I've had a couple of conversations in the last week that have made me look closer at how I see American food culture and how we feed our children. I've been told by a chef friend, whose opinion I respect especially when it comes to food, that my style of parenting in regard to the subject is an anomaly; that most parents would sooner stop at a drive through than cook a simple meal, or dole out fruit cups rather than hand their child an actual piece of fruit. When I tell other friends about this, they agree with him.
I must admit. I am BAFFLED.
When we were kids, didn't our parents tell us that we had to sit at the table to eat our dinner? Didn't we have to eat what was served us? Didn't we have to say please and thank you and use our napkins?
I suppose I take the tack from old-fashioned values in that I don't see myself as my child's friend. I am her parent, her guide, her confidant, her support. It's my job to teach her how to be a good person, how to be a good citizen, and how to take care of herself in every regard.
So, where does our journey of teaching our children start? What do children learn about first?
Food is the first thing kids have contact with from the time they're born. Their tastes and preferences are guided by what their parents give them. If you feed your baby the same thing every day, they'll be more likely to refuse something new. If you hand an infant something with a wrinkled nose and say, "Try this" they'll take a cue from you and turn away from it. But, if you introduce food to your child as if variety were rote, this will be their norm.
I very rarely feed my daughter the same thing twice. Truthfully this is more a function of the fact that I never really cook anything the same way twice (I'm scattered like that), but it's also because I don't want her to get stuck in a rut. For instance, I never give her the same after school snack two days in a row or give her the same kind of bread for her morning toast week after week.
This weekend was proof positive that what I'm teaching my daughter is taking effect. On our way out of town for a much-needed getaway, we stopped at the store for some essentials. In a rush to get to our little vacation destination, I went to the deli counter where I asked her what she wanted. There were pre-made sandwiches and wraps, but she pointed at the fruit and cheese cup. (I though to myself, 'Yes! Good Girl!!') Later that night corn on the cob was served with dinner. I've always been indifferent to corn, so I've never cooked it at home, but Lorelei couldn't get enough. She's not afraid to try something new, and I love that!! And I can't help but think that this is due to my efforts in opening up the world of food to her.
Now, I'm not saying that I disagree with my chef friend's opinion. I can see where he's hit the mark. I've recently witnessed parents saying to other parents, "Well, he's young. He'll learn how to behave later." I've read entire blog posts by parents who refuse to take their toddlers to dinner at a restaurant for fear of how the child will behave.
The thing that really gets me, though, is that the HUGE push by our government, our First Lady (Michelle Obama), Jamie Oliver's Food Foundation, even major fast food chains to change the way we see food and feeding our kids has seemingly had no effect. How is this possible?! Are parents so selfish and lazy that they can't change their habits to make a good example for their children?
The sad answer is yes.
Case in point: I wait tables. It's a nice restaurant, but not so fancy that kids can't eat what we serve. I had a mother and father come in the other day asking if we had a children's menu. I said that we didn't but that "everything on our menu is edible, and my kid eats here all the time." Both statements are very true. The parents seemed amenable but the little girl, who couldn't have been more than eight and was already terribly overweight, decided that the family wouldn't be eating in my restaurant. And so they left.
The point of this blog post is not to preach. It's more to share my astonishment of people's willingness to fall prey to convenience and their unwillingness to fight The Good Fight. This path that I've chosen is not an easy one. I struggle like anyone with what I should cook for dinner, how the hell I'm going to find time to make that recipe which calls for ingredients that will cost me a fortune and that will spoil in my fridge because it's only sold in giant portions, and how on Earth am I going to use leftovers, so they don't taste like the last three meals we've had.
Maybe Jamie Oliver is right. Start with the kids because the parents are already lost. Teach our children how to eat better so that they can make a difference for their kids.
I'd like to take it one step further; let's learn from our forefathers. Let's look at our current food culture that's descended from the American food culture of the 1950's when frozen dinners and convenient packaging became the craze. Before that, we sat at the dinner table—not in front of the TV—every night, at the same time with our families; when food was cooked by fire and not by microwaves. When things were not easy, but simple.
Let's have a Call To Table.
Let's stop walking and driving while we eat and drink. Let's sit across from one another to share the stories of our days, and tell the stories of our past. Let's laugh, teach, and learn from and with one another
I may be an anomaly. And if I am, I'm happy for it. If you care to follow my lead, I have my pipe, and I'll play it loudly and dance while I'm doing it.
I wish you well in your journey and strongly encourage you to taste something new today.