On kids and food (a.k.a: a largely anecdotal and rather long-winded missive)

I’m often asked how I avoided the usual kid-pickiness when it comes to food that other parents face and the fact of the matter is that I didn’t My kids have been through picky phase after picky phase for as long as I’ve known them. One day they like tuna on crackers and the next they don’t. I guess I’ve always seen it as a fact of life and part of being a kid…but something of a challenge nonetheless.

I remember vehemently refusing tomato sauce on my pasta for over 10 years unless it was Zia Louisa’s (who preserved a very basic Napolitano containing very little beyond tomatoes and garlic every after harvest.) It was my first political protest (for reasons beyond the scope of this blog) and I did it simply to irritate my step-father who was more than happy to impart his sauce-making secrets in a subversive attempt to bring me to the saucy side. Despite that, I was more than happy to try just about everything under the sun except frog’s legs (having lived across the road from a river through my formative years helped me develop a certain appreciation for amphibians and reptiles though having beef-farming grandparents didn’t sway me from eating cows, though it did make me more discerning in terms of what cow tastes like – having grown up on pasture-raised beef and wild game my dad brought home had me realising quickly that the stuff sold at grocery stores rather drastically lacked in flavour and substance) and brussel sprouts (I just don’t like those nasty little cabbages, ‘kay?)

So yes, at the tender age of 32 I too am a picky eater to a certain extent and really expect no less from my loin fruits and I still have no easy answer to the question with which I began this post. That said, I strive to maintain realistic expectations when it comes to foodstuffs. When I was about 14 my mum came home one day and announced that we were going to eat a strictly vegetarian (‘strictly’ in the loosest sense of the word as fish, eggs, chicken and dairy were permitted) diet from there on out. I embraced that at first (save every other weekend whilst visiting my hunter of a father) but quickly became disenchanted with the whole affair when meals became unimaginative and uninspired. Within 2 weeks I was reading Diet for a Small Planet and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest and learning about ingredients beyond leafy greens and tofu…and meat and potatoes.

I believe that experience, more than any other, introduced me to the concept of varied eating and made me aware of how it would benefit myself and how it impacts the rest of the world. Plus I had parents willing to openly discuss their politics on such matters with myself…generally in contrast with each other, but without judgement. Yeah, that’s pretty effin’ cool.

But I digress.

Point being, I had a pretty wonderfully set stage for my own parenthood when it came to food and politics. Then came my in-laws, who (bless ’em) would openly argue such things but were also completely committed to a certain level of self-sufficiency through maintaining a massive vegetable garden every year and who, despite our differences, imparted a wealth of knowledge to myself in assisting me in doing the same and, in so doing, shaped my children’s appetites.

What all of that boils down to, really, is involvement, variety and discussion. About a month ago the daughter came home and demanded we eat one vegetarian meal a week in order to make a healthier impact on the environment. Pointing out to her that we already did that (breakfasts and lunches are almost always vegetarian and vegetarian suppers in our house happen at least 4 out of 7 nights a week) lead to a discussion on how we could do it better. The sprogs assist in creating meals (they know the secret to fluffy yorkshire pudding) and contribute to grocery lists and are good for half a clue toward the cost of keeping food in our collective bellies. They know the rule is, no matter what the context, they have to try at least two bites of everything on their plate. That said, they’re absolutely allowed to dislike anything and everything (hey, I still don’t cook Brussels sprouts) but it’s their responsibility to come up with a comparably healthy alternative to whatever they’re rejecting. They’ve been responsible for creating their own (healthy) lunches since kindergarten (I’m so mean) and to do it according to the Canada Food Guide. They have free reign over fruits and vegetables as snacks but must ask first for anything else.

I don’t believe any of this is too much different than what’s happening in most Canadian households but if tossing around ideas helps then I’m happy to put my thoughts and methodologies out there.

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