Kids and food
| April 7, 2010 9:00 PM
Stay at the table until you've finished all of your dinner," mom says calmly to a chorus of whines and groans from my brother, sister and me. Staring down at the plate of liver and onions I question how I will survive this ordeal in time for school the following morning. Saying no and going to bed is not an option and eating the inner organs of a cud eater simply is not going to happen. So now what do I do? We each devise a plan.
My sister, the oldest and most courageous of we three, heads straight for her bedroom dinner plate in hand, opens the window and places the food on top of the window air conditioner - problem solved. The dish is gone and so are the unpalatably fried cow innards.
My younger brother and I use slightly different mouth-to-toilet techniques. I place large portions of liver in my mouth and briskly walk to the bathroom, depositing it unchewed in the porcelain throne and continue this method until my plate is clean. My brother, trying to obediently please my mother swallows the meat and fights its reversal as he gags and spits - not a fond family memory.
My mother's intentions are pure - to have her children experience new food while developing our taste buds. The result is unsuccessful. Instead of increasing our desire to try new things, we fall into a rut of eating the same food consistently without exploration in fear of repeating the liver experience.
How can my mom turn liver haters into liver lovers? How can we as parents make a chicken nugget loving, french fry eating rugrat, appreciate healthy home-cooked meals? If we follow a few guidelines we should find success in broadening our children's culinary adventure.
see THOUGHT, D2
Forcing a child to eat as punishment creates difficulty for a child that might continue through adulthood. A child who equates the consumption of food with losing control or being controlled might use that same control to control the people they love.
A child forced to eat food they don't like might expel the food they eat or refuse to eat and develop an eating disorder or, they might hoard food and overeat and become obese. Food should represent celebration of family, tradition and life and not represent punishment or control.
Before packaged foods and protective labels our bodies knew the difference between delicious huckleberries and poisonous and deadly baneberries. We might try a baneberry and become violently ill. After this sample of baneberry we become ill every time we smell a baneberry, see a picture of a baneberry or hear someone mention baneberry. We are biologically and psychologically protected from eating another baneberry.
Our body and mind learns to avoid eating food that hurts. When forced to eat food that makes us ill, we become particularly immune to that food and our dislike is exacerbated when forced to eat it.
Preparing food correctly makes food taste better. A beautifully bright green crisp asparagus steamed or grilled correctly does not resemble the overcooked grayish-green mushy asparagus prepared incorrectly. They taste differently, feel different in the mouth and offer a different experience when eaten. Fresh food cooked correctly tastes better than packaged food prepared incorrectly. Kids like food that tastes good.
Teach children the source of their food. Visit farms, ranches, dairies, orchards and allow children to cook their own food under your guidance. Grow a garden with your child. Show your children the difference between plastic packaged meats and meat on the hoof.
I teach a class for kids called, "Cooking With the Counselor." In this class, one student refused to eat chicken satay because the poultry breast meat had a spot of blood on it. I explained that all living animals have blood in them but she disagreed. "No they don't, chickens don't have blood," she stated as her truth.
Preschoolers who disdain certain foods despite parents' urgings often will eat the food if put at a table with a group of children who like it. If your child refuses to eat healthy food, pair them with a peer who enjoys the food the child is refusing. The child might blindly follow. Remember this peer relationship when your child becomes friends with kids who smoke, do drugs, drink alcohol or perform risky behavior. Also be cognizant of the peers' effect on your child when they are responsible, make good choices, are respectful and kind. Your child will follow their peers.
Every meal we eat means something. When eating, we remember subconsciously every time we have consumed that same food in the past. While eating freshly baked bread, we might remember grandmother's house and buttering hot bread pulled straight from the oven while laughing and celebrating family life. Conversely, we might remember being forced to eat liver on a piece of Wonder bread while running to the bathroom to expel the unpalatable organ meat. Which memory would you prefer for your children?
Bill Rutherford is a psychotherapist, public speaker, elementary school counselor, adjunct college psychology instructor and executive chef, and owner of Rutherford Education Group. Please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out www.foodforthoughtcda.com.