Family life

Is your house a free-for-all germfest?

When her son's friend comes over, Susan Goldberg wonders if there's too many germs flying around.

1KidsGerms-January2014-iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

Thunder Bay, Ont. writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences.

My friend Karen came over on Sunday with her two boys, who are the same age as my two boys. We made lunch the way you do with good friends who have kids: she grabbed a bunch of things out of her fridge and off her counters and brought them with her, and I grabbed a bunch of things out of our fridge and out of our cupboards, and we sliced fruit and peeled vegetables and heated up soup and cut up banana bread and laid it all out on the table, where the kids mostly ignored it. Except for the banana bread.

Karen’s son Ben had a few spoonfuls of my potato-cheddar soup (for the record, the first kind of soup I have made in ages that Rowan has deigned to eat, so it’s a keeper), and left the rest of his bowl.

“Do you want to take this home with you?” I asked her as we cleaned up. “I could put it in a container.” It was only a little bit, but the soup was damn good and I didn’t really want to throw it out.

She shook her head. “If it were me,” she said, looking at me sideways, “I’d just pour it back in the pot.”

And you know? If it was me — if it was one of my kids who ate, as they often do, two bites of a bowl of soup and then left the rest — I would have done exactly that.

We all do that, don’t we? (Say yes.) I mean, for those of us who are lucky enough to have both children and enough food to spare, there’s a certain amount of figuring out what to do with, say, that second bowl of oatmeal that Isaac swore up and down he really wanted but then barely touched, or the half-piece of French toast Rowan left on his plate, or the half–chicken kebab from the souvlaki dinner. I try to serve small portions, with the idea that the kids can have more if they’re still hungry, but the fact of the matter is that in our house, a lot of my children’s leftovers are — for want of a better term — upcycled. The oatmeal goes back in the pot, as does the soup. The rice gets scraped back into the container (or, sometimes into the soup). Rachel eats Rowan’s rejected yogurt from lunch in her lunch the next day. And so on.

Read more: How much do you know about germs? >

Germs? Whatever. I’m sure that the reheating process takes care of most of them anyway, but even if it doesn’t I’m kind of over any germophobia, at least when it comes to my own children. After years of babies and toddlers sticking their fingers into my mouth and nose, of eating their leftovers (whether or not I was hungry), of  “sharing” spit-soggy Goldfish crackers, I pretty much figure that we all share an immune system: An individual’s microbes are the collective’s microbes, and I like to think that we’re all healthier for it. (When Isaac had impetigo, I do admit that I clamped down on this policy a bit.)

Read more: Are germs good for your child? >

But another child’s microbes? I couldn’t do it. I know it makes no sense (or does it? Have you immunologists or public health specialists studied this?), but the idea of throwing Ben’s soup (and he’s a lovely child, by the way; I’ve known him since he was a toddler) back into the pot to mix in with the rest of the soup that my family would be eating — that just gave me the heebie-jeebies. I mean, I have to have some standards, don’t I? (Don’t answer that.)

What do you do with your kids’ rejected food? Tweet me @mamanongrata.

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