A Foodie Parent's Biggest Worry: Can My Teen Feed Herself?

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As the parent of a daughter in her last year of high school, I have no shortage of topics to keep me up at night. Will she get into college? Will we be able to pay for it? Will she be safe and happy on her own? Will we?

And yet, in a classic case of displacement, all my anxiety seems to be coalescing around one issue: Without me to wait on her, what is this kid going to eat?

In a family of foodies, people who care deeply what's for dinner, my older daughter is the distracted intellectual, seeming to subsist on ether and the occasional olive. Bone-thin, always hungry, she'll gratefully gobble anything that's put in front of her—but won't make a move to prepare it herself. She bangs into the house at the end of the day, dumping her books by the door, and heads straight for the kitchen. "I'm starving!" she'll moan, in a voice so loaded with drama that you half believe she's down to her last few breaths. But the simple act of opening the refrigerator seems to exhaust all her culinary initiative. The fridge can be stocked with food: ripe, artisan cheeses oozing in their waxed wrappers; tender greens from the farmers' market filling the bin; paper-thin slices of prosciutto waiting to be wrapped round a grissino. But unless there's a plate of food already assembled—basically, unless there's a warm bowl of tortellini in brodo just awaiting her spoon—she runs out of steam. "Oh, never mind," she murmurs, and nibbles half a cracker.

At a time when many parents are focused like never before on what they feed their kids, those kids often hit age 18 without the foggiest idea of how to feed themselves.

I've been forced to recognize that although she's as smart, capable, and organized a person as I've ever known, my daughter is absolutely inept in the kitchen. She's afraid of the oven, claims to have no idea how to dress a salad, and can't crack an egg without losing half the white to the floor. How did this happen? In a family of cooks, how has she made it to an age of near maturity while clinging to almost total culinary illiteracy?

Clearly, it's (mostly) my fault. I can no more resist feeding her than I can loving her, and she plays me like a pro. "Would you make me popovers for breakfast?" she wheedles on a Sunday morning. "Please? Your popovers are sooo good." And though everyone else has eaten hours before, and the kitchen is clean, I reach for a whisk. On a school morning, though I'm late to work, she begs, "Can you make me that frittata di pasta to take in for lunch? The cafeteria food is so disgusting." And somehow, I find myself firing up the stove and sizzling cold spaghetti in oil.

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Lesley Freeman Riva writes frequently on food, family, and travel. More

Lesley Freeman Riva writes frequently on food, family, and travel. Her work has appeared in local, national and international outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, Cookie, Parenting, Harper's Magazine, Sherman's Travel, the Travel Channel, and Edible Rhody. She and her family live and eat in Rhode Island and Italy.

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