Sunday, January 8, 2012 Parents of Picky Pipsqueaks Prepare for a Pummeling, Please

It all started innocently enough. A friend posted on Facebook, asking for easy dinner ideas for picky eaters. I wanted to help, I started racking my brain for kid-friendly foods. Seeing as I'm a "baby-free expert" I came up blank.

I suggested the crock pot, I had a few other semi-lame suggestions. There were a number of suggestions from real-life working moms. Some of them seemed okay, some of them... There's no way to finish that sentence politely. I was flabbergasted. Disgusted is a strong word but I'm going to use it anyway. One recipe that I would never disclose called for a cup of soy sauce. A CUP! That's 5 days worth of sodium if you're under 40 years of age, 8 days if you're over. That is mad crazy, yo!

A number of recipes called for jarred sauce, something that is not allowed in our house as my husband is Italian. But other than those pureed tomatoes the suggestions were surprisingly void of veggies. Void of variety - pasta, meat, tomato sauce. Pasta, meat tomato sauce. Pasta, meat, tomato sauce, cheese. One recipe called for canned pineapple, and then there was the cup-o-soy sauce. But every recipe involved some "convenience food" - jarred salsa, packets of taco seasoning. Nothing personal.

I mean that, nothing personal...but you're robbing your kids. Nutritionally speaking you're doing them a disservice. A colorful, diet rich in grains, plant materials and various sources of proteins is healthy for our bodies. And you're robbing them of texture, variety and the spices of life. By not introducing them to the wide variety of foods the world has to offer you're possibly condemning them to a life of chicken nuggets and french fries. We all know a person like that, with only a handful of foods in their comfort zone. If those five foods are pasta, ground beef, cheese, tomato sauce and canned pineapple that person is looking at a pretty unhealthy life.

When I was a kid (yeah, I know. F when you were a kid, Miss Headbanging Child-Free Expert.) When I was a kid I ate whatever my parents ate. The idea of making a separate meal for me never entered the house. Even when I was a baby, I ate what they ate, they just put it in the blender. Pigs ears, sardines, squid, smoked bacon fat, smelts, little neck clams, wild boar - I ate all of those things as a kid. It never occurred to me not to eat them. I did draw the line at tongue, I remember that. And I ate liver until I found out no one else did. But that's the key right there. People do what they can get away with. Yes, even kids. Especially kids. They're constantly testing their limits, and yours! They're kids, that's their job. But it's your job as a parent to see that they get their nutritional needs met and that you expose them to the world through it's bounty.

Food is history. You can follow ingredients and spices around the globe for a peek into our past. It's an opportunity to learn about humanity. It sustains us, nourishes us, fuels us through our day and into the next. Food is nostalgia, memories. A familiar taste can bring comfort, quiet and bliss. Food is love. Sitting and sharing a meal with family is an immeasurable, priceless experience. There will come a time when they're all grown and gone, when getting together for the holidays isn't easy or even an option.

And where do you want them to be? Opening a jar of sauce?

I'm being harsh, I know.

Tough shit.

America's children are obese! Unhealthy! Big fat tubs of lard! Pasta, meat, sauce and cheese? Are you kidding me? Hey, it's not my fault. I'm not a parent. I'm not the one who signed up for the humungo responsibility, YOU ARE! Step up! Put some steamed veggies on that plate, some brown rice. Salmon, green beans, whole grain bread, sauteed spinach, summer squash - you may have to expose your kids to a different food 10-15 times before they try it, but SO WHAT? No kid presented with a balanced meal night after night has ever starved to death.

What you feed your kid tonight will stay with them for the rest of their lives. How's that for a profound scare tactic? But it's true, both nutritionally and emotionally. Growing bodies need trace amounts of every vitamin and mineral. Eating the rainbow is the best way to do that. Vitamin supplements usually come out in the same pill form they went in as. And emotionally speaking, our brains bond flavors with memories. When I taste liver I'm back in my high-chair. When I eat steamed little necks I'm in my backyard, showing my friends how to pull the icky black part off so you can dip the clam in the hot water and then the butter and slurp it all up in all it's buttery-salty-sweet yumminess. I wonder if they go back to my yard when they taste steamers today?

Do you see what I'm saying? Kids are people. These memories are the things that make life worth living. You can't deny them that. When they're 40 they'll thank you for making them try lamb or quinoa or chitlins as a child. I promise. But you have to do your part. You signed up for it. You wouldn't introduce them to only 5 letters of the alphabet, would you?



Dr Horder said...

It's rough when you work until 5, get your kid from daycare and not get home until 5:30/5:45 to cook up something fantastic before your kid wants to eat at 6:15 and they start begging for snacks. Back in the day, most families could afford to have mom stay home and be a homemaker. Unfortunately, those days are long gone. You have single moms, families where dad works at night and it's hard to be julienning vegetables while trying to watch an active toddler.

I do agree, kids deserve to be nourished with all the good stuff we grew up on. They deserve to taste what grilled chicken is like, whole grains, fish and all that good stuff. Unfortunately, many kids have developed allergies so most parents are too scared to feed a child fish before two years old. I know someone who hasn't given her kid peanut butter yet and he is over two; and she has no clue if he is going to have a reaction. I followed none of the (do one food at a time for a week before you start a new food to make sure there are no reactions) rules. I fed my kid everything starting from her time in the womb. I remember getting scolded by someone as I shoveled a handful of peanuts in my mouth down the gullet to an 8 month pregnant belly. I based it on the fact that my husband and I have no allergies to food so the likelihood was small my kid would. Ignorant, perhaps. Buts ometimes ignorance really is bliss.

But, back to the food. I am VERY lucky. My kid is not a terribly picky eater and will try almost anything. Quick meals are key, but we don't have to skimp on nutrition. I make her try everything. Sometimes she goes for it, sometimes she doesn't. I don't force her. Chances are, if she sees us eating it, she wants it too as long as it's not too spicy.

It's finding a happy medium. My kid loves grilled cheeses, but she has to eat them on wheat bread. If it weren't for daycare, she would never know what white bread tastes like. When I make her dolphin hearts shapes she adores so much, the dolphins are always jumping over some carrots/sweet potatoes/string beans/cucumbers.

Learn their tastes and modify it. My kid loves salty things so I am guilty of adding a pinch of salt to a cucumber and grape tomato salad with a splash of vinegar. She loves stirfry noodles so I load that up on veggies and if you cut up shrimp or tofu small enough, they won't even know its there.

She loves lemons so the lemon potatoes I made were a hit with her. Shepherd's pie is fun too and it could be made ahead of time and heated. I make/or buy what I can on the weekends for the week. Fairway has ones made with chicken and beef loaded with veggies.

I'm not preaching that i am perfect and my kid is easy. Believe me, I won't be winning any Mother of the Year awards any time soon. I limit our chicken nugget days (but she gets apples cut into fries just like BK but without the preservatives they put in to stop the browning). And she loves her Easy Mac, but we try to limit that too.

A friend of mine, a working single mom , gave me the best idea to hold a kid at bay while you cooked up something. If they are hungry and want to snack, give them their veggies to snack on first while you finish up dinner. They're going to eat them anyway.

Headbanging Hostess said...

Man, I wanna be your kid! Sounds DDelicious!

Thanks so much for sharing. It sounds like you're on top of it, good for you! And good tips!

Anonymous said...

Dear HBH,
Please I challenge you to come feed my kids! As toddlers they ate their vegetables and anything I put in front of them (except pasta, they didn't like the texture). Now as 7 and almost 10, they eat a handful of foods and will occasionally try new things. But as a FULL time working mom with active kids (lots of sports and such) it is hard to put together a dinner that they will all eat quickly. Give me some ideas! Thanks, E

Headbanging Hostess said...

Ooh! A challenge! I love it!

What's with the quickly? Are they that busy that they can't sit for dinner? If so I suspect that's the root of the problem. Can you make one or two nights a week a serious family meal time? At 7 and 10 they can probably help in the prep, maybe if they recognize some of the foods they like as ingredients in dishes they help prepare they'll be more likely to eat it.

And if they're into sports, that has to be incentive for them to eat healthy. An athlete's body is like a machine and good food is the fuel. Every professional sports team has a nutritionist on staff. They spend a lot of money making sure the players eat right. That's how important it is to their game.

Do they eat pasta now? I'd try making a big bowl of pasta salad with chunks of chicken and chopped up veggies and dole out servings for a few days. Quinoa would work if you can get them to try it, very good source of protein.

Does anyone else have a suggestion? Please share! I love that people are talking!

barbinct said...

As a SAH Mom to four kids ranging in age from seven years to nine months I find it extremely challenging to find a meal that everyone will eat. My husband doesn't usually get home until after the kids eat so I feed them first and we eat after they are in bed. I do rely on convenience foods a lot, but always serve them with veggies and fresh fruit for dessert. There are some nights that we don't get home until dinner time and I try to have dinner already made and just reheat it (pasta & meatballs are good for those nights). I welcome suggestions that are quick and easy to prepare. Like the post above, my kids were less picky as toddlers than they are now. I used to be able to only make one meal...somewhere around age 2 or 3 they became more picky.

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