By Rose McAvoy
1. It costs additional time and money to prepare multiple entrees.
2. All the food we eat is suitable for children.
3. My job as a parent is to teach my child how to become an adult.
4. “Kid Foods” are often not the healthiest options
5. It is my kitchen and I don’t want to!
I have revised many things I said I wouldn’t do as a parent but there is one declaration that has stuck hard and fast. When it comes to dinner – one meal will be prepared. Period.
It costs additional time and money to prepare multiple entrees.
Before we were married Mr. Second Helpings and I agreed to be united in our approach to dinner. We made this decision after accepting various dinner invitations. We were shocked to see our friends and family members preparing several entrees, hoping to please each diner. These frazzled parents were unable to enjoy their own meals. They were too busy bargaining with their kids to get them to eat. The meals were stressful and took longer to prepare because they had so many components. We didn’t think it was fair to the parents or the kids and did not want that with our future children.
All the food we eat is suitable for children.
The Little Helping was about 6 months old when we bought his highchair. His first seated meal was a bit of mashed banana. He joyfully squished the sticky fruit between his fingers before bringing his pudgy fist to his mouth. It was love at first bite. Since then, Mr. Second Helpings and I have encouraged him to try new foods. We do so most often by exaggerating our enjoyment of food. “This lettuce is so fresh and delicious!” “The eggplant really absorbed that marinade.” “Wow! This is so gooood!”
In our house, dinner is what’s for dinner. None of us is in danger of fading away if we choose not to eat what is served. If The Little Helping doesn’t want everything on offer, there is generally something he will happily eat. At this point he eats almost everything, just not all of the time. One day he may be wild about couscous and the next refuse it flat out. Leafy greens are consistently the hardest sell but there are days when even thick leaves of spinach or kale go down the hatch without a second thought. In general his diet is balanced though it often takes several meals to get there.
My job as a parent is to teach my child how to become an adult.
It is my opinion that part of becoming an adult is developing a broad taste in food and an excitement about trying new things. When it comes to coaching The Little Helping’s palate I see it as a learning curve. I once heard that it takes 200 uses to incorporate a new word into ones vocabulary. I imagine learning to eat a vast and varied diet requires similar repetition. I serve the same ingredients in many forms – raw, steamed, grilled, baked, roasted, mashed, alone, or with other flavors. It is okay for him to not eat something but he does have to try it. There are fun ways to introduce this concept — I like the term “adventure bites.”
There is no clean plate rule only a no-waste policy. In our house wasting food is disrespectful, not only to the cook, but to the farmers, butchers, transporters, and retailers who took care to get the food to our table. Bits of food left on the plate are normal but taking a second helping to play with and not eat is very disrespectful and not tolerated.
“Kid Foods” are often not the healthiest options.
Sure we eat things that have been made in factories and come in boxes but not just any box. No where on this planet are there chickens shaped like dinosaurs, milk won’t age into powdered cheese, yogurt doesn’t come in neon colors, and “flavored drink” should not be drunk. Frequently these kid foods are significantly higher in sugar and artificial ingredients than the non-kid options. I don’t see them as healthy for any body especially one so busy learning and growing. These are my rules. They work in my house. I don’t forbid a handful of fish crackers at a friend’s house but they likely won’t be swimming into my shopping cart.
It is my kitchen and I don’t want to!
Really this is what it all boils down to. I like to have fun with food and often make food that has kid appeal but I don’t believe in catering to a kid palate. I also don’t want to give my toddler command of the dinner table. Of course the rules do get broken, or at least flexed, from time to time. Every so often I add too many chilies to our dinner. The Little Helping enjoys flavor but not heat for heat’s sake. When things like that happen, I grab a leftover or something quick from the fridge as an alternative. He is still offered all the parts of the meal and may even eat some of the super spicy food. He is constantly surprising us. I never know what will or won’t appeal to him so I just make whatever sounds good to me. Most of the time we all leave the table happy with full tummies.
This isn’t meant to be some grand manifesto. I really wrestled with how to make food appealing without making kid food while I was working at a day care last summer. During these first weeks of the MyPlate on My Budget project it has bubbled up in my mind again. We all take a different approach to teaching our children and encouraging to them to make healthy food choices. This just happens to be mine. What is yours?
If you would like to read a great book on this subject I highly recommend French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon. I picked up this book expecting to read all about her kids. What I found was a story of a mother who had to reframe her own ideas about food before she could begin to teach her children. There are great ideas for introducing new foods to even very young children. Don’t be surprised if you find your own tastes expanding right along with your children — she did. The book is an easy and entertaining read. Bonus — it is set in a tiny village in France so you get to do a little arm chair traveling too!