Pondering “Kid Food”

Tonight we are having a decidedly non-“kid food” dinner. And, I cater a little bit to my kids when I make dinners like this. What I am preparing isn’t fancy, but it isn’t what the typical American kid would eat these days. Here comes my preaching and also my guilt, because I do cave-in to my kids, a little, on these evenings.

While I loved beets when I was little, my girls hate them (they get to try each time, but I don’t force it). Tonight, we are having beets and beet tops. L may like the beet tops because they are similar to spinach and chard. We’ll see. I am also serving cauliflower, which both of them actually enjoy (especially if I let them coat it with melted cheese). Maybe “enjoy” is too strong a word. They eat it without a lot of complaint.

L loves salmon. She asks to eat it, frequently. J insists that she hates it. When we have a fish that J doesn’t like, I make her a different kind of fish with the same preparation – not much extra work for me, and J gets her protein.

Then, quinoa. There is something about this grain that you either love or hate and L & J are both in the hate category, at the moment. S and I are in the quinoa love camp – even though I prepare it very simply (though, as I write this, I’m thinking that it would be a very good dish to combine the quinoa, beets, beet greens and cauliflower with a little feta and a simple dressing of lemon and olive oil….) So, I will make the quinoa for S & myself and L & J will get the leftover farro from Monday night. Again, no extra work, but still a little bowing to manipulation.

The reason that I’m pondering kid food is that it is so prevalent in our culture today. The assumption is that kids won’t eat well prepared, interesting, varied foods. When you go out to dinner, there is always a kid’s menu with the same foods on it. You know the ones: pasta with butter or plain tomato sauce, mac ‘n cheese, pizza plain or with pepperoni, chicken fingers, hamburger or cheeseburger, hotdog. Served with fries, and/or if you are lucky, carrot nubs with ranch dressing.

Many families, and I’m not making any judgement – or maybe I am, serve this to their kids at home, too. Why is this? Why do we cater to our children and assume that they won’t eat what we eat? Should they be catered to in this fashion? Why don’t restaurants offer small plates of their regular dishes? Or is it that we just don’t ask?

I’m going to sound like the type of person of a certain age (“I walked to school in the driving snow, uphill, both ways”), but when did this assumption that kids should get what they want at all times start? None of my friends growing up ever ate these “kid foods” on a regular basis. Sure, we had a TV dinner every now and then when Mom & Dad were going out to dinner, but we ate as a family, in general, and everyone ate the same thing (except liver, I drew the line at liver – blech).

I’m dismayed at the concept that we need to cook for our families according to what children decide they will eat. There are so many cookbooks these days that focus on “kid food” – how to hide vegetables, how to make food that looks fun, how to make a two-way meal – some for the parents one way, some for the kids another way. In trying to maintain peace and order, and to avoid conflict, we are letting children make the rules. Maybe this is because it is supposed to be easier. When people have tough jobs, they just want to come home and take the easiest and most efficient path. But, it has not just become the path of least resistance. When you see cookbooks about making food look fun and focusing on foods that appeal to children – that is work, that is not making life easier!

Kids are demanding in myriad ways. I think parents need to be more demanding of their kids when they sit down at the table. They should eat what is served and we, parents, shouldn’t have to compromise.

I think it was S who said, this evening, that he hated beets growing up. Now, he loves them. He told L, if he hadn’t kept trying them, and then discovered that he liked them when he was 50 years old, he would have been really sad that he hadn’t tried them earlier.

It is pretty limiting to eat only chicken fingers and carrot nubs. We’re going to have a whole generation of people that will resent their parents for not letting them try other foods.

End of sermon.

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2 thoughts on “Pondering “Kid Food”

  1. Hey — I hated beets as a kid, and am ambivalent about them today… long story, related to being forced to eat a beet by family friends who were caring for me when my brother fell and got stitches in his ear at the town pool. 🙂 Washed it down with milk. Blech. But I like Borscht, go figure.

    I think your kids eat an extra-ordinary range of things, they are just very clear on their likes and dislikes. And have a surprisingly and wonderfully large vocabulary and expressiveness when describing them. 🙂 They are a delight.

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