Let’s talk about the V word here for a while. How do we get kids to eat their vegetables?
I was raised very strict. We were four kids and my oldest sister was babysitting the rest of us. Yes, she still rubs it in my face any opportunity she gets. When I was born, my parents were DIY building their house (when they weren’t at work), so nobody had time to cater to us, kids. Nobody did my homework with me (I was just EXPECTED to bring good grates from school and stay out of trouble), nobody played with us. “Oh, you are bored? I will find you something to do!” (I hope you can hear my mom’s sarcastic voice?). We came from school and were expected to help around the house. The same applied for eating habits.
No, my mother never asked me what I wanted for dinner. She didn’t have time nor patience to cater to anybody. Now I sound like someone from the last century (which literally, I am, LOL). In my childhood, we were given a dinner. We were not allowed to complain about it. I could cry, hate something, but I had to eat it anyway. I remember how my father filled a soup plate full of spinach that I despised, and I couldn’t leave the table until that plate was empty. It was growing in my throat, I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep it in, but I did, out of fear, because I must. He was sitting there with me. Too traumatic perhaps? Well, I survived and turned all right. I think. Years later my father admitted that he hated spinach himself (If I only knew it then).
We had to eat our food, give thanks for the food provided, or go sleep hungry. The money was tide and we always heard parents talking about it, when it came to food. “What would hungry kids in Africa give for a meal like that?!” was my mom’s favorite phrase. It installed a guilt in me for not eating the food I was given. Was it an ideal approach? When I look back at it now, I find absolutely nothing wrong with it. It though me to appreciate someone’s work, the value of the food and installed some respect in me. Also, it made me understand that although we didn’t have much, we were still “rich” in comparison with some poor countries.
I know. Times changed. Is it better that we now have too much stuff, too many choices, way too many convenient solutions? So much that parents feel obligated to cater to their children’s every needs instead of teaching them good eating habits? Yes, sometimes it’s a hassle. But it’s a parent’s job to decide what’s good for kid’s diet, not the kid’s. Yes, we the adults know what’s good for them from our lifetime experience. How could your three years old possibly know? Oh yeah, I can hear some moms screaming at the computer right now – “That’s easy for you to say!”.
But honestly – kids are picky because we let them. Don’t kill the messenger! Mistakes were made somewhere down the line. Parenting is hard job, and to install good eating habits in kids is super hard. One has to be inspiring, consistent and never give up.
Remember? When they were really, really little, they ate carrots, and sweet potato, and apple sauce. They ate what we gave them. So what changed? Are we too easy to give up when the kid doesn’t want something? How did pizza, hotdog, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, ketchup or macaroni and cheese became “kid’s food”? Who introduced it to them? I think that behind every picky eater is someone who just reached for the easiest solution. And then we are surprised that kids insist on whatever it is they are familiar with?
Are we too quick to offer an alternative so our precious little one doesn’t “struggle” or get “traumatized”? Or are we creating a much bigger problem for the future?! Today’s moms, feeling guilty that they had to work and don’t get so much time to spend with their kids, are not willing to use those few hours together fighting over the food. So we give them what they want.
It’s unfortunate. Families that make time to have a family dinner, no exceptions, insisting on having kids around the table every evening, eating the same that everybody else does, even have kids participating in food prep, install the best family values and eating habits in their offspring. Yes, I know families whose kids eat everything. Or at least, they have to try everything. They can’t just say: “I don’t like it”, and get something else. Because that’s what’s creating the problem. If I ever said to my mom: “I don’t like it,” first I think I will get a slap in the face (which I am not advocating here), and second she would definitely tell me: “Ok, go sleep. Guess what you’re having for breakfast!?”
Tough love, maybe, but in my mind it’s called discipline. Did I hate it when I was a child? You bet I did. But my mother was my mom, not my friend. I can appreciate it today though, when I see young moms struggling to get their kids to eat ANYTHING.
I know, when it gets to that point, it’s hard to deal with it or change it.
My friend recently asked me to come up with some ideas of a meal his daughter would eat – something that would give her a serving of vegetables. In other words, if she spotted anything green or red (like carrot) in her food, she will fish out every little tiny piece of it or refuse to eat it all together. She ate no vegetables whatsoever. Hm, although I am quite opinionated there (who would ever guess?), I am also the one who likes to find solution to any problem. Maybe now is the time to fool the kid a little. To sneak it in the food without them knowing. Yes, I have done cauliflower “mashed potatoes” that nobody would guess, even some veggie fritters that kids actually liked. But that wasn’t enough to improve diet of this poor little girl.
So I did some research and came across this website called Thesneakychef.com. This lady came up with some creative ideas – and it seemed easy enough to implement to basically any food. To put it in test, I created my sneaky “loaded” lasagna. I started the sauce the usual way – onion, garlic, celery and carrots, tiny bit of red pepper flakes. Next came great San Marzano tomatoes and basil.
In the meantime I steamed 2 cups of spinach, 1 cup each of cauliflower, broccoli and frozen peas. When the sauce was bubbling, I blended the soft vegetables with little bit of the cooking water in my food processor until smooth green mush developed.
Then, the green stuff went into my delicious tomato sauce. OK, the color and taste changed a little, so I used tomato paste to adjust the color and to improve the tomato flavor. I added some pressed garlic and more basil. You know what? The sauce was delicious!
I then composed the lasagna the usual way. I heard my friend’s girl was licking her fingers. Little did she know what was in it. I hope she doesn’t read my blog! OK, if that’s what it takes to feed them food that is good for them, sometimes we must trick them and sneak stuff in. We adults know better what they need.
I am glad it worked. I sure will come up with more creative ideas where the similar sneaking technique can be used. Do you have this kind of trouble with your kids? And what do you do about it? Please join our discussion and share your ideas and comments!!