Two weeks ago I was sitting down at a “New Orleans” style cafe in the center of Disneyland. I had mentally prepared myself that my kids were going to eat complete crap for three days at a minimum while my husband, mother-in-law and I tried to keep everyone happy in lines, at restaurants and while avoiding eye contact with every souvenir booth vendor. Meanwhile, I was flipping the pages as quickly as I could through my new favorite parenting book, Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman. Each restaurant gave my kids another opportunity to order off of the dreaded kid’s menu which we all know by heart. It consists of macaroni and cheese, spaghetti (sometimes), cheese burger and chicken tenders (deep fried antibiotic filled chicken breasts coated in GMO wheat flakes and oil, dipped in red high-fructose corn syrup which is labeled ketchup….yeah right)
Occasionally my daughter really impressed me by ordering salmon and veggies which is a cool reminder that my kids do like foods that are not standard “kids” food so why the hell do I let them order off of the kids menu? My feelings are shared by my new pseudo literary pal, Pamela Druckerman. The pages of her book are filled with hilarious antidotes and self-deprecating stories that compare the parenting methodology of French parents to American parents. Being the food lover that I am, one of the big points that lodged in my mind was that French parents feed their kids whatever they are eating and they are just as health conscious as me. While my kids eat really healthy meals at home, I never think to give them salad. That is reserved for the adults. French kids eat salads before lunch and dinner along with a cooked veggie. They eat meat at lunch and lighter dinners and fruit for dessert. And they do all of this without throwing a fit, complaining or asking “How many more bites do I have to take” implying that an ice cream sundae is just bites away which is the only reason one would finish their dinner. Another shocker is that meal times were set. Breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner! This meant that little French munchkins were actually hungry when they plopped their derrieres down to eat. Now, Pamela is not claiming that all French kids behave this way but it is the majority. Compare that to the picture of an American restaurant (I am talking about my family too …we are all in this boat together). The minute we sit down, my kids need something to do. We anxiously hand our kids the menu to color on and well as our cell phones in case they need to mix it up by playing plant vs. zombies while they wait. They beg for juice which we say no to, but promise that if they eat the hamburger and fries, they can have dessert…this makes no damn sense by the way as there are no redeeming nutritional qualities in the chosen dinner. My kids have never seen the inside of a fast food restaurant (unless we need a potty break) but they have surely eaten the fast food equivalent at many local restaurants in our culinary Mecca of Portland. So why is it that my husband and I have to down a glass of wine to relax at dinner and why are we munching on delicious varieties of incredible foods while our kids eat reheated crap?
I have figured out the answer thanks to Pamela. We have had no faith in our little buggers. When we got home from California 10 days ago I was determined to try this out for our family. We were going to shift to eating our meals in courses beginning with salad (when they are the most hungry) and then move onto a warm entree with a cooked veggie and for dessert we would try a new cheese each night with some fruit. We explained to the kids that they only had to try one bite of each thing so we did not have to face the normal arguments of how many more bites. With cheese and fruit as dessert, I was not worried about a sugar overload. This experiment has gone incredible well. Our kids are eating salads ranging from beet and carrot to green salads with vinaigrettes. They have been eating more interesting dinners that do not require ketchup like paella and fish tacos or pesto pasta. They have introduced “stinky” sheep cheeses to their palettes and here is the best part….they take the left over’s for lunch with a small salad and do it all over again. For the first time over, their lunch boxes are coming home empty…..hallelujah!
Are my kids unique? NO! We talk about food and why it should be healthy and how good it tastes and how it makes up feel. My kids are starting to see meal time as an exciting new experience. My husband and I love food and wine so no matter what is happening in our lives, a good meal will bring us together and paint a smile on our faces for at least as long as we are chewing and sipping. In celebration of our new enjoyable dinners together, I have posted about 6 new salads on pepperclip… (This is pepperclip.com ….username megan….password eloise) Here are some dishes to try with your family… if you don’t find them on pepperclip, google them. I try to post most of them but it does not always happen.
Chorizo and chicken paella
Thai green curry veggies over brown rice
Pesto on bow-tie pasta
I have also found that when I am just low on veggies I can throw balsamic vinaigrette (vinegar, olive oil and some garlic with a little lemon juice) and my kids call it a salad. The picture above is a tomato and cucumber salad with balsamic vinaigrette and basil on top.
The French say that even if you or your kids don’t like something at first, just keep trying and eventually you will develop a taste for almost everything. Our taste buds are always morphing so don’t give up. Why should we do this? Well, we put a lot of energy into raising kids and keeping them healthy. Starting good life long habits is part of that. It can be discouraging but just imagine this….your family around the dinner table talking quietly and eating a great meal. Last night my son ate a green salad with tomatoes cucumbers and garlic stuffed green olives with honey mustard and paella and exclaimed “MOM, you are the best cook in the world”…who knew?