|You want this for dinner, kid? Sorry. Suck it.
I’ve read a lot of great posts about transitioning kids away from processed foods lately. “My kid only likes chips and Gogurt. I want her to eat an apple but she won’t.” “My son only eats hot dogs for dinner and nothing else. What should I make?” That kind of thing. So I’ve been thinking a lot about my own relationship with nutrition and parenting.
Over the past couple of years our family has gradually transitioned away from most processed foods. I want to underscore how challenging that process was especially at first because I don’t want this post to come off as trivializing others’ struggles with healthy eating. I also want to note that my child, fortunately, is a healthy kid of normal weight who has no dietary restrictions or underlying medical issues and I understand that’s not the case across the board. Every family makes the best choices they can under their unique circumstances.
Here’s a philosophy that’s come to work well for me when it comes to parenting and nutrition:
Dear kid, As your parents it’s our responsibility to meet your nutritional needs and give you opportunities to develop a healthy relationship with food. In our particular family’s situation that means the following:
1. We will teach you about food. Your dad and I will take you food shopping with us. We’ll talk to you about where your food comes from, discuss how to tell the difference between a healthy choice and an unhealthy one, and explain how and why we choose our ingredients.
2. We will expose you to cooking. Your dad and I will cook from scratch for you and with you as often as possible in the hopes that you feel connected to the food you’re eating and develop a skill set that enables you not to rely on processed foods. When we can’t we’ll figure out an alternate method to get you whole foods as often as possible. We’re not gourmet chefs. We don’t always have a lot of time. So “cooking from scratch” might sometimes mean “wilt some spinach and scramble some eggs while we reheat the brown rice from last night in the microwave.” But that’s okay. We know what we’re eating and why we’re eating it. And another day we’ll have a chance to do something more ambitious.
3. We will not be Puritanical about food. Your dad and I will do our best to embrace moderation and the food environment we live in. We will not bat an eye if you have hot dogs and Gogurt for snack at a friend’s house or cupcakes and ice cream at a birthday party. We’ll even order pizza and go out for fries on occasion. But at home snack is a cut up apple and some peanut butter, dessert is a rare treat, and dinner is made from whole foods. And as far as those whole foods go we can experiment with different ingredients and cuisines to find the ones we enjoy most. There’s nothing wrong with eating food you like as long as it’s healthy.
4. We will sit down as a family to eat dinner together every night we can. We’ll try our best to enjoy our food, talk, and have a good time. Your dad and I will listen to what you have to say and that includes your taste in food.
As your parents it’s *not* our responsibility to do the following:
1. Give you food just to make you happy in the short term. Would tater tots, a hot dog, and canned peaches thrill you more than a whole wheat pita, hummus, and carrot sticks? Sure. Me too sometimes. But it’s our responsibility to nurture you with food, not thrill you with it.
2. Get you to clean your plate. I abhor food waste as much as the next person but when you’re full, I’ll trust you to stop eating. We can reheat the leftovers later.
3. Be your personal chef. You really like salmon? Your favorite vegetable is broccoli? Awesome. We will incorporate those foods into our meals more often. Feta reminds you of feet? Okay. There’s no reason we have to have a feta heavy diet. We can cut back a little. You want to have plain noodles with ketchup for dinner instead of the meal we just prepared you? You think we need to eat ice cream right this instant? Sorry kid. Suck it.
4. Turn meals into a debate. This is the meal we’ve got. Eat it. Or don’t. If it’s seriously objectionable to your sensibilities have an apple. Lord knows I do when one of our culinary ‘experiments’ is less than successful. But dinner is not a discussion or a negotiation. You’re stubborn. I get it. I’m glad that you’re comfortable with the whole ‘sticking to your guns / backbone’ thing. But even you aren’t so committed to your observation “ewwww… that spinach looks slimy!” that you’d rather emaciate yourself than eat non-franken food.
What it boils down to is this: ultimately I don’t care if my kid likes her snack or her dinner. It’s great when she does, sure. But if I provide her with a healthy dinner and she’s like, “Meh. I prefer McDonald’s” or even “Ewwwwwwwwww!” I’m okay with that. It would be awesome if we had Mario Batali style mad kitchen skills and every meal was awe-inspiring but that’s not going to happen. And that’s cool.
Our responsibility is not to ‘please the customer.’ Our responsibility is to nourish our child. And if you don’t like it, kid, that’s okay. We’re looking out for your long term interests. So with all due respect your request for infinite hot dogs can suck it.