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HOW TO GET KIDS TO EAT THE ENDLESS VARIETY OF GOOD FOODS MOTHER NATURE HAS TO OFFER (or at least try)
While raising 4 kids, mostly as a single parent, I came to two important conclusions as far as their food intake was concerned:
1…The more the variety of good food the better the chance they will get the proper vitamins and minerals essential to growing children.
2…If they are going to continue to eat proper, balanced, and enjoyable meals as adults, it was up to me to see to it they learn not to eat only a few things they may like in their adolescent years, but learn to always be willing to at least try something new when it came their way so as adults, the variety of food they eat will be extensive and so will their lifetime of eating enjoyment. Which in turn, has a direct effect on ensuring a lifetime of good nutrition?
At first, I had no idea how to get the spinach, brussels sprouts or liver into my children’s mouths rather than our St. Bernard’s food guzzling jaws that just happened to be conveniently even with the table top. The kids and Brandy soon became expert slight-of-hand artists, or should I say, slight-of-hand and mouth artists.
“My plate’s empty Dad, that was good, can I go outside now?” And the damn dog would belch. I asked our trusted family physician what to do when kids won’t eat what’s on their plates and he suggested that’s fine, they will eat when they’re hungry enough, just don’t give them any desert.
Well, as much as I respected the man and his infinite medical knowledge I just didn’t see any sense in that and I set out to come up with my own solutions that I’m happy to say, worked out better than I expected. My children are all in their thirties now and were never sick a day in their lives while they were growing up. No broken bones and not even one tooth cavity showed up until their late teens. They never came close to getting fat (until these days… Grrrrrrrr) and my youngest, turned out to be 6’4.” They’re healthy adolescents didn’t occur by chance. It occurred because I saw to it they got the proper nutrition, enough sleep, good exercise, mental stimulation, and a much better than average intellectual education that allowed them to make the right decisions along the way and hopefully, is still helping to keep them safe, healthy, and happy.
Whether you’re trying to control your weight or make your first million, you will only be as good at it as the sum of your knowledge on any subject including nutrition. Children can be creative little suckers given the motivation and just like all kids; not wanting to eat certain foods was all the motivation mine needed. As expected, they got better at their deceptive methodologies as they grew older, but unknown to them as time went on, they also became less and less picky and that was my secondary goal next to everyday nutrition. They may have won a battle or two but I decisively won the war.
I threw every kind of food at them I could get my hands on for obvious nutritional reasons but also to teach them how to enjoy the incredible variety of food we have available in this country. I wanted them to learn the enjoyment of sitting down to great meals without the picky, uneducated persona most children in the US grow up with these days. This was an all important consideration I held to with relentless tenacity.
Any less food-educated adolescents and you will be depraving your children of a lifetime of enjoyment and most assuredly, a lifetime of good nutrition let alone probable ill health as a result. Miraculously, I only seemed to have failed with one or two food items. Brussels sprouts were the biggest failure of all. Personally, I could eat them for breakfast everyday so little ever went to waste. When the kids got older, they used to throw the damn things around the room to each other when I wasn’t looking, stuff them in their pants cuffs and probably a dozen other places I never did discover. They were ingenious little suckers I got to give them that.
Super salad was my secret weapon where I could hide a myriad of nutritional foods and give them the opportunity to at least try foods they would never normally consider. I made a super salad almost every day you could damn near live off all by itself. If one of them argued against eating a particular kind of food, all I would have to tell them was, “Hey, you’ve been eating these almost every day for the last two and a half years”. That always took the wind out of their reluctant sails.
Over the years. I’ve prepared well over 13,000 hot dinners, not only for my kids, but for half the kids on the block. Apparently they preferred my cooking over that of their own mothers. There were usually too many people to fit at the dinner table so we all sat around the TV in the family room. Being last to sit anywhere, I usually got the floor. But as it turned out, I was obliged to fill each plate before serving them. That way, it wasn’t up to them to choose what they were going to eat more or less and they were naturally expected to eat everything or give it a damn good try. A perfect tool to ensure nutrition and to expose them to new foods they most certainly wouldn’t have tried on their own while sitting at a table and serving themselves. If you can load up a kids plate like you do with a 4 year old, do it! They’ll eat a lot more and a lot more variety as well.
Don’t be afraid to be a little pushy when it comes to essential foods like spinach and the like. Eating is a learning process just like anything else. In the vast majority of cases, they will acquire a taste for it and most everything else, sooner or later. If a kid just can’t get it down, make a deal. “Eat two more spoons full and your home free”. They will usually accept the lessor of the two evils. Just getting you off their back is worth the two spoons full.
Try not to use dessert as a bargaining tool either. Kids look forward to desert as we all do and it’s a perfect opportunity to balance their meal with other essentials such as all kinds of fruit, ice cream, pies, and other good stuff. It always amazed me how a kid will claim to be stuffed to the hilt until it's time for desert when he miraculously finds room for 2 more pounds. Don’t be afraid of being just a little bit of a pain in the ass when it comes to feeding your kids. It’s your job and no one said it was easy. I don’t see any problem with junk food either provided it’s eaten in moderation and eaten after the good food is already down the chute. Actually, junk food is a great bargaining tool but even then, you can provide healthy junk food as well such as hot air popped, popcorn without the addition of 4 pounds of butter. There is lots of ways to flavor popcorn such as melted American cheese dribbled on it, be creative, they’ll love it. Frozen grapes and banana slices make a great TV snack or treat. If you like yogert, here's a great money saver: Buy a large container of "plain" yogert and flavor it yourself. I like to mix in 1/2 can of concentrated grape juice and make regular juice out of the other half. Can't beat the price and it's good too.
Once in a while I would be confronted by one of them with a queasy grimace on his face, holding up a green, unidentifiable, stringy thing he found in the super salad while questioning its genus. This was my first personal introduction to the word “Eeeeyou.” Of course I would fess-up and if it didn’t sound like it was something that should be eaten at all, they would just bypass that item and gobble up the rest. Little did they know, along with the super thin slices of lots of things kids naturally don’t like, there were fresh rutabaga slices that could easily pass for other edible vegetables. Kids will eat anything their trained to eat. My god, look at the huge oozing grubs, spiders, rats, and other fun foods kids from other countries love to eat. It’s all because of their adolescent training. Hey, a little bit of good salad dressing goes all long way too. The bottom line is to get the food into them one way or the other and hopefully teach them to like it in the process with or without them knowing it. In time, they won’t pick mushrooms off pizza anymore, they won’t turn down a luscious dinner because it has onions in it, and they won’t get sick over the prospect of eating a couple of eggs “easy over” for breakfast. See where I’m coming from? They’ll learn to love almost anything you teach them to love providing you’re consistent in their adolescent years. Don’t bother at all, give them anything they want, and you might just be handing them a premature death sentence from an underdeveloped organ that should have developed normally given the proper long term nutrition as a child. Who the hell knows? Do you?
Ever try to get a kid to munch on fresh carrots or fresh celery? Good luck! Clean and slice them both into bite sized sticks and place them so they stick out of a glass of slightly salted water right up front in the frig. Chances are, they won’t last the day.
On the flip side of the coin, kids are individual people and will have individual likes and dislikes just like you and I. So if your kid gags on something you’re trying to get him to like, consider it a lost cause and come up with something else that will fit the bill and write that particular food off his nutritional list. But always remember, kids don’t like hundreds of foods when their little so play this one by ear and don’t give up the ship just because of one isolated incident. If you do your job right they will wind up eating 99% of everything they should be eating by the time their adults. Think about the lifetime benefits. What a great gift to give your kids and you too for that matter. You will also be eating what you cook for them. That’s what I call a win win situation.