Tuesday 16 July 2019

Bill Linnane: 'I don't know whether to feel proud or concerned at the locust-like rate my sons devour food'

As he struggles to cater for their eternal hunger, Bill Linnane marvels at just how much food his sons can eat every day

Bill Linnane
Bill Linnane

Parents of adult males, a question for you: does the food consumption ease off at any point, or does it only get worse? I have three sons and I'm not quite sure whether to feel proud or concerned at the locust-like rate they devour food. It has taken a while to get to grips with just how frenzied their feeding is - one minute you're crushing a few Liga into a bowl and watching them dribble it down their chin, the next you are opening the fridge door and wondering if bears got into your house, as you are sure you did a weekly shop the day before.

We are now at the stage where a tray of lasagne that should feed 10 adult humans - or three Garfields - lasts all of 25 minutes, with the eldest male taking the lead on requests for seconds and thirds.

There is a great satisfaction in feeding a child with a healthy appetite, but there comes a point when I wonder where the hell they are all putting it, as, while I also had a big appetite as a child, mine was finely balanced by having a big arse too. My mum used to regale people with tales of trying to find a Confirmation suit to fit me, with nothing in the 'Young Sirs' section of the haberdashery with a seat sufficiently wide. In the end, she was forced to bring me to one of those stores that carries specialist sizes, where we were able to get some jaggedy tweed balloon pants to cover my 'big bones'.

In our house, what was once considered a weekly shop has been downgraded to just another one of our tri-weekly grocery shopping trips, as we rattle through entire trolley-loads of foodstuffs in a space of hours. Sometimes I stand outside my house and look up at the crows nesting in the chimney, listening to the screeching of their young - the endless hunger, poor parents run ragged trying to source enough bugs to keep them happy - and I think, 'I feel your pain, winged bro.'

Obviously, there are differences, mainly in the fact that the crow gets to boot its young out after a month or so, while I am here for what feels like evermore. Eternity spent as a short-order cook, catering to the demands of three little mouths that seem to have adapted a Hobbit's eating schedule - breakfast, second breakfast, brunch, snack time, lunch, dessert, dessert redux, more snack time, dinner, some more dinner, dessert again, picnic on the slopes of Mount Doom, and maybe a load of sandwiches to see the evening out.

What is most startling about the amount they consume is how different it is to my diet as a child. I ate well and had the odd treat, but for them, treats are a regular occurrence.

It's not just a side effect of a busy household, where you don't really have the time to craft carrot sticks and home-made hummus for them - although time and a lack thereof does play a role - but rather that things have just changed; how and what we eat has changed. They often eat with a screen on somewhere, just to distract them from trying to kill each other; but they also eat considerably more junk than even I, in my sturdiest pre-Confirmation phase, did.

What would have been called junk food in my youth is now just food. Treats are no longer treats, they are just currency - just as our forefathers would have used casual threats to get kids to cop on, now we use sugary treats. 'Stop screaming or you'll get a clatter' has become 'Stop screaming and I will give you a six pack of Monster Energy and a family-sized bag of Doritos.' Neither solution is ideal.

At least there is comfort in the recent START report that suggests I am not alone in slowly poisoning my kids; one in three parents (33pc) find it difficult to cut back on treat foods or keep them to a minimum, while more than one in three parents (36pc) said they were not confident about changing their child's behaviour when it came to eating more healthily.

Given that I have zero control over my children's behaviour generally, I am clearly in that one-in-three category. I do know that taste is learned - anyone who has eaten treats from other countries will understand that until globalisation makes us all believe that every food should be 50pc high-fructose corn syrup, the concept of 'treat' is a fluid one. Surely I can retrain my kids' palates to delight in reasonably healthy food, rather than seeking the worst flavouring and colourants known to man.

So the detox starts here, just in time for next year's Confirmation season and the eternal struggle between man and trouser.

Irish Independent

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