persimmonIn the old days, sitting at the dinner table with the rest of my family, I happily ate the borscht (or any other home-made Ukrainian concoction) that my mother provided.

Why? Because that is what we ate. All of us. We ate as a family; my mother didn’t make 5 dinners.

I never tire of answering the same questions “your kids eat tofu? salmon? chickpeas?? how do you get them to stay at the table for so long? what do you bribe them with?”

My philosophy is about educating young people by way of example, where families live like a community. Everyone is included. Kids set the table, stay at the table, eat some of their meal and clear their dishes, just like all of the adults in attendance (I hope). This built-in approach to food and eating doesn’t allow much room for pickiness, whining or petitioning for treats (I say “much” room, because if you were at my house for dinner last night you would have witnessed an extraordinary display of two of the aforementioned misbehaviors to a sizeable degree).

Nearly a third of Canada’s 5- to 17-year-olds are classified as overweight or obese (adding up to about 1.6 million Canadians). Weight problems in childhood are likely to continue into adult years and obese teenagers have an 80% chance of remaining obese as adults.

Children aged 2-3 should have four Canada Food Guide Servings of veggies and fruit each day, kids aged 4-8 should have five servings, and 9-13-year-olds six servings (one serving is 1 cup salad, ½ cup fruit, ½ cup peas or broccoli, 1 orange, etc).

Well over half of Canadian children don’t meet these recommendations.

From the moment a little tot tries solids for the first time, parents have ongoing opportunities to shape the way children view food: how it should taste, look and feel, and how and why to eat it.

The How and the Why:

How to eat means eating as part of the family. No short (or long) order cook and no yelling eeeeew or throwing food. Following the “try everything on your plate” rule encourages children to be adventurous and will slowly develop their palate for a variety of tastes.

The why means find a different way to reward and to distract. I’ll give you an M&M after you use the potty? Nix this one. Try sticker charts where you tell your child what the end prize is (book, new toy, outing with mom). Or give non-food treat (stickers, bouncy balls, hair clips, and such). Need to keep Tyler quiet at his sister’s piano concert? Instead of a lollypop, go for one of these clever distractors.

Be Cool:

Because your pride and joy looks to you for how to react in most situations, be cool when offering them new food. Appeal to their senses.

You: sitting, gleefuly munching away on a radish.

Pride and Joy: watching you intently.

You: want a bite of this crispy cool radish? No? Ok, maybe next time….OR Yes? Here you go.

Notice there is no warning about what it might taste like. Let kids make their own observations. If you make a big deal, it will be a big deal.

Reminder: this scenario implies that you in fact eat radishes. If not, then I strongly advise you to also adopt the “try everything” approach, as children learn best by example.

The younger a child is, the better chances you have to foster an appreciation of what “real food” tastes like. Real food is that which has a clear source- like roasted zucchini and mushrooms, or cubes of grilled chicken, or baked salmon or brown basmati rice pilaf. They more or less look like what they looked like at the beginning. The less a food resembles itself, the less nutritious it generally is (with exception of course. Whole grain blueberry pancakes or spinach banana smoothies are very wholesome indeed).

Time to talk about snacks. What do you envision when you read Snack Food? On one hand most people typically snack between meals. On the other hand snacking is a widespread hazard. When did snack start to mean tremendously sugary, trans-fatty, salty and processed? On the other hand (I think that’s three hands that I now have), snack time can be an excellent occasion to munch on vitamin-rich provisions. I believe in 2 tactics: first, decide today that snacks will be made up of two food groups and not from the “sometimes” food group (read more about food groups). Second, don’t rush to feed your kids. Putting it off a few minutes might help foster a healthy appetite. Parents are too quick. As soon as their child displays any inkling that they might be a teensy bit hungry POW! chow appears at the snap of a finger. When Sophie is hungry, she is more likely to eat dinner. But if she just ate animal crackers with peanut butter 20 minutes ago…hmmm not so much. More on snacking.

What happens when kids are older and already used to certain foods or eating patterns? Don’t despair, by making the new plan clear to everyone, habits can slowly change for the better. Read Is It Too Late?


4 thoughts on “philosophy

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