce and some extra mozzarella. I’d figured on freezing it all or making a few calzones, but suddenly it occurred to me that P. deserved a little food TLC. Literally, a little.
With a bit of mess but not a lot of effort, I was able to construct a sheet tray full of what I’m calling pizza puffs — I set out to make something akin to those God-awful (but admittedly sort of tasty, in a strange way) Pizza Rolls you can get in the freezer aisle of the grocery store, but I wound up with little doughy balls instead. No matter, though; by pinching the pizza dough into 12 bits, then flattening them out into disks and folding each one around a teaspoon of marinara sauce and a little sprinkling of mozzarella cheese, I was able to bake up a tray of cute little bun-shaped things that pulled apart to reveal a chewy interior streaked with cheese and sauce. Not strictly calzones (not as much filling), and not strictly breadsticks, the tiny inside-out pizza puffs will be easy for P. to hold and eat, and looked pretty adorable — much as I hate to admit it — in both boys’ lunchboxes.
The added bonus is that if they like the idea, I can customize it to hold any number of fillings in the future — spinach, mushroom, maybe even chicken. Which may mean that something as relatively silly as a little puff of dough could open up a whole world of food possibilities to P., who like any good toddler, is skeptical of trying new things right now. That’s the way it goes sometimes, I guess, when you’re trying to get everybody fed. We do what we can to keep the kids happy, within reason. Just don’t let me start embellishing too much, or we’ll end up in a place where I’m making the puffs look like cute little forest animals, and P.’s smiling smugly, knowing that he’s got me exactly where he wants me.