Sunday, December 09, 2007

It's Our Fault, You Know

Why do so many toddlers live on french fries, cheese, pizza, pasta, and chicken fingers? It's seen as such an inevitable part of growing up, but it really doesn't have to be.

It's because we parents are lazy, we're weak, we confuse food with love, we confuse giving our children what they say they want with giving our children what they need, what will really make them happy.

Ellie has long been an unusually good eater. She didn't discover cheeseburgers and french fries until she was 3-1/2 (a feat that's practically unheard of amongst her peers). She still doesn't eat chicken fingers or toasted ravioli, though she really does love pizza and pasta these days. Fortunately, she still eats other things as well. She likes corn, she loves spinach souffle, and when I make crock-pot-roast, she'll eat the mushrooms and carrots all night long.

But I have become lazy. I've started feeding her foods that are easy to purchase, store, and prepare. I've started feeding her the foods that I like to eat rather than the foods that are best for her. Heating up a Lean Pocket for lunch is easier than, well, just about anything else, even a sandwich with healthful sides.

When Ellie started preschool, she was 15 months old and not yet walking. Later that year, she did learn to walk, but would plop down onto the ground whenever she got tired, no matter where she was, and her teachers were always trying to cajole her into walking a little further. Eventually, they hit upon broccoli bribery.

"Ellie, if you walk all the way back to the classroom on your own, we'll give you some broccoli!"


When Ellie was little, she loved purees (which Paul made for her from fresh, organic vegetables and fruits). Now she's slightly interested in them again as I feed them to Ada, and that's OK with me. Alas, poor Ada gets store-bought purees, which she frequently declines to eat, favoring whatever we're having, and I don't blame her one bit. Such is the plight of the second child.

But I'll feed my girls pureed vegetables until they're 18, if they'll accept them, or add them to their quesadillas, pizzas, and soups, as well as continuing to offer fresh fruits and veggies with meals. Keeping and preparing fresh fruits and vegetables is harder, of course, as fresh foods tend to spoil quickly, which is why we drift into "easier" patterns over time.

At least the girls are getting important nutrients on my lazy days, even if they're not developing the best eating habits. (Puzzler: how to convince a child who can't stand the texture of raw vegetables to eat them? Or the slime of fruit?)

But let's not look too far from home when looking for causes in today's obesity epidemic. Our toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school children are not so affected by commercials that they're driving themselves to McDonald's and buying their own junk food.

We're the parents. We stock the pantries, we drive the cars, we control the money, we should be monitoring the television. It's our fault.


Amanda said...

That's one of the things that I find great and hard about England. There isn't a lot of prepared foods. The only canned veg I get is corn. The rest are fresh - some already sliced, some not. We do order a pizza from time to time, but McDonald's isn't horribly convenient and there are no drive thru's. I will make the kids chicken nuggets or pizza sticks if I'm making a meat I know they won't eat, but generally I have at least one veg with the meal. Trust me this a complete turn around from the States. I generally have to grocery shop twice a week and remember to use the veg I bought within the next couple days. Usually not a problem. I'm hoping to maintain the good habits when we return.

Kristi said...

In addition to the variety of food we offer Charlotte, we have to watch portion sizes also. What I can eat (I still have a nice, hungry, breastfeeding appetite) and what he can eat (his metabolism is finally slowing down, but he still outeats me), are very very different amounts than what a 26-lb 3 year old should or could eat. My husband is much worse than I am about serving her almost the same amount of food that he serves me or himself, and then getting annoyed with her about not finishing her food. It's hard to remember that even a kid-sized plate can hold way more food than she needs.

Char is pretty good about eating a variety of foods if we don't let her fill up on snacks, but sometimes she only eats a couple of bites of each thing on her plate. It's hard for us to remember that it's OK, and that she's probably eating the right amount of food, even if it seems like nothing to us.

Trystan is just mad when he smells something yummy and flavorful like chili or steak, and then gets pureed carrots and mixed grain cereal on his spoon. I have a feeling that the purees are going to be mostly abandoned in the next month or two...if only the boy would grow some teeth so he could actually chew the meat he keeps begging for!

Gretchen said...

I don't know if you've seen or heard about Jessica Seinfeld's book: Deceptively Delicious - Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food ( ) but it looks like it could help in those situations where parents can't or won't get their kids to eat anything healthy. We've been lucky with Thalia so far -- she eats everything!

IrrationalPoint said...

"Puzzler: how to convince a child who can't stand the texture of raw vegetables to eat them? Or the slime of fruit?"

Spinach and peas from frozen are really quick. Would that help?

I agree up to a point. I do a lot of childcare, and it always surprises me to see how many of the kids I work with bring junk for lunch. Which would be ok if it was junk plus good stuff, but a lot of the time it's just junk.

To be fair though, the a lot of the kids I work with have autistic spectrum disorder, so a lot of them are probably harder to feed balanced diets to than most neurotypical kids, since a lot of them "fixate" on specific foods (eg, they will only eat foods that come in red packaging, or will only eat foods that are crispy, or will only eat foods X, Y, and Z). And some of the kids really do require absolutely full-time can't-turn-away-for-a-second attention. I always wonder what their parents do at home to deal with this. For example, one boy I work with needs constant supervision since his sense of danger and language use are both very limitied. His mother is a single mum and has another toddler apart from her elder son. His lunchbox is nearly always full of junk, but if I know that on days I work with him I won't have time to go to the bathroom, I really can't work out how she would have time to prepare "real" food while he is awake.

Cases like that are tough. And it's a shame that so many *adults* don't really seem to know what constitutes healthy eating (which is a whole 'nother problem). But yeah, in general, most parents *can* make healthy food if they themselves know what constitutes healthy eating.

Sarahlynn said...

Amanda, although I've heard lots about UK cuisine, I was still surprised by what an afterthought vegetables seemed to be during our vacation throughout Scotland last summer. Of course they weren't featured at takeaway fish and chips stands, but even at nice restaurants and hotels, the entree was usually a protein dish served with a starch and some buttery rolls. An over-steamed platter of mixed veg would be placed on the table at some point. Congrats on the new leaf!

Kristi, poor Trystan not having teeth to eat what he wants! We usually let our girls decide on their own portion sizes, which often works pretty well. Today, Ada barely ate breakfast and lunch but had a big dinner. I figure it will all average out over time. My only concern with this approach is that I'm not sure Ellie comes equipped with a stop-when-full feature, when presented with a favorite food!

Gretchen, especially sausage! I'd heard of that book, and do hope that someone gets it for me for Christmas. I'm pretty sure that my girls are getting the nutrition they need, though I do worry about excess sodium, and teaching the good fresh-veggie-eating habits. Sigh.

IrrationalPoint, we eat frozen veg a couple of times a day, usually (peas, carrots, broccoli, mixed veg, cauliflower, corn, beans - such good variety, available all year 'round, and easy to store!). But my girls don't seem to find it very exciting, unfortunately. So I often add seasoning or resort to a slice of American cheese on top.

I think you're right about the parents. In my case, I *do* know what's healthy and why, I just prefer junk. Unfortunately.

Amanda said...

We don't eat out at restaurants. Yech! I have trouble finding things to eat at restaurants and so do the kids. We eat in regularly. No frozen veg and no canned veg. The selection of prepared raw veg is great. They have bags of fresh stir fry veg that we get fairly frequently. Last night we had fresh steamed brocolli, snap peas, baby corn, and carrots. Yummy.

I agree with the restaurants serving veggies as an afterthought, but even in America this is typical. Most restaurant selections, unless you order a side salad, come with baked potato or french fries. There usually is a selection of veg, but it's not what people typically order.

IrrationalPoint said...

Unfortunately, packets of stir-fry veg are really expensive. A food processor can be a good solution if you don't like chopping things.

Pasta isn't of itself unhealthy, by the way, as long as it gets complemented with healthy stuff (eg, plenty of veg and some protein). In the UK it's also possible to buy wholewheat pasta.

I often cook large batches of things so that I don't have to do serious cooking every day. For example, I might make masses of (healthy made-from-scratch) soup, and then freeze it in portion-size containers. These are quick to defrost in a saucepan, so make a great quick meal for days when I'm feeling lazy.


HiddenChicken said...

That's one of the reasons I like Indian so much - the veggies actually taste good. My husband once said that he'd never met a veggie he didn't like until he visited England and had Brussels Sprouts.

Anyway, Ragsy is also a fan of Indian food, though he's more of a meat and bread kid than a veg head. At least he likes curry, though. I usually make a veggie and a meat curry and spoon some out for him before we add the spice. Combine that with whole wheat flatbreads and he's got a pretty balanced meal, even if he only tastes the veggies. Still, it can be kind of time consuming, which is why I do most of the cooking on the weekends. Indian re-heats really well, too.

Sarahlynn said...

Amanda, I'm thinking of nice restaurants, where the entree comes with a side of a steamed fresh veg - haricot verts or whatever's in season. Work travel totally taught me to love eating above my income. Sigh.

IrrationalPoint, it's the yummy sauces on the pastas that do me in: too much fat, or too much sodium, or too much time to prepare myself . . . or all three!

HiddenChicken, for some reason - I consider it a weakness of character on my part - the cook ahead and reheat plan never works well for me. I always end up thinking, hey, I've got some soup in the freezer. Or we could just go out . . .

I should learn to cook Indian food. But the barrier to entry seems very high to lazy me.

Tracey said...

Hmm...blogger doesn't seem to want to let me use my typical username, so I'll have to go with this one and hope you know it's still me!

I have found with two kids, it's a heck of a lot harder to plan and execute those nutritious meals we did so well with only 1. Child #2 gets more things earlier than Child #1 did. We are more tired. Both kids watch more TV than I'd like. I am not, however, abandoning ship. We serve meals that are healthy overall, even if we do fast food more often than I would like. Both my kids love fruits. Both still love veggies, though son is being a pill about many of them lately. Son does not like french fries! Daughter, however, would eat fries all day if we let her. Probably. Not that we will. :)

At any rate, bottom line is YES, we parents are the gatekeepers of what is and is not consumed (for the most part) by our kids, at least at this age. As they get older, it gets harder and harder, which is why it's essential to get their palates used to delicious veggies and suchly early.

BTW, I cannot cook to save our lives. When D goes out of town, I resort to fast food or leftovers and pray for her quick return before we all waste away to nothingness. Tee hee!

Sarahlynn said...

SK, you should meet my friends behind the glass in the frozen food aisle! Or, maybe not. Once you decide that Bagel Bites can be a lunch, it's hard to convince your children to eat a turkey and cheese sandwich.

Speaking of which, it turns out that Paul's been feeding Ada french fries! And now she screams for them in restaurants! This sucks!

IrrationalPoint said...

Which pasta sauces did you have in mind? Creamy ones are quite high in fat, but one can always sbustitute milk for cream (or milk plus corn starch). My dad sometimes uses yoghurt instead of creamy or bechamel bases for pasta, which works reasonably well for some dishes.

I generally make a lot of tomato based suaces, which is easy since the tomato base can be bought in cans (in the UK I can get it with no added "junk" -- just the tomato and citic acid). I then add any veg I want (peas, mushrooms, spinach, onion, and carrots all go well), and lean mince or chicken if I want it.

Indian doesn't take longer than European food, especially if you have a pressure cooker. A lot of veg curries can be done in 30 minutes or so -- just chop, add spices, and simmer in the sauce (usually tomato sauce based, but chopped spinach works too, and you can get that frozen). Meaty curries can take a bit longer, but get speeded up by doing them in pressure cookers.