Super Powers

The other day my doorbell rang and it was my next door neighbor, looking panicked. Turns out she had locked herself out of her house and her 12 mo old was inside. I gave her a hug and my phone and she called her husband, but he didn’t pick up. We tried to think of a way in but our condos are really secure! Then I recalled how my cat visits her balcony by jumping from ours and suggested we try that.
mom_superhero
She was too short to get up over the balcony railing, but I could, so much to her terror I climbed over (apparently my kids were so scared they were hiding) and jumped over to her side. Then of COURSE her screen door that she assured me was open wasn’t, and so I ordered her to go to my kitchen and get a big knife, which I used to slice right through that puppy and break into her house. After I met her and my kids in her back patio she was still shaking, but the baby was asleep the whole time and had not a clue.

Aside from my apparently strong potential as a cat burglar, this got me thinking about how much we do for our kids – or even for someone else’s kids. As much as I’m not a kid person, I do feel a responsibility to watch out for the village urchins, and I hope other parents are doing the same for mine.

So here is a question recently raised by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff on the US News site: if we would gladly die for our children, why won’t we perform one of the simplest and most meaningful expression of love in our quiver – namely, cooking for them?

I’m reading Michael Pollan’s excellent (as always) new book, Cooked, and he frequently makes the point that cooking is what separates humankind from the rest of the animals: it is what created culture; it is how we bond as communities and families. If cooking makes us human, why aren’t we making more of a point to…um…do it? If we want to raise little people – not little brats or animals – maybe, just maybe, we’re missing out on one of the core skills that will civilize them (hey, if it worked for cavemen…).

When I posted my rescue story on Facebook, it got a ton of positive responses. But you know, we deserve just as much praise for the formerly everyday act of preparing a homecooked meal. In this day and age it is practically a superpower to be able to actually cook for yourself (instead of just watching it on TV). I fear that many of us avoid cooking because it seems too difficult, glamorous, expensive, or only for pros. Worse, we pass that discomfort and fear on to our children – and Food Inc will be only too happy to pick up the slack.

cooking with kidsBut cooking isn’t only for corporations or chefs. It’s for everyone. It’s worth learning and it’s worth teaching. My son loves cooking as much or more than any other activity. He begs to help his dad every day in the kitchen (we’re fortunate that he has the male role model doing the cooking).

We drive our children all over to myriad classes and events; we pay a small fortune for the privilege of letting others teach them sports or dance or music. And yet we have, right in our kitchens, a learning opportunity that engages their whole body (and all five senses) plus brain: teaching fine motor skills, patience, turn-taking and sharing, counting and fractions, reading, and appreciation of pleasure. And it doesn’t cost any more than we’ve already spent on groceries, plus of course time (that we otherwise might not have spent with the kiddo – well invested, I say).

Most importantly, when we cook, the aromas and the presentation and the flavors carry our love into the eater’s subconscious, whispering how much we deeply care. If children are part of creating that moment, then they learn love of neighbor on a whole new level. We have taken the time, energy, and resources to create something out of nothing, just for them, just to bring them joy and to nourish their needs.  If food is God’s love made edible, I like to think that the homecooked meal is a parent’s love (or partner’s or child’s or friend’s) sent straight into the body of the eater, to be fully absorbed by their very being.

And that, my friends, is truly powerful.cooking-love

Advertisements

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.

The Five Minute Pitch

Last night a woman asked me about this blog and what I write about. It gave me the opportunity to practice my “five minute pitch” – that is, the distillation of the ideas you’re considering for a book that can be given in an elevator ride. Technically I realize five minutes is too long. But once I get going I tend to keep people’s interest. 🙂

Anyway I failed at being very coherent last night (granted, there was wine involved, which I felt the need to imbibe while speaking so as to underline my points about eating well), so I thought I’d better get this figured out on here and then I will hopefully have a better spiel for next time. And Tina if you read this, hope it clarifies things for you!

Many Christians want to integrate their faith into all aspects of their lives, but often don’t think about how to do that with their choices around food. Yet the way that we shop and eat is so deeply important to our ethics and our general approach to life, and absolutely can and should be a spiritual act. To make it simple, I take as my starting point the three tenets of the Slow Food Movement: food should be good, clean, and fair.

Food being “fair” means that the processes by which it is produced respect the dignity of all creation. This starts with treating the earth well: not poisoning it, tending it with patience, etc. It means allowing animals to be the creatures they were made by God to be: so pigs, for instance, will root in a forest, not be crammed into a crate. It continues up the chain to human beings: paying the farmer a price that reflects his or her work, ensuring that slave or near-slave labor does not continue, and supporting legislation that lifts up the individual, hardworking people who labor to bring us food. Respect and Fairness also means giving all created beings, including the land,
the Sabbath rest it deserves.

Food being “clean” goes right along with this. Christians can think of it as purity, as not polluting our bodies with inventions masquerading as food or poisons that may give a moment of pleasure but contribute to a lifetime of illness. It means having a clear idea of where your food has come from, and connecting to the people (and animals, if you like) who are part of the process. It means personally knowing your farmer and even visiting the farm, showing your children the beauty of the earth and its abundance. Again, it can mean supporting certain types of legislation. And the best way to ensure you’re eating clean food is by growing it yourself: a wonderful way to connect to God’s creative work in the world.

Finally, food should be GOOD! It should taste good, it should make our tongues and our tummies happy! That means we eat real food, not foodlike substances (it means we throw rules out the window now and then, too). We take time to cook and honor the recipes of our ancestors. We use premium ingredients from around the world, that remind us just how varied and exciting God’s handiwork can be.

And it should be good for you, not just in the physical sense, but in the emotional, social, and definitely spiritual senses! Pondering your apple while you eat it will settle your mental state and put you in a place of gratitude and connection with your world. Eating with other people will bring you close together and cement community. And there is a great reason why the Eucharist is the primary sacrament of Christian discipleship: it is through daily bread that we return thanks to our Creator for sustaining our lives, and it is through wine that we return thanks for the grand enjoyment we are given in life! Blessing God for the gift of food makes us priests before him, sharing and stewarding, correcting the selfish error of Adam and Eve who took for themselves alone.

Good, clean, and fair food connects us to our families, our communities, our God, and our best selves. And that is why eating well is, inherently, a spiritual act.

(ok that is probably over five minutes….like I said, I really get going. It’s a work in progress!)