Are You Too Old For This?

My Kids’ Snacks Are Making Quarantine Easier But Losing This Gut Will Be Hard

If you haven’t had a classic PB&J since G.I. Joe pajamas, get ready

I’m 33 years old. It’s a weird age, teetering between being in touch and stuck in my ways. And I know I’m not the only one standing at the intersection of Young Buck and Old Head. Every time something comes along, whether it’s slang or pop culture or a new tech platform, you confront the same question: Am I too old for this? That’s why I’m here — to work through these conundrums on your behalf, on a weekly basis. Together, hopefully, we can face some harsh truths about our own washed-ness.

EEvery parent has that moment. That late night when you try to fix a meal for your child who has started to teethe and eat solid food. You’ve been there, cutting that peanut butter and jelly sandwich into perfect little triangles just like momma did. Maybe they won’t just eat it, you think, maybe they’ll love it. Maybe you’ll be able to transfer some of your childhood food joys to them.

Your first bite of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich since you were in G.I. Joe pajamas. And it hits you like a roundhouse kick from the Kool-Aid Man. Because peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are fucking delicious.

Inevitably, of course, your kid refuses to eat any of it — pushing away your generational gift like a tiny drunk “well, actually.” So there you are, heartbroken. Standing over your kitchen table, looking that those four triangles, crestfallen. Meh, might as well not let the whole sandwich go to waste. You take a bite. Your first bite of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich since you were in G.I. Joe pajamas.

And it hits you like a roundhouse kick from the Kool-Aid Man. Because peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are fucking delicious.

Part of growing up means developing a so-called grown-up palate. When we become adults, we phase out things like peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese, chicken nuggets, and sugary breakfast cereals because we are sophisticated beings who crave sushi, wine, and whatever else comes with a $200 date. In fact, as I’ve learned from my exhaustive and totally scientific research, most adults have gone a cool 20 years since tasting a peanut butter sandwich.

But let me tell you: It doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be this way. Because when we have children and start eating their leftovers and whatever they refuse to eat, it can result in childhood treat overload. People talk about how much weight dads gain when their significant others are pregnant, but toddler snacks are a straight-up Trojan horse for diabetes.

My kids are 14 and 7— and it took me years to come down from the weight gain that came from dangerous nightly cocktails of PB&J sandwiches and Frosted Flakes. Literal years to stop looking like Stay Puft Marshmallow Dad.

But I’m afraid a relapse is coming. And it’s all because of this damn quarantine.

Just a few weeks ago, on pre-Crisis Earth-One when grocery stores had actual inventory and we didn’t have to go through The Hunger Games for some two-ply, we all made our treks to get enough snacks to hold us over until this whole thing blows over. Of course, for most of us in late February or early March, this thing “blowing over” seemed like a one month bit of planning. At most.

We knew the kids were out of school, so we figured we had to get enough to hold them over until spring break — at the longest. We grabbed the essential five food groups for kids staying at home: lunch meat, fruit, bread, juice, and Doritos. But this was more than just the basics. What if, on the off-chance a totally unfit president botches the entire response to a global pandemic and we end up trapped in our houses for weeks? What will we do to survive?

So we scoured the Kroger for the survival snacks: Oreos, applesauce, those little pinwheel thingies, Goldfish, peanut butter Ritz, Frosted Flakes, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, those little oatmeal cookie thingies. We had it all and were ready for the apocalypse.

Those snacks lasted about a week.

Because, and I repeat: they’re fucking delicious.

Sure, my kids are eating us to the point that I worry if they are even getting fed 10% of their nutritional needs at school. But I’m a major culprit here too, and it’s because I’ve dipped into the food that raised me. Nothing offers a fleeting relief from existential dread quite like simple carbs that have been genetically manipulated to pump as much sugar into our bodies as humanly possible. Or maybe — and here’s where that psychology class I took solely to impress a girl my first year at college comes in — I’m reverting to the comfort foods of my childhood to give me a sense of security while the whole world falls apart around me.

Either way, there’s something innocent about kids’ snacks that are refreshing in ways I didn’t expect. A late-night peanut butter and jelly sandwich makes me feel like I’m living in an easier time when my biggest worry was whether the Ninja Turtles were going to defeat Shredder. (Related note: Sara Lee’s Artesano is what you’re gonna want to use for the perfect PB&J. Is it whole grain? No, and it’ll quite likely spike the shit out of your blood sugar, but we’re looking for comfort here, not fiber.) Just last week, I was too tired to make dinner and everyone else had fallen asleep, so I made myself a turkey sandwich, Doritos, a juice, and exactly two Oreo cookies — the standard lunch any kid took to school.

As a result, I’m constantly in fear that when we all go outside again, I’m gonna be looking like Thor from Endgame instead of Thor from Infinity War. (Not that I look like either of them, but just go with me here.) Lucky Charms are not good for the love handles. But these are unprecedented times, and they call for a little bit of leeway; taking care of ourselves mentally means giving ourselves grace to fall short in quite literally every aspect of life. Your work might slip a bit. Your parenting will definitely slip some (good luck with those screen-time limits, parents). And your diet will get more than a bit bumpy. You might as well enjoy the food while you’re at it. And there’s really no better way to do that than a trip through time to the foods that made you happy in simpler times.

Just make sure you have some Tums handy.

Level Sr. Writer covering Race, Culture, Politics, TV, Music. Previously: The Undefeated, The Atlantic, Washington Post. Forthcoming book: The Movement Made Us

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