Kids Teach Us A Lot About Food
As a father of two children, I have learned a ton about my kids when it comes to food. Like anybody who grew up watching numerous episodes of “Married with Children” and “Roseanne”, I try to stay lighthearted when it comes to how my kids may behave. Unfortunately, the “parenting portion” of my lighthearted-perspective may take more time to develop than my nutrition perspective.
When my first child, Keala, was ready to be introduced to whole foods after breast milk, I was excited to introduce her into the world of nutrition. Once she was able to tolerate more variety of food, I was involved every step of the way. It was my way of being able to help physically develop my daughter more directly than when she was breastfeeding alone.
I was excited. Just like when she was breasfeeding, I wanted to make sure she was getting a healthy supply of healthy fats. I had mixed Udo’s Perfected Blend of oil with her cereal, she was trying some of my oatmeal mixed with Natural Muscle Milk, and there was always a plethora of any and all fruits and veggies I could find and finally, my greatest accomplishment, Children’s fish oil which Keala calls “jelly beans” today. Keala developed into eating a great array of foods as soups, stews, raw or roasts. She would eat virtually whatever was put in front of her. She is also one of the few kids that will eat very little amounts of chocolate ice cream or candy when you put a large amount of it in front of her. She would willingly push it away and say something like, “That’s enough” (I have to confess, I have no idea how this happened as I did not intentionally make this happen). Today, she is six-years-old and she knows a number of foods that are classified as junk food and which foods are healthy. I ask her why is something junk food and she tells me, “Because there’s sugar in there”. That’s good enough for me.
Somehow, in her open-minded eating, I was spoiled by her willingness to try any food. Keala was clearing over all of the often problematic food hurdles, such as green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, dinuguan and pinakbet. I had succeeded! My ideal child rearing for eating has developed into eating habits I am proud of today. I thought I had a system of parental child rearing for nutrition down like Martha Stewart had a system for improving a 401K portfolio.
However, another (and more challenging foodie) child entered the world, my son, Tristan. Again, I thought I had another willing participant in my unshakable food-introduction system. Well, I always knew that having one child did not make me an expert as a parent, but now I learned that I did not know crap when it came to how to convince a child on choosing and relishing the most nutritious foods.
Long story short, if there was such a thing as “eating antonyms” in this world of eating habits, it would be comparing Keala to Tristan. Tristan is now three years old and he will say, “I can’t,” before trying anything.
Ever since he could eat food, he is all about eating one type of food: starch – noodles, spaghetti, corn, any assortment of potato chips, mashed potatoes and, his favorite, French fries. If there was not a more stubborn specimen of eating that walked this earth, I do not know who it could be. Quite frankly, he would rather starve himself than not have one of his preferred processed, white foods available to eat. If I try to force him to eat something else, he will either eat a small bite of whatever it is or put it in his mouth, chew a little and spit it out…no matter how delicious or healthy it may be.
Because of this, I have always worried that some sort of health issue may arise. Thus far, he has shown to be a healthy boy. However, because he was going to be so stubborn to eat only what he wants, I realized that I would have to get ahead of this eating game – some adjustments on my end as a parent would have to occur instead of mandating his menu.
So, I began to provide more healthy options for him. Instead of potato chips, he will get sweet potato chips or flaxseed nachos; if he gets rice, he will only have it with a protein, such as eggs, mixed with it. He refused to eat plain seeds and nuts, but he will eat sunflower seeds that are covered in chocolate that look like M&M’s – finally he can get a variety of monounsaturated fats into his diet.
As a parent, I realize that I needed to become more creative for Tristan’s nutrition. Obviously I cannot be there at every moment that he eats, but I have learned that if it is not available for him to eat, there is a greater likelihood he will try something else. The same rules apply to us as adults.
Many of us are not willing to change our eating habits for healthier options when they are available. Sometimes eating healthier for us means not buying the processed foods that tempt us. It can really be that simple: If it is not in the house, it will not be consumed.
As adults, knowing that there are healthier options available and not taking advantage of them is irresponsible. Perhaps, instead of believing that when another individual suggests to try something different, there does not need to be an “all or nothing” attitude. For example, certain vegetables taste better when paired with salad dressing or cheese. If the only thing keeping us from eating broccoli is because we only eat it drenched in cheese, then by all means have it with the cheese, but keep a goal of eating it alone without the cheese. With time, we can lessen the amount of added topping and try to achieve eating fresh broccoli alone.
When it comes to dessert, I have found myself asking, “Why can Keala push away her ice cream cone and I have to finish not only my own but everybody elses?” If a six-year-old can do it, then why can’t I?
The transition does not need to happen over night, and just like Tristan, it may take quite a while and you may need to be flexible and patient in your solution. Although you know that there is your own “eating ideal”, as I have in Keala, out there, there is a road that you need to travel to help you get there.