After Ms. Natalie’s blog on hidden foods, we had comments, plus it got me thinking about how attitudes toward food have shifted since I was feeding children at home. Then I read a book of essays about food—mostly about food and family—that really opened my eyes. The older writers, writing about food and their experience of it in their own youth wrote in a generally happy vein. Younger writers, writing about the experience of raising kids today sounded one step away from needing medical intervention. How and what we feed children has become a competition—between parents, between parents and their children, between families, and the list goes on. It’s no fun to eat anymore because we’re all too worried about eating the wrong things. Natalie and I sat down to talk about food, feeding kids, and—hopefully—staying sane in the process. (Betty Kay Seibt)
BKS When my oldest was eating baby food, she was a great eater. When we started to transition to “real” food, she got terribly picky. Why is this a tough time?
Natalie Actually, that’s a common problem. Partly, the texture is different, and the taste may be, too. Although there is less sugar in baby foods than there used to be, the seasonings are different, so green beans taste unlike green beans to the baby.
BKS Is this a good reason to make your own baby foods from the get-go? Or is it an argument for organic, or what?
Natalie Organic foods are great, but the taste isn’t much different, and they can be expensive. If you wash vegetables carefully, you’re probably OK with “regular” veggies. Making your own baby food from the food you cook can make a difference. You control salt, sugar and other seasonings—plus your baby gets used to the tastes you cook, so the transitions to “big kid” food will be easier. From my point of view, the more you make yourself, the better—even yoghurt. Another point, the older kids get, the more they want to identify their foods. They might not eat mixed foods—like casseroles.
BKS Sugar, and especially “high fructose corn syrup” have gotten such a bad rap. But you see an ad on TV pointing out that corn syrup is still just sugar. So what’s the problem? Too much sugar—in any form is bad—why is one form considered evil?
Natalie You’re right, sugar is sugar—but only to an extent. High fructose corn syrup is more refined and can cause faster spikes in blood sugar. The less refined, the better when it comes to sugar because it takes longer to break down.
BKS How do you feel about “making a Happy Plate” or “cleaning your plate”?
Natalie Basically, I’m against creating stress and unhappiness around food issues. This can lead, in severe instances, to eating disorders, and that’s not a desired effect. It’s hard enough to get families to sit down together and eat. If we turn it into a war zone, it only creates bad feelings on everyone’s parts and bad memories.
BKS So how do we avoid this? I think sometimes moms set themselves up for a fight by the way we put foods on plates or by making too many rules about food. What do you think?
Natalie My primary rule is “All things in moderation.” Start with reasonable portion sizes. Parent always think kids can eat more than they can. Let them ask for more rather than starting with too much. Don’t require them to eat all of something they don’t like. You can require that they try one bite—it can take up to 10 exposures for a child to decide to like something—but don’t fight over eating it all. Let them eat and enjoy what they like. As long as they calories aren’t empty ones, it’s OK for a child to eat his chicken and fruit, but only one bite of the vegetable.
Another idea is not to rush eating. Schools rush children so. My own boys often don’t have time to eat the entire lunch I pack them. It’s not necessary to rush meals at home. It’s really a bad idea. That’s what teaches kids to shovel food in without tasting and leads to eating “anything.” Sneaking veggies into other foods, as I talked about in my other blog post, is a good way to get the nutrition, but we should serve the veggie by itself from time to time to create more adventurous eaters.
BKS My mother cooked foods in a sort of rotation, we had the same menus over and over. I think most moms do some version of that—it’s easy, we know what ingredients to buy off the tops of our heads, and we know what “works.” Is this a good or bad thing?
Natalie It’s best to serve different kids of foods and the same foods in different ways. Different textures teach adventurous eating, too. Chicken in a stir fry, a raw vegetable instead of a cooked one, something with a sauce—all these little changes teach children new ways to eat and new tastes. Also offering vegetables as a snack, letting the veggie appear at a different time, so to speak.
BKS Do children know the difference between whole grain and refined? I had a friend who was a whole grain person, and her daughter loved to go to her friend’s house because they served “crappy white bread.” It made my friend crazy!
Natalie Whole grains are best, and if you start with that, kids will be fine with it. That’s the “start young and raise ‘em right” school. But sometimes letting children have the “crappy white bread” is OK. It’s best never to demonize a food or foods. Taking kids to the store and letting them help with the choosing of healthy foods is a good idea whenever possible. But be prepared for cries for sugary cereals, etc. Set parameters, explain why one thing is better than another, but do allow some free choice. One box of “bad” cereal every so often, for instance. But don’t call it “bad”; again, don’t demonize.
If your child has an illness such as diabetes, you have to control what they eat no matter where they are. But kids learn to eat good things as well as bad when they eat away from home. If you know one place they go regularly never eats healthfully, offer to supply the snack.
BKS How about seasoning? Do you use much with small kids—like at school?
Natalie Yes, I season the food. Salt, I go very easy on salt, and generally season with salt after cooking. Gently with the pepper, but I do use it. And I use garlic. I use taco seasoning in some things, like refried beans, tacos and quesadillas. At home, cook food they way you like it. Unless it’s very hot, your children will learn to eat it, too.
The main thing is that food should not be a place to stress—either for the cook or for the diners. Creating stress and anger around the dinner table is bad in so many ways. Remember, all things in moderation!