Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Don't Fence Me In

It's a toss-up as to whether my favorite thing about southern California was the coastline or the food.

Last week, Ty and I had dinner in a normal, non-swanky sushi restaurant a few hours north of Los Angeles. It was a weeknight, and the place was packed. The food was fresh and delicious, but what really struck me as the most positive aspect of the evening was the number of kids there, eating tasty, well-prepared "grownup food" and loving it.

I have long resented the limited (and often excessively fatty and fried) selection on restaurant "children's menus." I realize that many, many kids are naturally picky eaters, and I was, too, when I was a kid, but I'd wager that many of these kids would naturally be picky in atypical ways. Yes, lots of kids like fried chicken nuggets and hot dogs and shun steamed okra, but I wonder how much of that preference is spoon-fed to them by parents' and societal expectations.

When I was a kid, I liked fried chicken nuggets and hot dogs, but I also adored oysters, bitter greens, and countless other things that kids aren't "supposed to like." I also didn't care for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My parents did me a tremendous service--they exposed me to a wide variety of foods and didn't communicate to me that I was expected not to like certain things. They also educated me about what I was eating--I knew the names of different shapes of pasta and different kinds of cheese, and I knew about steaming vs. frying, artificial colors, and adding spices. My food wasn't dumbed down just because I was a kid. I developed an early appreciation for good food, was fed a balanced diet, and, consequently, never feared food, even as a teenage girl, when some of my friends were attempting to subsist on sugar-free Jell-O.

Now that I've written this, I'll probably have a child who will turn my good theory (and my foodie household) on its head and refuse to eat anything but deep-fried frozen mozzarella sticks and highly pigmented popsicles after I spend an hour crushing organic garlic and sauteeing it in extra virgin olive oil with baby spinach.

So, tell me, moms, how powerful a motivator is guilt?


Anonymous V-Grrrl said...

The toddler years are supposed to be the times when children are most fussy about food. My son was not. He ate everything--fresh yellow squash, steamed spinach, all varieties of pasta, all types of meat, every kind of fruit, unsweetened applesauce, plain yogurt, all varieties of cheese. He didn't taste cake until his first birthday, I watched his sodium intake, didn't keep cookies in the house. He didn't have a chicken nugget until he was 3 and his aunt fed him some. No soda until he was six. I even watered down and limited apple juice consumption.

Despite all this, for reasons I can't explain, right at age five he became very fussy and eschewed many foods he'd always loved. Wouldn't try new foods and would order chicken nuggets every time he had a chance (but hey, I never fixed them at home!) Now he's 10 and his palate has expanded some, but he still doesn't eat the way he ate as a toddler and preschooler....and he has an insatiable sweet tooth.

10:05 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

I can't speak to the guilt issue, but I can salivate at the thought of highly pigmented popsicles. Yummy...

My parents went the practical route too: we had an enormous garden and they oohed and aahed enough at our fresh zucchini and pea pods and spinach and carrots and onions and yes, even brussels sprouts, that I couldn't help but love them. Still do, and always have.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Tink said...

My favorite food when I was 6 was Artichokes dipped in butter. My 11 yr old brother has always loved Calamari. My 13 yr old brother refuses to eat anything that isn't a burger. *Shrugs* I think it really depends on the kid.

11:42 AM  
Anonymous TB said...

I ate all kinds of additives, preservatives and processed foods as a kid. It is really a wonder I am as healthy an eater as I am now.
I'm deathly afraid that I'm going to have a child that refuses to eat anything green or will only eat pop tarts and pizza rolls. I know just the act of buying healthy foods and keeping that kind of stuff out of the house will help, but what else can you do to help your kids make good choices about nutrition?
I'll be interested to see what kind of comments you get from the moms on this topic.

12:16 PM  
Blogger robey said...

I wonder about the influence of other kids that might explain a deteriorationg in eating habits that begins when they start school, etc.

1:35 PM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

Julia's very picky, like her father, and yeah, the standard toddler meals -- nuggets, mac n' cheese, toast -- are big hits here. But she also loves Indian food, any soup, Thai food and other things that impress the hell out of me. There are times when all she wants to eat is Cheerios and I let her, because I know she won't starve and because I know when I serve her a dinner of chicken enchiladas and vegetable pilaf, she'll eat it.

1:42 PM  
Blogger The Gradual Gardener said...

Is eating only deep-fried mozzeralla sticks and pigmented popsicles BAD? No wonder I can't get in to this "healthy eating"...

4:03 PM  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

Mine have all been different. The first one would try anything. The second doesn't like anything. The third gags and threatens to vomit if forced to eat what he doesn't want. And, no they don't seem to NATURALLY like broccoli or spinach and I prepare them ALL the time. They have LEARNED to like them though over time. Plus, they know HOW to eat healthy. Please don't tell them that I bought my own box of pop-tarts the other day. And ate them. And felt terribly guilty about it.

9:29 PM  
Blogger Ditsy Chick said...

It is not guilt, it is trying to limit screaming floor trantrums at the restaurant. It is terrible what they offer, but my kids would not eat it.

Mostly, I try to set a good example, I don't negotiate at dinner at home and hope for the best.

12:17 AM  

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