Charlie eats well. Do not mistake me: I am not smug or self-congratulatory on this issue because I know this, like everything else to do with child-rearing, will inevitably change, probably several times. At the moment he likes vegetables as much as he likes other things; is receptive to new foods; and even good-naturedly tries foods he's rejected in the past. I am very well aware that as early as dinner tonight, he could be refusing to eat any but white foods, or objecting to items touching each other on his plate, or turning down any morsel that is not perfectly cubical, machined with NASA-grade equipment to measure precisely 1/2" on a side.
But for now, he eats. Breakfast is invariably yogurt, fruit, and a handful of Cheerios; he does not enjoy eggs and has gummed pancakes and waffles only politely and without relish. A midmorning snack consists of fruit and a graham cracker. Lunch is usually a meat item and/or slivers of cheese, a starch item, and a vegetable item; if there's still fruit remaining from the piece he began eating at breakfast or snack time, he'll have that, too. At his afternoon snack, a graham cracker features prominently, usually including fruit, sometimes including cheese. Dinner is whatever Paul and I are having, with occasional substitutions; if our meat item, for example, is something Charlie can't chew, we substitute what we call Charlieburger: ground beef patted into a layer approximately 1/4" thick, seasoned, cooked, and then sliced into long fingers of easy-gumming goodness.
And sometimes there is lunchblock.
Lunchblock came into being when Charlie first started to eat table food. His keen desire to feed himself became evident long before his teeth did. Foods he could easily grab (solid chunks of anything) were foods he could not chew. And foods he could easily eat without teeth (smoothish pastes) were foods he could not grab.
Extra-firm tofu, my first bright idea, was too slippery. Beans, ditto. Even pasta was difficult for his clumsy pre-pincer efforts, as we learned one night when I offered him Annie's shells and cheese. Disappointed, I packed the leftovers away in a small container and shoved them into the refrigerator. But in the confines of the little plastic box, in the cold dark of the closed refrigerator...well, that's where the magic happened.
Crammed tightly as it was into the container, forced into a compression so profound that I'm surprised it didn't turn into diamonds, the pasta got molded into a brick, with the cheese sauce acting as an adhesive to hold the shells together — an edible portland cement, if you will. By carving the resulting brick into slices, and from there into strips, and finally into cubes, Paul found what had been missing from Charlie's dinner tray: a foodstuff that was soft enough for Charlie to chew, but solid enough — with the added luxury of convenient finger-holds — for him to grasp and lift to his quivering lower lip.
Charlie gets lunchblock a couple of times a week. It is a perfect food for travel or to take along to restaurants, as it is perfectly stable at room temperature. It's a vital part of the lunch we send with him to day care, because it's easy for him to eat without close supervision and without making a mess. And when I serve it with cut-up meatball — which, God help me, I cannot stop calling meatwad — I have a good excuse to break into a '70s-style voiceover for a cop show called Lunchblock and Meatwad. And to lurch around the kitchen chanting the Aqua Teen Hunger Force theme.
You know, just in case I need an excuse to do that.
Today I found out that it is not advisable to make lunchblock using shapes other than shells. I can't explain why we had a box of Annie's disembodied-heads-of-Arthur-of-PBS-fame and cheese in the pantry, but we did, and I cooked it. I am told Arthur is an aardvark, which is a ridiculous contention. As the illustration below plainly shows, the cartoon Arthur bears no resemblance whatsoever to a real aardvark:
I mean, what self-respecting aardvark would be caught dead in a V-neck sweater?
But that's not the source of my objection to Arthur-themed lunchblock. No, I am more concerned that Charlie will notice the bloated face of Arthur peering out from within the gluey cheese, decide he's having a religious experience, and refuse ever to eat it again.
I guess we could manage that, though. There's always grilled cheese, right?