Dinner tonight was a little less than stellar. It was a long weekend, the house was still a disaster, and as dinner time approached, everything in me envied the house next door that just had pizza delivered to their doorstep.
Thankfully, I scrounged up some egg-fried rice with veggies and we took everything outside and ate at our picnic table…and the kids couldn’t have been happier! They didn’t notice that I was completely out of culinary inspiration…they enjoyed the garden veggies and fresh eggs, eaten picnic style.
It’s amazing to see how such simple ingredients – fresh peas, broccoli, onions, mushrooms and bell peppers can transform ordinary rice into a meal. Sometimes I find myself afraid of the simple flavors, many right from our garden, and I feel the need to produce something kid-friendly that won’t elicit complaints or a dinner-time battle of the wills.
Amazingly, our current culture has trained children to prefer non-food over real food! Take a peak into any public school cafeteria and you’ll see lunches of jello, cheese puffs, a candy bar and a soda (and then we wonder why our son has problems sitting still in class!). We’ve conditioned our children to prefer sugar and unidentifiable puffy neon-orange balls (loosely labeled as “cheese”) to vine-ripened tomatoes, and crisp cucumbers.
As parents, it’s not because we don’t care about the health and nutrition of our children, it’s simply due to:
- misinformation (we didn’t realize that the USDA food pyramid is completely misleading and inaccurate)
- the need for convenience (we need something we can eat on the run as we head out the door),
- or an unhealthy desire to make sure that Junior never has to eat anything that he doesn’t like (he doesn’t want his veggies? ok, give him some chips or a cookie because he’ll be hungry later).
And here unfortunately, is our impasse. See, we can educate ourselves on the need for a real-foods based diet, and there are most definitely real foods that can be made ahead, thus making them more convenient. However, when Junior doesn’t want to eat his peas and we’re afraid that he’ll wake up hungry later or be annoyed that we actually made him eat his peas, we give him something else (usually something sweet, so that he won’t complain) and send him on his merry way, not realizing that we’ve just taught Junior that:
- You don’t have to obey me when I tell you to do something. (ie: “eat your peas”)
- Your desire to be happy is more important to me than your nutrition.
- You’re in charge.
Moms, let me be the first to encourage you…eating vegetables is not a form of abuse. It’s ok…no, it’s important, that Junior learns to appreciate the simple flavors. Don’t be afraid of serving meals that aren’t necessarily “exciting” that are made from simple ingredients without complex flavors and oodles of sugar, spices, preservatives or condiments.
Your job is not to impress your children and become a short-order cook, pleasing everyone’s immediate food-demands. Your job is to nourish and care for their bodies and health.
Will Junior suddenly have an epiphany one day that these humble vegetable are what he should be craving and he’ll ravenously devour the bowl of peas in front of him? Um, no – not if he’s been conditioned to whine for an easy substitute.
Will you be tempted to give him something else just to fill him up? Yes, but don’t do it.
Whether Junior is 3 or 13, it’s our jobs as parents to retrain their taste buds and to guide them in making healthy choices.
It’s just like a child who is used to playing video games or watching television for 5 or 6 hours each day. They are so conditioned to over-stimulation that their minds and nervous systems can’t handle the silence and they go through something akin to withdraw symptoms when technology is taken away from them.
It’s the same with food; if our children are used to consuming processed foods, void of nutrition and laden with sugar, then of course they aren’t going to want vegetables – and we act shocked when they complain about them!! Their bodies and palettes have to be retrained.
And parents, that’s our job…
What are some of your favorite “simple” meals??
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