Monday, March 22, 2010

How my kids have come to eat what they do...

Now, so far all the pictures I've posted about food have been photos of cakes and cupcakes, but seriously, we really don't eat like that the majority of the time! I do love to bake and I also love to share our glorious vegan baked goods in order to impress people and show them that a) vegan food isn't all green and doesn't only consist of raw veggies, and b) tastes incredible (especially when it's cookies or cakes baked from scratch instead of coming out of a box or tub)!

I do know that eating sugar and refined flours is pretty much horrible and I try to limit and decrease our overall consumption of these tempting foods. Mostly we eat whole foods 90% of the time. Usually, the most processed foods we eat are whole grain crackers and whole wheat pita breads with our hummus, and our nearly daily use of nondairy milks with our morning shake.

My kids are AWESOME eaters and I am constantly proud of how well they eat! When we eat out or go to family parties, I see my younger cousins (who are older than my kids) with plates missing the veggies or salad my kids are eating. I am amazed that people still think that a plate full of chicken or white pasta and garlic bread is nutritious for their children! Though my kids don't love eating a green salad with their dinner when their cousins are only eating a piece of pizza, I'm a stickler when it comes to how they eat. I've learned that my persistence has been worth all of the effort and dedication I put into helping my kids develop a helathy relationship with food.

For example, when my kids were old enough to start eating salad with dinner (an almost nightly ritual in our home), I would serve it to them and expect them to eat it. I'm guessing they were between 18 months and two years old when they could really chew a piece of lettuce with all of the other salad elements--carrots, tomatoes, etc. I started out with small amounts, of course, and made sure to serve the salad course first--as I still do. It hasn't always been easy. There have been periods when it would take 15 minutes for them to eat their bowl of salad. There has been complaining and talk of how much they didn't feel like salad. What kept me going was my belief that kids will eat what you give them. I have never forgotten first hearing about a study that said that it takes between 15 and 20 exposures to a new food to get kids to eat it. Over the years, I have heard or read variations of this statistic, and I believe it is SO TRUE!

How many times do we hear parents exclaim, "My kids won't eat that," or hear about kids who are stuck in a chicken nugget or mac 'n' cheese rut? I recently overheard two parents talking at my son's preschool. One mom was saying something about her kid eating chicken nuggets and something else equally disgusting which I can't recall, for every meal. EEEW! Even if I wasn't vegan, common sense would tell me that that was unhealthy and gross! I don't know if parents in general are afraid of controlling their children's behavior, or if it really pertains only to food. I'm thinking that it's probably the latter.

I have plenty of friends and relatives with kids who have been taught great manners and who would never dream of jumping on our couch or talking back to a non-parent adult. Their parents have been able to teach them ettiquette and social skills, but the same parents haven't been able to teach their kids how to enjoy a wide variety of foods, let alone nutritious ones, or to at least try a new food without complaining. I really don't get why parents give up on this issue, when I know most parents wouldn't allow their child to continue to hit a younger sibling, for instance, and instead exclaim, "Oh, well. Jimmy just likes to hit Sammy so much that I let him do it morning, noon, and night. It's just not worth the hassle to agrue with him about it. I hope he'll learn to stop hitting when he gets older and tries other ways of solving his problems." While I don't think I'll ever hear a parent say something like that, I do think it's likely I'll hear a variation of the following example many more times in my lifetime: "Jimmy just loves Goldfish crackers so much that I let him eat them morning, noon, and night. It's just not worth the hassle to argue with him about it. I hope he'll learn to eat fruit and vegetables when he gets older and tries new foods." Do you see my point?

Though I don't think that food issues are a problem that vegan parents necessarily avoid (I did meet a vegan mom at a party recently who said that her young toddler would NEVER eat the chocolate greens shake that my kids eat daily), I can anecdotally conclude from the handful of vegan families I know that their kids eat a wide variety of foods, including their substantial daily intake of fruits and veggies, and that they enjoy eating a huge array of foods, not the standard bland, processed diet that most American kids eat. (A funny aside---Last night, we walked over to my sister's house for dinner, and as we approached, my four year old said, "It smells like someone's eating Thai food." In fact, my sister was making a curry dish, and it did smell a little like Thai food! How many kids would even know about Thai food? I was impressed. =) ) My kids love to eat Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Indian and other untraditionally American kinds of food. I really love knowing that I don't have to prepare a separate meal for my kids when I cook or take along different food for them when we're going to a party or a restaurant where I know there will be vegan food options available.

I do believe that if you have high expectations for your children, whether it be about food, manners, social awareness, or what have you, the children will rise up to your expectations. It can take a lot of persistence, patience, training and creativity to get your kids to do what you feel is appropriate. I remember having to clap for my son every time he ate a bite of salad when he was a few years younger, and now he actually asks for seconds on salad sometimes! So awesome!

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