Care and Feeding

Am I Selfish for Forcing Vegetables on My Meat-and-Carbs Family?

I just want them to have balanced meals!

Vegetables on a plate.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Elenathewise/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am so done with being treated like I am a jerk just because I try to expand my husband and kid’s palate. My husband even called me selfish today. “Just give them what they will eat,” he said. My son will only eat meat and carbs. My two daughters eat everything I make and like it. My husband just likes meat primarily, which is crazy because he used to be a vegetarian. I refuse to make meals of just meat and carbs. I want my family to have well-balanced meals. I love my veggies, and we grow many ourselves! I can and freeze the veggie and fruit bounty we grow every year. And, yes, do I love ethnic foods, which can be super different than traditional “American” dishes. I also take into consideration which foods we already have in our pantry when I make meals to save money. Am I selfish for not always considering the food requests of my husband and son when I plan meals?

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—Foodie in Torment

Dear F.i.T.,

What are the circumstances under which you are responsible for preparing your husband’s meals? Does he earn a salary that allows you to be a stay-at-home-mom, or are you the default cook by the virtue of gender and/or skill? If it’s the former situation, then I think it would be only fair that you prepared foods that he will eat; that doesn’t mean letting go of your quinoas and lentils all together, but that there should be some meat and at least one carb that he finds palatable at most meals. Keep a grocery store rotisserie chicken in the fridge, or make a large meat dish at the top of the week and have easy-to-make sides like instant mashed potatoes and boxed rice on hand so that he, and your son, have something to eat when you’ve decided to go all out and make something more exciting for you and the girls. If you are working while also preparing these meals, then I’d say he should either share in the responsibility for cooking or learn to expand his palate.

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As far as your son goes, while you should expose him to new foods, it is important to make sure that he has foods that he will eat, and you can’t force him into having more sophisticated tastes just by limiting his options to things he doesn’t enjoy. Frozen dinners are an option for both he and his father on occasion, but let your son also see you going all out to prepare something that you know that he will enjoy. Take him to the grocery store with you, and let him suggest foods that he’s curious about or has enjoyed in the past. Note what he likes about the foods he currently eats and see where you can find new options that may be somehow similar. Good luck!

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Dear Care and Feeding,

With the pandemic still raging, this is a longer-term question, but one that has been on my mind. I am recently married and turning 30 soon. My husband and I have no desire to be parents, and we knew this within the first year of dating (it’s been over five years now). However, it isn’t because we hate kids! Once we are more stable, I really would love to have opportunities to interact with and help kids. I think children are members of the community, and so are child-free people, so why not support each other? Every responsibility shouldn’t fall on people who have to deal with the kids the rest of the time. But that isn’t really the societal norm, and I feel weird trying to volunteer at a school or after-school program as an adult without children of my own. Is there a place for me to volunteer with kids? As a volunteer tutor, helping at a school, finding a cool outdoor or skills program? My husband and I don’t want to be the annoying child-free people everyone hates or thinks of as creepy for inserting ourselves in how other people are raising their kids. Plus, I wouldn’t even know where to start. How could we pursue this? Should we?

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—Child Free but Not a Child Hater

Dear CFbNaCH,

I strongly agree with you that child-free adults have the same responsibility to children in their community, and the same duty to protect and support children in general, that is typically associated with those of us who are parents. There are many ways in which children (and their parents) could benefit from the time and energy you and your husband can offer, and you shouldn’t deny them that, nor yourselves, simply because it isn’t the norm for us to care for our neighbors in our selfish, capitalist society.

A quick Google search directed me toward an online hub for volunteer work in Los Angeles, where I live, that allows you to search specifically for opportunities work with kids. If no such website exists for your area, check out local direct service organizations that work with kids, as well as national ones such as the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Have you considered ways you can lend a hand to friends and neighbors who have children? It’s not volunteering in the traditional sense, but considering how under-resourced many parents are, a few hours of free child care could be a tremendous blessing for a parent. Speaking of, the bonds that children forge with the friends of their parents can be incredibly important, and I hope that you don’t discount these relationships when you think about how you might interact with children in the future. Oftentimes, parents feel like their child-free friends don’t want to be around their kids very much at all (and this is true for some folks, of course), so make sure your friends who have kids (or are planning to) know that you two would be happy to devote time to hanging out with their littles. Best of luck.

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• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a student in my sophomore year of college, and I still live with my parents. On the surface, it would seem things are fine! My family is “perfect.” Mom and Dad have been married for 20 years with two kids and a nice house—the American fantasy. Spoiler alert: It’s actually super-toxic, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

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I’ve planned to live at home for a few more years (until my younger sister graduates college) to save money and be able to buy a house, but I don’t know if I can stand it. My mom has been a stay-at-home mom all her life and has based her entire identity around that. Now that my sister and I are both adults, it’s like she doesn’t know how to cope! She’s angry all the time, and we all walk on eggshells to avoid setting her off. Any little thing could result in shouting and a bad mood for the rest of the day. For what it’s worth, we’ve all been isolated at home, but this issue has existed since before COVID. She has what I think is undiagnosed anxiety, but she doesn’t believe therapy works and refuses to go.

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To make matters worse, my sister and I are both queer and closeted, and my mother is deeply homophobic and transphobic (and racist and … yeah, you get the picture). Not being able to be me is suffocating me, and I feel like I’m walking around as a ghost because my mom sees a version of me that doesn’t exist (to myself) anymore. I live every day knowing that her supposed “unconditional love” would vanish in an instant if she truly knew me. My dad is wonderful and accepting and supports me no matter what, but if I came out and left the house, it would probably blow up their marriage.

I’m basically asking what you would do in this situation: stay in a dismal living situation for four to five years and be SIGNIFICANTLY better off financially but unable to exist how I want to, or try to go it alone and put my plans of homeownership on hold for the sake of my mental well-being? I feel bad considering leaving because I realize how lucky I am compared to most kids to be looking at homeownership in my 20s, but is the cost of hiding myself worth it? No matter what I do or when I do it, my identity will probably be what destroys my family’s “perfect” life. I’m lost.

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—Alive but Dead

Dear A.b.D.,

Do you have a piece of clothing that you really like, but you rarely wear it because it never seems like a good enough occasion? Or maybe a good cologne or bottle of booze, something that you’re saving to enjoy at the right time? Consider that anyone we know and love who has passed away unexpectedly likely had those same things of their own, things that never got enjoyed because the right opportunity never came.

In this case, the precious item being tucked away for the future is yourself, your ability to live freely and have true authority over your own life and your own happiness.

You have a ballpark date in mind, sure. But unlike a special jersey, you, my dear, cannot just sit collecting dust for four to five years, pretending to be something that you aren’t—not without it coming at a great cost. And considering that none of us are promised even tomorrow, I beg you to consider this: Is the relative financial “freedom” of homeownership worth the toll that your mother’s miserable behaviors and attitudes are taking on your soul? Your time is precious, and so are you. Is a house as valuable?

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To have a roof over your head is something to be thankful for, but I do not think you should think of the fact that you may be better positioned to purchase a home than other young people as an obligation to take advantage of the opportunity. In your own words, you don’t feel alive anymore. You and your sister do not deserve to live like this and from the bottom of my heart, I urge you to consider getting together with her to develop a strategy to GTFOH from your mother’s house of misery as soon as possible. It’s unlikely to be tomorrow, or within a matter of weeks, but I’d imagine that knowing when this awful situation will be coming to an end will bring you at least some semblance of peace.

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As far as your parents’ marriage suffering if you decide to come out and move out, it is not your responsibility to hold that thing together. Being strategic about how you operate in order to protect your sister and yourself is one thing, but you do not owe it to your father to try to save his relationship. He is the one who should have been protecting his little girls from their mother.

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In the meantime, please surround yourself (virtually) with people who love you, relate to you, and understand you as much as you can. Your mother’s issues are not a reflection of anything about you, and I hope that you are able to find a way to distance yourself from them as soon as possible. Wishing you all the best.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter is 2 years old. I’m struggling with washing her hair during bath time. She doesn’t like to get her face wet, and at the slightest hint of water near her face, she tucks her chin down into her chest. This, of course, brings the water that I’m trying to rinse her hair with right into her face. She’ll start crying and trying to stand up and wiggle around. Any suggestions? I’m tired of this aspect of bath time being so stressful. Oddly enough, she doesn’t get as upset when her face gets wet while we’re swimming. I keep a small towel handy to (constantly) dry her face, but I just don’t have enough hands to tilt her chin up, hold the towel in place, and thoroughly rinse her hair. Thank you for your thoughts.

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—Save the Shampoo for Last

Dear S.t.S.f.L.,

The fact that your daughter doesn’t panic about getting her face wet to swim makes it sound like she’s suffering with little more than a classic case of being a toddler getting her hair washed. Luckily, there are tons of very cool shields designed to keep water out of little ones’ faces, many of them well under $10. Demonstrate how it works on a doll (or yourself) before your first wash. Grab a water-safe toy and a juice box, put on some of her favorite music and prepare for a very different wash day experience!

—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

My son is 3. My husband and I aren’t extreme nudists, but we sleep in various forms of undress and venture back and forth to the shower that way. The toddler seems generally unfazed by this when he comes to our room in the mornings. When does nudity and small people become Not OK? My general sense is that bodies are really pretty normal things to have around, but I’m guessing it gets weird at minimum due to socialization at some age? I suppose I could just wear pajamas or a robe and not overthink it, but I’m also kinda curious! Is there a right way to manage this without going from “hey healthy bodies are whatevs” to “hide yourself, slattern!”

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