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Making kids eat vs. making them behave

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment

This recent Dennis the Menace cartoon shows a breakdown in a mom’s attempts to make her kid eat.  After trying to make Dennis eat carrots, his mom thinks he has complied but then finds the carrots hidden in the laundry basket. So Dennis is in the corner.

His question is a good one. Is he punished for hiding carrots in the laundry or for not eating them? Is it fair to punish a child for reacting in a natural and normal and to-be-expected way to being over-controlled? The outcome is typical of force feeding.  You can lead a kid to carrots but you cannot make him eat.

The proper groundwork for good eating wasn’t laid, and not knowing what else to do, the weary, desperate mom forced Dennis. Dennis appeared to comply, but Dennis got his revenge. Then Mom got hers.  It’s not working very well.  Dennis isn’t learning to love carrots. Mom isn’t even getting him to eat them and she has a mess on her hands. I feel for her: Dennis is a tough little menace, and, as a perennial six-year-old, he never outgrows any of it!

I haven’t got many answers for her, but think I could help her with the eating problems.  We can’t escape all our parenting challenges, but generally  there’s just no need to endure feeding problems. It should be the least of our worries. Even little terrors get hungry. That hunger can be leveraged. Good eating can be achieved by doing nothing but cooking good food, serving regular meals and insisting, not on eating but, on  good behavior at the table.  My bet is that Dennis became a “picky eater” in direct reaction to his mom’s trying to make him eat certain things.  If he’d never been pushed to eat carrots, he’d probably be eating them instead of stuffing them in the laundry basket to prove he can’t be controlled.

Related posts:

False Dilemma of Controlling What Kids Eat

How to get kids to eat at the table: The push-pull principle

How to get kids to eat at the table, Part III

When healthy kid foods pose as junk food

September 3, 2010 10 comments
Cheetos are commonly considered a junk food.

Is that a bunch of baby carrots? Or wait, is it Cheetos? Or does it matter? Image via Wikipedia

It all started with desperate moms pureeing veggies and concealing them in brownies or other nutritionally depleted foods that “kids will eat” without a war. Instead of leading kids in the education of their tastes and affections, we let them lead us, by the nose. Our only hope is to trick the little beasts.

Then today I read a mom’s recommendations on how to buy better-for-you packaged stuff so kids can feel like everybody else at school. The key is that it be in real, store-bought packages with attractive logos and brand names. If we can fool kids into thinking they’re eating the processed junk their friends eat, they will be likelier to like it, and like us. They’re likelier to like themselves, and be liked. Nuts in a machine sealed bag are OK; nuts in a lowly baggie from home will make your child ashamed. Applesauce in a factory sealed package make the cut; applesauce in a reusable container from the kitchen will strike at the poor child’s confidence and hope of a social life.

Minutes later, I read of an ad campaign selling baby carrots as junk food. Can we get kids to eat more carrots by getting carrots classified as junk food? Can we make kids think they’re eating something along the lines of Cheetos? They’re both orange.  Maybe if they’re eaten quickly enough and at a little distance from peers’ eyes and ears, they could actually pass for Cheetos at the school lunch table, if packaged well.  I wonder what else we could pull the same trick with? Peeled boiled eggs in air-tight, brightly colored, stay-fresh packages with a cartoon face drawn on, branded something like Eggheads? No, we don’t want them to realize they’re eating an egg. How about Dumbheads? Nevertheless, the possibilities are endless.

Is this what it’s come to?

It reminds me of the mom who tricked her child into eating “vegetables” by giving her a vegetarian corn dog. The child thought she was eating a “real meat” hotdog. I just don’t even know what to say about that. That’s a good one.

Without going into the extra costs of buying food that’s pre-packaged and branded when we could get plain old bare whole foods and package them ourselves, and without talking about what garbage the food manufacturers are sure to add to whatever edible they package, what are we thinking?

Instead of following kids’ ignorant and immature lead, or the lead of unscrupulous manufactured foods producers, can we teach our kids to be smarter and stronger here? Can we have higher expectations of our little humans?

Can we teach kids to be proud of eating what’s good for them instead of the crap that’s killing people? Can we encourage them to be OK with being different when being different is a good thing? Can we teach them to scorn junk food? Can we teach them to dread it? Can we understand how they feel, while sticking to doing the best thing for them? If they can’t even stand up to the peer pressure of eating junk food instead of real food with their friends at school, if we cushion them even from that tiny discomfort, how much spine are they going to demonstrate with the rest of life’s challenges?

If we trick them into eating relatively healthy stuff by disguising it as junk, don’t they just stay on the road of valuing junk? What happens when they make their own food choices?

I can understand the potential difficulties for a child: I remember taking sandwiches on homemade bread in my lunch. I felt different and weird. If you tell kids you’re making homemade bread because you can’t afford “real” or “boughten” (as we called it) bread, how proud of being different are they going to be?

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s all in the packaging, once again.

What if you tell them instead a positive message about why you don’t give them poisons in their lunch? Tell them the benefits of better food, and consistently and without apology give them real food that’s so delicious and enticing that they develop a true affection for it?  Show them how you’ve outsmarted advertisers who only want your money and don’t care if you die. Tell them about the deliberate and important choices you make on their behalf and invite them to buy in. Empower them to be the trendsetters at the school lunch table instead of letting the herd lead the way unchallenged.

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair.

Related post:  Getting Kids to Eat: Assume the Best