Sunday, May 29, 2011


It makes me sad to see how many people seem to approach eating as just one more necessary chore. Do you simply consume your food, or do you experience it?

When I was a kid, no one ever gave me the choice of whether or not to eat my vegetables. Mom knew what was good for us, and, except for the occasional bootlegged candy bar or soda, we ate and drank what she served. Balanced meals and a sense of food adventure were part of our family culture.

Today, though, I have to marvel at the little co-dependencies I see played out in so many American families. Parents start their enabling by asking their kids what they want to eat. Are you kidding me? Their kids—having picked up the no-vegetables! mantra from friends and/or media—inevitably make poor choices.

Worse yet, some parents don’t even ask; they just assume their kids won’t eat anything that’s really good for them, and then fulfill their own prophecy. This little scam is then reinforced by the kids’ friends and their parents, and restaurants, which assume the only thing a kid’s ever going to want is a grilled cheese or a hot dog. And we wring our hands about the epidemic of childhood obesity!

Parents just assume their kids won’t eat anything that’s really good for them, and then fulfill their own prophecy.

Just today I saw a TV commercial in which a young mother's standing in her kitchen, pondering a sort of holographic version of the nutritional food groups pyramid. She blithely dismisses every item on the chart that's green, saying something like, "No way my kids are gonna eat these things!" The solution she and the sponsor propose: one of those engineered nutritional drinks originally prescribed for kids temporarily unable to eat solid food. So, if you can't beat 'em, fool 'em!

How sad that kids—with lots of help from all the wrong places—are losing touch with real food! For this wonder seeker, the saddest part of this is seeing them robbed of their natural sense of adventure.

Decide for yourself what your kids should eat ... then leave them with just one choice: eat this or starve.

What can we do to reclaim wonder-full eating for our kids and grandkids? Probably the single best approach: turn off the TV. Decide for yourself what your kids should eat—maybe offering a couple of healthy options—and then leave them with just one choice: eat this or starve.

Short of that draconian measure, my daughter has a smart policy with her headstrong four-year-old: the "no thank you" bite. When the little girl balks at eating something, she must eat at least one bite before she's excused from the table. Then there's always the good old dessert come-on. (I knew there was a logical raison d'etre for dessert!)

"As a child my family's menu consisted of two choices: 
take it or leave it." ~ BUDDY HACKETT


Anonymous said...

Desert after a meal is a strange phenomena. Its as if the meal its self wasn't good enough, and so one then washes the goodness down with something that seems to have stolen the limelight of the meal and its primary stage. I don't ever recall having desert after dinner growing up. But I was brought up in a European immigrant family. Cakes were sometimes served in the afternoon with coffee in celebration on their own terms and their own ground or arena. We, as a society perhaps eats so many sweets, because one then lacks their own internal sense of sweetness. Perhaps people don't like greens because they themselves live a processed life and no longer identify with the splendors of the green earth.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks, Bernie -- Sounds like you might have German heritage, as do I. My parents and grandparents weren't big on sweets, but not studiously so. I must say, I have a weakness for ice cream!

Anonymous said...

Me too. I love ice cream! Smooth and creamy. And yes.... some german and austo-hungarian background. My dad is from Berlin, and my mom is from Graz, but moved to Switzerland as a child.

Craig said...

I recently returned from a six month stint living in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Coming back here I've become aware of how much our society suffers from "too much freedom." Meaning, there is no "form", no structure to how we live our lives. The myth that we can have whatever we want whenever we want is eroding our integrity as human beings and a society.

I don't know the history, but Brazilians have a certain modesty in their approach to society and consumption. There is still a sense of respect for tradition, and hence the people are gentle and upright.

In North America we have somehow gotten into this situation where we are the ultimate spoiled little brats, and we are handing that on to our kids. Thank you for this post on providing kids some much needed structure and boundary, without which we are simply going to dissolve into meaningless chaos.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hi Craig -- Thanks for these thoughtful comments. I envy you for your time in Brazil -- travel's always such a great teacher.

I agree, the consumptive attitude of many Americans (sadly, this seems to also be spreading globally along with new-found prosperity) occupies a space in our souls that might be better left empty.

In so many aspects of life, it's the voids -- the silences, the unscheduled time, the spaces between things, the not buying or consuming something simply because we can -- that define our character. These voids are fertile ground for true confidence, discipline, creativity, faith and so many other valuable attributes.

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