Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Kids and Food “Deception”

Some days, I think I fit better in “The Waltons” generation. Remember how the family would sit together at every meal? Platters and serving dishes lined the middle of the table. Prayers were said. And everyone ate. Momma never once jumped up to get a special plate for JimBob because he didn’t like broccoli. You never saw Grandma trying to sneak a tablespoon of cauliflower into Elizabeth’s eggs for fear that she wouldn’t eat vegetables any other way. No mid-afternoon run to the big yellow arches because chicken nuggets were the only thing MaryEllen would tolerate. And lo and behold…none of the children starved! They ate what was served. No one even provided chips, crackers or pudding snack cups to hold them over until the next meal.

Last week I picked up Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook, Deceptively Delicious, from the library. The book provides instructions on how to puree vegetables so that they can be incorporated ("hidden"!!!!) in recipes that kids will eat. The concept confused me on a number of levels. First, many—if not most—of the recipes end up providing a tablespoon of vegetables or less per serving. I’m currently looking at the “French Toast” recipe that calls for 2 tablespoons of puree (there is a list of purees to choose from) in a recipe that serves 4. So we’re talking 1/2 tablespoon per person??? I’m perplexed as to why one would go to so much effort for so little nutritional payoff.

I’m also entirely confused by the use of the word “deception” throughout the book. I find it odd that we live in a culture that promotes hiding good nutritious food in order to get our kids to eat it. I thought the goal was to expose our kids, time and again, to the amazing palate of nutritious goodness that our planet has to offer. I would much rather repeatedly expose my child to “real”—not hidden—vegetables. Eating together as a family, my children learn that the people they love and respect EAT VEGETABLES! It’s WHAT WE DO.

I’ve been slowing working my way through a very different cookbook that our naturopath recommended, The Garden of Eating. Although I don’t plan to go to the extremes (large consumption of vegetables/fruits & meat to the exclusion of most grains) outlined in the book, I do leave it with a challenge. I’d like to widen my cooking repertoire as well as my family’s palate. I want to increase the variety of vegetables we grow and try out some new items at the Farmer’s Market this summer.

And I don’t plan to hide them in anything.

Someone recently asked me how we handle kids and eating at our house. It’s really simple. I usually make dinner and put it on the table. We sit down as a family to eat. Everyone is expected to try everything. If you want seconds of something…or dessert, on the rare occasion that it’s available…then you eat a reasonable portion of everything first. If you choose not to, that’s fine…there’s always breakfast tomorrow. …And I don’t mean that I save dinner for breakfast! I just mean that if anyone chooses not to eat, there is always another meal coming. Interestingly enough, I don’t think anyone has ever chosen to not eat dinner. But more than once I’ve had a child suddenly say, in a shocked way, “This is good! Remember when I didn’t used to like it?” Tastebuds and children do grow and change if given the opportunity.


CC said...

I wrote about something somewhat similar here. But I'm upfront to the kids about the veggies in their bread/pancakes/sauce/whatever. I personally just don't like many veggies and I am more willing to eat them this way!

Maurine said...

As a recoveriing "picky eater child" whose sister claims was taken "to the woodshed" for a quick cure, my experiences likely color my response.

If I can find something easy to make (like carrot sticks, peanut butter, applesauce, cheese. etc.) the child will eat in order to make a balanced diet, I would likely resort to that.

At the same time encouraging the child to try other foods is a good idea since they may discover something new & delicious. I would just be more likely to let him or her finish up with some of the foods they like.

For me, being a picky eater may not have been completely negative. While several other members of my family have struggled with weight at one time or another in their life, thus far I have been spared that challenge. But there may be traces of the "picky" still with me; like I have noticed it seems easier or more natural to skip or postpone a meal if I am otherwise occupied than what I have observed in others.

So even though the Walton idea sounds appealing in some ways, to this day I probably tend to see this through the eyes of the picky eater child who was not cured in the woodshed.

Kelly Hogaboom said...

Food issues - I could write a book! And maybe I should!

"Hiding" vegetables = vegetables taste bad = being "food virtuous" means torturing or tricking ourselves and our children into "eating right". Wow, how about I step out of all the issues that will likely breed and just... serve vegetables at the table?

Last night I made our family (we have kids 6 and 4) homemade cheese pizza, roasted brussell sprouts, and saute'd tomatoes and squash. They ate it all. Sometimes they aren't big fans of some of the things I make. But they know they have to clean their plates to get dessert (when we have it). If they don't want to eat, they can wait until next meal or put the dinner aside until later in the evening (I notice sometimes they aren't ready for dinner when it's served).

As you've probably discovered in your family, this works well. No fights. No extra cooking of noodles or whatever. No shaming "the picky eater". And certainly no woodshed treatment!

As a child I was a "picky eater" and my parents shamed me about it - which made me even more defiant. I felt disrespected for not being allowed my preferences (my mom still "insists" I like cooked onions - a food I have stalwartly avoided for 31 years). I don't want to pick on my children for their preferences, but nor will I cater to any whim or give up serving new things. So far we've been super happy with our family dinner fare - and never once have we made a special dinner for someone who didn't like what the rest of us were eating.

I know other families do things differently but I can't help but notice some seem to sabotage the children's best interests when they don't need to! There is a preschool mom who goes out of her way to "put down" the V8 juice I bring the kids. I let the children choose - water, fruit juice, or V8 (the juices are all 100% juice). Left to their own without coercion or pressure many children pick vegetable juice, and decide they like it. However this mom will express AMAZEMENT if a kid picks veggie juice, pour a TINY bit, and squint like the child asked for poison (the children that opt for the sweet juice get a big glass full). It goes without saying when she brings snacks or food it is loaded with corn syrup, sugar, and preservatives. I have sometimes thought, no wonder your child prefers sweets and junk food - you're TELLING him he's supposed to!

I believe kids need a chance to decide for themselves, and genuine sympathy when the meal isn't quite what they like... and freedom to wait to see if the next meal appeals to them more.

I'll get off the soapbox but - your comments validate my same initial reaction to the Seinfeld book.

richmomma said...

CC-thanks for the link. I throw stuff in other foods too...just not for the purpose of hiding. Come summer I'll write about my favorite "cubes." :)

Maurine-Wow! Sorry your childhood was like that. Our woodshed is just used for wood. ;)

Kelly-Loved reading your response. Definitely write that book! I'll read it!

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