Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Kitchen Lab: 6 Food Mistakes Turned Lessons

Photo: Beyond Prenatals----------------Photo: Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Last week, Tara Parker-Pope wrote an insightful article for the New York Times Special Health Section. She claims that parents make 6 basic food mistakes that promote a non-varied diet and inhibit good childhood eating habits. I have summarized them below:

(1) Sending kids out of the kitchen instead of urging them to be involved in meal preparation. Although it may seem easier to cook alone, you will have a more difficult time trying to get your kids to eat the prepared food.
(2) Encouraging kids to take a bite, which may actually inhibit the bite taking process. While Parker-Pope does not mention the nutritionist Ellyn Satter, Satter has long been preaching the food philosophy of “mom’s job is to decide what and when, kid’s job is to decide if and how much.”
(3) Restricting off-limit foods instead of not having them in the first place.
(4) Expecting your kids to eat foods that you don’t eat yourself.
(5) Serving boring steamed vegetables, instead of a tastier and more appealing vegetable dish.
(6) Giving up before the game is over: some kids may need to be introduced to certain foods 15 times before they like it, or even try it. She also recommends using “food bridges” to introduce similar foods, such as mixing in a new vegetable to a standby favorite.

I decided to take these lessons to my own nutritionist kitchen and my family and I enjoyed a wonderful evening together because of it. I have included time stamps to highlight the fact that applying these lessons took minimal amounts of extra time.

5:15: I picked up my son from day-care, later than our usual 4:30 so I was a little concerned that we were getting a late start on our dinner preparation.

5:30: We spoke about fish on our way to the supermarket. My 20-month old was excited about the idea - “pish, pish, pish,” he said. He pointed to a nice codfish and I chose his appointed favorite, along with a ready-bag of broccoli, cauliflower, and baby carrots (we had to save time somewhere). We continued to talk about our dinner through the checkout so much so that the checkout lady told him he would have to wait a while until he could eat. I told her not to worry; we would have him eating in no time.

5:45: My son seemed to be more interested in coloring than cooking when we came home, which was gave me enough time to get started- spicing the fish and boiling water for the veggies. He started to show some interest in what was going on in the kitchen, so I let him smell the fish and then put it in the oven and poured the veggies into the steamer. I poured him some soy-milk (my son is allergic to dairy) and poured some of it into a pan to make instant mashed potatoes. The potato flakes landed on the hot milk in a pile, and I guided his hands to stir the fork. Along with some Tofutti sour cream, we added some mashed white beans that I had been keeping on hand for such an opportune moment. This was our “food bridge”- he’s not such a bean fan but loves potatoes. He stirred each ingredient into the mashed potatoes remembering that it was too hot to touch.

6:05: We sat down to eat on real plates and he ate so beautifully – with his fork!- that no food was thrown on the floor, no food refused. This represented somewhat of a change from our usual routine. The broccoli (plain and steamed, sorry Parker-Pope) was especially well received. He has been a big fan of broccoli lately, but he did not eat it when we first introduced it a few months ago. When my husband returned from work mid-meal, our son was pointing to his plate gleefully saying “dada, dada,” inviting him to partake of this wonderful meal along with us. As we got him ready for bed tonight, I was especially grateful that our limited evening time was spent with so much bonding, enjoyment, and fun.

Share your similar stories- I would love to hear them.

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