Sunday, June 3, 2012

Food Questions

Today I've been thinking about food philosophies in families.

Growing up we were never forced to eat foods that we didn't like and most of us were fairly picky eaters. Corn was the only vegetable I ate for years. My brother, Cory ate butter sandwiches in his lunch every day for at least 4 years. My sister, Krista survived on chicken noodle soup and KD for what seemed like years. The list goes on. 

My parents encouraged us to try foods that we thought we didn't like but never forced us. We were allowed to make our own "meals" (they were more like snacks) if we didn't like what was being served. We grew up with the attitude that what we ate was a matter of choice and it was fine to say we didn't want or like something that was being offered.

Going on exchange to Argentina after high school was the first time I was challenged to eat foods I didn't like. The first meal with my new host family was their favourite simple lunch, tomato and olive oil open faced sandwiches. Eww! I didn't want to be unappreciative of their hospitality so I gagged it down. Since it was a regular simple meal in their home, I got used to eating it and even began to enjoy tomatoes. I still maintain that those tomatoes were more flavourful than what I was used to having in Canada. I tried and began to like a few other vegetables that year but I was far from being an adventuresome eater.

In my third year of University, I tried real Asian food for the first time and hated it. I remember thinking that Thai food looked and smelled like cat food when I ate at a Thai restaurant for the first time. Needless to say, I didn't eat much. That year, I had my first authentic Chinese meal and was similarly unimpressed. 

Who would have imagined that I would end up marrying a Chinese guy and enjoying some Chinese food quite a lot?

My husband Darren's parents attitudes about food were quite different than my parents. Growing up, Darren and his brother were expected to eat what was served to them. They were taught that it was rude to refuse food and you were to eat even if you didn't like something.  

Coming from families with such different views of food, we still struggle to come to a consensus about what we feel is the best way to approach food in our family since Sebby has been quite picky. 

He goes through phases where he likes certain foods but then suddenly refuses them. He has gone through phases where he would eat little other than grapes, rice and rice cakes. He looks at many foods we offer and shakes he head and says "no!" right away, even if he has never seen it or tasted it before. He doesn't like the look or taste of anything green (except grapes and apples, which he's allergic to so can't eat!) and isn't very impressed by meat either. 

He loves white bread and white rice and pasta. He seems to instinctively know that he loves things that aren't very healthy like chocolate, ice cream and sweets. When he sees a new kind of candy, he wants it. We don't eat or buy candy but he somehow knows that it's "delicious." 

As he gets older, we know that we will need to get on the same page about how to approach his eating but one thing Darren and I can agree on is that if we can trick Sebby into eating healthy food, its a win!

We probably need to get more creative about doing this but we have learned a few good tricks so far. We know that he will eat lots of vegetables if they are chopped really small and incorporated into pasta sauce or fried rice or even better, spring rolls!

This morning I made pancakes with grated carrots (carrot cake pancakes) and even with my modifications that reduced the sugar and eliminated the topping altogether, Sebby loved them. All the credit goes to Deb at Smitten kitchen, my favourite food blog for this yummy recipe. 

I'd love to hear from you.
Please comment to share your experiences and suggestions.

Did you and your spouse have very different views of food growing up?

If so, how did you come to a consensus of how to approach food as a family?

Do you have any suggestions about how to get kids to eat healthy foods?


Sarah said...

Hello Tara, my kindred food spirit! Haha! You have described mine and John's upbringings exactly. He often listens in amazement as I tell him the 10 meals my family would eat and the laundry list of things that were never cooked in our house because we had declared to our mother that we would not eat them. There were a couple meals in the weekly rotation that actually included two main dishes to satisfy various groups of us.

My parents will admit that this began with my dad's family, where his father was a picky and simple eater who only asked that there be meat and potatoes at every meal, never an onion, and no need to get creative! I don't think the man tried Chinese food until our rehearsal dinner, which is now proud of having done. :) So my dad grew up with simple, safe foods and decided there was no reason to push his own children. My mom grew up in Virginia and said she longed to require us to try more but didn't feel like dying alone on that hill.

My sister lived on noodles with butter and salt and plain dry hamburgers most of my childhood.

John's upbringing was like Darren's: eating what was served was compulsory and so was eating everything on your plate. He both learned to ignore the feeling of being full but also to never let whether he liked something or not determine if he would eat it. Add to this the fact that he loves to eat and try new foods and he couldn't believe it when I would tell him I didn't want something I'd never tried before.

As we've been married and I've branched out in my eating, and actually so have my parents, I've come to see that I may have gotten the short end of the stick. I wish my mom had required more out of us, not only so that I could have gotten over my pickiness, but also so that I wouldn't have approached new foods with fear. That's what the safe menu in our house taught me: that strange and untried food should be approached with caution because they are probably horrible. Not only that, but I think it contributed to my caution about all things new and having to do something I don't want to do. It would have been good for me to learn not everything in life is my choice.

HOWEVER, John will also say that being forced to eat food that truthfully was often not very good/burnt/gross made him feel like he had no voice in his own life at home. It didn't matter how he felt or what he wanted or what he uniquely preferred so why voice it about anything. And the challenge to finish his plate and eat as much as his dad has left him with no natural portion control, something he now has to battle as an adult.

So all that to say, with out kids we know we want them to enjoy a variety of foods but we also know more than anything we want eating to be a joy. So we try to balance structure with exploration, the old favourites with the new. And we try to keep an attitude of excitement around trying something so they hopefully see that food they don;t want is not a punishment but a pleasure they may be missing out on and should reconsider!

Because of our kids age we have moved slowly on this. We know toddlers can be faddish about their foods and so we offer things many times over before they are accepted. And we have one picky eater and one not so we also have to remember to keep offer new foods even if Soren won't eat them so that Marlow continues to explore. We haven't found our exact rhythm yet - we still fall back on all-beef hotdogs more than we should - but we are waiting until they are older and we can communicate more clearly to require that they try something. For now we are doing what we can to show them that we enjoy food and we want them to be open to all the world has to offer, when they're ready.

Looking forward to hearing what advice others have to give, I know I didn't say much on the practical side so if you ever wanted to do exactly what we've tried feel free to ask!

Vanessa Strickland said...

Hey Tara,
Great post. I've always been pretty firm about dinner meals. If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it. But you don't get any other options. Sometimes my boys just decide they don't want it and then have to wait until breakfast for any other food. Same with breakfast and lunch. If you don't finish, you don't get any snacks until the next meal. I'm not into making 5 million different meals so this is the way we work it out.
Jamie and I have similar ideas about eating, although he's far more inclined to indulge the boys with sweets and treats which is frustrating for me sometimes, but it just is what it is. And generally we're on the same page about things and the boys know we're a team although they (ahem, Noah) already try to play us against each other.
Now with older kids that I can talk to about it, they get it. Jude often has a meltdown when I remind him why he can't have a snack on some days, but he gets over it.
I didn't offer a lot of variety to Noah as a baby and we struggled through some real pickiness as he got older. I realized he wasn't going to starve if he missed a meal and that if he WAS really hungry, he'd eat. He's still generally more picky than Jude (who was eating what we were by 10 months) but some days they're equally picky about the exact opposite thing. :)
I don't pretend to understand the inner workings of a child's desire for foods (or lack thereof) so some days they love what I give them and the next day they hate it. C'est la vie!

Maggie said...

Hey Tara,
Obviously I don't have experience as we don't have any kids, but I perceive similar dilemmas in our future. I was raised with some flexibility in food choices, while Irving is very much in the you-finish-what's-in-front-of-you camp. (One of our first fights was about me not finishing my meal in a restaurant. I've now convinced him that doggy bags are a respectable option.) That said, I have a soft spot for picky eaters. When my brother was little, he was the pickiest kid ever. He would spit out food all the time, and survived for a while on Cheerios and hot dogs. The thing is, years later when we went to the orthodontist, we learned that his molars were not aligned well, so actually he *couldn't* chew properly. No wonder certain foods were a nightmare for him. It's probably a good idea then to try cutting food into little pieces and try different textures. I have foods that I really despise, so I think it's fair to respect that a child has genuine preferences, but not at the expense of letting a child control the menu all the time. Does that make sense? Anyway, I may change my mind when we have our own kids... :-)

Tarren said...

Thanks for sharing!!! Reading about your childhood eating made me laugh because I related to it SO MUCH! I feel a bit better knowing that we are food kindred spirits and that you and John have similar debates. I have also grown a lot in my enjoyment of diverse foods since being married but I'm probably still somewhat of a picky eater. I still don't like seafood, although I do like shark fin soup (weird, right!).

Do you cook separate meals for them or do you guys end up eating hot dogs too? We struggle because we will eat things that are too spicy for Sebby so we feel its not fair to expect him to eat spicy curry because it hurts his mount so sometimes an alternative dish seems to be the easiest answer unless we want to stop eating curries, etc...

Tarren said...

Hi Vanessa,

This is EXACTLY the debate that we're having. Should we not allow Sebby to eat something else if he doesn't like what has been prepared? I think we are leaning towards that type of approach with some sort of clause like, you can't have a different meal but you are allowed to have fruit. In Darren's family they ate fruit as dessert and we often give Sebby fruit after his meal, which he seems to eat whether or not he has rejected the rest of the meal.

Around what age do you think they started to "get it"? I think Sebby is pretty smart and understands a whole lot more than he can communicate but I realize that there are certain developmental milestones and don't want to be insensitive to those.

Tarren said...

I think I agree, Maggie! I think having the child control the menu can really get out of hand but I think being totally inflexible isn't helpful/gracious either.

It's good to have these sort of discussions before having kids and sometimes our opinions change but sometimes not. At least that's what Darren & I have found!

Vanessa Strickland said...

I think Seb's old enough to get it. You just stop offering other food choices and he'll realize "Oh. This is all I'm getting. There's nothing else. I guess I'll eat it since I'm hungry." Kids are S-M-A-R-T. He's definitely old enough to grasp the basic concept of meals.
I think kids can "get it" as soon as you start offering solids. It obviously looks slightly different and with food allergies I think you have to take certain things into consideration (as you're well aware of - more so than I am!) but yeah. Go for it! Seb's a smart dude.

emily said...

I think it's normal for all people to not like SOME foods, after all we adults have preferences too. But when a kid denies every food, it's generally not a true dislike for the food/flavour/texture but a dislike for change/unknown/lack of choice/new stage. And just being a baby or toddler!

I read that kids should try a food 15 times before parents put them in the "he doesn't like ___" category, and that philosophy has worked for us. From that we know that Lily actually loves apples, chocolate (yes, she refused my baking a lot....wondering if I should have just let her haha!), and eggs, but truly doesn't like avocados.

If after 15 tries (spread over many weeks and served in many varieties), if she still doesn't like it, I'm ok with not forcing her anymore, because I "know" she's for real.