Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Can a small child thrive on a meal of two peas and a cupcake? I've been spending many mealtimes with my little grandsons lately and I can report the answer is yes. They are both healthy and thriving despite being picky eaters. I'm surprised they turned out this way because both parents are gourmet cooks and have always placed an interesting variety of healthy, real foods in front of them. Their likes and dislikes change constantly. Peas were a favorite one day and the next good only for use as projectiles across the table. That was a fun mealtime with grandma in charge! I was raised in the stern post-war "clean your plate and remember the starving children" style so I have difficulty resisting becoming the stereotypical nagging, bargaining grandmother: "just one more pea, and then you can have a cupcake."
The modern approach to forming healthy eating habits is to provide children with a variety of nutritious foods and then don't fuss over what and how much they eat. Pediatricians advise that the worst thing you can do is make mealtimes a battleground and power struggle. The children will win, perhaps with dire consequences in the future: eating disorders or obesity. I was once at a family dinner where a pediatrician with three children served lasagna, salad, and bread. One child ate only lasagna, one only salad, and one only bread. When they finished they could leave the table. It was a very calm, stress-free meal. The pediatrician explained that they ate what their bodies must need that day. Hungry children will eat anything. Ergo: if they don’t eat they aren’t hungry. I've started reciting the mantra "Oliver Twist, Oliver Twist" whenever I feel the temptation to urge my grandsons to eat up or else.
Many parents and grandparents find this a stressful issue, especially when busy schedules leave little time for cooking from scratch. And when news stories about childhood obesity foment anxiety. Fortunately the library has many books with ideas, advice, and easy recipes. One I found particularly helpful is Real food for Healthy Kids: 200+ easy, wholesome recipes by Tracy Seaman. Hungry Monkey: a food-loving father's quest to raise an adventurous eater by Matthew Amster-Burton, a food critic turned full-time Dad, is entertaining as well as informative. The Sneaky Chef: simple strategies for hiding healthy foods in kids' favorite meals by Missy Chase Lapine is indispensable. Just add shredded carrots and zucchini to that cupcake and it becomes a health food!
First Lady Michelle Obama was inspired to take the lead on educating parents and children about healthy eating and exercise after alarming statistics on the incidence of childhood obesity in the U.S. received widespread publicity. Her Let’s Move website has a wealth of information and resources for parents and links to the new dietary guidelines from the USDA, ChooseMyPlate.gov
I raised my own children on some of the traditional English dishes like Toad-in-the-Hole. One day my daughter's friend stayed for dinner. When she went home her mother asked her what we had to eat. That mother wasted no time in getting on the phone and asking me in an alarmed tone "What did you give my child for dinner?" I hastened to assure her that toad was not actually involved in the recipe, just good old English bangers! I am waiting for my daughter to invite me to cook this treat for my grandsons. Then we'll find out just how fussy they are! Bon appetit.