Mom always used to remind us she wasn’t a short-order cook.

What she made was what we ate. There were no special concessions for picky eaters back then. You didn’t hear of preschoolers who existed on nothing but chicken fingers because that’s all they would touch. Even groaning about the menu was frowned upon. Don’t like onions in your Tater Tot hotdish? Pick them out, Queen Victoria.

But the rules all change when we become adults. Part of this is because grown-ups also tend to grow out, so are always looking to lose weight.

Now that we realize more than ever that food is medicine, people also are cutting out whole food groups to address certain health concerns. Itchy skin and tummy distress? Gut the gluten! Do you make embarrassing noises in church? Deep-six the dairy! Feeling sluggish and out of balance? Just juice! Cholesterol soaring? Favor flexitarian!


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I’m all for better fuel for better health, although it can create some tense moments in the kitchen. In the last week, I’ve been at my mom’s house to help out while she recovers from cancer surgery. I was joined by my sister, who intentionally lost 20 pounds through a strict, low-carb program, and my brother-in-law, who accidentally lost 30 pounds due to anxiety and GERD.

Then there was Mom, recovering from a major procedure on her pancreas and digestive system. She needs to forgo raw vegetables, fruits or anything with high fiber. She must eat tiny portions every two hours, somehow ingesting enough calories to maintain her weight while simultaneously avoiding high-calorie foods (such as ice cream) that could cause an unpleasant condition known as “dumping syndrome.” (Yup. It’s every bit as bad as it sounds.)

It’s like being Jack Sprat’s short-order cook. Mike is avoiding spicy foods, red meat, onions, garlic, tomatoes, anything rich or fatty, bacon, dairy, citrus fruits and anything remotely acidic. Mabel can only eat meat, cheese, certain legumes, non-starchy vegetables and fruits so low in sugar they might as well be vegetables.

Mom’s delicate stomach is basically limited to Ensure, rice, yogurt, noodles, soup, crackers, eggs, Cheerios, unsweetened fruit, toast, cheese, peanut butter and ground turkey.

Then there’s Dad, who has somehow maintained his high school weight by eating like a bird for most of his life. He’s the type of person who eats one slice of pizza and complains about being stuffed.

Imagine cooking for this crew. I joked that I could maybe make a nice hotdish out of celery, rice and ice cubes. Then Mabel reminded me that Mom can’t even eat celery (too much fiber) and Mabel can’t have rice (too many carbs).

Ice, anyone?

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