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Kids Meal oven button. Assuming kids can’t…

Posted by on Dec 3, 2012 in Blog Posts | 14 comments

We need to replace our range. I’m excited to get a double oven, which I have fantasized over for years. So, we are getting that double oven so I can slow roast that pork shoulder and hit the roasted veggies at 450…

Anyway, I almost lost it when I saw a button on the range I liked best that says, “kids meal.” What? How high, how long? I can almost handle that on a microwave, but had never seen it on an oven— one more clue to me that we are way off base with how we relate to food culturally.

Like the children’s menu loaded with only soft and brown foods, or the new “kid friendly” stamp for certain recipes in Cooking Light, what this kind of marketing and messaging does is reinforce the message that kids CAN’T:

  • eat the same foods as the adults do
  • like a variety of foods
  • learn to like new foods without a whole lot of effort and hand-wringing

This message is ubiquitous, from ads telling us that Tyson chicken is the only food your kids will eat “100% of the time,” to that kiddy menu, to the Pediasure anxiety-provoking commercials, to the sample lady at Trader Joe’s offering your child plain chips without the salsa they are sampling (M loved the salsa.)  It can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Every sitcom jokes about eating broccoli, products line the shelves to cater to picky eaters. It all changes how we view and feed children, and they respond accordingly. They live up to our expectations.

But they can. Assume your child can, and in fact wants to (in time) learn to eat and enjoy the foods you do.

Here are some tips:

  • Never assume a child won’t like something. I once remember M wanting to eat raw brussels sprouts, and I started to say, “We don’t eat them r…” but bit my tongue.  She ate three raw ones and a few ones I cooked too. Consider serving a little bowl of whatever veggies you cook with dinner, but put some raw on the table.
  • Also, watch those preconceived notions. My little one liked spicy pickles and even cocktail onions (thanks Grandma!) Artichokes are a treat. I think she likes pulling the leaves and dipping them in balsamic.
  • Try to include some of your grown-up favorites next time you eat dinner. Enjoy them yourselves, don’t goad, pressure or push and see if your children are curious…
  • Have an expectation of mastery. Offer foods in a neutral way. Most kids are naturally curious about new foods. All the prodding and praise can slow that process down. The curiosity might not mean a taste and swallow this time, but someday it likely will.
  • Avoid labeling or describing a child as “picky.”
  • Kids like something one day, and refuse it the next. That is normal. Just keep serving what you want them to learn to like (with a few items they generally like.) Avoid rationalizing, explaining, pressuring. For example, M has liked salsa in the past, but had gone off it recently. I did not say, “Yes, try it M, be a big girl, you liked it before!”
  • Don’t be afraid to introduce new flavors and cuisines.

What other ways do you see reinforcing the message that kids can’t be competent with eating? What has helped your family?

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  1. Heather

    Really curious about Hot Pot meals. Can you tell me more about them, do you need some kind of equipment? I also think the idea of doing fondue with my son is great.

    • katja

      I’ll do a blog post I think, but the basic idea is that we have an electric pot in the middle of the table that we can temperature control (my folks actually did this with us with open flame and boiling oil! I’ll post that photo again…) then we just pour in store-bought broth, let it boil, and add any ingredient we want. Some go in earlier (chicken) than others (spinach leaves take about 45 seconds…) it’s fun and communal, when we retrieve the goodies we use a combo of tongs, spoon and a sieve thing. If someone really doesn’t love something you can leave it out for a round, or just not eat it… I think this is fairly common way of eating in Japan, but not sure. Japan is one of my culinary fantasy countries!!

  2. Dawn

    I agree with the fact that you should never assume that kids won’t like something. I have two girls (7 and 2.5) and we live in a major metropolitan city. My kids have always eaten what we wanted to eat, thai food, sushi, indian, whatever.

    I will admit though that I was a little surprised this past weekend by my oldest. It was my birthday and this year we decided to bring the 7yo with us to a very nice french bistro in our neighbourhood. I ordered the escargot for my appetizer and she eagerly wanted to try one and then actually finished off half of them. It never would have occurred to me to encourage her to try them but she saw me enjoying them so she was curious and declared that ‘snails are my new favorite food’.

    It was the best birthday dinner I’ve had.

    • katja

      love it! I remember M eating “bigorneau” when we were in France visiting my brother 2 years ago. We picked them off the rocks on the shoreline and ate them for dinner. I didn’t like them, she did! Especially getting the little tails out with a special pick. Kids are hunter/gatherers by nature I think. Our friend’s son, who by standard diagnostic criteria would qualify for an eating disorder only eats nuggets, but he happily catches, guts and eats any fish he catches… The psychology of all of this is so important, and is the part most “experts” in child nutrition don’t understand.

  3. Twistie

    When I was looking for a new range a while back, I was disgusted at seeing so many with ‘chicken nugget’ and ‘pizza’ buttons. I think I would have gone berserk if I’d seen one with a ‘kid meal’ button. This is a range, not a microwave.

    As for kid food vs adult food, I was the kid who started requesting fish and spinach for her birthday dinner every year at about age five. At our house, dinner was what was on your plate, and that was that. Either you tried it out, or you didn’t have dinner. There were a couple times I chose hunger over what was on my plate, but not a lot.

    The only exception I can think of was when Mom started serving ham for Christmas and Easter. I was the only one in the family who wasn’t a big ham fan, but I figured I could take a small slice and fill up on the sides cheerfully enough. The Mom surprised me by making me lamb chops for both holidays so I wouldn’t have to eat something I disliked on two of the biggest food holidays of the year.

    I was grateful, but I would have been perfectly content to eat a tiny bit of ham and eat more of other things. It wasn’t like ham was something I detested so much I couldn’t get it down me. On the other hand, no way was I turning down a lamb chop! Lamb would be my second choice for my birthday dinner after fish. Yes, at six, too.

    Now if she had tried to give me chicken nuggets or frozen pizza instead… yeah, that would have gone over like a lead balloon when I was seven. No way I was passing up Brussels sprouts or broccoli for those. Why? Because I loved them.

    Friends of the family were often shocked by what my brothers and I would eat without bribery or complaint. They didn’t get that we enjoyed a lot of things they’d been convinced children can’t like.

    @Nichole: your kids’ school district is deeply confused. My experience has been that children who actively dislike hummus are in the minority. It’s even fun to say! Then again, my experience has been largely with children who haven’t been carefully taught that they dislike anything that isn’t chicken nuggets.

    • katja

      Maybe this is the French “secret.” Unabashed pleasure with food and the assumption that kids will naturally want to partake in that… I need to cook more spinach 🙂 It was one food my mom didn’t cook well. Boiled and then in a blob on the plate. It was the one time I remember being smacked, when I tried to make a run for it bc I wouldn’t eat my spinach 🙂

    • Ruth Berntsein

      We do the DOR but I make it a point to have things the kids don’t like if I am pretty sure they will not like the main course, which happens about once a week for each kid (one kid doesn’t like mac and cheese, which is almost always our go-to dinner and the other one eschews tomato sauce, which is almost always involved one night a week). In a way, this is one aspect of restaurant eating that I don’t love right now, the having to choose just one thing–we have mostly solved that problem by goin g for Chinese food when we do eat out, since sharing is encouraged.
      Anway, I don’t see anything wrong with these various buttons, but my kids at 8 and 10 love to cook with actual fire on the stove or in a real oven. As for the idea behind them: ugh.
      I just can’t believe that so many kids are that inflexible–we have guests who are very picky and often eat ketchup sandwiches at our house, but they don’t live here and they seem well-nourished and healthy, so I assume they eat fine at home.
      We have had our share of kitchen accidents where we break stuff, or someone gets burned on the toaster, all thank goodness very minor, but it’s the price of doing business, if you ask me. If only there were a button that flashed things like, “don’t get fancy with that glass dish!” or “The stove grates stay hot even after you have turned the stove off!”

      • katja

        Yes, it’s hard to let the little ones get that burn on the wrist when they stir, or singe a finger on a toaster… I know that’s how they learn, and it’s inevitable, I still burn myself now and then, but it’s tough not to hover and ruin it with “be careful!” all the time…
        Interestingly, there are many kids who have poor quality diets in terms of variety and are happy and healthy by all standard measures. It is amazing when I see friends with kids who literally eat bread, cheese and candy for years on end who are smart, lovely, athletic children. One would think they would all be sickly and fatigued… Humans are amazingly resilient!

  4. Lisa in Boston

    Oh, those Pediasure commercials drive me crazy!! SO annoying.

    I really dislike the framing of eating as entertainment for kids. The over-the-top packaging, ads, the “happy meal” thing with the toy. To me it sends the message that food *for food’s sake* is not sufficient for children. The assumption is they are reluctant and need to be enticed to eat.

    Now that I’m typing this, I’m think that this food-as-entertainment frame is really just a big projection of adult anxieties (what if they don’t grow? What if they starve??) onto kids.

    • katja

      woops, lisa, response to you is below as well:) I do like when we eat Hot Pot at the table. It feels fun to throw noodles and shrimp into a pot of bouillon, or to dip bread in a fondu, but that’s part of the experience, and not for the sake of *fun*. Food shouldn’t be joyless, but we shouldn’t have to bribe with toys to get kids to eat. When we do partake in McDonalds on occasion, I hear other parents fighting over the toy “Eat your food first, then you can have the toy…” Sigh…

      • Lisa in Boston

        Hot Pot actually sounds delightful and I think you hit the nail on the head: it’s a communal activity, and it’s really about preparing the meal together. ‘feels’ different to me than the mass marketed stuff.

        • katja

          it’s wicked fun. I used to make seaweed and mushroom broth, now I just use the boxes. We put in thin sliced beef and chicken, spinach, bean sprouts, shitake, quick cook rice noodles and it’s so yummy! We just add more broth as needed. I make a killer sauce with it out of sake, sugar, soy, sherry… We do 2-3 rounds a meal and it’s super fun!

  5. Nicole

    I think the worst offender for this in our lives recently is actually my son’s school district. They send home the menus covered with “helpful” nutritional and food info. This month, for example, there was an article about how kids don’t like hummus but surely will when they get older! WHAT? My son likes hummus now, and I know there are other 9-y-os out there who do. We also get a lot of lavish praise from restaurant servers when my kids order vegetable sides instead of fries, which they do sometimes. I want to yell at the server to shut it! 🙂

    • katja

      Nicole, Yes, Yes, Yes! Schools having cheerleaders going around the cafeteria enticing kids to eat the stuff! Sheesh! Ironically, it’s on “kid food” days that I have to pack a lunch. It’s that whole living up to expectations, no? Kids won’t like hummus, or sushi… So they don’t. we don’t even offer them the chance. yes, there is a lot of parental anxiety about eating, and a lot of food as entertainment. Micky mouse shaped nuggets? A recent study came out seeing if 9-11 year-olds were swayed to eat veggies based on cartoon or media characters. Guess what? Taste was the #1 reason kids cited as to why they would or wouldn’t eat something. Duh… Make it taste good! And yes, that may take a little fat and salt, which the schools are also removing to the extreme…