Column: Is that green on my plate?

Marny Stebbins
Marny Stebbins

I’ve been eating Tater Tot casserole for as long as I can remember. As a child, I remember sitting on the kitchen counter with the responsibility of lining up all the Tater Tots in the casserole dish like an assembly of broad-shouldered infantrymen. Each time, I would optimistically pop a frozen tot into my mouth, convinced it would taste like a French fry, only to spit out a frozen rock in disappointment.

Everyone’s mom had a variation of this recipe, and you quickly learned whose variation to avoid. Mrs. Johnson, down the street, always added canned vegetables and beets to her recipe, resulting in a rather gruesome colored mountain of (untouched) food. As any young child can tell you, the standard in culinary preparation for juveniles rests on the assumption that vegetables shall not touch any food on the dinner plate or it shall be considered infected and dismissed. My own mother omitted the peas, and I loved her for it. According to Tuesday night dinners, so did my neighborhood friends.

However, in an attempt to add something green to our diet, this weekend I made Tater Tot casserole with the newly released “Broccoli Veggie Tots.” It sat untouched in the middle of their plates, like Mt. St. Michele after the tide sets in. It appears, while we can’t seem to keep track of a single matching pair of shoes, we become KGB operatives given the smallest hint of vitamin K and folate.

“Mine has mold growing on it! I see green!” shrieks my daughter.

“Mine smells like the dog. Does this have dog in it?” asks my son, as he checks for the puppy under the table.

It’s not the first time I’ve contemplated how much easier it would be to smuggle vegetables into recipes if they were the color of cheese. Or butter. And yet, I keep trying. Because I’m ridiculously competitive and I love throwing money away. OK, just one of those.

(I did put in a call with Green Giant himself and request he hook up with the Girl Scouts. Lord knows we have been popping Thin Mints with such speed, nobody would notice a rogue vegetable. Do you taste things you don’t actually chew?)

Admittedly, healthy food preparation is not my strength. When the kids asked for a “rainbow lunch” (full of colorful fruits and veggies), I packed a treat-sized bag of Skittles and a photo of Ellen DeGeneres dancing in a pair of crisp khaki chinos (I love her so much …).

If you are what you eat, I am currently an even split of chai lattes and Pinot Grigio. With a healthy side of cream cheese wontons (for protein purposes). I don’t know why I’m so darn tired all of the time …

Mothers are curious creatures, able to feed an entire village of children with a bottle of ketchup if called upon, but often unable to commit to the basic care of ourselves.

We can track our toddler’s vegetable servings for an entire week and still justify a third pot of coffee for our own dinner. The same woman who tracks her child’s sleep schedule, is probably folding laundry at midnight while eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s limited edition Chocolate Cherry Garcia and binge watching “Black Mirror” (I feel it my responsibility to sample anything released as a limited edition). We can neurotically scan our daughter’s head for lice nits every day after school and remain unaware of the banana clump in our own ponytail.

We are biologically engineered to put our children’s need first, be it nutrition, sleep or safety. It’s hard to remember that a child’s first need is a healthy mother. I mean, refer to any Disney movie and you will see what kind of black magic happens when a mother isn’t represented.

This weekend, I decided to be proactive and practice a little self-care.

“One Shamrock Shake, please.”

It’s green, so it counts. And since my kids don’t eat green foods, I have an argument not to share.

Love your kids. Love yourself. (And keep a sleeve of Thin Mints hidden in the vacuum closet. They’ll never find them.)

Marny Stebbins lives in Stillwater with her husband and four children. She is a staunch believer in early bedtimes, caffeine enhancement and humor therapy.