How to get kids to eat

How’s that for a title? Think it will get me more hits??

 

Not if you’re a savvy parent, a been-there-done-that-with-two-or-more-toddlers parent. You already know that there are two things you can never “make” your kid do: eat and sleep. I would add, on behalf of certain friends, you also can’t make them poop. Although I suppose there are medicines for that.

Wow, not two paragraphs in and I’m already talking about poop! I must be a parent!

Anyway, on to the “how to” get kids to eat. This post isn’t actually about how to do that. It’s about all the stupid-ass advice that does not get them to eat at all. At least, not if they are my kids, who can smell my desires from miles away and take off running in the opposite direction. My best guess is that all of this advice has been compiled by people who either don’t have children or have extremely compliant (read: dim) children. Ha ha! Just kidding! A little.

 

Advice #1: Have kids help with menu planning.

OK, this actually works. It works fantastically well. And if you want to eat nothing but macaroni and cheese and hot dogs – which admittedly, many of us would – then this is the way to go. You will not have hungry children. You might have some issues with diabetes down the road, but hey, that’s at least ten years away, right?!

 

Advice #2: Take kids shopping with you so they can help pick out ingredients.

What insane parent actually believes this nonsense??

First: what child enjoys grocery shopping? None I live with. Dragging their lazy butts along with me so I can listen to nonstop whining and/or placate with cookies from the bakery (only to face a sugar crash right at checkout time*) does not sound like my idea of a good time for any of us. My grocery trips are my sacred ME time, and you will not take them away from me. You may also go in front of me with your loaded cart. Please. I don’t mind waiting another 20 minutes. I’ve already picked the longest line on purpose. There’s nothing more fun than calling home to say, “Oh sorry, hon, I’m stuck in line STILL!” (while you hear screaming and crashing in the background).

Second problem with taking kids shopping is related to the first piece of advice: they probably will not be willing to assist in picking nutritionally sound choices. Now maybe they’ll go for a little fruit here & there. But if they’re like mine, they’re going to be a lot more intrigued by cartoons on boxes or fancy pasta shapes or verboten treats like candy or beer than they will be interested in going up and down those boring outside aisles of the market. And…cue the whining.

That reminds me of one of my favorite Maggie stories, from about age 2. While I was picking out beer she very loudly announced to the surrounding patrons, “I don’t like beer. I only like wine.” Ah, good times.

Third problem with taking kids shopping is the “help” they give (this will come up again later when we get to cooking; you already know where I’m going with this). If you think it is “helpful” for someone to drop half your cart on the floor (especially glass!), or surreptitiously return items to the shelf that you’ve crossed off the list, or wildly grab extra items that are decidedly not on the list, or demand to sit IN the basket NOT the BABY SEAT thereby crowding out any room for actual groceries…well, then you probably do need some help.

So. Taking kids shopping is just a disaster waiting to happen. We agree?

 

Advice #3: Have kids help with cooking.

I’ll just skip the part where I talk about how this makes everything take forEVER and creates an insane mess for you to clean up later. You already know that part. What really pisses me off about this little suggestion is that it does not work AT ALL. This whole blog post actually came about because a good friend of mine emailed to say, “What is UP with this stupid advice??” Exactly.

Witness Mr K, the nearly-three-year-old, who LOVES helping his dad cook. He wants to be there for every part of the process and takes it in with his little toddler sponge brain. He tastes judiciously as he’s cooking. He suggests more salt, perhaps that nice fleur de sel this time, let’s not be cheap. The Honest Toddler & he would get along well.

Anyway he and his dad have this lovely bonding over their cooking and all is going swimmingly and I hear him saying, “Mmmmmm” many times and “I wuve this!” over and over. So what happens when we sit down at the table?

You know what happens. He won’t touch it.

He’s definitely going to be a chef. Or work at Taco Bell.

 

Advice #4: Make food FUN!!!!!!!!

Oh man, how do we even deal with this level of chipper ignorance? It seems cruel to dismiss such naivete out of hand, so many of us have indeed tried it.

Here’s a secret: the only things that make food fun are grandparents and playdates. Kids eat all kinds of crazy stuff when there’s a Grammy or a friend’s house involved. They’ll nosh on Cuties. They’ll burn through pistachios. (Those are two actual real-life examples of things my children won’t touch at home but they devoured at other houses.) My mom’s big trick is to put food in fun containers for them. Yeah. Doesn’t work at home. At all.

Or my friend who inspired this post, she says, “They both love hamburgers but when it’s fun – made into meatballs and on sticks! <– FUN, dammit!! – they won’t touch ’em!” No. No they won’t.

The fact is, you can do everything right – make the food into a smiley face, dine al fresco or en living room, put sprinkles on broccoli, serve the entire meal on toothpicks out of muffin trays – and if they’re not in the mood for it, they’ll decline to partake in your SUPER FUN DAMMIT meal attempt (on a good night – on a bad, it’s a one-way trip to CrazyTown).

Those are all actual “fun food” things I have tried. That did not work.

There’s no fun silver bullet. Not if you’re the unlucky person who gave life to these little dictators.

 

Advice #5: If they won’t eat what you serve, they don’t eat at all.

Ah yes, the “tough love” approach so many of us grew up with. Or its cousin, the “clean your plate there are kids starving in Africa/China” guilt approach (to which the clever/smart-ass child always replies, “Then send this to them”).

Here’s the thing: this is, once again, a punishment for the parent, not the child. First, because the parent has spent a lot of money & energy on this meal that is not going to be eaten. That sucks. Second, because the parent knows that if that kid doesn’t eat something, he is going to be waking her up all night long to complain of being hungry. Now if you are the kind of parent who locks their kid in their room and says, “tough luck” then I suppose this wouldn’t be a problem, but I’m just not. I’m also not really into starvation as a compliance tactic. So I suffer, not them.

What happens is, eventually, the kid gets to eat something relatively healthy that is packed with protein and/or fiber, so that at least her belly won’t groan so loud all night that you confuse it with your husband’s snoring.

And you once again question why you bothered with dinner at all.

 

The Truth, Plain & Simple: there is only ONE way to ABSOLUTELY GUARANTEE that your children will eat a meal. That they will devour it and beg for more. How? How do you accomplish this voodoo, you ask??

Simple.

You make something that only you really want to eat and you assume they won’t touch. Something truly weird, like octopus (true story). Then you make only enough for the adults at the table.

You will be hearing, “I WUVE OCTOPUS!!!” in no time.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

*One honest-to-goodness sarcasm-free truly real tip: if you are faced with children along when you shop, and you go somewhere with bakery cookies, do NOT let them TOUCH that damn cookie until you’re in the checkout line. it’s not to placate in the store, it’s the reward at the end of the trip. This has worked wonders for me.

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Food Fight: the Documentary

No, I don’t mean this…

 

 

Just a reminder to anyone in SAN DIEGO that our second movie night is this Monday, March 18, 6 pm at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Pacific Beach. We are showing…

Food FightFood Fight
Revolution Never Tasted So Good

I watched the film over the weekend and it’s really upbeat & positive – a nice second act following Food Inc. It is basically about how we have two choices when it comes to food: the industrial system and the local system. The film aims to educate us about both and let us decide how we will “vote with our forks” for the future of food in America.

 

 

For more info, visit http://www.foodfightthedoc.com/

If you can’t make the screening, I understand Netflix has it on streaming, so check it out!

The event is FREE, but we do ask for an RSVP for childcare (contact me or Deann Ayer 202.486.0690 or deann.standrewspb@gmail.com).

Eggs: A Simple Guide

Last night at our screening of Food, Inc the question was raised about how to choose eggs wisely.

at least I'm not shopping for eggs...

Eggs…why’d it have to be eggs…?

This can be more complicated than Indiana Jones and the Hall of Holy Grails.

So when a friend this morning mentioned she wants to up her egg intake, I offered (at her request!) the following suggestions which I have gleaned from my studies of the food system.

I try to base my opinions on the hardest evidence I can find and not be especially emotional or anthropomorphic. I do subscribe to Slow Food Principles (Good, Clean & Fair) and hold a personal spiritual conviction that we are stewards of the earth and animals, responsible to them – and to our fellow humans – to carefully consider our impact.

That said, this is just from my personal observations and reading, and I haven’t done a ton of specialized research. So if I’m wrong about something, by all means please leave a comment and correct me! We are all here to learn. (But no need to comment about how “eating all eggs is evil” or something because that’s not the purpose of this post. We’re changing the food system from the inside; there’s certainly a place for those who wish to boycott as well, but I’m writing this for the “buycotters” out there.)

So…disclaimers & provisos finished with, let’s move on…

If you want to eat eggs & chicken that were raised the closest way possible to their natural God-given behaviors, here’s what they do: they want to be outside. They scratch the ground. They forage and eat bugs. They take dust baths and flap around a lot. They are social creatures with established networks (yes there is a “pecking order”).

Not your grandma's chicken coop

Not your grandma’s chicken coop

So, battery cages – standard practice in the egg industry – are really against their natural behavior. If eggs are cheap you can bet they’re from cages. Same goes for that $2.99 rotisserie cooking under the heat lamps…sorry to disappoint.

But this post is about eggs, specifically. And the language you see on egg labels is mighty confusing. Here are what a few of the standard terms mean:

What cage free looks like

What cage free looks like

Cage Free: exactly that, but nothing more. Usually means kept in a dark, hot barn, with thousands of hens (one friend called it a “sea of chickens”) crammed in together. They are not in cages but they’re running around in their filth and eating god knows what (but mostly corn). Diseases do spread. Natural behaviors are minimal. Note: Organic chickens can be raised this way. They just have to be eating organic corn/soy.

Free Range or Free Roaming: this is up for debate (and there are no standards universally anyway) but most of the time it does mean some measure of outside time. I understand it to mean a step better than Cage Free. Animal activist websites do claim that Free Range is no different, and it may not be in some (many?) cases.

Fertile: means they were exposed to a rooster, which increases the likelihood of the chickens being actually roaming. Also, boy & girl chickens together is more natural than not. It is very, very difficult if not impossible for a large farm to maintain roosters, so fertile eggs will usually be from a smaller operation (but note that the smallest backyard enthusiasts also usually can’t keep roosters because they are loud, make babies, and can be rather mean – they didn’t start cockfighting because these were cuddly creatures).

[Roosters btw are a whole other issue – male chicks at large operations are gassed to death at one day old, en masse – thousands and thousands per year. They are an unusable byproduct of the egg industry. You can’t guarantee you’re not contributing to that unless you know the farmer and know what they do with their males – most family farms will raise the males for meat, which is preferable IMO.]

unfortunate byproduct of the mass egg industry

unfortunate byproduct of the mass egg industry

Vegetarian: hens are not naturally vegetarian. I think this is used to trick ovo-vegetarians into feeling comfortable because they know the hen hasn’t been eating, say, dead animals (which isn’t very common). But actually what it means is that the hen’s diet was controlled, i.e. she ate corn and/or soy exclusively. This isn’t a natural diet for a hen, and it means she couldn’t have been freely roaming. As mentioned above, if given her choice, she would also be eating seeds, grass, and bugs. So I avoid vegetarian or vegetarian-fed eggs.

pretty eggs

Easter eggs – no dye required!

Brown: Color doesn’t matter. Egg colors just vary based on the type of chicken that laid them. Some lay beautiful pink, purple, orange, and multi-colored eggs. There is no nutritional difference between a brown or a white egg (it’s not like bread…and even then, just brown bread doesn’t mean it’s healthier…but that’s another post).

Now, obviously, if you can keep your own chickens for eggs, more power to you. As long as you commit to it and your hens don’t wind up at the Humane Society because you bit off more than you could chew (a common problem in places I’ve lived such as Berkeley, where it was fashionable to build a coop but somebody forgot to point out there was a learning curve), this is the very best way to get eggs, hands down. And if you have a friend willing to do that work and give/sell you eggs, so much the better!!

But if you can’t raise them and your friends don’t either, then here is my “pecking order” (ha ha) for how to choose eggs wisely:

ce_chickensongrass1. Farmer’s market eggs ($5-7/dozen ouch!) when I’ve talked to the provider and trust her/his methods. Note that not all FM eggs are raised right – I’ve seen eggs at the FM from caged hens or big operations, even just carted over from the supermarket. An alternative would be to seek out a CSA (be it veggie or meat) that includes eggs.

2. Fertile free range or free roaming eggs

3. Organic free range – USDA organic is supposed to carry some modicum of humanity in the animal treatment. And usually anything raised in an organic manner is better for the environment. Also, supposedly organics can’t contain GMO ingredients (although I’ve just been told that non-GMO corn doesn’t exist any longer…so organic corn would be GMO…I have to check on that).

4. Organic cage free from a local store I trust is using my dollar wisely – because I will balance the benefit to my local economy and a well-paid worker, plus the fossil fuels saved by local shopping, against the welfare of the chicken, just like I will also take into account the environmental health of an organic vs. non-organic production method.

If I can’t at least meet #4 I will skip eggs until I can do better. The best part about buying an egg from a chicken that lived well? It tastes soooooooooooooooooooooo good!!!Today chickens are happy

Hope this is helpful, and please do leave a comment – whether you like it or if I’m unknowingly giving bad or wrong advice!

Free Movie Nights in San Diego! (led by yours truly)

If you live around the San Diego area, please come to my movie nights!

March 4:  “Food, Inc.”

March 18:  “Food Fight”

Movies are FREE.  Please RSVP for childcare.

More about these documentaries:

Food IncFood Inc. is a look at our nation’s food industry and how it has negatively affected our health. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary (2008).

Food Fight offers an overview of American agricultural policy, food culture, and the organic food movement, with a focus on California’s contributions to cuisine.Food Fight

Stasi McAteer will guide us in discussing these films.

Location: St. Andrew’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church

1050 Thomas Avenue, Pacific Beach

For more information and to RSVP for childcare, please contact Deann Ayer at 202.486.0690 or deann.standrewspb@gmail.com