Food isn’t just about stuffing one’s face. It is about drawing energy and sustenance as well. Many folks have very vivid recollections about eating various dishes and their time and place. As I’ve already mentioned, quite a few of my family memories growing up also have links to specific food items, like this recipe for Fork Tacos, eaten with chips and a fork, not in taco shells.
Kids. Notoriously fussy eaters. My parents didn’t normally let us get away with being picky. We were of the eat-it-or-you-can-go-to-bed-hungry generation. I noticed that, later on, with my younger siblings and my cousin, who was even younger than all of us, they started to cave and even made separate kinds of potatoes to suit them. I think that we’d drained them by the time the younger crowd came around.
You’ll have to ask my mother about “The Great Pea Stand-off of 1976.” The three oldest of us decided that we weren’t going to eat the hard, overcooked peas that were in our heated up, previously frozen dinner – not that we were really enamored of them in any form, mind you. So the “You’ll go to bed now and eat them for every meal until you finish them” card was played by my parents. It was their right and was also probably straight from the Parents 101 Handbook. Just as with every inalienable right and free will, it was also ours not to eat them. Thus, my folks got to find out just how stubborn our gene pool really is.
Let’s just say, the little green legumes weren’t really any better looking and somewhat more shriveled by the next morning. My sister recalls trying to cut one with a fork and it went shooting across the table it was so hard, like a little bb. We didn’t budge. We were sort of a mini-union (and very advanced for our wee years), taking a stand against poorly prepared vegetables. We balked at breakfast. We stalled at lunch. In effect, we launched a culinary slowdown, if not an actual strike.
By dinnertime, we’d worn our parents down and could claim success. It was short-lived, however, as this food item never seemed to disappear completely from our diet. When we learned about Pyrrhic victories later on in school, I could reflect upon our having won that dinnertime battle and having lost the vegetable war. On the other hand, I don’t remember ever having a stand-off with them again about anything we ate. I think they might have realized that they needed to be a bit more flexible regarding our food choices.
So, in honor of the picky ones and still adamant about not eating improperly cooked food, I’m sharing a recipe that lets kids choose how to put together a meal that hopefully parents will find acceptable as well. The key to following the recipe is to read it through all the way at least once prior to trying to make it. Another hint is to assemble all the ingredients in their raw form before chopping or measuring anything. There are few things more frustrating than being part-way through trying to make something and realizing that an ingredient or two is missing.
Deconstructed aka “Fork” Tacos
These made an appearance after a scouts’ camping trip and then shortly thereafter entered the rotation at our house. Supporting ingredients are optional depending upon the tastes of your child/ren. The preparation process can be sped up with the aid of an able “sous-chef.” For a child who is old enough, it is also a good way to teach him/her knife skills. In the case of the main ingredients, I’d allow 1/3 to 1/2 cup per person, per serving. For the supporting ingredients, I’d allow 1/8 to 1/4 cup.
Prep Time: Allow an hour pulling things out of the refrigerator to putting dishes on the table. If you have assistance with chopping and prepping, it can take about 1/2 an hour.
Your favorite brand of Tortilla chips (any flavor will do)
1 lb. ground Beef (or ground turkey or cut up chicken)
1 packet Taco Seasoning or family favorite Mexican spice mix
1 16-oz. can refried Beans
2 cloves Garlic, chopped
1 4.5-oz. can chopped, Green Chilies
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 dash each Salt, Pepper, ground Cumin, ground Coriander
1 package Cheddar or mixed Mexican cheeses, finely grated
Cook meat and taco seasoning according to directions on the back of the packet. Prepare beans by heating up 2 tablespoons (Tbsp) olive oil, adding 2 cloves chopped garlic and 1 4.5-oz. can chopped green chilies. Sauté for 5 minutes before adding the beans. Mix together, cook for another five minute, and adjust salt, pepper, and ground cumin and coriander to taste. The supporting ingredients can be prepared at the same time as the meat and beans are cooking.
Green onions (white and tender green parts), chopped
Green pepper, chopped
Red pepper, chopped
Avocado, sliced or chopped
Black olives, chopped or sliced
The Key: The Assembly Line (see photo below and above)
Chips – Meat – Beans (if using) – Cheese – Toppings
Place everything in bowls, each with its own serving utensil. Everyone takes a plate and is allowed to prepare and organize his/her plate as he/she deems appropriate. Some parental supervision is needed to ensure that there is at least some chips-meat-cheese balance, although creativity and food exploration is encouraged. This is a great dish as it has lots of colors, textures, and flavors. Use tortilla chips to scoop everything up and dig in!
When your child/ren get to college, then he/she/they can decide to make a meal out of a jumbo-sized package of tortilla chips or a bowl of cereal with milk. You’ll never know the difference!