Our contestant tonight is Mom, a 30-something from Virginia and a veteran of the competition. Mom has been the sole competitor on our show this week since Dad, a contestant famous for his late-night charcuterie plates, is unable to attend tapings due to patriarchal capitalist bullshit “professional conflicts.” Also, special celebrity contestant Grandma is not scheduled to return to Chopped: Toddler Dinner Hour until the holiday-themed episodes — no matter how many times a rebroadcast of “the good soup Grandma makes” is requested. Despite her lack of competition in the kitchen, Mom has yet to satisfy the judges this week. Will tonight be the night her luck changes? Let’s find out.

Our judges tonight are Reese, self-proclaimed food critic and milk sommelier; Quinn, owner and operator of the Playroom Kitchen Bistro; and Bruno the dog, a competitive-eating champion holding the current household record for number of food items caught and eaten before they reach the floor.

You may remember our contestant was not a winner on Chopped: Infant Edition when it turned out the judges were somehow allergic to her appetizer (breastmilk), would not drink from the bottle she plated her formula entrée with, and continuously spit up her dessert dish (a different kind of formula). But she’s back and ready to win this time.

Tonight’s competition begins with a New Appetizer Lightning Round. Our contestant has only five minutes to prepare this course and plate it to-go in order to make it to daycare pick-up on time.

The mystery basket in this round is themed “Diaper Bag Delicacies” and includes:

  • A package of mostly smashed Flavor Blasted Goldfish
  • A plastic baggie full of semi-aged Cheerios
  • Half of a container of strawberry yogurt drops
  • A box of raisins that returned unopened from every school lunch it was sent in

It appears our contestant is developing a lazy mom’s trail mix. She’s combined the raisins, Cheerios, and yogurt drops into two spill-proof bowls, and split the four uncrushed Goldfish between them. Half-full sippy cups of water round out the dish. Mom jokes this is her culinary take on “our ocean pollution problems.” I’m not sure she’ll win any points for this attempt at turning this round into a teachable moment, but let’s see what the judges have to say.

Judge Reese quickly dumps her not-so-spill-proof-after-all bowl into her car seat and throws the water bottle in a fit of rage. It doesn’t have the “choc-ate milk” component she was looking for in this course. She’s also noting the unequal plating — the other judge has water and a “’nack” and she now has none. Judge Quinn begrudgingly shares his portion. His heavy sighs serve as his lackluster review of this appetizer round. The dog member of our judge’s panel was not able to indulge in this course due to raisins, but gives the loaf of bread accidentally left on the counter a rave review.

Now we begin the Entrée Round. Our contestant’s dish must include the following mystery basket ingredients:

  • Something resembling protein
  • Any god damn vegetable
  • A “safe” food the judges know and have eaten before
  • One of the various expensive close-to-rotting fruits the judges requested from the store but have since refused to eat

Mom has anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes to complete this round, depending on when our judges tire of watching PinkFong videos and completely flip their shit.

It looks like she is going with stove-top boxed organic shells and cheese for her “safe” food component. That’s a great start, but I do worry about time here; 8 minutes of cook time plus the eternity it takes water to boil might not bode well. Oh, look, judge Reese has decided to check out the contestant’s progress. As we all know, the judges cannot help contestants but this judge is insistent on watching for “bubbles… hot” at an alarmingly close proximity.

Ah, Mom is moving on finding her next basket ingredients. Great diversion technique. She’s pulling out the frozen peas and what looks to be an off-brand frozen dino nugget. That’s a bold move; these judges can smell a discount brand from a mile away. Judge Quinn complains from the table that he’s “tired of peas,” and “doesn’t want THAT chicken,” so the Entrée Round is starting to circle the drain.

We’ve moved on to plating, and I have to say, Mom’s ability to drain boiling water while holding the equivalent of a small, wiggly pitbull is impressive. Oh, no! She forgot that both the pink and blue bowls are in the dishwasher! The green and purple bowls are definitely going to offend these judges. Let’s see what the results are for this disastrous main course.

Judge Reese is livid that the dino nuggets were served in the traditional fashion — quartered to avoid choking hazards — and is now insisting they be put back together. In addition, she is picking all the peas off her plate in protest of the purple bowl.

As alluded to by his earlier interjections, judge Quinn eats only the pasta and then quietly retreats into the playroom while our contestant is distracted.

Our canine judge agrees that dino nuggets don’t require cutting, but will eat them anyway, please. Please, just put them in the bowl now. Please. Or the floor, that’s fine too. Please.

No one notices the lack of decaying fruit but our guilt-ridden contestant.

After a quick break to run laps around the kitchen, the judges are clamoring for the Dessert Round. Mom has barely cleaned up her station from the entrée round, but what the hell, let’s see what’s inside the final mystery basket of the evening.

The last course of the night must include:

  • An enthusiastic attempt at convincing the judges to finish the food from the entrée round
  • One compelling narrative of available fruit options (expanded to include fruits in pouch form)
  • Negotiation over what room of the house this final course may be eaten in
  • Milk

Our contestant makes quick work of the first two mystery basket items, as both human judges outright refuse those options. Our contestant is starting to look frazzled. She’s only got 15 minutes left before our competition is over and she must appear on our sister show, Triple B: Bathtubs, Books, and Bedtime Routines.

Oh, what’s this? She’s pulling a half-gallon of strawberry ice cream from the freezer — milk and fruit. Smart. Now she’s plating the ice cream into bowls that look like tiny ice cream cones. This move succeeds in winning the “eat in the kitchen” negotiation. We’ve never seen a contestant rebound in this way. Amazing! Let’s check in with the judges for their thoughts.

This unorthodox approach to our final round looks to have gone over very well. Both human judges are quiet, eating, and smiling. Judge Quinn gives our contestant two thumbs up, and even Judge Reese is signing “more,” with enthusiasm. An errant melty spoonful finds its way to the floor, and now all three judges are in agreement: this round earns Mom an unprecedented result of zero criticism from our judges. A true feat.

Congratulations to our contestant for not completely losing today’s competition, albeit by questionable methods. As always, there is never a winner on Chopped: Toddler Dinner Hour, only the reprieve of the upcoming bedtime and 12 hours where no one needs to be fed.

Unless someone wants a snack.