Yes, you read that right.  Running.  With Noodles.  This is either a fun (for L.) new dinner game, or the title of a Kevin Costner film rejected by the studios.  You be the judge.

Running With Noodles falls under the category of Things I Probably Should Have Nipped In The Bud, But Will Have To Triage Later.  It’s on a small list of things that have been going on at the dinner table in our house lately that seem like possibly bad, odd, or misguided ideas, but have served in the end to get the kids eating, so I’m taking a relatively laissez-faire approach to the whole affair.

Last night, I made a dinner that I personally adore, but which is somewhat less popular with the rest of the family, in descending order according to age: J. likes it just fine, but wouldn’t ask for it; L. would rather not have it, but will give it the Old College Try at least; and P. wants nothing to do with it (surprise, surprise).  It’s a whole-wheat pasta dish with shredded sweet potatoes, grape tomatoes, red bell pepper strips, goat cheese, and tarragon; and to me, it’s vegetarian dinner heaven.  Something about the interplay of the flavors, combined with the fact that it’s a) really inexpensive; b) really easy to make; and c) really healthy makes this a Top Ten weeknight meal for me.  But knowing that it wouldn’t be as much of a joy to the guys, I rounded out the table with some homemade olive oil bread, a platter of sliced apples and oranges, and a big bowl of baby spinach dressed lightly with salt, pepper, olive oil, and a squeeze of juice from the oranges.

J. and I, of course, had some of everything, except the bread — we’d eaten sandwiches on it for lunch and didn’t need any more for the day.  L. and P. were given some options.  I did put small servings of pasta on their plates — VERY small for P., who’s never let anything resembling a noodle cross his lips, and modest for L., who is learning day by day to enjoy different pastas — but then passed the other plates to them and allowed them to choose.  L. chose spinach, orange slices, and bread; P. chose bread and apple slices at first, but when I asked him a second time if he wanted to try any spinach, he decided to give it a shot.

Things started calmly.  P. and L. both gnawed at their bread; L. finished his oranges and his spinach hastily.  P. chewed on the spinach leaves but didn’t appear to swallow any.  L., with a plate empty of all but the pasta, asked if he could have a treat.  P. licked his apple slices contemplatively, then laid them back down and said “Bread, peez.”

Astute readers will be able to predict that this was the precise moment when dinnertime calm turned to dinnertime mayhem.  I responded to the little one first.  “You can have more bread if you eat some apples or spinach,” I told him.  Protest, protest, protest.  “Apple, then bread,” I repeated.  Grudgingly, P. began nibbling at the apples.  (I should note here that raw apple slices are a new venture for him — he’s just gotten to the stage, with teeth and chewing capabilities, where he’s ready to navigate them without gagging.)

Satisfied, I turned to my older son.  “You’ve done a nice job on your fruits and veggies,” I began, “but what do you think I’d like you to put in your body before you have a treat?”

Hefty sigh from the preschooler.  It’s always surprising to me how long-suffering a four-year-old can appear, with minimal effort.  “My noodles,” he grumbled.  “Because they’re my good body food.”

“Right,” I said.  “You don’t have to finish them, but you do need to try some.”

At that point, P. started launching little bits of spinach and apple at me, trying to get my attention.  In the midst of deflecting the aerial produce assault, doling out bites of bread in encouragement for his continued efforts at the food on his plate, and trying to finish my own meal, I lost track of L.  Until I heard his manic giggling and realized it wasn’t coming from the chair to my right.

I looked up to see my child running around the house in a circle, whole-wheat pasta hanging out of his mouth.  He was laughing hysterically as the long strands of spaghetti swung back and forth with the motion of his body.  When he got back around to the table, he would pause, suck down the noodles that were clamped between his lips, reload, and start the whole mad dash over again.  J., by this point, had gone upstairs briefly to start running baths and getting PJs together for the post-dinner routine, so he wasn’t privy to L.’s strange ritual.

L., eyes gleaming, stopped in his tracks and proclaimed around the dangling pasta, “Mommy!  I’m running with noodles!”

He cracked up.  And so did I.

Every fiber of my Good Mommy Brain was screaming that I should stop him, because safety dictates that children should be seated properly when eating, and if nothing else, good manners demand that pasta be eaten at the table, not on the run in one’s underpants (another dinnertime etiquette faux pas, I know).  But he had me.  I was laughing too hard, and he knew it.

I looked from L. to his brother, who was industriously chewing up his fruits and vegetables and spitting them out to examine them.  They were hardly models of dinner decorum; but they were HAPPY.  And EATING.  I threw up my mental hands.  (Disclaimer: One or two strands of dangling spaghetti were not going to constitute a choking hazard for L., so the safety issue was hardly imminent.)  L., sensing my acquiescence, gave a delighted squeal and resumed the Running With Noodles marathon.  I eyed P. for a minute, then went into the kitchen and grabbed a jar of peanut butter — his favorite food — and a spoon.

His eyes lit up when he saw me approach.  “Here, bud,” I said.  “Want to see how Mommy likes her apples?”

I smeared peanut butter on his apple slices and put a hefty dollop on his plate for dipping, then sat back and watched the fun.  L.’s game got him through more than half of his serving of pasta, while the addition of the peanut butter not only got apples into P. (and a little extra protein, as a bonus), but eventually a few bits of spaghetti — disgusting though it was, he mixed some of the noodles with globs of peanut butter and got them down.

Bad Mommy moment?  Maybe.  But Running With Noodles (and Munching With Peanut Butter) made for two very happy kids, nearly clean plates, and a gloriously silly moment in time that I just wasn’t willing to forfeit.  Thanks, L., for reminding me that everybody deserves an occasional moment to play with their food.