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How Much Do You Care about Your Kids’ Eating? How Much is Too Much?

October 24, 2011 Leave a comment

ANGELA can't bring herself to eat her peas because her mom wanted her to so badly.

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In the mid-90s TV show My So-Called Life, a baby-faced Claire Danes plays Angela Chase, an emo teenager.

About four minutes into the pilot episode, the scene opens with Angela’s sigh, and an arial view of her plate of peas with mashed potatoes and gravy and meatloaf being pushed around by her fork.

“I cannot bring myself to eat a well balanced meal in front of my  mother,” says Angela in a voice-over. “It just means too much to her,”.

JEREMY MAY FEEL A LITTLE SMOTHERED now and then.

An old Zits comic strip uses the identical statement to illustrate the same kid attitude.

Jeremy is earnestly confiding in his best friend, Hector, how he wants to join the Peace Corps and give back to society in response to the abundance and opportunities he’s been given in life.

Just then Jeremy’s mom walks by. Her ear is caught instantly and her head stays behind to catch the rest.

“Are you kidding?” Jeremy yells when he sees her eavesdropping. “Spiderman with a laser gun would beat Hellboy any day!”

Mom walks on past, with a sigh and a roll of her eyes.

“I can’t bring myself to ever have a serious conversation in front of my mom. It means too much to her,” Jeremy explains.

Isn’t this the kids’ fault? Aren’t they little stinkers to act that way? Maybe, but we probably can’t change them. Maybe they’re only responding as normal humans to our pushiness and over-eager parenting.  It’s known as hovering. Being control freaks.

Parents may need to summon up more dignity, more leadership, more self-confidence, more confidence in their kids and less fearful fussiness when this is the kind of reaction we get from kids.

Maybe these examples help explain why begging, pleading, praising and telling kids how much it means to us when they eat their peas only results in more resistance.

Maybe our kids, like Angela and Jeremy, actually do want to do the right thing, if we’ll just get out of the way.

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Related posts:  The Secret Life of Kids: Are Picky Eaters Still Picky When No Grownup’s Around to See?

The Golden Rule and Helicopter Parents at the Dinner Table

‘Duty Made Lovely’: How to Train a Child’s Appetite

October 21, 2011 Leave a comment

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L’appetit est la conscience du corps (The appetite is the conscience of the body).

— Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.

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DUTY MADE LOVELY describes the real Pollyanna, and a good mushroom soup.

When my children were about six and eight, we listened to the original Pollyanna story on tape. Unlike the caricature of Pollyanna as a ridiculously blind optimist, we found the real Pollyanna to be charming and delightful. I was surprised and pleased to find that she managed to inspire us and stir our hearts by her sweetness. “We can be glad of that!” she would say. We still quote her, 14 years later. We all loved Pollyanna and her story.

Pollyanna and many other literary or real-life heroes are perfect examples of what educational reformer Charlotte Mason (1846-1923) called “duty made lovely” that can inspire a child’s conscience to love goodness.

A child’s conscience is not an “infallible guide,” according to Mason, but rather an “undeveloped capacity” to be trained and instructed through such examples.

In training the conscience of a child, she advised, give them “lovely examples of loving kindness that will fire their hearts with the desire to do likewise.”

The child’s appetite, like the conscience, is trained by example, lovely or otherwise, to lead him to right or wrong.

A Bad Example: Dutiful Eating

Of course we parents know we are the primary example for our children. But eating dutifully against our will is a bad example. It teaches kids that duty is anything but lovely. I’m not sure that dutiful eating is any better than just eating junk and enjoying it. At least you’d be enjoying yourself. In either case, the child is taught to see healthy food as unlovely.

A parent’s enjoyment of healthy food is the only good example:  duty made lovely and lovable.

I absolve you: If you don’t like mushrooms, don’t eat them. Don’t try to be an example by saying, “Look Kaylee, I don’t like mushrooms, but I am eating them because they’re good for me.” A far better example is finding a way to sincerely enjoy mushrooms. Then you can say, “Kaylee, I used to not like mushrooms either, but I tried several different recipes, and I’m excited about this soup I just made. It’s really good!”

Duty Made Delicious

That tasty mushroom soup itself is another example of duty made lovely. A delicious dish made with healthy foods is the best example in the world. It’s the loveliness — not the duty — of the experience that warms the child’s heart toward the good.

One day at the Pearl Brewery Farmers Market, I saw a lady come up to the mushroom stand and ask for two mushrooms.

“I don’t like mushrooms, but they’re good for me,” she told the vendor. “So I put them in the blender with other stuff so I can’t taste them.”

I wondered why she bought the most expensive ones, the fancy $11 a pound ones. I wanted some of those, and more than two. I got the cheap ones. She might as well have swallowed a pill to get her nutrients.

How sad for her, with so many luscious ways to eat mushrooms. How sad, when duty can be so lovely.  And of that, we can be glad.

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Related posts:

The Best Way to a Kid’s Stomach is through the Heart: How to Use Kids’ Emtions to Form or Deform the Appetite

Foundations of Appetite Training: 12 Ways Children learn to Like or Dislike  Healthy Eating

Conventional Wisdom Versus the Truth about Why Kids Won’t Eat their Vegetables

The Inclusive Cavemen: You Gotta Love It

It Doesn’t Matter if She Likes Broccoli, as Long as She Eats It. Or Does It?

Foundations of Appetite Training: 12 Ways children learn to like or dislike healthy eating

October 18, 2011 4 comments

My son, Alex, helping cook in 1995.

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“L’appetit est la conscience du corps” (The appetite is the conscience of the body).

— Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo

Marissa and Jeremy were each born with an appetite — thank goodness! How else would we get babies to eat and thereby stay alive? Each baby cried for milk every few hours and latched on eagerly anytime they got something in their mouths, especially if it turned out to involve milk. They each certainly had a taste for what’s good for them. Each baby thrived.

As Marissa got older, she kept wanting the foods that were good for her. She would eat vegetables, fruit, fish, anything that came her way.

Jeremy, however, though he also kept getting hungry, developed the taste for french fries and candy and began to refuse to eat those good things Marissa continued to like. What happened to Jeremy’s appetite? It started leading him astray. As can happen with the conscience, something went wrong and the appetite quit working the way it should.

With temptations all around — cartoon characters singing the praises of  junk food, bad fats, sugar, salt and starch, artificial colors and flavors, decorations and promises of fun all appealing relentlessly to your child’s tender emotions, naiveté and vulnerable appetite — how can we protect their innocence, that first perfectly functioning appetite for real nourishment?

Training a child’s appetite in favor of healthy foods begins with building a strong foundation on positive feelings.

12 Ways that children develop negative feelings about healthy eating

  1. Chaotic meals.
  2. Being over-controlled, with pressure, scrutiny and hovering at the table.
  3. Conflict at mealtime, or being scolded at the table
  4. Being forced to eat.
  5. Random snacking that causes them not to feel hungry for meals.
  6. Being allowed to eat junk food and acquiring a taste for it.
  7. Having to eat healthy food to get something they want, such as dessert. Studies show that getting a reward or bribe for doing something lessens the desire to do it, and decreases the chances of ever doing it without the reward. In other words, if you get a reward for eating broccoli, you will eat it that time, but you’ll like it even less and be less likely than ever to eat it if there’s no reward offered.
  8. Food used as punishment or being punished for not eating.
  9. Getting lots of attention and reaction for being a picky eater, and being allowed to misbehave because of it.
  10. Being served by a cook who is reluctant or resentful about having to cook.
  11. Exposure to junk food ads.
  12. Celebrations being all about junk food.

12 Ways children develop positive feelings about healthy eating

  1. Orderliness and good habits, including manners, for meals.
  2. Expecting enjoyable meals at around the same time every day.
  3. Coming to the table hungry and seeing and smelling attractive dishes.
  4. Feeling cared for through food.
  5. Being cooked for by someone who enjoys cooking.
  6. Learning interesting facts about food — where it comes from, what it’s like and how it affects the body.
  7. Getting to try a wide variety of foods that taste great.
  8. Being involved in choosing, buying, cooking or growing the food.
  9. A safe environment at the table, where no one is allowed to misbehave or be obnoxious.
  10. Enjoyable conversation, positive attention and good humor at mealtime.
  11. Having free choices about what and how much they eat.
  12. Celebrations around special dishes of healthy, homemade real food.
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The Best Way to a Kid’s Stomach is Through the Heart: How to Use Kids’ Emotions to Form or Deform the Appetite

October 10, 2011 5 comments

CHILDREN WILL PUT ANYTHING in their mouths if they expect to enjoy the experience. Photo by Anna Migeon

“L’appetit est la conscience du corps.”  (The appetite is the conscience of the body)

— Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo

If “the appetite is the conscience of the body,” a child’s appetite is, in theory, able to lead him to eat what is good and avoid what is bad.

The problem is that kids are born with raw, unformed appetites along with immature, uninstructed consciences.

A child “is born to love the good and to hate the evil, but he has no real knowledge of what is good and what is evil, . . . but yields himself to the steering of others,”  states educational reformer Charlotte Mason.

Kids are like freshly hatched ducklings; they follow the first moving object they see. They accept as good whatever they’re given or whatever is presented as good. Then they start deciding what is good based on past experience. They learn to listen to or to disregard their inborn consciences or appetites according to how those forces are developed.  Both kinds of conscience begin to be informed or malformed from our first moments.

From the first time a baby’s appetite leads him to latch onto the breast, with no training at all, his impressions of happiness and satisfaction and desirability are being shaped.

Babies will put anything in their mouth, from poison berries, bugs and dirt to the dog’s tail to their own feet. It’s our job to help them learn from their experiences and to come to know the good from the bad, to avoid eating the rocks and other hazards that will be presented as food along the way.

So how can we develop the potential of a child’s appetite?  Apparently it is an extremely simple matter. 

In a Dateline show sometime back, children of about four years of age were presented with various pairs of choices of what they would prefer for breakfast or in their lunchbox.

Beginning with the choice between a plain cupcake or one with an American flag up against a cupcake with spiderman’s or cookie monster’s face on it, children almost invariably choose the option with cartoon characters.

The chocolate cupcake with the cartoon face was “better than” the chocolate cupcake without.

When a banana with Scooby Doo stickers was introduced up against a cupcake,  bananas were suddenly “my favorite.”

Even when the choices was between a rock with Nemo stickers on it or a plain banana for breakfast or in their lunchbox, the children chose the rock.

See how easily kids are led? They’re so easy to trick and sway and take advantage of. Marketers know that. So do Scandinavians, whose laws forbid marketing to children.

Kids respond to offers with their own brand of logic, reacting emotionally to what they know and like, whether it has anything to do with food or not. They aren’t very analytical. They don’t care what’s better for them or whether it actually would taste better because of the character’s face on it or even if it’s edible. Open-minded to a fault, their tastes are far from discriminating. They couldn’t explain how a character’s face makes food taste better, but for them, it does. They form their opinions of what’s good based on what has given them happiness in the past.

A child’s appetite is so easily taught to value certain foods, though the emotions, the most basic way that a child develops her conscience or appetite.

So why is it such a struggle for parents to get kids to eat what we want them to eat? That we are up against junk food with cartoon characters on it is one reason. That does make things hard.

When our society finally becomes civilized, making junk food attractive to children will be outlawed. Or maybe before that, people will wise up sufficiently about the ill effects of junk food that the market will dry up and manufacturers will go out of business. Parents in the meantime have the option to shelter their children from exposure to advertising by restricting TV time and keep them away from foods that are packaged with cartoon images.

But we also have yet another option. Why not use the qualities of enjoyment and fun to sell our kids on good food?

Why should we hesitate to leverage the simplicity of children’s minds in ways that that will benefit them? I’m not proposing making salad into the shape of Sponge Bob, which is unnecessary, contrived, silly, and way too much work.

I’m talking about using other things kids enjoy: warm attention from their parents and siblings, stories, conversation, being listened to, satisfying their hunger, orderliness and comforting routine balanced with variety and novelty, having autonomy and being respected, also colors and shapes, good smells, good tastes.

See how easy it is? If we can even get kids to eat a rock if it’s just presented as fun and we give them experiences of enjoyment around the rock, surely we can get them to eat actual tasty food when they’re hungry if presented in a pleasant atmosphere.

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Coming next: “Ways children learn to associate healthy eating with positive or negative emotions.”