A widow with ten boys to feed was once asked how she does it? She replied, “I feed them what they don’t like and give them as much of it as they want”. Sound advice from a women in a impossible situation for most of us. But it highlights what should be a parents priority, to feed their kids and feed them well. This does not always include what they like… as far too may parents are focused on pleasing their kids, often attempting to get them to eat more. Unfortunately, this often means compromising health and nutrition for quantity and compliance.
If you summed up the multiple reasons parents give for feeding their kids unhealthy food you could sum them up into one of three categories; Culture, Preference and Reality. Let’s take a closer look at each of these:
– Culture: Many of us come from cultures that influence our diets. What our parents fed us as children will often dictate our diets as adults. What others are eating around us makes a big difference as well. So does the geographical region our cultures are from. While there are too many differences in the diets of all the cultures of the world to compare and contrast here, one common underlying truth about these various diets remains consistent, most of these cultural diets where developed for a physically active lifestyle. In short, our forefathers worked the fields, hunted and built their own houses with their bare hands. Women spent much of their day doing physical domestic work (anyone who has cleaned A house can attest to how much work that is… even with a vacuum and spray bottles). The necessary physical work previous generations had to do on a daily basis accommodated heavy food in high quantities. Today, most of us eat like them but don’t work like them. We need to rethink our cultural connections to food. As many of those diets are no longer appropriate for our lifestyles.
– Preference: This one is obvious. Who doesn’t want to eat what they love? Who doesn’t want to simply avoid a showdown with your children over vegetables every night? It just seems so much easier to stop by a fast food restaurant or grab the family and head out to dinner…. Just let someone else do the cooking and cleaning. But this growing trend (for the first time in history America sepnt more moeny at restaurants than grocery stores in 2016) has its consequences as restaurants (even the best of them) often use mass amounts of salt, sugar and unhealthy fats in order to boost flavor. Profits are usually maximized via cheaper quality meats and ingredients… rarely organic or grass fed.
– Reality: The reality for many is that fresh produce is often expensive. Organic can be twice the price as non organic is some cases. Also, time is limited and prohibits us from cooking every day like our ancestors. However, rice and beans, pasta, canned tuna, etc. are all cheaper than fast food and far more nutritious if you are experiencing financial hardship. Also, with a little multitasking and time management you too can cook a home made meal for your family… daily! However, there is even a better way, get more cooks in the kitchen!
If you research the topic of how to get your kids to eat healthy, you will find a million different suggestions from the traditional method of not giving them anything else, to the modernist idea of hailing them as messiahs every time they eat anything with an iota of nutritional value. Neither of these (nor the multitude of ideas I read) seemed logical and practical… except one.
I once had a conversation with an 8 year old who was shocked by the statement that “food does not come from a box”. “Yes it does”, she said. “Where does it come from then”? The conversation was an eye opener for me. Just how much do we shield our kids from the reality of food? 100 years ago most kids helped bring the livestock up from birth all the way to the slaughter house. They dug in the ground to plant the seed, then watered and harvested. They dried and canned food. They cooked the food. By age 10 most kids had an intimate knowledge of food, what it was and where it came from. They knew the value of the work it took to bring it to the table and they were excited to taste the fruits of their labor. How times have changed.
So given the reality most of us live in today, how can we expose our children to food in a way that makes them want to eat it? The best way is to get them cooking in the kitchen, digging in the garden and cleaning up for the next meal.
Kids are multi sensory. When you drop a plate of food off in front of them you are appealing to their sense of taste alone. You better hope it tastes good. On the other hand, when the child participates in the preparation of the food they are getting a multi sensory experience. They are seeing it, feeling it, smelling it, hearing it sizzle… naturally they will want to taste it! Here are some quick tips to get more cooks in your kitchen!
– Start them Early: By age 3 you can hand your child a plastic knife and let them cut soft produce such as mushrooms or fruit. By age 10 with close supervision they should be learning how to properly handle a real knife. I think it is much riskier to not teach your kids how to cook.
– Don’t break the bank: You will do your kids a big favor by teaching them how to cook delicious healthy meals on a budget. When they become young adults, that knowledge will be invaluable.
– Make a Mess: Often we find ourselves ushering the kids out of the kitchen in an effort to minimize the mess they seem to always make. Sometimes this is necessary. But as often as you can, say yes to the mess. Let the kids experiment, feel and be kids all while learning a lifelong skill… cooking.
– Make it fun: Try having your kids prepare a meal from a “mystery box” you prepared ahead of time with ingredients they must use to make the meal. Throw eggs, onions, bell peppers a little salt and pepper on the table and ask them to make breakfast. Or, make it a competition who can prepare the best fried egg. Use your creativity to make the kitchen a fun place to learn about food.