Friday, July 18, 2008

A Rant About Food and Kids, or In Which My Children Shine for Their Good Sense and Proper Behavior

Overheard on a recent canoe trip with two friends: one turns to Finn and Lucy and says, "There's nothing like a McDonalds cheeseburger every once in a while."

Finnian replies, "Yes, nothing like them because everything is better than them."


Ok, before I get on my high horse for having children who hate McDonalds (they watched "Supersize Me" and never looked back), I will say that later in our trip, that same friend bought a bunch of Tootsie Pops for everyone and they gladly took them, and indeed, were thrilled to meet someone - an adult no less - who so obviously loves junk food. I'm such a drag, always insisting on well-balanced meals and all.

I am putting Finnian's response to McDonalds together with the experience we have of always getting "Kid's Menus" handed to us on our travels. The menu is always the same: hotdogs, chicken nuggets, grilled cheese sandwich, and either spaghetti with tomato sauce or a heated frozen pizza for one. Even when we indulged ourselves and went to the "fancy" restaurant in L'Anse aux Meadows (yes, there is a fancy restaurant in L'Anse aux Meadows), we received the ubiquitous kid's menu that actually had written on it "Food for kids - you don't have to eat yucky grown up food"

Let's see. We have a childhood obesity problem. Newfoundland has the highest proportion of obese people in Canada, and Canada has a higher proportion of obese people than even the US. Is it really so wise to teach children that "grown up food" is yucky? Perhaps we need to encourage children to think that local greens and fish are great and delicious. The yucky grown ups seemed to be enjoying them! In fact, Finn and Lucy have taken to making fun of children's menus and Finn, being now almost 12, often is considered officially too old to order from them (somehow at age 11 or 12, children suddenly love yucky grown up food? Really?) and he loves to lord it over Lucy. These are children who still bristle angrily at the recalling of how they witnessed a family at our favourite Korean BBQ place in Sunnyside bring in a pizza for their two children while the parents ate Korean BBQ. Pizza! When you could be eating grilled meat wrapped in lettuce with that funky bean paste. They like to interpret it as some kind of oppression of children by adults to keep them from good food by tricking them into thinking pizza would be better than that.

Maybe they are right.

Of course, both Finn and Lucy have their fussy moments, as do I and Dan. My general rule is that we respect the plants and animals that gave up their life for us to eat them, that we respect how hard Dan and I work to provide the money to buy the food and prepare the food, so you have to eat, at minimum, just a little. I am not an advocate of the clean your plate strategy, which I suspect can lead to a disconnect between the feeling of hunger and eating habits and lead to health problems. The "you must at least try it before you reject it" approach has worked to get us through various food rejecting phases. Both of them have very healthy appetites that go hand and hand with knowing when they are not hungry (increasingly rare for Finn who is entering the voracious teenage boy phase in which the watchword is "eat every hour or die"). I still am catching up with his ability to put away giant amounts of food and then be nosing in the fridge an hour later.

May I also make the observation that, during the brief period when Finn and Lucy attended school here, they often returned home with their lunch boxes still filled with the lunch I had prepared for them. The reason was that the amount of time given to eat combined with an atmosphere of total chaos that existed in the lunch room resulted in their being unable to eat their lunch. They would arrive home cranky and tired and really hungry, beyond hungry. I always wondered what, if anything, they were supposedly learning during those last hours of the school day when they were very hungry and distracted.

Is it really such a luxury to feed our children well? To show them, by example, what constitutes "good food"? Or are we paying a very high price with our Kid's Menus and half-hour school lunch times and plastic plates and cutlery and glasses (don't even get me started on that issue!)?

Ok. Rant over. Where's my Tootsie Pop?


OfTroy said...

Your post resonated with me (even though my children are closer to your age than Finn or Lucy)--

I am in the middle of reading The Omniminvore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

You'd enjoy reading it.. (you'd learn little--just some specific details perhaps)

What should an Omnivore eat?

What should an Omnivore eat?
Not to much, most of it vegetables, and in company.

Robyn said...

Yes! I love that book! I bored my poor children to tears by reading passages from it - his whole explanation of corn is so fascinating!

I haven't read his new book, but it is on my list.